Using Your Real Life in Fiction

Today my newest novel, The Knowledge, goes on sale. (Yeah, that’s me in the photo, taken in the same era in which The Knowledge is set.)

You can order The Knowledge right here in a premium “French flap” trade paperback edition not available anywhere else. Also in eBook or an eBook-plus-paperback bundle. There’s a special Holiday Bonus available too.

The Knowledge is my (real-life) writer’s coming-of-age story. I’m the protagonist. The internal story is all true.

The Knowledge takes place in New York City in 1974, when I was driving a cab and struggling to get my first novel published. The story is also, metaphorically, the origin tale of The War of Art. It’s my real-life passage from getting my ass kicked by Resistance to beginning to come to grips with my own demons of self-destruction and self-sabotage.

Which brings us back to my real-life All Is Lost Moment.

What is an All Is Lost moment anyway?

Watch any Hollywood movie. The All Is Lost moment will come around Minute 75, somewhere near the start of Act Three.

In the All Is Lost Moment, the hero is as far away from his or her objective as it is possible to be.

In the first Rocky, for example, Rocky’s moment comes when he leaves Adrian at home and travels by himself, the night before the Big Fight, to the arena in which he will face the heavyweight champ. Standing there, seeing the boxing ring, the huge posters of him and Apollo Creed … the full gravity of the event hits him. Rocky realizes he has no chance to win.

In Silver Linings Playbook, the All Is Lost Moment comes for Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence) immediately after the climactic dance contest, when the man she loves, Pat Solitano (Bradley Cooper), walks away from her and crosses the dance arena to whisper some secret communication to his ex-wife Nikki, whom he’s been trying to get back together with for the whole movie.

You and I have All Is Lost Moments in our real lives too.

The Knowledge is about mine.

In fiction and in real life, an All Is Lost Moment is hopefully followed by an Epiphanal Moment.

In the Epiphanal Moment, the protagonist makes a decision or takes a stand, often driven my desperation, that propels him or her into the climax of the story.

The Knowledge is about my real All Is Lost Moment and my real Epiphanal Moment. I can still name them both and date them down to the hour.

It was those moments (fictionalized of course) that turned me from a wannabe writer to a real one.

I say “fictionalized” because one of the lessons that writing The Knowledge taught me is you gotta make the internal external.

You, the writer, have to make the real bigger than real.

Real as real doesn’t work.

Over the next few weeks I’m going to do a series of posts on the subject of using your real life in fiction.

I’ll use examples from The Knowledge.

I’ll tell you what was true and what was made up. And why I made up what I made up.

We’ll get into why a writer uses his or her own life as material. Is this a good idea? What could possibly go wrong?

And we’ll explore the counterintuitive link between the real and the fictional. How can it be that the fictional is realer than the real?

One last note:

As a Holiday bonus for the first 500 who order The Knowledge paperback-and-eBook bundle, we’re throwing in The War of Art eBook for free.

Why? Because in some crazy way each book is the alternative version of the other. The War of Art came directly out of the events of The Knowledge, and The Knowledge is the fictionalized real-life story of the origin of 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.

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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.

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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

A New Tool to Fight Resistance

Get a new mini-book from Steve every single month.

25 Comments

  1. Mary Doyle on November 23, 2016 at 4:05 am

    Bought the book yesterday and look forward to reading it this weekend on my Kindle. Happy Thanksgiving to you and the rest of the Black Irish team!

  2. Jane on November 23, 2016 at 6:22 am

    Yes, This is probably more than true. The reality of one’s life can be awfully mundane. I wrote a book and self,published it. A few readers have suggested the main character is like me. It is called Degrees of Disappearance. Then I have started a new piece of writing and I find it BORING. I really have to work on a story line.

  3. Graham Glover on November 23, 2016 at 6:41 am

    I just bought the bundle, read the first chapter of The Knowledge, and it’s great! To me, it’s about being real.

    I’m a fashion photographer, right around my All Is Lost Moment. There’s no fashion industry in DC, and NYC isn’t a real option for me. Being a fashion photographer in the DC area is like being on the Jamaican Bobsled Team. I’ve shot a few models, even one on the streets of NYC back in September, but this isn’t progressing. What do I do? Where do I go?

    How will I write my next chapter? 😀

    • Steven Pressfield on November 23, 2016 at 12:11 pm

      Just keep alert, Graham. Watch for signs in your internal weather. Remember what Hollywood tells us: the All Is Lost Moment is always followed by an Epiphanal Moment, a breakthrough of some kind, usually ironic and always unexpected.

      Stay grateful on Thanksgiving!

      • Cameron Duncan Scott on November 25, 2016 at 7:15 pm

        Art of War has changed my life. Without knowing I knew there would be more. I have had my epiphany moment and it was after All Was Truly Lost, for me. There was no chance in my finding A.O.W.,it was right where it was supposed to be when I needed it. My gratitude, Sir.
        ~In The Thick Of It

  4. Michael Beverly on November 23, 2016 at 7:11 am

    Read book.
    Loved book.
    Reviewed book.
    Another epiphany, well, maybe two, for me.

    Using real life as a spice for the recipe is something I’ve known/noticed in my own work, I’m looking forward to seeing the how and why of fictionalizing events and getting them to the gestalt, helping the reader grok it all, and of course allowing it to bring about my own inner healing.

    So I guess all the trouble I’ve gotten into: all the pain I’ve caused (to myself and others), the betrayals, the lies, the destruction, the divorces, the excommunication, the loss of family, friends, and so forth has a payoff for me.

    Nice.

  5. gwen abitz on November 23, 2016 at 7:29 am

    LOVE what THE KNOWLEDGE is about. I have been on the GET REAL Campaign I do not know how many years now. I am beginning to feel and think a lot longer than I am conscious about OR probably wouldn’t be so passionate about it NOW. I have this vision (which has been in the fictional mode) for quite some time about having this GET REAL FOUNDATION. Not sure if it means an actual foundation or getting real is the foundation of WHAT IT TAKES to be real. Well anyway, HAPPY THANKSGIVING everyone..PS:Ordered the Paperback version so need to wait a bit for the delivery.

  6. Heather Hobbs on November 23, 2016 at 8:35 am

    I think there is a natural tendency to use your real life in fiction. It’s what you know and, as mentioned, sometimes you need to deal with the crap and writing about it helps. Unfortunately, I find the very dramatic and noteworthy events of my life, when put on paper aren’t very entertaining, in fact they’re boring. I do find that I will use names and settings from my life in my writing, but these are small details, not major plot points.

  7. David Y.B. Kaufmann on November 23, 2016 at 8:51 am

    Looking forward to the series of posts. Another important topic. And as soon as my copy, arrives, I’ll start reading it!

  8. Joel D Canfield on November 23, 2016 at 10:28 am

    Since I’ve been writing myself as every character for years, it will be nice to get some advice on how to do it right. I still love the fiction=truth concept, which I always knew but could never fully articulate beyond quoting Chaucer’s character in A Knight’s Tale when he says “I’m a writer; I give the truth scope!”

  9. Lee on November 23, 2016 at 1:11 pm

    I have been using the “real life” in my poetry already and look forward to using in plays as well (MY fiction is drama). Look forward to the read.

  10. Adam Abramowitz on November 23, 2016 at 1:17 pm

    Awesome stuff! Looking forward to the book, and, the new series of Writing Wednesday’s.

  11. BING on November 23, 2016 at 1:18 pm

    The internal must become external.
    The real must become more real.

    Looking forward for more, this is great information.
    Thank you Steve.

  12. Terri on November 23, 2016 at 1:35 pm

    Thanks Steve – this sounds a really important series for those like me wanting to understand this link and take the leap. Look forward to it!

  13. Scrivener on November 23, 2016 at 5:07 pm

    I just hide under the bed!

  14. Alex Cespedes on November 23, 2016 at 7:12 pm

    So timely! Already ordered and will read over this holiday weekend. Thank you!

  15. Alex on November 23, 2016 at 11:15 pm

    Will there be an audiobook for this?

    • Steven Pressfield on November 24, 2016 at 1:29 pm

      I hope so, Alex. It’ll depend on how many people actually buy the book.

      Thanks for asking!

  16. Allen Kuzara on November 24, 2016 at 8:07 pm

    Congratulations, Steve, on the newest book. Can’t wait to read it. Speaking of audiobooks – is there any chance Turning Pro will be recorded? I’ve worn out my audio copies of Do the Work and TWOA.

  17. Anthony Hunsche on November 25, 2016 at 4:44 pm

    This is some serious synchronicity…

    I had a major all-is-lost moment earlier this year, and have been working on an album centered around it. One of the big issues I’ve been grappling with when writing and revising lyrics is how true-to-life or fictitious they should be, and not losing the emotional punch when I do take creative liberties.

    As such, I’m really looking forward to reading the book and the upcoming blog series!

  18. Michael Beverly on November 26, 2016 at 6:52 am

    Hey it’s Saturday…

    Received an email this morning and thought something new and unusual had dropped.

    Are you guys just teasing us or what?

    Anyway, loved the book. True story: back in 2014 when I found Shawn’s blog, I used to wake up at 6 or 7, get a cup of coffee and hit refresh, refresh…

    It took me several months to figure out that Shawn published on a schedule, and I didn’t have to check every morning for a new Story Gird post.

    Yeah, I’m slow sometimes.

  19. John on November 26, 2016 at 7:19 am

    I’m standing at minute 75 — my all-is-lost moment — as I wonder about the course I’ve been on for the last five years. Now so far from shore that there’s no turning back — the weight of the decisions I’ve made along the way feel like a humiliating mistake. What have I done??

    Your post and this book are very timely. I can’t turn back. But am encouraged that the epiphanal moment is near.

    Your work has been invaluable. Thank you!

  20. Mia on November 26, 2016 at 7:42 am

    I’m sure it must sound like an exaggeration, but this whole series of posts, and your new book are laser-targeted answers to prayer for me. Don’t worry, I’m praying to God, not you!

  21. Eiry on November 26, 2016 at 10:30 am

    I’d like to ask you why you put the ‘All is Lost’ moment near the start of Act III when the Writer’s Journey puts it around the middle of Act II – [the Belly of the Beast?] That’s quite a difference.

    Thanks for the helpful advice you put out btw.

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