What Fresh Hell?


The Inimitable Dorothy Parker

Forgive me if you’ve heard this one before.

I remembered an old joke when I was doing some of the course work for my friend Tim Grahl’s online course, The Productive Writer. I’m taking it to recharge the old writing batteries and learn how to lure the Muse out of hiding more often.

Wisely I think, Tim doesn’t start his course with quick fix tactics to get your ass in your writing chair. Instead he starts with getting you to explore why you want to be a writer in the first place.

One of the questions he has you answer in the second day of work is this:

How will your life look different when you reach your dream of being a full-time writer?

After answering it for myself, I remembered this joke:

A much as he hates to go above ground, Satan decides it’s about that time again to do a little marketing. To keep his numbers up.

His first and only stop…Los Angeles’ biggest talent agencies.

He goes to WME, CAA, UTA and meets with all of the heads, and all of those “hot” agents angling to one day be heads too.

He explains that he’s decided to change Hell. He’s going to make it extraordinarily comfortable.  Not such a downer.  He understands that he needs to counter-program the terrible reputation it has.

The thing is, he’s just tired of losing souls to Heaven… And as a reasonable person he’s not averse to change.

But he recognizes that he needs help. That’s the first step, right?  Recognizing that you need help?  So he’s come to meet with these agents to see if they would be interested in checking out his account.  Money’s no object of course.  Whatever it takes to get the true gen about the old homestead out there, he’ll pay.

Before they decide about the job though, would they be interested in taking a tour? Checking out the new digs?

No commitments necessary. Satan just wants their professional opinions about what he’s done with the place and of how he might improve it.

And just before he leaves each meeting, Satan asks that each of the agents not share this information with anyone else. It’s confidential you see.

All the agents vehemently agree that they will do no such thing. They’ll keep the info locked up in their unbreachable neural vaults.  (This piece from The Hollywood Reporter convinced me to add that little bit to the joke)

All of the agents agree to take a “no risk tour” of FRESH HELL.

Satan schedules their appointments back to back so that WME sees that CAA is there and UTA sees that WME is there etc. etc.

They all discover that what Satan has done with Hell is incredible. There are spas and remarkable vistas and incredibly helpful attendants. It’s just stunning. Like The Four Seasons without the big bill at the end.

All of the agents agree that this FRESH HELL will change the face of earth. No longer will people fear the wrath of Hell. The relief that there will be no penalty to pursuing one’s own personal desires above all else will be HUGE!  HUGE!

Satan thanks them but says that as they all can imagine, he has limited space for FRESH HELL and that he’ll need early commitments to fill the slots he has available. And as he’s sure they’ll understand, he just can’t divulge the total numbers available as that will dis-incentivize people to ACT NOW!

The agents nod in understanding.

He then goes on to tell them that he has set aside some very special VIP sections of FRESH HELL for those who’ve helped him with the re-brand and marketing. He would be honored if they chose to spend eternity behind his very special velvet rope.

No pressure, of course, but Satan is due above to meet with Wall Street consiglieres in an hour, so it might be best for them to sign up now while the spots are still available…

All of the agents excitedly commit to the FRESH HELL and they’re thrilled to jump into the re-brand too.

And in an incredible show of just how much they believe in Satan’s new plan, all three of the agencies work together to get things rolling.

All of the biggest movie stars and celebrities publicly commit to FRESH HELL.  They post on Facebook and tweet incessantly about the perks.

Satan’s work is complete in short order.

He’s got enough subscriptions to stay underground for generations. And all of those with coveted reserved spaces rest easy and continue to satisfy their own desires without care for anyone else. Billionaires relax. It’s a beautiful thing if you’re one of the beautiful ones.

Inevitably, though, the day comes when one of the “key agents” passes away. His passing isn’t such a big deal though.  It’s almost pleasant as he’s not concerned with eternity.  He’s tight with the man downstairs.

When he arrives in the FRESH HELL! though…it’s absolutely horrifying.

It’s crazy hot. Lakes of fire…demons harassing him constantly…just well…nothing fresh about it at all!

In fact, it seems very much like the old Hell. Not a masseuse in sight!

The dead agent is no patsy you understand.  And he insists on seeing the man in charge.

After a time his guardian demon, for a giggle, takes the agent to meet with Satan.

After some pleasantries, the agent gets to the point…

“What Gives? What you’ve promised ain’t nothing like what you’ve delivered!”

To which Satan replies,

“Oh…you see when I met with you on Earth you were a prospect… Now you’re a client.”






Posted in


Read this one first.
It identifies the enemy—what I call Resistance with a capital “R,” i.e. fear, self-doubt, procrastination, perfectionism, all the forms of self-sabotage—that stop us from doing our work and realizing our dreams.
Start here.
Everything else proceeds from this.



  1. Mary Doyle on August 26, 2016 at 5:32 am

    OMG, this is great! Thanks for a wonderful start to the end of the week.

  2. Zach Even - Esh on August 26, 2016 at 6:32 am

    Shawn, this was TOO funny and be it in writing or any business, there is much Truth.

    Great web sites don’t equate to GREAT product / service, etc.

    Do what you say you will do, aka Follow Through.

    And being a full time writer / entrepreneur / business owner, it IS hard.

    It takes a lot of discipline / mental fortitude.

    I feel today people can’t handle the distractions pulling them away, as Steve says, “the amateur tweets”.

    Time to work!

    Thank YOU!

  3. David Kaufmann on August 26, 2016 at 6:33 am

    Interesting. Worth retelling. Thanks.

  4. Kathy Holzapfel on August 26, 2016 at 6:58 am

    Terrific post, Shawn! Would you share a link to the course you mentioned: The Productive Writer?

  5. Tony levelle on August 26, 2016 at 7:33 am

    So, Tim is working on a fresh writing course?

  6. Michael Beverly on August 26, 2016 at 7:34 am

    You’ve pretty much described most marriages.

    I’m not completely cynical; I still believe in love.

    Why? I’m not sure, but I don’t want to live in a world in which it doesn’t exist, where happiness and joy aren’t possible outcomes, even if they’re rare occurrences.

    How will my life look when I reach my writing dreams?

    I’ll possess the purchasing power for my actual motivation and desire:

    A best-friend lover who yearns for the same deep intimate relationship soaked in the same worldview and attitude about life, love, friendship, fun, desire, and home.

    I realize I’m asking for a lot.

    But, I’m done being the small child asking for a second helping of porridge, I want the whole damn world and everything in it.

    C.S. Lewis once wrote that we are like children playing in a mud puddle while spurning a holiday at the beach, only because we are blind. While I completely disagree with his religion, his point is still valid; we settle for nothing even while everything calls to us.

    I have the word Integrity tattooed on my wrist.

    I forgot to read it recently…

    But life does give us second and third and sometimes, even, fourth chances.

    Btw: Someone pointed out (this would be a Story Grid forum success story) something about myself that I never had seen before. That, by itself, was worth a year of therapy. I mention this because I know many writer/creatives live introverted, lonely lives and could benefit from a friendly comment once in awhile.

    Ask and you shall receive; maybe not the first time, or even the second, but eventually…

  7. Shawn Coyne on August 26, 2016 at 8:10 am

    Hi Kathy and everyone else interested in Tim’s course,

    I suggest signing up for Tim’s site at http://www.timgrahl.com to get the heads up when he’s offering classes, what his classes offer etc.

    I think his latest course is sold out and not available at this time. But I do know that he offers courses every three to six months or so and that he’s constantly tweaking his stuff to make it better.

    I took one of his courses a couple years ago to get myself off my butt and start http://www.storygrid.com. Obviously it worked and I’ll be forever grateful to him for giving me the tools to get going. Well he didn’t give them to me. I paid for the tools and I’m happy to have spent that money.

    Just FYI, we do not have a joint venture relationship…meaning I do not get any deals taking his course nor do I participate in any financial windfall from his work. I paid my $197.00 based on his emails and subscribing to his site. I didn’t even tell him I bought in to the class.

    And obviously, Steven Pressfield doesn’t have a business relationship with Tim either. If I ever do something like that with Tim, or if Steve does, it will be absolutely spelled out.

    This post is not about selling Tim’s course. I selfishly used it as a means to transition into telling one of my favorite jokes, which I think explains the pitfalls of believing in magical life change without understanding that meaningful change requires loss and hard work.


  8. Lorene Albers on August 26, 2016 at 10:20 am

    The post is too lengthy, boring, and predictable. Condense it to a few sentences and you have a point and/or joke.

    Just saying

  9. Christine on August 26, 2016 at 10:21 am

    I don’t get the connection to Dorothy Parker…please connect the dots for me 🙂

  10. Mel Jacob on August 26, 2016 at 10:37 pm

    Love it Shawn. It is both very poignant and very timely for me as this week, in Australia, after many years of work my book finally hit the shelves. I know that I am one of the lucky ones. I have the leading independent publisher,I was on the most most popular public radio segment, newspapers and even made it onto a morning TV show. Not to mention interest from producers. It’s fabulous. All I have ever wanted and yet, the question inevitably comes. ‘What are you working on next?’ And then there’s my son’s classroom teacher who took the book from my son after he brought it in for show and tell on the release date and said, ‘No need to buy it, I’ll just borrow this one.’ Or my local library who took seven weeks to return my email only to say there are so many writers that live in my area that they can’t do something for everyone. On some level I thought that after my book was published that everything would miraculously change. It doesn’t. People walk past afraid to catch my eye at book signings and the major chain store who is stocking the book doesn’t have their stock yet. In all this I need to remind myself that it is about the words, it is about the work and all I need to do is get back to it. Mel Jacob.

  11. Kathy Holzapfel on August 27, 2016 at 4:16 am

    Thanks, Shawn! I went nosing around his website and already found a very useful article on productivity, with more to explore. I also like knowing that even though you’re already a highly experienced writer, you remain open to learning new or refreshing old skills.

  12. LarryP on September 1, 2016 at 11:36 am

    According to Wikiquote, the humorist Dorothy Parker would say “What fresh hell can this be?” whenever she answered her doorbell. “What fresh hell is this?” is a variation of the quote that first appeared in the title of a 1989 biography written by Marion Meade, Dorothy Parker: What Fresh Hell Is This?

  13. Silvia on September 4, 2016 at 5:00 am

    So the Muse (having lured you from your sofa) would say instead:”…when I met with you first, you were an Amateur. Now, you’re a Pro.” Welcome to Hell! Brilliant!

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