427 Minus 1 = Zero
My first agent was a gentleman named Barthold Fles. He was seventy years old. When I fictionalized him in The Knowledge, I made him ninety-six. But he was really seventy.
I was twenty-nine at the time, so Bart had me by forty-one years. He was Swiss. He had represented Bertolt Brecht and even Carl Jung. He had seen and done everything.
One day Bart said to me, “How much is 427 minus one?”
I gave the obvious answer: 426.
“No,” said Bart. “It’s zero.”
He was speaking about pages in a novel.
If the full book is 427 and you’ve written 426, you haven’t got 426/427ths.
You’ve got nothing.
The work isn’t ready to be shipped till it’s 427.
I’m working on a new piece of fiction right now and I’m smack up against the finish line. It’s the eighth draft actually, but that’s the big one on this project. When I get this one done, I can say I’m over the hump.
Resistance, of course, is monumental.
So I’m thinking about Bart.
I quit 99.9% of the way through the first novel I tried to write, when I was twenty-four. Everything in my life imploded after that. It took me years to recover.
Like I said, I’m thinking about Bart.
Resistance ratchets itself to fever pitch as we approach the finish of any project. Only one response is possible. We have to assume the full Professional Mindset. Dig deep. Whatever it takes. We have to summon our resources of will and determination and push through.
No matter what, we MUST finish.
When I was interviewing Israeli fighter pilots for The Lion’s Gate, they told me of a concept they called “operational finality.”
The phrase in Hebrew is Dvekut BaMesima.
Mesima is “mission.”
Dvekut means “glued to.”
You and I may not be diving into a swarm of surface-to-air missiles or a barrage of anti-aircraft fire. But we still have to finish page 427. We have to put our bombs on target.
If you’re having trouble crossing that finish line, here are two pieces of good news:
One, you’re not alone. Everybody faces massive Resistance toward the end. It’s the nature of the beast. Like “hitting the wall” in a marathon, that moment of horror always rears its ugly head.
Two, if you can beat that monster one time (I can attest to this absolutely), it will never have the same power over you.
It’ll have power, yeah. But not at the same level.
Beat it once and you can beat it after that every time.
426 = zero.
427 is everything.
Great timing, Steve! Today is my deadline for my novel. I wrote the last page last night but I need to look it over this morning and make really sure it’s *right* before I send it in… It doesn’t just need to be written. It also needs to be right. This one is my masterpiece (at least so far) and I couldn’t stand it if there was a false note in the epilogue…
Thanks for your posts & all the encouragement in them!
All or nothing. Love this math!
Very inspiring and a great reminder!
I just saw this article: https://www.yahoo.com/news/behold-resistance-groundswell-anti-trump-fervor-043812437.html
The name of the movement was too timely to not pass on.
While I admire people that fight for what they believe, I think this might be a distraction for most of the 1,500 attendees.
Makes me think of your examples of ‘shadow careers’. They feel almost as good as creating our art, but they are hollow. I’m 18 months out of the Army, and one flavor of Resistance for me is ‘the high paying corporate gig’. Safety, familiarity, and a title play havoc when I’m trying to carve/shape myself into an entrepreneur.
Thanks for the reminder. My memory of these lessons is just shy of a gnat, so I need to rinse & repeat frequently.
I understand the rationale behind 427, but are we to take it literally. If so, define the size of the page and how many words on each page so I can understand this better.
It’s arbitrary. It’s a specific number because that’s how you tell a good story. Substitute “the number of pages your book will be” for the number and it works as a concept, but it’s lousy storytelling.
Works vary by author. Think of Hemingway. His works tended to be short and swift. This site lists a few of the average word counts of famous novels: https://indefeasible.wordpress.com/2008/05/03/great-novels-and-word-count/
Indeed, Harrison, “427” is just a number I picked out of the air.
By the way, I once asked the aforementioned Bart Fles how long a novel should be. His wise answer: “How long is a letter?” In other words, some letters are short, some are long. It all depends on the subject matter and the treatment of it by the writer.
A timely reminder – as always, thanks for another inspiring post!
Thanks for this Steven! I’ve been up against the wall for a few months now. Lots of excuses, even a reason or two but still I can write this response so mostly it is excuses. I dream the end so I know I can write it. Thanks for the math lesson!
Last week I bought little 1968 compilation of Henry David Thoreau (1817 -1862), and between pithy quotes I learned about his 14 notebooks full of self-reflection, published as The Journal. Most of us don’t have time to self-reflect to that extent in 2017, but your posts come close. We get the exquisite juice and the benefit, while you reflect on your own process. Love it!
This latest blog captures so well one of the critical truths in successful writing. Once you start don’t stop until you are done. I’ve met numerous people who talk about writing a book or having started one but never finished. They tell me how impressive it is that I have published three so far (1 non-fiction, 2 fiction). Impressive? Not hardly, I’m just too damned stubborn to quit. The 427 concept is a wonderful way of describing the necessary persistence that writers, or anyone for that matter, needs to have if they have any hope of being successful.
Thank you again for an insightful look into your world and the keys to achieving goals. The 427 story is one I will share often.
Glued to the mission? Wow – that’s a post, lesson, sermon, toast, and stick it over your mantle/bathroom mirror and cell phone cover all in one.
Wow, your first agent was a heavy hitter (that client list!). A man to listen to.
I have to admit that I haven’t frequented your blog, though I have read some of your books, and you serve as an inspiration. A friend referred me to your post. I love this. I put a reference to something you wrote in this non-fiction writing inspiration book that I’m working on. I wanted to drive home the point that being close to finished does not equal finished, and it doesn’t mean that taking a break from writing is any less devastating than pausing on page one. You’ve mentioned this in your books, in anecdote, and I think that this post really drives that point home. You serve as a voice of inspiration to all of us.
Sir, what you said struck a chord with my experiences in life. I spent much of my life as a project manager. Most people who were given tasks were afraid to declare them complete. 99.9% seems to be how too many people see life, mostly done but with a little hesitancy.
I’m working on a theory of systems for my graduate work and trying to solve the problem of anxiety, which I think can be swapped for “resistence.” My hypothesis is that you are only as strong as your conscious systems of doing. In other words, if you have a plan, and each step of the plan is small and doable in a finite amount of time, you can get over the hump because it puts you in control, but its a bit more involved. I have been completely guilty of abandoning big projects that take years at the 99% mark. It’s such a weird thing we do.
Keep on keepin’ on!!
[…] 427 Minus 1 = ZERO Make it works, no matter what […]
I have a few projects needing that last page…
Why is it soooo hard Steve?
Why must be resistance be soooo cruel?
I know the answer but I’m just expressing my feelings with people who know exactly what resistance is…
Luckily for me, I’m at the shame stage where I have no where else to go then my work.
Running away is no longer easier than just doing the work.
Thanks for doing what you do Mr. Pressfield.
[…] final thought this month comes from Steven Pressfield in “427 Minus 1 = Zero” although the maths is weird, it actually works. It comes from the logic of a literary agent […]
You know I’ve published a lot of (small) books but never any of the fiction books–the ones close to my heart. And you know what–reading this makes me so very aware –it’s not the publishing that’s the problem. That part I don’t even care about so very much–it’s the finishing. The two most professionally satisfying moments of my life were when I wrote that last page. Five years ago, a writer-friend and I co-wrote a novel about affairs going on in our neighborhood. It was a mess but we wrote it through to the end. We finished it, at least a draft. And it was like – wow, we wrestled that monster, that we’d fought with for so long, and we won.
Same thing happened this winter. I am alway jealous of everyone, of course, who is publishing novels, even especially young adult and middle grade fiction. And then finally it hit me -what have I ever finished in any category! So I fought and fought and fought, and experienced the greatest resistance all the way through, and finally got it done. And revised. And sent it off. And that was all I needed, like some great, huge thing had been conquered. The last page. It’s so good to know WE are in control.