I’m gonna get this quote wrong, I’m sure. It’s from Kierkegaard, as cited somewhere (in The Moviegoer, I think) by Walker Percy:


I am unable to speak upon this subject in any way but the edifying.


That’s how I feel as we continue this series today with “Report from the Trenches, #5.”

David Mamet teaching his MasterClass on Drama

David Mamet teaching his MasterClass on Drama

I’m, what, eight or nine weeks into this revision and all I can say is it’s hard, hard work. There doesn’t seem to be any trick or magic stroke that splits the stone. Looking back on prior books, I realize I either got lucky and got it right, more or less, in the first few tries … or I’ve blocked out the memory of how freakin’ hard it is to crack this walnut.

What I am feeling, however, is that I’m dealing with blind spots. My own uncharted areas. That seems to be what’s making it so hard. Which I suppose is the way it’s supposed to be.

I was watching the movie Se7en the other night on TV. I wonder how Kevin Spacey felt, trying to figure out how to play that villain. Or how Bryan Cranston got into the Walter White character on Breaking Bad. Clearly neither one of those actors is like either character in real life. No doubt they took the roles (apart from career considerations) for the stretch it would force upon them.

A lot of the Resistance I’m experiencing on this book is “character Resistance,” as opposed to “work Resistance” (though there’s plenty of that too.) By which I mean what’s hard isn’t just the sitting down to write, it’s the writing itself, specifically “getting into” a character (actually more than one; actually three).

These characters are not “like me.” I can’t access them like I could other characters from previous books.

I said in last week’s post that laziness and fear are two of the primary factors that are blocking me.

That makes sense.

We, none of us, want to go where we don’t want to go.

It’s hard.

It’s a push.

It’s a grind.

I’m having to try to understand characters I don’t instinctively understand. I’m asking over and over, “What does Manning want in this scene?” What does Rachel want?” “What does Instancer want?”

It’s not coming naturally to me. I can’t do it on instinct alone.

The other aspect that’s making this reworking so hard is that the back-breaking part is the Middle.

Act Two.


I find myself recalling what David Mamet always says,


It’s hard to remember that you started out to drain the swamp when you’re up to your ass in alligators.


Or another great quote of his from Three Uses of the Knife:


How many times have we heard (and said): Yes, I know that I was cautioned, that the way would become difficult and I would want to quit, that such was inevitable, and that at exactly this point the battle would be lost or won … but those who cautioned me could not have foreseen the magnitude of the specific difficulties I am encountering at this point–difficulties which must, sadly, but I have no choice, force me to resign the struggle (and have a drink, a cigarette, an affair, a rest), in short, to declare failure.


Bottom line: this struggle is as it should be. Our Muse has put us here, in this place, fighting this fight, for reasons that we are blind to at the moment but that are essential to our hero’s journey, not just in the story but in our lives.

It’s hard work overcoming those blind spots.

We have to force ourselves where we don’t want to go. The process hurts. It’s not fun. But, as Mamet says a little farther on in Knife:


The true drama, and especially the tragedy, calls for the hero to exercise will, to create, in front of us, on the stage, his or her own character, the strength to continue. It is her striving to understand, to correctly assess, to face her own character (in her choice of battles) that inspires us–and gives the drama power to cleanse and enrich our own character.


Thanks, David. I will try to remember that, as this book continues to kick my ass.

[P.S. If you have not checked out David Mamet’s MasterClass on Drama, please do yourself a favor and go for it. It’s ninety bucks but the class is great and Mamet is hysterically funny.]



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


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.



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.



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?"



  1. Mary Doyle on August 2, 2017 at 5:09 am

    “Our Muse has put us here, in this place, fighting this fight, for reasons that we are blind to at the moment but that are essential to our hero’s journey, not just in the story but in our lives.” I see “blind faith” here rather than “blind spots.” Your characters will tell you what they want in their own good time (but you already know that). As always, thanks for pulling back the curtain for us again. We are in your debt.

  2. Mia Sherwood Landau on August 2, 2017 at 6:20 am

    Yes… What Mary said. I was going to cut and paste that quote, too. It’s a wall poster (remember those?) or a fleeting graphic on Instagram. It’s OUR journey to understand our characters’ journeys.

  3. Tom Wall on August 2, 2017 at 6:24 am

    You are appear to be near your All is Lost moment.
    Time to unthink and intuit .imagine meeting your character in a bar on the stool next to you. You notice you are both drinking the same drink. Your attention catches his and you hesitantly begin to talk. You both order another drink or more????

    “This one’s on me” is said more than once.

    What is the conversation like? What is it about. What is said as you remember it?

  4. Susan on August 2, 2017 at 6:46 am

    Brian Cranston talks about figuring out his Breaking Bad character in an interview with Terri Gross. I was riveted, and oddly, hearing it made me feel less lonely.

  5. Barbara on August 2, 2017 at 6:47 am

    Wow! Thanks, Steve. For the wisdom, the story, your strength and courage.

  6. Lyn on August 2, 2017 at 7:49 am

    Your characters aren’t like you. They made choices you never would’ve made, put themselves in untenable situations you never would’ve found yourself in. How could they be so stupid, so uncaring, or so blind?

    Someone else’s blindness can be so obvious.

    And then you go — well maybe I was just a little bit like that character — once. Just once. Just a little bit. For an instant. Maybe. Not that I ever wanted to be like him though.

    “All is Lost” moments are challenges relived in stories and lives. The form challenges take vary person to person, but a challenge’s nature remains the same. If you or I were willing to face it, it wouldn’t be such a challenge, now would it?

    So, you stretch to see from someone else’s viewpoint, live his torment and experience his blindness. Somewhere, compassion is born along with courage. You help him slay the boogeyman hiding in his closet. But, give the boogeyman a different form –a loved one who passed away, a devastated career … maybe, just maybe…he could’ve been your boogeyman.

    Perhaps we’re not so different after all.

  7. Alex Cespedes on August 2, 2017 at 9:49 am

    David Mamet is a smart guy. He knows that phony excuses somehow seem a lot more valid in the moment. Ultimately, I think you either have to have a metaphorical “gun to your head” to get through it, or just fall for the trap so much that you can be quicker on your toes in the future.

  8. Frank Freeman on August 2, 2017 at 10:00 am

    Steve, thank you for sharing these grueling truths. Reminds me of reading about Walker Percy saying I write a novel for two years, read it, then throw it away and write it again. God, that killed me when I read that. All we can do it is go back at it and offer it to the Divine. I loved Three Uses of a Knife. The obstacle is the path.

  9. Joel D Canfield on August 2, 2017 at 10:34 am

    I hated Knife immensely. I raged at every page.

    So why did I keep reading? Why is it still over there on the shelf with The War of Art and Story and my other writing books?

    Stupid unconscious, making a fool of me again. Looks like it’s time to open my mind and see why Knife prickled and irritated so badly. I don’t hate hearing the truth. Really I don’t. (I don’t!)

  10. Jodi on August 2, 2017 at 12:11 pm

    Thanks Steve,

    I can fully relate to this while working on my own project. I almost can’t stand the tension and resistance of trying to see something outside of my worldview. The mental stretch feels like an ass kicking. It’s one of those hurt so good things… because when the smoke clears (for a moment) it feels like a miracle. Best wishes to you

  11. Julie Murphy on August 2, 2017 at 1:58 pm

    I see now why this will be an important book, because of what it will cost to produce.

    Got me wondering if the common ground with Manning, et al, is struggle, and connecting with them at a primal level might give access to the surface character…not that you haven’t thought of that already.

    Lately I’ve been fascinated, inspired and humbled with accounts of Philippe Petit’s walk between the Twin Towers 08/07/1974. In his venacular, of what we might call Resistance, he refers to Confronting the Void.

    Creating art–real art–the deeply profound kind you’re ensconced in right now, is working without a net. I believe in you, Steve. I predict the end result of this process for you, your book and your audience will be transformative and magnificent.

  12. Regina Holt on August 2, 2017 at 2:54 pm

    My first reaction was this: (didn’t you say it?)

    You are going to have to BE these characters at some point. I think of Daniel Day-Lewis assuming his characters and thanking his wife for it during awards. And also I think of your prison story and how you were asked about when you did time. Not a day at a time, but a minute at a time.

    (After time passed)
    Can we allow the crisis to be real? That is when the character has depth. When you are willing to show your own anger and frustration within a character. “Go! Just go!”

    Would I put that on the blog post comment? The question is posed to me along with the statement that I don’t understand the problem. Maybe I do or maybe I don’t but I do trust the Holy Spirit to impart what is needed even when I surely don’t understand it myself.

    That is a part of the point that was squelched this morning in another half understanding because of a conversation with another… or was it me? It’s a part of the soup too. It’s what happens when we dare to open up. (Doesn’t resistance hate that too?)

    So shut up and listen! Maybe I will too. Or is that, shut up and open up! What is the cadence of the conversation?

    Steve, you are making me think in directions I wouldn’t have without these kinds of posts. Yep, you help me.

    Do we help you? I hope so!


  13. Gwen Abitz on August 3, 2017 at 10:43 am

    “Blind Spots” I don’t know maybe just a little more acceptance of the Resistance. FOR ME, anyway. I in no way wanted to go there being “darn it things don’t come as easy anymore being this age. Takes longer to re-cooperate when I have overdone. Until I heard this sentence from The Course of Miracles “Nothing real can be threatened. Nothing unreal exists” and Eckhart Tolle’s “Don’t get attached to any words they are only stepping stones.”

  14. Nik on August 4, 2017 at 10:02 am

    Sounds to me like you need an old-school USMC DI to kick your ass and remind you that you’re Largo, and Largo don’t take no crap from Resistance! Largo eats Resistance for breakfast.

    Seriously though, I’ve said this before, but I think stepping away from a project for a few hours or a few days is invaluable. I do this a LOT with my music projects — I save my project file, to do something else, and by the time I come back, usually my brain has subconsciously worked out a solution for a riff that’s not quite right or a bass line that doesn’t have enough funk in it.

    I realize your struggles are much more complex, but perhaps the Marine DI can be accompanied by a cop who says, “Sir, I’m gonna need you to step away from the manuscript…”

    Good luck, Steve! And thank you for being so refreshingly honest.

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