The Artist’s Journey, #6

Continuing our serialization of The Artist’s Journey … to refresh our memory, the primary thesis of this book is that our evolution as writers and artists hits an inflection point on that day when we realize that our Searching Years are over, our questing dues have been paid (in other words, our “hero’s journey” has reached its completion), and we must now advance into a second journey, in which for the first time we with full awareness and seriousness embrace our calling as artists. At that point, we “turn pro” and start asking the questions all artists must ask of themselves on their creative journeys: “Who am I? What is my gift? What work was I put on the planet to do?”





Honesty, particularly with oneself.



Compassion for oneself and others.

The ability to receive criticism objectively.


Curiosity, open-mindedness, receptivity to the new.

The ability to focus.

The ability to defer gratification.


Mental toughness.

The capacity to endure adversity, injustice, indifference.




None of the capacities listed in the previous chapter is innate, but all may be acquired by effort and force of will.




I’m an American, and Americans have scant patience for anything that can’t be reduced to a number (a sports score, say, or a sales figure). We Yanks feel comfortable in a world that can be cut and measured, boxed and shipped, extracted from the earth and hauled to market.

The artist’s journey has nothing to do with that.

The artist on her journey will make everything up, including herself.

Her creations will be fictional, apparitional, chimerical. And yet the artist is neither a fabulist nor a charlatan. She is not lying. She is not deceiving.

Rather she sees, with the vision of imagination, what lies beneath the box scores and the market quotes.

She sees what is real and brings it forth so that others can see it.




I never wrote anything good until I stopped trying to write the truth. I never had any real fun either.

Truth is not the truth.

Fiction is the truth.

The artist’s medium is not reality, but dreams. I don’t mean “dreams” in the sense of made-up bullshit. I mean dreams as the X-ray of truth, truth seen through and seen for what it really is, truth boiled down to its essence.

The conventional truism is “Write what you know.” But something mysterious and wonderful happens when we write what we don’t know. The Muse enters the arena. Stuff comes out of us from a source we can neither name nor locate.

Where is it coming from? The “unconscious?” The “field of potentiality?”

I don’t know.

But I’ve had the same experience over and over. When I write something that really happened, people read it and say, “Sounds phony.”

When I pull something completely out of thin air, I hear, “Wow, that was so real!”




Album #1 (1964)

Route 66

I’m a King Bee

Can I Get A Witness?

I Just Wanna Make Love To You


Album #2 (1964)

Under the Boardwalk

Susie Q

Confessing the Blues

It’s All Over Now


Album #5 (1965)


The Last Time

Play With Fire

The Under-Assistant West Coast Promotion Man


Album #11 (1968)

Sympathy For the Devil

 No Expectations

 Street Fighting Man

 Salt of the Earth


Album #12 (1969)

Gimme Shelter

 Love in Vain

 Midnight Rambler

 You Can’t Always Get What You Want


The subject stays the same, but the artists have peeled back the onion from the surface to deep, deep within the core.

Chekhov did it this way, as did Fitzgerald and Hemingway and Tolstoy and Turgenev, all the way back to Aeschylus, Sophocles, and Euripides.

The artist mines the same vein over and over. He just digs deeper over time.


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. Renita on March 21, 2018 at 4:59 am

    “She sees what is real and brings it forth so that others can see it.”
    That takes work and skill.

  2. Robin on March 21, 2018 at 6:11 am

    The Artist’s Journey has lifted a veil from my eyes. I see things now with clarity and purpose that was not there before. The gift of your insight is priceless.

  3. Maria Xenidou on March 21, 2018 at 6:27 am

    #6 is my favorite yet! I look forward to what comes next as you dig deeper over time…thank you!

  4. Mary Doyle on March 21, 2018 at 6:36 am

    This series just gets better and better. Thank you for sharing this deep dive – I’ll be first in line when this book comes out.

  5. Joe on March 21, 2018 at 7:51 am

    There’s sparks flying off this one. On “fiction is truth” and “does truth come from the unconscious,” I was reading this from Cormac McCarthy (in “The Crossing”) and thinking, “Where does he get this? Is he ‘making it up’? Is it ‘coming through’ him? I mean, just *listen* to it. It sounds like something that comes from somewhere else”:

    “For this world also which seems to us a thing of stone and flower and blood is not a thing at all but a tale. And all in it is a tale and each tale the sum of all lesser tales and yet these also are the selfsame tale and contain as well all else within them.”

    Is there anything that’s truer than that?

  6. Mike on March 21, 2018 at 8:54 am

    The more I read your ideas, the more I understand what I did good when I wrote on some place on the internet and what will I do good when I’ll write even more different things.
    Cheers and thanks!

  7. Sandra on March 21, 2018 at 9:35 am

    Thank you, Mr. Pressfield. YOU are an inspiration to the artist.

  8. Beth on March 21, 2018 at 10:18 am

    Sweet Stones example — ‘dig’ it!

  9. Rachelle Ramirez, Certified Story Grid Editor on March 21, 2018 at 10:46 am

    I used this post to teach a middle grade classroom what it takes to be a writer. They responded well. “Anyone can be a writer with a force of will and willingness to learn.” Now they’re excited to work with me on an editing project of a middle reader book. Thanks for sharing your wisdom with us.

  10. Jule Kucera on March 21, 2018 at 3:10 pm

    With #17 (“Or is ‘Dostoyevsky’ discovering Dostoyevsky?”) and #24 (“Truth is not the truth. Fiction is the truth”), I have decided I’m not reading Pressfield’s blog but Thich That Hanh’s. Those two ideas make my head spin but this one grounds me: “The artist mines the same vein over and over. He just digs deeper over time.” Love it. Love it all.

  11. Jule Kucera on March 21, 2018 at 3:11 pm

    Argh! Typo!
    Thich Nhat Hanh.

  12. Julie Murphy on March 21, 2018 at 3:27 pm

    “Write what you don’t know.”
    “The artist’s medium is not reality, but dreams.”

    Earlier this month I had an all is lost, koan of truth moment as I saw my big idea nonfiction book circling the drain. I realized I wasn’t putting into practice what I was going to teach. And if I couldn’t do it, there was no book.

    Then out of my unconscious, or muse, appeared a thought: I must first write the book, in order to write the book.

    This thought made perfect sense at the time. Steve, when you translate our experience and return it to us in a more succinct and repeatable form, you help us to trust our knowing. At least that’s one way it helps me. Many thanks.

  13. Mike Shapiro on March 22, 2018 at 8:25 am

    Some advice from well-traveled comedy writer that seems in line with Stephen’s point of view:
    Scovell suggests, is to ignore the odds and risk rejection. “Writing is not what you start,” she notes in perhaps her most useful piece of advice. “It’s not even what you finish. It’s what you start, finish, and put out there for the world to see.” Her own attitude is philosophical. “I learned not to get too happy about good news or too distraught about bad,” she says, quoting a friend who told her to “be as happy as you can be for as long as it lasts, but sustained joy is not part of the deal.” It is clear the most valuable attribute for the aspiring writer is resilience.
    More here:

  14. Anthony Florez on March 22, 2018 at 3:29 pm


    I love reading everything you write. It inspires me, grounds me, and reminds me why I’m doing what I do. I do have a disagreement though on the last two posts… or perhaps, a different philosophy on how to overcome the negative thoughts of the mind. I do not believe that the negative ideas/thoughts of the mind are overcome by the same mind, only thinking in a positive way… that script will not flip easily, I believe it goes deeper. I believe that the artists’s mind, when cleared is where the imagination, the craft and the skill, the learning and the knowledge of how to express those experiences from the Hero’s Journey comes from. It is the heart and the soul, though, that overcomes both the negative mind but is also the ultimate driving fuel for expression and also the hearth for which to draw energy to share and feel the happiness, the pain, sorrow, guilt, passion, any emotion which is emanated from those they come in contact with, and those who effected them in their journeys. The artist can feel with their soul their hearts the emotions that are necessary with which to make their story true. Truth exists from the soul and only the soul and the heart can overcome those negative emotions… the artists journey is that release.

  15. Jorge on March 24, 2018 at 5:19 am

    #24…say no more….

  16. Maxima Kahn on April 18, 2018 at 1:45 pm

    Many wonderful things here. The one thing that keeps nagging at me as I read these is that I did not have a singular inflection point when I turned pro. It’s been more a long journey of turning more and more pro and uncovering more of what I call my unique brilliance or what to do with it. I can’t point to some decisive moment.

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