Too Old For Heroes

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Like you, every Wednesday morning, with my first cup of coffee in hand, I sit down and read Steve’s WRITING WEDNESDAY posts.

Preeminent listener, E E Cummings..."nobody, not even the rain, has such small hands"

His recent series on “killer scenes” and the ways in which he constructs his work have been off the charts for me.  Here’s what I love about them:

  • They’re personal…Steve does not pretend to be speaking from Mount Olympus.  He’s just giving us the straight dope about how he keeps his writing engines primed and working at peak efficiency. I was reminded of the importance of these idiosyncratic methodologies we all develop from Jeremy Anderberg’s Twitter post that linked to Hemingway’s interview in the Paris Review.  If Papa was timid talking about his process, fearful that to talk about it is to dissipate its magic, you know this stuff ain’t for the faint hearted.
  • They’re Meta-entertaining.  I love reading about how people create things.  What went through their minds.  How they solve problems.  It’s the classic “origin story” Subgenre of the Performance Genre.  Which as you know has the core value of Honor/Shame.  The trick is to honor your process, not to degrade or cheese it up for profit.  You’ve got to be truthful. And yes, as Steve proves over and over again, you can write about writing with honor.
  • They’re Inspiring.  I’m an editor/Right Brain kind of writer.  What that means is that I want to create a lot of little boxes or units of story, fill them up, polish them and then link them all together.  I start from the structural point of view.  That’s what makes me comfortable.

Reading about how Steve does it from the Left Side of the brain takes away a lot of the terror I’ve associated with the Muse.  I’m the kind of person who thinks the Muse has no interest in me.  I’m a blue-collar worker just banging out the word count and then getting out the sander after I’ve got some knotty pine to smooth.

It’s obvious that Steve does not do anything of the sort that I do.  He does not construct his stories so much as he tunes in and listens to his inner word whisperer.  He then pulls out the meaning of the messages that come to him from the great unknown.

Of course he’s a pro, though.  He wears the same blue-collar I do.

He knows all of the stuff I know (more even) so he organizes the messages in a general/global structure that aligns perfectly with Story nerd systems like mine.  He knows he needs inciting incidents, progressive complications, crises, climaxes and resolutions in every scene he writes etc., but instead of working to fill up boxes, he thinks about the whole trunk first.

I find his technique terrifying.

If I can’t label something and put it inside a methodology, I just as soon toss it in the trash can.  But after having read Steve’s Killer Scenes series, I feel better.  I’m more open to the quantum soup.  I’m not so quick to toss out a phrase that somehow jumps into my brain.  Now I’m putting them in little folders to marinate.

Which brings me to the title of this post…TOO OLD FOR HEROES.

This phrase came to me the other day out of the blue.  I was in the car with the fam, staring into the middle distance as I often do, and my wife asked me what was wrong.  I simply said, “I guess I’m too old for heroes.”

What does it mean?  What kind of story is in there?  Why did it come to me at this time in my life? Is it original?  Or did I hear it somewhere else and it just lodged in my mind?

Here’s what I think right now.  As children we need heroes.  We need people to emulate, to believe in.  First they are our parents, who soon prove themselves human and flawed.  Then there are popular culture figures…sports stars, movie stars, even writers.  The baseball player cheats, the movie star gets a DUI, and the writer self-destructs and marginalizes his talent.

We lose our bearings.  If all whom we’ve emulated prove venal who will we rely upon to guide our life’s passage?

What’s left after there is no one else to model oneself upon?  This is what strikes me the story inside that phrase is about.  It’s about a character that realizes that he’s fallen into the abyss.

Will he find meaning or will he succumb to despair?

Damn, there really is something to that Pressfield Muse thing… Just from that one phrase, there’s an inherent Internal Content Genre in there. Is it a morality, worldview, or status Genre?  Not sure yet, but there definitely is one in there.

And the phrase also inspires a whole slew of possible External Content Genres too.  Sounds like a Cormac McCarthy-esque modern western/crime story like NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN.  It could also be a Science Fiction story like THE MATRIX.  Or a May-December Love Story with a strong woman at its core, like that Jill Clayburgh movie AN UNMARRIED WOMAN from the 70s.

Whatever it is, it could be amazing.

Will I ever write it?  Who knows, but if I do or not matters little really.

I know we write about writing and everything here and we’re all looking for that end product/magical “book, screenplay, play, television series” to prove something to ourselves and/or attain some kind of third party validation, but that phrase is enough really, isn’t it?

That phrase came out of nowhere, even if I’d heard it somewhere before, and it comforted me at a time when I obviously really needed some. What I love and admire about Steve is that his work and his courage to pull back the Kimono on how he creates it has taught me to listen to what comes to me without the blue-collar grind.

The stuff of beauty…

I don’t have to do anything with it.  I just have to tune in.

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  1. Mary Doyle on February 27, 2015 at 5:09 am

    Thanks to you and Steve, I’m able to start my mornings four days a week at the computer with my first cup of coffee. You guys offer us the ideal yin and yang of this writing and editing process, so my first reaction to the line “you’re too old for heroes” is no, I’ve got two of them right here (and you too Callie).

    But the Muse gave that line to you and I’ll bet it will marinate into something you’ll eventually have to pick up and run with beyond this post – enjoy whatever adventure it brings.

    Thanks for your generosity here and on Story Grid – you guys (and Callie) are the best!

    • Alex Cespedes on February 27, 2015 at 7:29 am

      I’m with you on this Mary. Steve and Shawn are heroes in their own sphere to many of us. They don’t give themselves enough credit, but the humility is a big part of why we connect with them.

      Shawn-that line is a good one, even if it’s original or not. A lot of ways to amplify it. If you don’t do something with it, I just might!

  2. Gray on February 27, 2015 at 6:30 am

    That phrase really resonates with me, simply because the older I get the less “heroic” my heroes seem. I recently watched the series Bosch, for example, and found his histrionics about his daughter to be ridiculous and diminishing of the character.

    Part of this is probably because I’ve raised four daughters, and I know better than to imagine the illusion of control over them.

    On the other hand, I think in some ways you become your own hero. Or at least, you begin to realize that you can’t ask anyone else to show you the way or the model. There’s only you – “the man in the arena” isn’t the matador, it’s you.

    And you either despair (that “abyss” you mention) or you roll up your sleeves, say “well, this is what I’ve got to work with…let’s see what we can make of it.”

    Thanks for the morning inspiration. Goes well with the coffee.

    • andrew lubin on February 27, 2015 at 9:00 am

      Absolutely. In the end, it falls on us, with the resulting joy and heartache.

  3. Andrew Lubin on February 27, 2015 at 6:53 am

    Shawn – Or possibly as we get older, we go back to the basics of our childhood, where we knew life in terms of right vs wrong, with no shades of gray?

    As the ballplayers and politicians we admired continue to get exposed, we fall back to how we were raised; I find myself using phrases with my grandson that my father used with my son. Maybe in a world of Wall Street Weasels, and politicians of dubious integrity, remembering how we were raised is our Rock of Gibraltar.

    We’ve winnowed down the superficial; we know what’s important and what’s fluff. We’re writing and/or editing for posterity, and that helps us regain our bearings as we re-define what makes a hero.

    Let me echo Mary in that having Team Pressfield-Coyne-Ottinger as a guide is invaluable, but perhaps equally important is remembering Dad’s voice saying ‘are you going to do it, or talk about it?” RIP Dad, now let me get back to work.

  4. Rosanne Bane on February 27, 2015 at 7:11 am

    Minor point for future reference: you mixed up the right and left hemispheres. From your description, I think you prefer the stages that rely on the left hemisphere, not the right. Not that the terminology matters when you’re writing fiction, but it might confuse some readers when you’re writing about writing.

    • Sean Crawford on February 28, 2015 at 2:49 pm

      Yes indeed.
      The way I keep the two separate is to go by the first letter. The L is rigid, like the streets of a practical Roman camp. The R is flowing and fluid, like the picture on artistic Greek’s shield.

  5. Jeffrey L. Taylor on February 27, 2015 at 9:33 am

    Someone, I’ve forgotten who, said there are young man adventures and old man adventures. The Exotic Marigold Hotel is an old person adventure. It moved me. I expect the critics who slagged it for not being daring or radical enough were too young to appreciate the daring it took all of them to at least attempt it. And some turned back.

  6. Brian on February 27, 2015 at 9:48 am

    The honesty of Steve/Shawn & Callie are examples of courage. It takes guts to open the Kimono. It is why this blog resonates–it is authentic.

    Too old for heroes is a great line. For some reason it made me think of how my definitions of heroic have changed: from strong to humble, from lavish to spartan, from center of attention to spot-lighting others…what I most respect now I thought of as weak when I was younger. Odd.

  7. Steven Pressfield on February 27, 2015 at 10:01 am

    Hey, pard, I love it too. In fact when I saw it as the title of this post, my first thought was, “Is that a book I’ve read somewhere? Sounds really cool. I wonder what it’s about.”

    Please write it. If it comes out good enough, maybe Black Irish will publish it.

  8. Lee Poteet on February 27, 2015 at 8:44 pm

    I fall on Steven’s side when it comes to the influence of the muse. The story I am working on at the moment began with a very small idea that demanded that I put it on paper. I know none of these people but when I sit down to write their story begins to grow and I began to see the clothes they wear, the rooms they walk through and even the secrets which they wish I would never find. One moment I know a very little bit about them and then they walk into my dreams and I began to know more of their history than I would ever have suspected. I know the age of one of the women, that she was the widow of an admiral whom she married upon his graduation from the naval academy. When I charted it out, lo it turned out that he graduated in June of 1941 which put a great deal in place. Not all of this may make it into the final manuscript but it makes me trust the muse a great deal more.

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