The Artist’s Journey, #5

As we continue this serialization, we’re hard at work on putting together the actual book—as an eBook, a physical paperback, and an audiobook. We’re in copy-editing and cover design right now. I’ll keep you apprised, for sure, as we progress …

Now back to the book (we were in the section called “Characteristics of the Artist’s Journey”):


The sculptor may shape marble or manipulate bronze. The architect may work in steel and stone. But these materials are merely the physical embodiment of an image that the artist sees inside her mind.

The artist’s medium is thought.

Her product is the fruit of the imagination.


We call it a journey because it moves, because it advances from one place to another.

We set forth as artists, you and I, from a Portsmouth of the mind and sail for an imaginary Indies. Storms arise along the way. We encounter monsters (and allies as well). Growth occurs. Progress is recorded.

The artist changes on this journey.

She is not the person at the end that she was at the beginning.


And yet, no matter how profoundly or dramatically the artist’s work evolves over her lifetime, her subject remains the same.

She may dive into it more deeply, she may come at it from wildly different directions, but her obsession remains unaltered throughout her life.


I’ve read many times that art is self-expression. I don’t believe it.

I don’t believe the artist knows what he or she wishes to express.

The artist is being driven from a far deeper and more primal source than the conscious intellect. It is not an overstatement, in my view, to declare that the artist has no idea what he’s doing.

As Socrates famously declared in Plato’s Phaedrus:

… if a man comes to the door of poetry untouched by the madness of the Muses, believing that technique alone will make him a good poet, he and his sane compositions never reach perfection, but are utterly eclipsed by the performances of the inspired madman.

The artist is not expressing himself, he is discovering himself.


Whom exactly is the artist discovering?

Is Dostoyevsky discovering Dostoyevsky?

Which Dostoyevsky?

Is Dostoyevsky discovering “Dostoyevsky?”

Or is “Dostoyevsky” discovering Dostoyevsky?

My answer is #4.

The artificial ego-entity that the world (and Dostoyevsky himself perhaps) believes to be Dostoevsky is discovering a deeper, wider, smarter, braver personage that has traveled across leagues and eons to reach this present moment and will continue its passage long after “Dostoyevsky” is gone.

The artist himself is disposable.

What endures is the Self he is seeking, which is not “himself” but himself.


The artist, like the mystic and the renunciant, does her work within an altered sphere of consciousness.

Seeking herself, her voice, her source, she enters the dark forest. She is alone. No friend or lover knows where her path has taken her.

Rules are different within this wilderness. Hatters are mad and principles inverted.

The artist has entered this sphere of her own free will. She has deliberately unmoored herself from conventional consciousness. This is her calling. This is what she was born to do.

Will she come out safely?


Fear of failure.

Fear of success.

Fear of the new, fear of pain, of loneliness, of exertion, of intensity.

Need for external (third-party) validation.




Inability to defer gratification.

Predisposition to distraction.

Shallowness of thought and purpose.



The need to cling to the known.

None of these enemies is real in the sense that, say, a lion is real, or a man with a gun.

All are products of the mind.


The artist on her journey confronts no foes that are not of her own creation.

Her fear is her own. Her vanity. Her need for adulation, for the attention of others, for titillation, for distraction.

Like Walter Pidgeon dueling the monsters of the Id in Forbidden Planet, the artist possesses within herself the capacity to overcome these enemies.

She has created them mentally.

She can defeat them the same way.


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. Brian S Nelson on March 14, 2018 at 6:17 am

    Dear Steve,
    This completed book will jump into the tri-annual playlist of books: The War of Art, Turning Pro, Do the Work. I have to be reminded, constantly.

    Chapter 19 hits me right between the eyes. Thank you.

  2. Mary Doyle on March 14, 2018 at 6:30 am

    “All enemies are mental” and “all enemies are self-generated.” Worth the proverbial price of admission – can’t wait until the new book is out.

  3. Jeff L. Rathbun on March 14, 2018 at 6:48 am

    Few books on the subject of writing reach me in away that understand my predicament as a writer as the books of Steven Pressfield. After finishing a book of his I feel he knows what writers face and he offers prescriptions for us to overcome our failings. I close the book filled with hope an positivity because his wise words of possibilities.
    I look forward to his next book

  4. Bing on March 14, 2018 at 8:27 am

    WOW, fabulous all 20. I love Steve’s #16, I am an artist and today when my pen touches the blank drawing paper I do not have a clue what it will draw. I do know my intention, I am seeking beauty, love, engagement of the eye, balance,character, sanity, God and taking a stab at mystery. My art pen is like little David, all I got is a few stones to kill this giant of a man Goliath and then chop his head off.
    Artist Milton Glaser has a book called “Drawing is Thinking” . I agree.
    Thanks for this great series.
    – Bing

  5. Julie Murphy on March 14, 2018 at 2:26 pm

    Thanks–I look forward to the published book too.

  6. Maria Xenidou on March 14, 2018 at 7:02 pm

    Thank you, Steve!

    After reading all the characteristics, the journey becomes a bit more familiar – although never easy!

    Regarding18. THE ARTIST’S JOURNEY IS DANGEROUS…could it also be brave? Your words reminded me of “Braving the Wilderness”, by Brene Brown, and my favorite quote “You are only free when you realize you belong no place – you belong every place – no place at all. The price is high. The reward is great”, by Dr. Maya Angelou. Doesn’t this sound like an artist?

    Look forward to adding the new book to the collection!


  7. Ben May on March 15, 2018 at 6:40 am

    “And then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send?” “And who will go for us”
    And I said, “ Here I am. send me.”
    Isaiah 6:1
    Each of our stories of our journey is that important. Isn’t it?

  8. Jorge on March 15, 2018 at 2:53 pm

    We are sleeping with the enemy everyday, now the point is to not stay in bed with him or her long enough to be seduced and forget what are true purpose is…to express and not be seduced by the dark side…

  9. Graham Glover on March 16, 2018 at 9:45 am


    Not always.

    A month ago I faced my nemesis, and he took it upon himself to remind me he was more powerful. He saw what I’d been doing to create my art, fashion photography specifically, and he watched. He watched day and night, looking for a weakness, looking for an advantage to take. He saw his perfect opportunity and took it. He gave me a chest pain and limited the depth of my breathing. That didn’t stop me. It went away overnight. The next day he did it again, but this time he meant it. It barely slowed me, but he’d landed such a successful strike that it didn’t go away overnight. The next morning I went to the hospital. Tests, x-rays, and examinations concluded I was in good health and probably pulled a chest muscle. The doctor gave me an otherwise clean bill of health and told me I could go home. I started to get dressed. Sitting on the end of the bed, looking at me, was my nemesis.

    “Just kidding!” he said.

    I glared at him.

    He continued. “Look. I just saved your life. Stress is a killer, and you’ve been going at it for so long you no longer pay attention to your own body. You think you can live on four hours of sleep forever? Of course you can. It’s just that ‘forever’ at this rate is far shorter than ‘forever’ if you drop this foolish idea. You’ve said it yourself! You’re the Jamaican Bobsled Team of Fashion Photography. You may be taking photos of models, but you’re not in a fashion center. You’re an old man – God knows how believable it was for you to think you were having a heart attack. And you work another job that is totally unrelated. It shows real dedication to your photography.

    “You’re still in good health, but this was strike two. You remember strike one. You thought you could work around me, but you can’t. Drop your fashion photography. It’s like playing house. It’s all make believe, except for the stress. The next time-”

    I knocked him over as I left the examination room.

  10. Nancy Enn on March 16, 2018 at 6:23 pm

    “Shallowness of thought and purpose.” When your mind and efforts are in the shallow end…you can still hop out without getting your hair wet complaining the waters too cold.

  11. Amy Duncan on March 18, 2018 at 1:46 pm

    Excellent and spot on, as always. Can’t wait for the book!

  12. Rebecca Jean Downey on March 28, 2018 at 10:57 am

    Steven, I have printed these words and placed them on my bulletin board as a reminder of the power of thought. I work as a writer in a glass museum where hot, molten glass is shaped and formed, first in the artist’s mind.

    The artist’s medium is thought.
    Her product is the fruit of the imagination.

  13. Steve Garcia on May 30, 2018 at 5:23 pm

    “The artist is being driven from a far deeper and more primal source than the conscious intellect. It is not an overstatement, in my view, to declare that the artist has no idea what he’s doing.”
    I love this. We torture ourselves and overthink everything because we feel we should know what we’re doing. Thanks for setting us straight, Steve.

  14. Mel Jacob on July 29, 2018 at 5:23 pm

    A powerful kick in the pants. Often I feel that the forces are external but your post is a great reminder that both the work and the solution is internal. Thank you.

  15. Suusy bonue on January 3, 2023 at 5:37 am

    I understood that in order to achieve success in business, you need to go purposefully towards the set goal. Sometimes even capable and persistent businessmen cannot succeed because of their fears, so it is necessary to understand the reasons and level of fears in a timely manner. And based on the results make a decision. This will allow you to be more decisive and effective in the future.

  16. Tif on August 29, 2023 at 2:23 pm

    Interesting, I’ve never seen that before.

  17. Mazao on August 29, 2023 at 2:23 pm

    Hidden in the labyrinth of the internet, I uncovered a gem – a website teeming with a staggering variety of stock photos. It’s an archive that transcends boundaries, catering to the demands of both personal splat vector and professional projects. This digital treasure trove is a game-changer, promising to redefine how we source and utilize visual content in our endeavors.

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