[The blog is on vacation this week. Here’s a favorite post from 2009. Back soon!]

What happens to us as artists when our personal lives crash and burn? When we’ve lost our spouses or our homes or our minds; when we’ve been betrayed or, worse, betrayed someone else; when it’s three in the morning and sunrise feels like it’s never going to come?

The Scream

Some of our best work can be done in this state of mind

Here’s my experience: some of my best work has been done when my personal life was in chaos.

This seems to make no sense. How can we do good work when it’s all we can do to keep from checking into Bellevue? But we can. Weird as it seems, internal catastrophe never hurt an artist or an entrepreneur.

The Muse, it seems, is a hardcore kinda gal.

The painter paints and the writer writes from a place that is safely below that of the merely personal. Where do ideas come from? How do breakthroughs manifest themselves? This stuff is percolating at a level way beneath heartbreak, illness, deaths of loved ones, addiction, jail terms, being waterboarded. Even our crimes against others and ourselves are absolved on the level where creativity takes place.

The Muse, if she’ll forgive me, is kind of like a mailman. She makes her rounds every day, cruising past our offices and studios and peeking in the window. Are we there at our easels? The Muse likes that. She likes to see us taking care of business. And if we’re there with our hearts breaking or tears streaming down our cheeks, all the better. The Muse says to herself, “This poor bastard is true to me; I’m gonna give him something in return for his loyalty.”

And into our heads pops the solution to Act Two, the bridge to that song we couldn’t lick, the breakthrough concept for our new philanthropic venture.

I’m not saying pain is good. I’m not advocating screwing up our lives for the sake of art. I’m just making the observation that our genius is not us. It can’t be hurt like we can. Its heart can’t be broken. It’s going to send the next trolley down the track whether we like it or not.

In a way it’s kind of scary–the relentless, impersonal, almost monstrous nature of creativity and inspiration.

The good news is this: no matter how much pain we’re in, no matter how badly we’ve screwed up our lives, no matter what felonies we’ve committed, we can still find refuge in our work. Like the athlete who makes the decision to suit up, even though his father or his best friend has just died, we can have the game of our lives in the midst of excruciating personal agony.


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. Basilis on September 19, 2012 at 1:35 am

    I suppose that Work can be done like in the Scream painting state of mind as long as we don’t jump from the bridge!

    (Perhaps because of the work the screaming person is not jumping! 🙂 )

    • John on August 9, 2023 at 9:03 am

      By the way they did a great job and i like the painting.

  2. Martine Brennan on September 19, 2012 at 8:20 am

    I have to agree Steven, I began to write regularly after my daughter Hannah died.I really love your image of the Muse taking pity on us.

  3. Wolf rimbaud on September 19, 2012 at 1:05 pm

    I’m so tired of hearing his fallacy. This is purely the domain of the amateur. Songwriting is a craft that requires technique. All this stuff about ‘the muse’ isnpurely for those that have no idea what they’re doing. As Stravinsky said, music is 10% inspiration and 90% sweat.

    • Basilis on September 20, 2012 at 3:41 am

      Hello Wolf,

      What about if we don’t want to sweat any longer? When we have lost our patience after a long trying period or (even worse) we “fall asleep” when we have achieve an important goal?

      I’m talking not only as a writer, but as a music composer. There are a lot of complication in the writing-recording-promoting precedure and the way we think, what we fear, what makes us lazy, are dealing a lot with our “sweating process”.

      P.S. Indeed Stravinsky phrase it in an excellent way! 10% inspiration-90% sweat.
      To tell the truth when we are in our “desert” we sweat a lot more than being in Greek Islands laying on the beach…

      Steve, I expect an article based on this metaphor.


  4. Teresa E on September 19, 2012 at 4:08 pm

    So true- though sometimes it seems that creating when you’re sad is easier than creating when you’re happy. The danger is getting addicted to misery as a driving force for your creativity.

    What I took away from this is that the creativity keeps coming whether you’re happy or sad or depressed or angry so there’s no need to suffer to be an artist – but if you are suffering you can still turn the pain into gold.

  5. Rebecca Lang on September 20, 2012 at 10:08 am

    The joy of art is that it can make pain and suffering into something beautiful. And somehow, when you’re using the pain to create, it doesn’t hurt so bad.

  6. Julienne on September 20, 2012 at 10:51 am

    True that! I was pleased and surprised to find some amazing research confirming this type of creative mindset. If anyone is interested check out “Your Creative Brain” by Shelley Carson PhD. The “Transform” function seems to be all about using pain in the creative process.

  7. UGG Pas Cher on October 15, 2012 at 3:00 pm

    Bottes UGG authentiques sont fabriqus partir de peau de mouton australien authentique. Elles sont construites pour tre confortable, flexible et durable. Les vrais peuvent galement garder vos pieds l’aise dans les deux jours froids et chauds. Ces vous garder au chaud, mais enlve la sueur et le laisse respirer vos pieds. Ce ne sont que quelques-unes des raisons pour lesquelles les authentiques sont chers.

  8. PollyDale on July 30, 2022 at 12:10 pm

    But we can sun trust near me right now
    Weird as it seems, internal catastrophe never hurt an artist or an entrepreneur.

  9. James Jordan on July 24, 2023 at 1:01 am

    As I read this blog of personal anguish It takes courage to open up about difficult emotions and experiences, and I appreciate your honesty and vulnerability.
    Window & Door Repair Services in Port Orange FL

Leave a Comment

Patronu aradığında sürekli hasta olduğunu söyleyerek iş yerine yalan söylüyor porno hikaye Patronu artık bu kadarının gerçek olamayacağını ve rapor görmek istediğini dile getirip telefonu kapatıyor türbanlı Olgun kadın hemen bilgisayarının başına geçip özel bir doktor buluyor ve onu arayarak evine davet ediyor porno Muayene için eve gelen doktor olgun kadını muayene ediyor ve hiç bir sıkıntı olmadığını söylüyor brazzers porno Sarışın ablamız ise iş yerine rapor götürmesi gerektiğini bu yüzden rapor yazmasını istiyor brazzers porno fakat doktor bunun pek mümkün olmadığını dile getiriyor sex hikayeleri Daha sonra evli olan bu kahpe doktora iş atarak ona yavşıyor ve istediğini alana kadar durmuyor Porno İzle Karılarını takas etmek isteyen elemanlar hep birlikte evde buluşuyor türkçe porno Güzel vakit geçirdikten sonra kızlara isteklerini iletiyorlar ve hatunlarda kocalarının bu isteklerini kabul ediyorlar seks hikayeleri Hemen ellerine telefonları alan elemanlar karılarına video eşliğinde sakso çektiriyorlar porno izle Hiç beklemeden sikişe geçen elemanlar hatunları değiştire değiştire sikmeye başlıyorlar.