“Beware the Saboteur!”

My friend Kate tells this story:


A racing yacht elicits powerful emotions

I was visiting my friend Bob Gilbert, who among many other talents was a fabulous boat builder. This was at Harvey Swindall’s boatyard in Ventura [California], where Bob was building a 92-foot yacht based on the plans for the famous ocean racer Bloodhound, which had been built originally in the 1870s at the Fife Boat Works in Fairlie, Scotland. The new Bloodhound’s keel had been laid. The ribs were in place. Bob showed me around, pointing out all the little details of construction, which he, being a master builder, had gone to incredible lengths to get right. I was amazed—and greatly honored to be allowed in on such a monumental venture.

We finished; it was late and getting dark. As we were walking out, Bob pulled up to say good night. I said, “Aren’t you going home, Bob?”

Bob said he was staying with the boat. He pointed to an Airstream trailer that he had parked in the yard. He’d been sleeping beside the new Bloodhound for the past week and was going to keep on till she was finished and in the water. I asked, “Why?” Bob got this very sober look on his face. “Beware the saboteur,” he said.

Malicious arson, Bob went on to tell Kate, is a not uncommon phenomenon in boatyards. People get jealous. They see a colleague building something great; they’ll sneak in at night and put that baby to the torch.

A boat, particularly a wooden boat, is a powerful metaphor. The laying of the keel is attended by great ceremony; the launch brings friends from thousands of miles. Good luck charms abound. No one knows if the boat will float true or sink straight to the bottom.

What is a boat anyway? It’s a vessel upon which we venture into the unknown. It’s magic. A boat takes the clawless, finless, wingless human being and turns him into a mariner, an adventurer, a swashbuckler. It opens the wide world. This is serious juju. No wonder the skulking onlooker feels his fingers itch for the kerosene and the Zippo.

We too, on the artist’s journey, must beware the saboteur. The people closest to us, friends and family, may not like it when they see us starting to change. When we begin to paint, to write, to dance; when we find the courage to live out our dreams, our progress becomes a reproach to others if they are not doing the same. It’s unconscious. The people trying to sabotage us may love us and wish us well. But they will attempt to trip us up, to undermine our resolution and to sap our growing self-confidence.

On the artist’s journey we are redefining and reconfiguring ourselves and our lives. This is a radical act. As we begin behaving with greater authenticity, power begins to concentrate around us. People can feel it; some are threatened by it.

Resistance, as I define it, is self-sabotage. It’s the thousand-and-one ways you and I find to get in our own way and stop ourselves from living out our unlived lives. But there is such a thing as real sabotage. Sabotage by others.

As dark as it sounds to say it, I believe that Resistance is so diabolical that it can be communicated like a disease from our own hearts, fearful of our ascending evolution, to the breasts of those closest to us, who then articulate and act out toward us and against us that which we are most afraid of in our own selves.

Each day you and I construct that vessel, which is unique to us and which we hope will carry us across oceans to the unfolding evolution of our lives. We must be wary of that element in our own hearts, and the hearts of others, that would destroy us before we even get in the water.

“Beware the saboteur!”


Steve shows you the predictable Resistance points that every writer hits in a work-in-progress and then shows you how to deal with each one of these sticking points. This book shows you how to keep going with your work.

do the work book banner 1


A short book about the writing of a first novel: for Steve, The Legend of Bagger Vance. Having failed with three earlier attempts at novels, here's how Steve finally succeeded.



Steve shares his "lessons learned" from the trenches of the five different writing careers—advertising, screenwriting, fiction, nonfiction, and self-help. This is tradecraft. An MFA in Writing in 197 pages.



Amateurs have amateur habits. Pros have pro habits. When we turn pro, we give up the comfortable life but we find our power. Steve answers the question, "How do we overcome Resistance?"



  1. zornhau on January 11, 2012 at 3:11 am

    The worst saboteurs are the people with whom one used to play “I’m going to write some day”. Breaking ranks and actually doing it spoils the game.

  2. Steve Lovelace on January 11, 2012 at 6:55 am

    Sabotage is why reality shows are so popular. When we see people on TV sabotaging each other do savagely, we feel less guilty about dragging down our friends and family. And ourselves.

  3. Laura on January 11, 2012 at 11:50 am

    My saboteur is in the shape of a credit card. I would say more, but am sure I don’t need to.

  4. andrea on January 11, 2012 at 1:03 pm

    The question is: how do you deal with the friend/relative turned saboteur? I have experienced this and found it necessary to simply withdraw, but I don’t know if that’s the right thing to do.

    • Gene T on January 12, 2012 at 1:41 am

      Andrea, what I’ve learned over the years through personal experience and wise mentors is when someone has a problem with what you love to do, that is THEIR problem, NOT YOURS. There is nothing wrong with you as long as your path is what you have chosen.

      When you realize that it’s not a personal defect on your part, but a personal defect on their part it helps in the process of setting you free from their grasp. I don’t mean this to sound like those that bring you down don’t love you, or that you should leave them behind. However, like Ronald Sieber said, have them sit way in the back. Or, close the door and don’t answer it. Or, use your called ID and screen your calls. Let them leave a message and you choose when to call back if at all.

      • Jill on March 18, 2019 at 10:19 am

        Hear, hear!

  5. Brian Durkin on January 11, 2012 at 1:09 pm

    Love it Steven. Interesting reversal is the act of sabotage we play on ourselves by expending energy trying to convince others to come along with us, to make their own changes so they can keep up with ours. Like trying to talk anchors into being sails. A tricky thing this Resistance. Thanks for the post!

  6. Paul C on January 11, 2012 at 2:31 pm

    Maria Popova’s very popular Brain Pickings blog has some nice things to say about Steve. Nine books for a New Year’s Resolution, including Steve on the list with Ernest Hemingway, Ray Bradbury, Stephen King, among others. Not bad company.

  7. Brad Fennell on January 11, 2012 at 3:11 pm

    I feel that there is no other time other than now, 2012, to set sail to our dreams and live that life that is most interesting to us. I’m sure it’s always been calling, but I’m ready for the great swashbuckling adventure. Thanks for the reminder Steve.

  8. Ronald Sieber on January 11, 2012 at 3:28 pm

    Resistance and supporters are intermixed in our audience, as Andrea commented. Life is a stage and we are the main characters in our own show – we cannot withdraw; we must act out our part.

    Many times we cannot pick the audience, but we DO have the power to arrange their seating. I mentally put my greatest detractors, some of whom are my closest friends and family, in the way back, and my greatest supporters way up front. I smile at them, I thank them for coming, and then – on with the show!

    • Steven Pressfield on January 11, 2012 at 4:11 pm

      That’s great, Ronald, thanks. “We do have the power to arrange the seating …” One image like that is worth pages and pages of prose.

    • Jill on March 18, 2019 at 10:22 am

      Good idea, Sir, I will do this (if I can’t kick the naysayers out of the theatre way way back is good enough ^^)

  9. Sonja Eaton on January 11, 2012 at 3:32 pm

    So true. I have more trouble with my self-sabotage, and can usually battle the outside ones. But I still have to manage and be hyperalert to those too.

  10. Contrairian on January 11, 2012 at 3:57 pm

    I can appreciate the yachting metaphor – there are many similarities between a sailing adventure and an artistic endeavour.

    Ask any experienced yachtsman and they will tell you they feel most secure at sea and it’s not until they loose sight of the shore that they can relax.

    When at sea there is nobody else around, the boat and captain become like one, and both doing what they are meant to do. The closer you get to dry land the more there is that can go wrong. You might find yourself unable to get off a lee shore, you can run up on the rocks, and as you approach dry land it gets very crowded so you must be ever vigilant to avoid the amateur boaters and drunken Sunday sailors who might crash into you and sink your ship.

    Sailors and artists would be best served by keeping a safe distance from the crowds and hazards that might put a hole their vessel.

    – Contrarian

  11. Derek on January 11, 2012 at 4:02 pm

    Great post Steve. I think the important thing as writers is to worry less about who’s in the boat with us. The critical thing is are we sailing somewhere new, exploring new waters. Or are we merely bobbing out there in the doldrums? You have had a huge impact on my writing from the standpoint of doing the work in the face of resistance, and yet come the sabotuers just when I think I know where resistence will arise. Great post. Thanks.

  12. Owen Garratt on January 11, 2012 at 4:51 pm

    The worst are the closest friends and family. My decisions to a) go to music college, b) become a full time drummer, c) become a full time artist has resulted in being cut from a grandparent’s legacy, several broken romances, and a distancing of lifelong friendships.

    What was I supposed to do, pump gas for a living to keep aged relatives happy? Become an accountant? A teacher? All fine vocations for the right people, but not me.

    Now I have a thriving career as a full time artist for over 15 years, an awesome family who loves and respects me, and I’ve maintained good friendships I’ve had since I was a teenager.

    Not that it was easy – we lost our oldest son in 2003, and in the next few years of soul searching it became apparent that I’m still Captain of my ship, and if I’m the one who’s got to start hauling lines again, then so be it. Our second child needed his parents to be whole and balanced, and that wasn’t going to happen by toadying to those who’re shoving advice at us for THEIR reasons.

    Thankfully, I came across a gem of a book called “The War of Art”, and thanks Stephen, it was worth more to me than 5 years of grief counselling.

    One should never underestimate the power of rolling up one’s sleeves and getting to work…

  13. Christianne on January 12, 2012 at 10:31 am

    Last week I met a man who talked to me for 10 minutes ran upstairs to his apartment and gave me your book Do the Work. Wow. I was glued to the pages until I hit chapter one and read the first page…seems i need an idea.
    I am a visual artist and I have stopped painting for all the reasons you listed, but the one thingi I don’t have is an idea of what to paint- painting from my heart leaves me in front of a blank canvas, again. Hate to be a debbie downer but now it seems the idea is the resistance.
    Stil, i adore your book, thank you.

  14. Tony Derbyshire on January 13, 2012 at 11:41 am

    A friend of mine was thoughtful enough to direct me to this author. I just started reading ‘The War of Art’ and I feel like I’m having some sort of epiphany. I also know that this warm and fuzzy feeling can keep me from doing the work so I won’t dwell. It’s good to be here, though.

  15. Rebecca Lang on January 14, 2012 at 9:44 pm

    It’s much easier for me to think I’m sabotaging myself than lay the blame on anyone else, particularly friends and family. Still, sometimes, whether intentional or not, some people try to distract me or bring me into unnecessary drama. During those times I have to resist them as well.

  16. Late Bloomer on January 16, 2012 at 9:47 am

    Thanks for this important point. I once quit writing because my biggest supporter, the woman who started out on the writing road with me, told me she thought I wasn’t really cut out to be a writer. When I came back to myself five years later, I was mad at her at first and felt really betrayed. I have always been there for her to encourage her in her writing. Then I realized it was my own fault for believing her and not my own heart. Now I’m very careful who I share my writing with.

  17. Garrett on January 17, 2012 at 2:40 pm

    My own resistance/self sabotage comes in the form of fear and wanting to be liked. I have not written what i want to because 1) i am afraid to face myself and 2) i am afraid that when other people see the authentic self, they’ll be afraid of me too. Thank you steve for your ministry against Resistance and sabotage, its giving me that kick in the butt i need to be courageous…

  18. PollyDale on July 30, 2022 at 12:14 pm

    Had gone to incredible lengths to get right. I was amazed gas stations around me
    and greatly honored to be allowed in on such a monumental venture.

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