Report from the Trenches, #1
I’m gonna take a break in this series on Villains and instead open up my skull and share what’s going on in my own work right now.
It ain’t pretty.
I’m offering this post in the hope that an account of my specific struggles at this moment will be helpful to other writers and artists who are dealing with the same mishegoss, i.e. craziness, or have in the past, or will in the future.
Here’s the story:
Eighteen months ago I had an idea for a new fiction piece. I did what I always do at such moments: I put it together in abbreviated (Foolscap) form—theme, concept, hero and villain, Act One/Act Two/Act Three, climax—and sent it to Shawn.
He loved it.
I plunged in.
Cut to fifteen months later. I sent the finished manuscript (Draft #10) to Shawn.
He hated it.
I’m overstating, but not by much.
Shawn sent me back a 15-page, single-spaced file titled “Edit letter to Steve.” That was April 28, about ten weeks ago.
Every writer who is reading this, I feel certain, has had this identical experience. Myself, I’ve been through it probably fifty times over the years, for novels, for screenplays, for everything.
Here was my emotional experience upon reading Shawn’s notes:
- I went into shock.
It was a Kubler-Ross experience. Shawn’s notes started out positively. He told me the things he liked about the manuscript. I knew what was coming, though.
When I hit the “bad part,” my brain went into full vapor lock. It was like the scene in the pilot of Breaking Bad when the doctor tells Bryan Cranston he’s got inoperable lung cancer. The physician’s lips are moving but no sound is coming through.
Here’s the e-mail I sent back to Shawn:
Pard, I just read your notes and as usually happens, I’m kinda overwhelmed. As you suggest, I’ll have to re-read a bunch of times and chew this all over.
MAJOR, MAJOR THANKS for the effort and skill you put into that memo. Wow.
I’m gonna sit with this for a while.
Can you read between the lines of that note? That is major shell shock.
- I put Shawn’s notes away and didn’t look at them for two weeks.
In some corner of my psyche I knew Shawn was right. I knew the manuscript was a trainwreck and I would have to rethink it from Square One and start again.
I couldn’t face that possibility.
The only response I could muster in the moment was to put Shawn’s notes aside and let my unconscious deal with them.
Meanwhile I put myself to work on other projects, including a bunch of Writing Wednesdays posts. But a part of me was thinking, How dare I write anything ‘instructional’ when, after fifty years of doing this stuff, I still can’t get it right myself?
There’s a name for that kind of thinking.
It’s called Resistance.
I knew it. I knew that this was a serious gut-check moment. I had screwed up. I had failed to do all the things I’d been preaching to others.
- After two weeks I took Shawn’s notes out and sat down with them. I told myself, Read them through one time, looking only for stuff you can agree with.
If Shawn’s notes made eight points, I found I could accept two.
That’s a start.
I wrote this to Shawn:
Pard, gimme another two weeks to convince myself that your ideas are really mine. Then I’ll get back to you and we can talk.
- Three days later, I read Shawn’s notes again.
This time I found four things to agree with.
That was progress. For the first time I spied a glimmer of daylight.
- Two days later I began thinking of one of Shawn’s ideas as if I had come up with it myself.
Yeah, it’s my idea. Let’s rock it!
(I knew of course that the idea was Shawn’s. But at last, forward motion was occurring. I had passed beyond the Denial Stage.)
I’ll continue this Report From the Trenches next week. I don’t want this post to run too long and get boring.
The two Big Takeaways from today:
First, how lucky any of us is if we have a friend or editor or fellow writer (or even a spouse) who has the talent and the guts to give us true, objective feedback.
I’d be absolutely lost without Shawn.
And second, what a thermonuclear dose of Resistance we experience when faced with the hard truth about something we’ve written that truly sucks.
Our response to this moment, I believe, is what separates the pros from the amateurs. An amateur at this juncture will fold. She’ll balk, she’ll become defensive, she’ll dig in her heels and refuse to alter her work. I can’t tell you how close I came to doing exactly that.
The pro somehow finds the strength to bite the bullet. The process is not photogenic. It’s a bloodbath.
For me, the struggle is far from over. I’ve got weeks and weeks to go before I’m out of the woods and, even then, I may have to repeat this regrouping yet again.
[NOTE TO READER: Shall I continue these “reports from the trenches?” I worry that this stuff is too personal, too specific. Is it boring? Write in, friends, and tell me to stop if this isn’t helpful.
This is pure Gold Steven! Please continue writing the reports. I found it very useful and keen to know more, particularly exposing why Shawn’s ideas hit a nerve with you. Thank you so much.
Steven – the “report from the trenches” is like a splash of cold water on your face — it can be shock, but it does wake you up. Please continue with those. But. . . a question: Should there not come a time when the writer has follow her own muse and stick to what she’s written, even if she has a trusted and talented editor/friend/mentor saying otherwise? (By the way, my father was a WWII Marine veteran, and we grew up with Willie & Joe. So there’s Willie staring at a single intact window pane in a bombed out building, and Joe advising him: “Better go bust it, or you’ll be thinking about it all night.”)
By all means, please continue telling us how you’re overcoming “Resistance” with a capital “R.” I’m in prime position to relate to it because the same thing happened to me about a month ago when a fellow writer critiqued my novel. It felt like a stomach punch straight to the gut. I knew some of her critique was right, but taking off my blinders hasn’t been easy. I “thought” I was just taking time off for a family vacation but when I got back to the novel, rigor mortis had set in. I couldn’t even think. Deep denial. Like you, I found a few points I could admit were valid. One step at a time. It’s so helpful to hear how you’re dealing with this.
There’s part of me — the ‘Joker’ — who wants to give you a dose of your own medicine and say, “Don’t write another Wednesday post until you’ve nailed the rewrite”; but there’s another part, the less sadistic geezer, that’s intrigued how you dig yourself out the hole. On balance, it’s your call, but I’m sure all us amateurs would learn a great deal by understanding the need for honest feedback and what the hell to do with it.
In 2015, I decided to move into novel writing (specifically Cyberpunk). had my own Shawn, only his name is Casey. I sent him my first draft, knowing that he’d take it as a first draft and not inappropriately kill my inner artist with surface critique.
He was SAVAGE in his honesty. And it hurt. Bad.
We have worked together for ten years creating any manner of things (video games, websites, comics) but this was the first time he was acting as a sounding board instead of collaborator… reading his email burned me alive. But it was all truth, and that burning was necessary to cleanse the field of weeds.
Long story short, this post form you was so relatable I had to comment after years of reading your stuff. Please share more. And thank you. It’s a HUGE benefit to see the established and successful folks we look up to and take advice from go through what everyone goes through. It helps make success seem attainable 🙂
Yes, by all means, please continue – you’re lucky to have Shawn and we are lucky to have you!
This is helpful, if not sobering.
It’s a reminder the no professional artist is exempt from the editing process–even if they’ve worked 18 months on a project and had done 10 drafts.
Personally, I’d be more terrified and paralyzed if an editor (especially somebody like Shawn) wrote:
“This looks great. Let’s publish it as is.”
..says the guy who left an extra “the” in his comment. 🙂
Please, please, please don’t stop. It hurts so good, as that Hoosier boy would say.
Keep the reports coming. It gives me hope that I’ll improve when you admit that after 50 years you still struggle with all the same thing I’m fighting.
MORE from the trenches!
Yes, keep ’em coming. This helps more than you know. I appreciate your sharing part of your journey.
Transparency is beautiful.
Love the reports from the trenches! Especially as a fan of Shawn’s Story Grid (& podcast listener), this brings it to life in a new way 🙂
Keep ’em coming!
My vote is that you continue with these types of posts. I’m not going to lie, it’s terrifying to read and to identify with the moment of shock when receiving such notes. But I also like how over time that shock turns into forward movement. Thank you for sharing such a vulnerable and personal moment.
Very helpful, and inspiring, very! Please continue. Maybe it’s like Springsteen letting us watch a practice session. Unlike the final product – it looks almost human, but we know the magic is in there once it all comes to fruition.
It’s not too personal. Part of the problem anyone doing work that faces resistance is that problems seem unique and personal. We think we are alone in feeling this, and look at all those pros out there who crank out work, beat their demons, and have a sip of tea along the way. That others go though it, that they defeat exactly what we mere mortals go though, it helps.
This “reports from the trenches” was just what I needed today. Thank you for being open enough to share so much of yourself with us.
Thank so so much for this personal insight Steven. It’s so good to hear these stories so as to keep a constant reminder that Resistance is out to trip us up everyday… even for the guy who literally wrote the book on it!
It’s not boring! Gut wrenching. I heard, “Don’t feed the monster!” I thought, ‘Time is an illusion.’ I recalled, “We’re all in the same soup.” (CGJung)
Thank you for sharing.
Totally loved this post. Moving and useful. Thank you for sharing it, and please do NOT stop. I truly want to know what happens next!!
Please continue these. I NEED them. I need to know what it’s not gonna be perfect and that’s okay. That I’m gonna write crap and that’s okay, that the pros do it too and they have to rewrite and do the work even when they really really don’t want to, but that it’s possible to come out the other side, even when it’s really hard. That no path is an easy walk in the park even after doing it successfully once or even a few times.
The reminders are a godsend.
Yes, please keep us updated on your progress. Seems weird, I know, but it kind of helps to know we aren’t alone with our resistance. Keep Writing!
Love these Steve. Most of us don’t have the version of Shawn that you have. But, taking his class, listening to his podcast, gives me a feeling that I at least on the edge of the Shawn universe. When you share, I get closer. And the next time I want to put my book away and never look at it again, I will remember your posts! Thank you, for writing what is really going on!
Please don’t stop sharing. As someone moving from writer to author (and hopefully to professional author) hearing your story helps me. If the Pro needs wait time to think through their changes, than it it OK for me to need wait time, too.
My husband listened to the total meltdown at New Year’s (no one likes my story, I’m wasting my time, argh, ack) etc. Now we are starting to move beyond that to how can I fix this mess but it is a hard road to move to the next step. Thank you for sharing your story.
Yes, please. Keep being honest. You are not too personal. You are real and honest. You show the only way to fight resistance is to do the work. Every day. Don’t give up. Slay the dragon.
Keep posting these updates, they are really helpful, precisely because they’re personal and specific. Helps us realise that all truly great work does not just fall into our lap or receives instant approval but involves huge effort, blood, sweat & tears. And anger/frustration. You’re right, resistance wants us to say:”Aah well, I’ll just give up then.” Because giving up doesn’t require any effort or hard work as opposed to reviewing and refining our new creations. I often think of seeds, having to push like hell to get out of their seed coat, then having to carry on pushing like mad through the dark soil, without the faintest idea if they’re going the right direction, how long it will take, are they making any progress and whether this is even worth it. Once they’re out at ground level, they get attacked by snails etc etc but somehow they keep pushing on and eventually some turn into beautiful stately trees. Keep on pushing, it will be worth the pain and struggle. Kick resistance in the teeth!
Thank you for you honesty, Steve! It definitely helps to know that Resistance can still rear its head even for you. Please continue. Not boring at all. We writers are such geeks! Cheers.
Thank you Steve.
You adventure gives me hope, even though your worst work could surpass any of mine.
Please share all the unedited versions.
And thanks for being a PRO!
Loving it Steve, please continue
PLEASE keep the report from the Trenches!!!
Whoops need to add this. For me, it is like not being able to see the forest for the trees.
This is definitely not boring. It takes guts to write about this, but the raw honesty of it is what makes it so helpful for us writers. It’s actually exactly what I needed to read right now. I’m sure you’ll find a way out of your predicament.
Keep them coming…we’re all fighting the big R.
By all means, please keep sending us Reports From the Trenches. Online, it’s too easy to glamorize our lives and achievements and make everything look effortless (see: Facebook, Instagram). I find it so encouraging that even a pro like you still wrestles with this stuff 50 years in. It makes it okay to have these struggles myself. Resistance would have us believe that being a Pro means creating without heartache, that if it isn’t easy we shouldn’t even try. Thanks for unmasking the Enemy once again, and inspiring us all.
Please continue. I got a similar response from my agent on a book. That was ten years ago and resistance still has me mired in a shadow career. Hearing your struggles gives me hope.
Sharing this sort of experience is one of the most valuable things an expert/pro/highlyproficientperson can do.
There is particular value because of the remarkable proliferation of process-sharing online by people who do not actually have any such expertise.
For example, a couple of weeks ago I read almost with shock a post by an everyday blogger whose advice was entitled something like How To Do Great Art and used as her vehicle what she went through to get something written that she needed to get done. (Enough said).
Remember the last time art was easy?
This kind of angst is art. That being said, if you sit down, you CAN pull your pants on two legs at a time. Before you go “Huh?” all the pro, non-pro, am I there yet comments brought that on.
IMO, art’s a journey, not a destination and to walk the path is a reason to live, not mourn. Complete with hills and valleys, as Steven has shared.
I love both: posts about the principles you’ve mastered while faithfully writing toward the light at the end of the tunnel, and posts that remind us how that light can morph into a Resistance freight train intent on crushing that faith. (And what a gift that you’re not a fusty relic from an antique century but a living, breathing man of our time, struggling as we struggle.) Your knowledge arms us. Your fight inspires us.
Reverend Pressfield! I say you’re right! This is a very boring and thoroughly uninteresting post. I’d much prefer your polished,concrete, well reasoned and thought out instruction and encouragement…:)
ARE YOU KIDDING US? THIS is the Gold brother! It’s a magical share and I feel privileged to have read it.
It does seem to me, without knowing word 1 of the material however, that a) any artistic endeavor such as this is a subjective one – to both the writer and the reader. I have no doubt that there would be a vast audience who would love your 10th draft with absolutely no changes whatsoever! But on the other hand b) if you agree that Shawn has an understanding of your end goal for the material and if you believe that his feedback would in fact get the material closer to the desired end result, AND you have faith in his ability to get you closer than you could get on your own, it’s a no brainer to jump in and make a revision with the changes. If nothing else it’s yet another opportunity to be creative and take on a challenge and create another new thing. You can then sit with them both and decide which you prefer personally and go with that one. It’s YOUR creation, and you’re brilliant at what you do,of course you are,or you wouldn’t have the success and devoted following you do. Find courage and confidence in us and be true to the talented artist we all love and admire so. It will be fantastic either way, I have no doubt.
Best wishes my friend!
I’m with Ken on this one, would like to see both sides.
But, whatever, I am a fan of your posts. They are the ONLY ones I make time to read.
So. Extremely. Helpful.
Yes, YES! Please do continue these “reports from the trenches” posts, Steve.
Hate that you have to go through this, but love that you’re sharing the experience. Very insightful, and you’re not even capable of writing anything boring.
I hope these “trench reports” become a regular addition to Writing Wednesdays. The Villain breakdown you’ve been laying out is great head knowledge. The report today is more like spirit fuel.
Fifty years in you’ve developed a keen Geiger counter for Resistance. Us, the passengers & crew of your Reader-ship, our Resistance detectors advance by leaps & bounds when you grant us a peek into your personal struggle like you have today.
Thank you Steven!
I not sure if doing really good work ever gets easy. We do get in the habit of doing the hard work.
Great report, please continue with these !
It is only 0714, and this is already the 40th post…so I hope that message is clear enough. Please keep these personal posts coming. Your blogs about the “Lion’s Gate” are still some of my favorite, the open Kimono blogs are the stickiest for me.
My ‘art’ is currently a race. We race up and down stairs at the historic Stadium High School in Tacoma, Wa. For the first five years I marketed the race as this ‘CrossFit-ish, Spartanish–are you tough enough’ event.
This year we have pivoted to make it about unifying and connecting via shared struggle. (I always told my Soldiers that I was a big fan of collective suffering for team building, but my wife and others said ‘suffering’ wouldn’t resonate with people).
Bottom line is we have a video that I’ve thought of for 18 months to communicate this vision. I am surprised at my own fright, nervousness, and unease–but I do know why–I’m exposing my inner core, and it is frightening. Naked before the Gods.
That said, Kelly and I had a very difficult discussion about this video a few weeks ago similar to your feedback from Shawn. She was right. I think we are close to nailing it–but I got angry, defensive, frustrated…basically acted like a toddler.
I’d like to share this video in this forum when it is ready to go, if that is appropriate.
I think your ‘from the trenches’ posts encourage some repricocisty from us. It is authentic, and I for one, love it.
Thanks for what you do. Your fiction is fantastic, but your non-fiction and blogs save lives.
Please continue. The process doesn’t bend, even for someone with your depth of insight (unfortunately, sigh). You can do it!
Keep posting! The timing is dead nuts for me. I just got back feedback for my pilot from a literary manager, and it wasn’t pretty (ego-wise). I’ve been sitting with it for about a week now, and after giving DO THE WORK another quick read to get my mind straight, and seeing this post, I’m finally ready to dive into the re-write. Thanks. Truly.
Steven, keep ’em coming, they are like traveling with a friend. Yes, you can travel alone, but it’s better with a friend, especially when one feels a little lost!
It’s helpful to know that the story wrangling process is ongoing…sometimes they break easy, and sometimes they break hard. Not for the faint of heart or the fragile, this thing! Thanks for all you do and say.
Thank you Steve for sharing. Feels like your post was a kick in the.. for me. I’ve moved through shock and resistance. I’ve been stuck in the angry stage for awhile now. LOL
Thanks for keeping me “moving through the process.”
All my best.
Keep this stuff coming! It’s very helpful.
Yep, it’s all good so keep pouring your heart onto the page.
I appreciate your thoughtful, relevant and revealing posts – so, yes, keep going!
Please continue. After reading that, I’m on the edge of my seat, and so comforting to know I’m not the only one who occasionally feels physically sick with self-doubt.
I have virtually stopped reading “inspirational” blogs and books about writing because they’re all running together in my head.
This, though, is not inspirational, not in that sense, anyway.
This is me seeing that someone I deeply respect feels exactly like me and that I am not lost lost lost in the woods, I am following the same trail as every writer I love and respect.
Hey, instead of lunch, let’s get together in the fetal position on the closet floor sometime, eh?
Yes, please, more of these.
Oh my, Steve! As always, I am grateful for your courage and wisdom. Please keep this going. You are the best.
Thanks to Shawn for reviewing carefully and commenting honestly. Thank you, Steven, for your vulnerability with this post. And for your willingness to strap on the tool belt and get back to work.
Looks like a unanimous YES so far…I agree…please keep them coming. Thank you Steve. Blessings.
Steve, please keep up with “The Report from the Trenches.” Not in the sense that misery loves company but in the sense of camaraderie and in that this thing we do, huddled alone, is hard and knowing everyone struggles helps us to get on with it.
Great stuff! The specifics make it that much more grounded in reality, and I think it’s very useful for us. Thank you. And please continue with these posts, Steve
I used to write computer code for a living before Chronic Fatigue Syndrome ate that part of my brain.
When a computer gives you feedback on your code, it is truly objective. Whether the program won’t compile (what you’ve written doesn’t even make sense), or some portion takes up too may resources (this section is too slow), or it just doesn’t do what you want it to (that should be a big green rectangle, but it’s coming up as a little yellow one), there is just no arguing with it.
Not so with prose writing. That’s what makes it so hard to accept feedback, so easy to reject it. “Well, Shawn said X, but that’s his opinion, he’s wrong!” Of course, Steve has worked with Shawn long enough to know he’s fooling himself, but it takes that kind of trust in the other person’s ability to know that you’re fooling yourself. And enough trust in your own ability to a) change what needs to be changed, and b) decide that maybe Shawn is wrong on point 7.
“Dear Lord, give me the talent to rewrite what my editor is correct in saying needs to be changed, the self-confidence to keep what he’s wrong about changing, and he wisdom to know the difference.”
Not too personal, NOT boring! Please keep them coming!
If you don’t I’ll meet you in Athens, Lysander.
Yes, absolutely please keep posting these reports. Extremely helpful for your fellow writers!
Thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you. Your work is a major inspiration to me and posts like this really inspire me. You and Shawn are the real deal and this has become a spritual pursuit for me. Please continue to service us the way you have been
These reports are invaluable. They’re unusually frank and, of course, well written. Thank you!
Mr. Pressfield, Steve, please continue to report from the trenches. It inspires me to battle my own resistance as I wrestle free of it clutches when the muse desends upon me. It is comforting to know my struggle is real. Since I have read some of your books( gates of fire and the profession are my favorites) and follow your’s and shawn’s website (bravo to you both) I have gained more confidence in my own writing. Thank you for being available and showing us the way.
It had not occurred to me that it is such a process to accept and be able to use criticism. You are lucky to have someone so honest and direct in your life. I am jealous. It’s too easy for me to dismiss comments as personal prejudice when I don’t respect the person.
Anytime I read about another writer–no matter where they are in their writing career–in the throes of “gut check time”, I find solace. I may not be there today. I may not be there tomorrow. I may not have been there in weeks (which is being optimistic, I’ll be honest)… but reading how one battles Resistance is another arrow to stick in the quiver. Thank you for sharing. You are awesome.
This is the exact kind of vulnerable, personal story that helps all of us out here who follow your work to keep plugging away on our own. Thank you!
By all means, we need to know how it all ends! 🙂
It’s so generous of you to share this, Steve. Thank you. Report from the Trenches is anything but boring – it’s inspiring! Please keep it up … or even turn it into a regular series. Good luck with your manuscript. 🙂
Please keep the reports from the trenches coming – they are valuable.
There’s a member of our family who wrote a novel (honestly, that’s not code for me. I haven’t got that far with my writing – yet). It was accepted by a major publisher but they wanted some changes. He refused to change a word of his precious novel. Of course, it’s never been published.
Same guy had a TV show accepted, subject to changes. Same pattern, no show.
Your point about being amateur or pro is so right. Fight the resistance.
The War of Art is one of a handful of books I’ve read again and again. I need to be reminded of the Resistance repeatedly. I don’t know why I was surprised that you still have thoughts that begin with “How dare I . . .” That is textbook Resistance right there (even after 50 years).
Keep these posts coming. There’s nothing wrong with the tips on great villians, but we’re all in the trenches, too. It’s good to know that even you are still there next to us.
You just hit a lot of where I am in editing and revision. I am working on my first manuscript and it is nice to hear your words. There are so many voices that just say “Publish it, get it out of the way, and get back to writing. You need more writing rather than better writing.” It is refreshing to hear a professional coach others to be professional and do it through an introspective journey. The impact is not lost on me as I am sure it has not been lost on others. I am thankful for what you and Shawn have shared through Story Grid and these posts. I have been reading your stuff for about six months now. It was your personal post today that brought out my first comment. When Resistance knows me better than I know myself, it is time for self to rise to the occasion. 🙂
We LOVE the reports from the trenches- they are incredibly inspiring and affirming that we’re not alone in our journey’s that we often daren’t speak of- many thanks Steve!!!
Never boring. Keep them coming, please and thank you!
YES! Please keep these coming – helps to understand you go thru this as well, even with all the experience you have. It’s the process we gotta commit to, and keep those huskies mushing 🙂
Yes, please continue walking us through your process of dealing with this bout of Resistance. It is extremely helpful to watch as you deal with it. I’ve been fighting (and failing) for years to fight mine so your posts are like a beacon of light, even when you’re struggling. Thank you!
I’m not alone. I’ve been through this experience twice – both times able to produce novels that were published – but what a blood bath. If felt like I was having a heart attack…several times. And I truly believed I was the only one who’s ever been through this. Thanks for the gift of companionship in the trenches. Really…thank you!
Damn it Steve, if you even think about stopping with the posts I will straight up quit you. Those posts are the juice in the steak man. It’s what informs us we’re on the right track. If you’re still having to crawl through the mud field after your success and experience then we know when it starts to rain that our only choice is to jump head first into the muck and continue to swim. Resistance is a bitch. It’s nice to have a voice to remind us just how much.
P.S. After three years with my ass in the chair everyday I finished the first draft of my novel and gave it to my Shawn. Her notes and my response was eerily similar to your story. Seething and beaten I walked away also for a few weeks. I finally manned up and wrote her a wonderful thank you note for all she had done though I only agreed with one of her points. I took that one point and jumped back in and made the changes. While doing so, a funny thing happened. I agreed with another of her points. And as I made those changes, well, you can see where this is going. It took me another year but I finally made it through. She was flat dead right. The writer and story the better for it.
Keep’em Coming Steve!
This is the first time I’ve left a comment. For all of the incredibly helpful things you’ve written (and there have been a boatload), this, honestly, has been the most helpful to me. As a writer with a number of professional credits under my belt, I still am shocked and disheartened when I suck. So, to hear that YOU still suck sometimes… sets my disheartened heart at ease. Sorry it has to come at your expense. Ha. Thank you so much for your honesty.
Yes! Most definitely please do continue sharing as you do! It is precisely because your sharing is so honestly personal that it is so not boring, and because it is so specific that it has such broad applicability. I love and share your posts not just for what they say about writing, but for how they reveal truths about life and any human endeavor.
And, of course, I do love what you say about writing and stories, to boot! This is all new to me; I’ve never read anything about writing or creating art before in my life. I love your revelations about archetypal forms to specific genres of writing (with obligatory scenes!), just as Joseph Campbell revealed archetypes such as the Hero’s Journey encoded in humans.
The universe being made of stories, not atoms, I see you and Shawn akin to particle physicists exploring the nature of the cosmos. Thanks for sharing your amazing insights born of your genius and dedicated hard work. You’re leaving a deeper, richer world in your wake (which I’m enjoying surfing).
P.S. – I see nowhere on your website where I can “donate”. At the risk of being horrendously gauche, I’d like to ask how I might directly give something back to you in recognition of the value I receive from your freely offered posts.
Thank you, Steve, for sharing your experience from the trenches. You provide a balanced perspective that is extremely helpful in not only reminding us that the strong emotional response we have to less-than-shiny-feedback is doable but *how* it is manageable. Truly invaluable knowledge! I look forward to more stories by you from the writer trenches.
Oops. I just realized that I can’t edit. I meant that *handling one’s strong emotional response to rejection is doable*…etc.
Thank you and yes, please continue with these reports.
If I may ask – how is the current process compare to the time you were creating The Gates of Fire? In other words – is there a force, opposite to Resistance? Like Inspiration, or something – when you are in the zone, and the work writes itself and all you need to do is just stay in the chair. Gates of Fire sure reads that way … but how was it in the trenches?
Wow you really hit a vein with this post! Just curious – is 86 comments a record? Thanks again and keep up the good work!
Oh continue! I’m sure it’s helpful to you too.
I also recently began reading Working Days: The Journals of the Grapes of Wrath about Steinbeck’s process writing that novel. Knowing that I’m normal makes it easier to push resistance aside and press on. Thanks for that!
Well, you can stop if your readers don’t want to read the truth. I do (in small bites).:-) Actually this happened to me not too long ago, and after my angst took a back seat, I coulT see through the windshield to the editor’s wisdom. there are occasions, though, when you gotta say: But I’m the author. So there.
Thanks for telling the truth and not particularly slant, but head on! What this post did for me was to let me know I’m not crazy and to keep us authors humble. To know that you practice what you preach, yes, does make a difference.
Please keep going with this series of posts. It’s not too personal or too specific or boring. I have already learned from this first post. I liked how you put his comments away and let them ruminate for awhile. Then, you began to see that some of his comments made sense. That is great advice for any writer who seeks and receives honest feedback.
Hell yes, please continue them… You hit the nail on the head about how resistance always tries to creep back in!
First, a new FICTION piece. Hooray! I’m drooling already. Second, I’m super impressed that you seemingly accept Shawn’s sole advice carte blanche. Granted, Shawn is the master and you guys are joined at the hip, but don’t you argue, negotiate, even yell sometimes? I’d wager a six-pack there are pieces you think are brilliant and prepared to fight to the death before amending. Maybe that’s a future post from the trenches. Regardless, keep it up. In fact, without giving away the story, I’m certain we’d all be interested in more details. Allow us to bleed with you.
Great post, my thanks:
Norman Mailer said: “One must be able to do a good day’s work on a bad day, and indeed, that is a badge of honor decent professionals are entitled to wear.”
Thanks for sharing the pain AND the glory, Steve! Don’t spare us the inner stuff. It’s incredibly valuable, vulnerable, and of great service.
More please! Super helpful because it is real. Thanks for sharing.
Please don’t stop.
Dare to continue!
With the report from the trenches and the ensuing bloodbath(s).
It is heartening to know that even the best still get kicked in the teeth. Dental bravery at its finest!
Not boring! The personal is the most useful. Many thanks for your courage, generosity, and tenacity.
I absolutely find it helpful. And endearing too. We’re all human. We all shatter at criticism – maybe especially at that which we secretly know is true.
Share away, I’m all ears and eyes.
Most helpful post here EVER! Pros get stuck. Pros put in 15 months without a shiny perfect product! Pros get feedback and subsequently stall out! So you’re saying…I’m not a total fraud yet. But…push forward. I need to hear that. I’ll look at my manuscript and keep going. Keep going…
Humble and compelling…please continue:)
Wow, great post.
Um, did someone unlock the gate to the zoo? Holy smokes…I feel late to a party commenting so late.
Carry on, Steve!
Uh, yes! Please keep writing MORE posts like this, Steven. One of your more vulnerable writings — and that’s EXACTLY what I want. You got my attention.
Please don’t stop!
I like all your posts. It’s interesting to know what is it other see wrong in our writing that we don’t. I’ll keep an eye on what you have to say next …and yes. I am learning and becomimg better.
Thank you Stephen, I am a jewelry designer and goldsmith, not a writer, but your words always speak to my soul and offer deep insight into my own art and challenges. Thank you for your many well placed kicks to the gut followed by a generous hand up. Today’s authenticity was relevant and inspiring. Bring it on.
If it is helpful to you, please continue as it’s definitely helpful to me! I easily generalize to my situation, which is actually in photography. Resistance is alive and well, and living behind the camera, especially when a photo is harshly critcized for all of its weaknesses. It’s good to know that others are in and have survived the trenches, and that I too can survive if I choose.
1) I’m supposing it’s tough to share something like this. Thanks for taking the risk.
2) I don’t usually count, but I see that number up top. I take that number to mean you’ve connected with something fundamental in folks who like your work. So, wow.
3) So much from your pen soars. It’s helpful to be reminded that it’s not easy to get there, even when you’ve been doing it a long time. And it’s helpful to know that if, with persistence and luck, someone may have some level of ‘success’ in the future, that it will continue to be hard.
4) Thank you.
As a pro, I would expect you to know that:
1) A pro knows when his art is good or not. The shell shock you experience when someone confirms your suspicion that your art is sub-standard is the Resistance trying to convince you that you can turn something acceptable into something great without doing the hard yards.
2) A pro is aware that the only true path to a work of art is via a trench. A dark, wet, thoroughly uncomfortable trench. Crucially, the pro knows that the battle isn’t won by staying in the trench. The pro trusts his skills, summons his strength and gets out of the trench to face the battle head on.
3) After winning the battle, the pro recognises that his next work of art lies at the end of yet another trench. Regardless of how many battles have been won or how many trenches have been successfully negotiated, it is never easy to return to a trench. Not all trenches lead to victory.
But you are not only a pro. You are a pro among pros. So stop this trench writing and do the work!
We, your faithful fans, await your next triumphant victory. We anticipate it far more eagerly than any account of trenches we know only too well already. What sets you apart is not that you don’t suffer as we do, but that you prove to us that it is possible to get out of the trenches and give Resistance a bloody nose! Even if it is only until you get into the next trench . . .
You’re good people, Pressfield. It does a body good to read of others pushing through the hard slog. Particularly those others who know the slog for its hardness and have pushed through it plenty times before.
Bravo, hear hear, and thank you, Steve. Great post.
This is amazing, Steve…thank you so very much. I SO know this place…and your process is so helpful, with all of your experience…it’s beyond words amazing. Thanks thanks thanks for all you do and share…you are helping so many of us!
Yes, keep ’em coming. Very good and familiar ground, and we need to keep being reminded we are not alone in this. Also, I’m interested to hear how you navigate hanging on to your own artistic authority while listening to editing suggestions, i.e. how you decide which suggestions to keep, which to throw out. Thanks, as always, for your great posts.
Steven, PLEASE keep posting! It is sanity-saving to read that the struggle to wrangle a manuscript into shape is a real and universal one. Thank you for sharing yours so generously.
I dig it. There is beauty in the humanity. Please continue.
Please keep your posts coming! They’re gold, just like your books. I often read them as part of my morning reading/meditation.
I just completed a short 36-second video promoting acceptance and diversity and it bombed. Total FB fail. Reading this part of your post made me laugh: “An amateur at this juncture will fold. She’ll balk, she’ll become defensive…”
Thanks for the inspiration!
Loved this post. PLEASE keep sharing your insight on this! No one ever shares the real behind the scenes mess that is writing a novel.
Continue! I like the report from the trenches! Very real!!
So important reminder. Please continue with reports from the trenches. Thanks.
I also write a lot about writing, so I asked myself this question many times: “How dare I write anything ‘instructional’ when, after fifty years of doing this stuff, I still can’t get it right myself?”
I believe no matter how much we rationalize about writing, how much time we invest outlining the narrative structure and its core elements, how much we think we are in control of our creative process, our stories always find a way to let us know that, regardless of our level of experience, we need to respect the power uncertainty plays in every act of creation.
I’m looking forward to reading more “reports from the trenches”.
No idea if this will even reach you. Though, to be honest I kind of hope you’re not wasting your time looking for validation like I am working hard to avoid doing.
But please know this.
I came across War Of Art via Seth Godin. I can’t tell you how much its helped me in the last year.
It helped me find my own way of articulating good and evil, art and not art, action and inertia.
Most of all it makes me smile now when I feel my muscles lactating – all I’ve got to do is type up something I’ve bloomin written by hand, but instead I’m checking my email and there you are.
Its a cartoon – a ten minute cartoon that won’t feed my family this month and yet you’d think that’d be even more incentive for me to do the rewrite (that I’ve already done by hand) as quickly as possible.
For a year I have taken the Resistance seriously – as a sign of the stuff that matters to me.
Because you articulated it, sure but the example of saying it out loud is even more of an invitation to come out to play as an artist.
So please write – and publish – in volume about specifically why your freeze is dumb and not worthy so we can laugh with you. Its incredibly generous.
My son is 8. And my daughter is 6.
She paints, sings dances and writes with absolute abandon.
He rolls on the floor with rage rather than doing something that elevates him.
So watching TV and playing with Granddad’s PlayStation is not a problem.
Your work means I can give him a hug and commiserate with his freeze.
And practice dancing around the block (he’s 8!).
And teach him to be kinder on himself.
And instead have a go at something he does feel like doing.
That makes him happy (proper happy, not quick hit time killer happy).
Talking through WHY he wants to do but cant always seems to help.
And “tell me what you’re grateful for now” always seems to help too (even when the answer is “farting”).
I’m rambling because wanting to help him is a way to avoid helping myself.
But maybe we can show each other by example rather than cajoling.
Anyway, selfishly, pile into the blog – the next good work will always be there for you.
Why do you want to complete the next rewrite?
I’m sure you have 50 reasons the Resistance won’t stop you expressing.
Nothing could bring your lessons more to life than you sharing such a personal trial. The more you can share your reality, the more we can relate, understand, feel absolution, feel solidarity, and feel the courage to carry on similarly.
Yes, please keep sharing this.
I had a shell-shock moment a few weeks ago when I sent the first chapter of my WIP to my developmental editor. She discussed it with me over Skype and I felt beat up by the time the hour was over. I didn’t even open the edit she sent back to me for two weeks.
I mean this in the best way, but it is heartening to know that someone in this for 50+ years has the same struggles.
Steve, please keep writing and sending your Report from the Trenches! Thank you.
I don’t get the cartoon. Is it supposed to be funny?
A few months ago, my editor returned my manuscript to me. She told me to cut my minor characters, because they detracted from the main story. I couldn’t cut them. I write a series. I have to keep these characters alive. I put the manuscript away and wrote another book, 1st in my new series, and sent it to her. I’m still waiting to hear back from her. Last night I had the courage to start rewriting the previous manuscript, the one my editor butchered. I’m going to cut SOME of the minor characters.
Yes, Steve, you need to keep writing about this. I need to know guys like you have problems, too.
Continue! Struggling with our own internal battles is the filling of stories. Everybody has – at the least – one. Teaching your students must be at their level. It is a wise teacher who reaches down to raise the experience of his student. Demonstrating caring through your sharing. Thank you for relating to your readers, as one of us.
Bring it on, baby! The best I read in a long time. Your next masterpiece in the works. Whatever comes next, enjoy the ride!
Excellent share! Keep’em comin’.
Steve, please do continue to share all of your writing life with us. Writing is such a solitary and deeply personal pursuit. Every day, I feel like I’m the only one grinding away, spilling my guts out, offering up my heart and laying bare my soul . . . only to have it all stepped on, ripped apart, or worse, ignored. Reading about your experience broke my heart in only the way Truth and Art can do. Thank you.
This wisdom from the Robert Fritz July Newsletter:
“Also, too often, artists get into ruts with themselves. This is NOT creative block as it has been described. Instead, it is this simple, they are bored with themselves. They have done what they know how to do, and now, they have become stale, unable to move ahead. These moments challenge the artist to do something different. This is the time for experimentation, throwing out all the usual techniques, rethinking the approach and orientation, and finding a new, fresh way to create something different than before. These moments are golden for the artist to reinvent him or herself as a creator. Almost always something good comes out of these moments.”
YES! Keep doing this! I am on a particularly epic slog this summer to revise / rewrite my 300-page novel draft. Knowing that I’m not alone — especially that even seasoned writers experience this — is just the nourishment I need. I know exactly that shell shock. I’ve found that it takes me between up to two weeks to recover enough from feedback to make forward progress again. There’s something about letting it settle, allowing the subconscious to do its work. Now that I’ve seen the pattern and learned that others experience it too, I don’t have to fear it. Many, many thanks to you! I would not be where I am today without “War of Art” and your kind mentoring.
Exactly what we need. Much more interesting than fake news. But seriously, this is exactly why I am reluctant to finish my ms. I know this is coming. So instead sabototage myself? Courage is needed and that is what you are showing us. Thx. And thx to all my critiquers out there. Keep the kind truth coming.
Thank you Steve! Keep going!
Love this post!
Thank you, Steve. Your post is raw, it is authentic, and it makes me look at my dilly-dallying as the dangerous Resistance it really is.
We all walk single file when we go deep into our work, and your writings are like postcards from around the next curve. When Resistance feels insurmountable, these signposts remind me to look for true north.
Keep ’em coming!
Please continue. Universality of human experience is found in the uniquely specific trials of an individual.
Yes, please! Your perspective is so useful!
In answer to your posted question, “Shall I continue these “reports from the trenches?” I worry that this stuff is too personal, too specific. Is it boring? Write in, friends, and tell me to stop if this isn’t helpful.”:
YES, please! I find these things that you share to be invaluable. It is perversely comforting to know that I am not the only one facing this level of self-doubt, and to also learn that there is no “arriving” at a stage of complete and utter confidence. Knowing ahead of time that it’s an illusion and myth to believe such will ever happen is useful.
Thank you for sharing!
Please continue. MUCH appreciated.
I find these articles entertaining and informitive. Kep it up.
Yes! We love those reports from the Trenches! Keep them coming! Please!
I have two projects at this stage, and I can’t even begin to tell you how helpful this post is.
I am going to print it and slap it on my wall.
Thank you for sharing this.
Please, continue! We all want to know these insights on defeating Resistance.
“Shall I continue these “reports from the trenches?”
“I worry that this stuff is too personal, too specific.”
THAT’S WHAT MAKES IT UNIVERSAL.
“Is it boring?”
“Write in, friends, and tell me to stop if this isn’t helpful.”
THE INVERSE, MY FRIEND. IT IS BEYOND HELPFUL.
I’m a medically retired Special Forces Green Beret. Your work has had a huge impact on me and so many other warriors.
Since getting out we’ve started the Warrior Angels Foundation and the Warrior Soul Podcast, both web addresses are included.
I’d be honor to have you on our show with my co-host and former Marine Chris Albert to discuss all things Warrior. Our vision and mission is to deliver information, strategies, and a community for Veterans and Patriots to earn their own truth, sharpen their minds, and toughen their bodies.
De Oppresso Liber,
Yes, KEEP GOING. This is gold. Thank you!
Steven, these are incredibly valuable! Please, keep ’em coming.
Yes, please continue to write your trench reports. It’s comforting to know that a professional writer still experiences resistance.
Keep going. I love the reports from the trenches.
“Notes From The Trenches” is really valuable. Really.
Viscount Slim, Anthony Macaulife (101st, Bastogne), George Patton, and George Kenney (US 5th Air Force, MacArthur) were the four best generals in the War. I do not slight Gavin (82nd), Doolittle, Eisenhower (whose genius was more as a coalition diplomat), or his lieutenants by this. (I may, however, have slighted any number of German generals.) Just give me Slim and Macaulife and I’ll win any war anytime.
They are in the class of King Leonidas! And you are that in writing.
This is your best work, keep them coming.
Thanks for this post and your writing. I teach with your War of Art and love the way you have come to accept being a craftsman who still meets the headless dragon resistance.
Your writing has helped shift hundreds of people I have been coaching on how to work with their creativity.
Peace of wild things to you
Timothy Colman, publisher and thought partner
Steven, It’s useful when you identify Resistance thinking. Resistance is so tricky. That notion seemed perfectly valid to me, until you unmasked it as Resistance. This helps me evaluate my own thoughts. Thanks for sharing.
Thank you for writing this and writing the War of Art.
I cannot be more grateful to you. I would say that your book is the only reason that I am able to pick myself up every morning and fight the battle anew. Without the book, I would give up. I know!
Straight first hand advice. Why wouldn’t any writer want to have more of that?