We were talking last week about “what works and what doesn’t,” i.e. what activities produce (for me) peace of mind at the end of the day. I listed a number that didn’t work—money, attention, family life, etc.

"It may be the devil, or it may be the Lord ... but you gotta serve somebody."

“It may be the devil, or it may be the Lord … but you gotta serve somebody.”

Let’s talk today about what does work.

If you asked me at this time of my life to define my identity—after cycling through many, many over the years—I would say I am a servant of the Muse.

That’s what I do.

That’s how I live my life.

[Remember, this post is Why I Write, Part 6.]

Consider this (incomplete and possibly out-of-order) selection from our newest Nobel laureate.

 

Bob Dylan

The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan

The Times They Are a-Changin’

Highway 61 Revisited

Blonde on Blonde

Bringing It All Back Home

Blood on the Tracks

Desire

John Wesley Harding

Street-legal

Nashville Skyline

Slow Train Coming

Hard Rain

Time Out of Mind

Tempest

Shadows in the Night

 

See the Muse in there? Mr. D might not agree with the terminology I’m employing, but he is definitely serving something, isn’t he? Something is leading him and he is following it.

That’s exactly what I do.

An idea seizes me. Gates of Fire. Bagger Vance. The Lion’s Gate. Where is this idea coming from? The unconscious? The soul? The Jungian “Self?”

My answer: the Muse.

I experience this apparition-of-the-idea as an assignment. I’m being tasked by the Muse with a mission.

 

You are to travel by sea to Antioch. There you will meet a tall man with one eye who will hand you a talisman ….

 

My instinctive reaction, always, is to reject the idea. “It’s too hard, nobody’s gonna be interested, I’m not the right person, etc.”

This of course is the voice of Resistance.

In a few days (or weeks or months) I recognize this.

I accept my task.

I accede to my mission.

This is how I live my life. From project to project, year by year. As the Plains Indians followed the herds of buffalo and the seasonal grass, I follow the Muse.

Wherever she tells me to go, I go.

Whatever she asks me to do, I do.

I fear the Muse. She has slapped me around a few times over the years. I’ve been scared straight.

She has also cared for me. She has never failed me, never been untrue to me, never led me in any direction except that which was best for me on the deepest possible level.

She has taken me to places I would never have gone without her. She has shown me parts of the world, and parts of myself, that I would never have even dreamt existed.

But let’s take this notion a little deeper.

What I’m really saying is that I believe that life exists on at least two levels. The lower level is the material plane. That’s where you and I live. The higher level is the home of the soul, the neshama, the Muse.

The higher level is a lot smarter than the lower level.

The higher level understands in a far, far deeper way.

It understands who we are.

It understands why we are here.

It understands the past and the future and our roles within both.

My job, as I understand it, is to make myself open to this higher level.

My job is to keep myself alert and receptive.

My job is to be ready, in the fullest professional sense, when the alarm bell goes off and I have to slide down the pole and jump into the fire engine.

Again, I didn’t choose this way of living.

I didn’t seek it out.

I didn’t even know it existed.

I tried everything and nothing else worked. This was the only thing I’ve found that does the job for me.

In other words, I don’t do what I do for money. I don’t do it for ego or attention or because I think it’s cool. I don’t do it because I have a message to deliver or because I want to influence my brothers and sisters in any way (other than to let them know, from my point of view anyway, that they are not alone in their struggle.)

When I say I’m a servant of the Muse I mean that literally.

The goddess has saved my life and given it meaning or, perhaps more accurately, she has allowed me to participate in the meaning she already embodies, whether I understand it or not.

Everything I do in my life is a form of getting ready for the next assignment.

THE WAR OF ART

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.

The-War-of-Art

DO THE WORK

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

THE AUTHENTIC SWING

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.

The-Authentic-Swing

NOBODY WANTS TO READ YOUR SH*T

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.

noboybookcover

TURNING PRO

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?"

Turning-Pro

21 Comments

  1. Mary Doyle on October 26, 2016 at 4:40 pm

    A beautiful post – and well worth the wait (I was suffering from Writing Wednesdays withdrawal). Thanks for this Steve!

  2. Douglas Keeler on October 26, 2016 at 6:16 pm

    I was fortunate enough to hit Amazon’s Best Sellers List with First book Savannah Gone, & I’ve been struggling with the follow up because of what else…resistance. Thanks for reminding me to get back in the ring & to keep throwing punches.

  3. Wendy R Wolf on October 26, 2016 at 6:19 pm

    I SO appreciate you, your lived-wisdom, and how much you show how to live a creative life, Steve!

    Bless you on your way, you help So many of us with your modeling, and your words.

    in life, Wendy

    >
    Reading this, I was reminded of a different tradition – this interaction with Jesus, according to John:

    60 On hearing this, many of His disciples said, “This is a difficult teaching. Who can accept it?”

    61 Aware that His disciples were grumbling about this teaching, Jesus asked them, “Does this offend you? 62 Then what will happen if you see the Son of Man ascend to where He was before?

    63 The Spirit gives life; the flesh profits nothing. The words I have spoken to you are spirit and they are life…

    66 From that time on, many of His disciples turned back and no longer accompanied Him. 67 So Jesus asked the Twelve, “Do you want to leave too?”

    68 Simon Peter replied, “Lord, to whom would we go? You have the words of eternal life. 69 We believe and know that You are the Holy One of God.”

  4. Jule Kucera on October 26, 2016 at 6:23 pm

    “The goddess has saved my life and given it meaning or, perhaps more accurately, she has allowed me to participate in the meaning she already embodies, whether I understand it or not.”

    Yes. And this is why we write, whether we feel like it or not. And why we write about what we write about, whether we understand it or not. We write because of the muse.

  5. Roger Steen on October 26, 2016 at 6:56 pm

    Steve, I really look forward to your ideas and thoughts each week. Thanks. Really.
    Would you maybe (one of these days) tell us more about the moment you recognized that your muse existed? If it was a gradual recognition, was there an ‘aha’ moment when you saw her existence with some clarity?

  6. Tony Levelle on October 26, 2016 at 7:34 pm

    This post is close to my heart. After wrestling with this process (following the muse) for 50 years, I believe there is a missing ‘step’ … maybe not a step, but something going on in the background that you are not writing about.

    That thing is ‘You did the work.’ I agree with everything you say. I shake my head and say, “Yeah, he got it.” Then I think of being 30 and reading this 40 years ago.

    Would it have helped me? No.

    Why? Because the first essential I needed to master was ‘Do the work.’ Everything else springs from that. Even knowing that you serve the muse. Let’s see… I think someone even wrote a book with that title…

    I guess if I could go back and give my 30 year old self advice it would be ‘chill out, do the work, and everything else will fall into place.’

    Peace,
    Tony

  7. aether on October 26, 2016 at 7:36 pm

    My eyes blurred with tears while reading this post Steven. Your words conveyed the untransferable. Thank you.

  8. C. Longoria Gonzalez on October 26, 2016 at 8:51 pm

    Great post. Thank you, again.

  9. judith feldman on October 26, 2016 at 9:05 pm

    Life is enchanted, once you realize it. Tap into it. Beautiful piece. So complete! With all its layering, some stated, come just there. Just like the relationship. Great!

  10. Marvin Waschke on October 26, 2016 at 11:49 pm

    Steven, You are one crazy SOB. Yeah.

  11. Erika Viktor on October 27, 2016 at 12:03 am

    There’s always something in the box.

  12. Martin Haworth on October 27, 2016 at 5:18 am

    Steven, this really hit a note for me.

    So this is who I’m serving. I knew there was someone. I’m not religious and I simply couldn’t believe that the goal was achieving material things (OK, so I like to buy a few things, but there’s a limit, right?).

    This is the icon I’ve been seeking – my muse!

    Thank you.

  13. gwen abitz on October 27, 2016 at 5:22 am

    Once again “stealing” the words: “I tried everything and nothing else worked. This was the only thing I’ve found that does the job for me. In other words, I don’t do what I do for money. I don’t do it for ego or attention or because I think it’s cool. I don’t do it because I have a message to deliver or because I want to influence my brothers and sisters in any way (other than to let them know, from my point of view anyway, that they are not alone in their struggle.)” – I’ve never been on the “goddess”plane or referred to “it all” as being “from the Muse”. I am not a writer. Writing has been “the process” for me. The characters have been named “Little One” and “Big One” – I’ve referred to it all as “Divine Intervention” – and many times have felt and asked when I have written something and read later and even years later; “where in the heck did that come from.”

  14. Dorothy Seeger on October 27, 2016 at 10:51 am

    It took my breath away to read this. So deep, so powerful. The Muse obviously had something to say to all of us, and not to writers only. Thank you.

  15. ZIYAH BLACKSTONE on October 28, 2016 at 6:52 am

    Dear Steve,
    Thanks yet again for reminding me to stay clear n not waste my time with bullshit and to always be aware of the beautiful dance and dancing partner available to us…
    I’m crazy about you Steve…not only do I always personally enjoy every word your words are always present n spot on…you literally guide me back to the truth if I waiver from it.

    Thank you my brother, big love, Ziyah

  16. Joelle on October 28, 2016 at 1:44 pm

    Steve, that is a good text!

  17. Sandy Brown Jensen on November 2, 2016 at 6:34 am

    I am completely startled by this post. I didn’t realize other people experienced the Muse the same way I do. Is this rare? Why is it no one else around me seems to live according to this, to me, crystal clear Way?

  18. Liz Nierzwicki on November 2, 2016 at 12:27 pm

    I love everything about this article. It speaks to my muse, my soul, my mission. Thank you!!!! Love your words & insights.

  19. […] if you wonder why you are here and what your role is, look no further than Steven Pressfield who writes: “I believe that life exists on at least two levels. The lower level is the material […]

  20. […] if you wonder why you are here and what your role is, look no further than Steven Pressfield who writes: “I believe that life exists on at least two levels. The lower level is the material […]

  21. Aaron C on November 3, 2016 at 9:53 am

    I’m sure you didn’t mean this to be depressing… But it is. Why? Because I don’t enjoy writing, but I do like how I feel when I’ve finished putting some words on paper. It’s the only time my brain kind of lets me off the hook for a day or two.

    Not sure what to do about that, but this post makes me think I’m pretty much doomed. 🙁

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