The Artist’s Journey, #9

Continuing our serialization of The Artist’s Journey. If you’re just plugging into the series for the first time, click on the following links to access any of the first eight parts: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6, Part 7, Part 8.


By “time,” I mean era or generation. Picasso’s Cubism and Hemingway’s equally multi-planed prose both evolved out of the mass-mechanical, herky-jerky style and rhythm of the era before and after World War I (a period that also produced the machine gun and the self-amortizing mortgage.) So did Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue and Robert Johnson’s Love In Vain and, a little later, Henry Miller’s Tropic of Capricorn.

All were responses to the times these artists lived in.

If we want to get mysto on this subject (and I always do) we could say that the souls of these writers, painters, and musicians chose the epoch they wished to be born into, for reasons that the artists themselves possibly never knew or even inquired about.

Even artists whose works seem to be out of their own time—flashing backward, Gore Vidal with Burr or Lincoln or, forward, anything by Philip K. Dick—are, if you look closely enough, burrowed deeply into the zeitgeist, only from a different temporal angle.

The artist in her journey speaks to and of her time.


We said that the artist has a subject, a voice, a point of view, a medium of expression, and a style.

But where do these come from?

How do we find our own?

In my experience the process is neither rational nor logical. It can’t be commanded. It can’t be rushed. It is not subject to the will or the ego.

We are born, I believe, with everything we are seeking—a subject, a voice, a point of view, a medium of expression, and a style.

But these reside in an area of the psyche outside the range of conventional consciousness.

The artist’s journey is like the hero’s journey in that you and I, the artist-in-embryo, must leave our zone of comfort (the conscious mind) and cross to alien shores (the unconscious) to find and acquire our golden fleece (the knowledge of, and access to, our gift.)

The process, like the hero’s journey, involves time.

It involves suffering.

It involves folly.

Its crisis takes the form of an All Is Lost moment.

Once you have given up the ghost [wrote Henry Miller], everything follows with dead certainty, even in the midst of chaos.

The ghost that we give up is the ego. The illusion of control.

The “everything” that follows is our artist’s power—our subject, our voice, our point of view, our medium of expression, and our style.


B  O  O  K    F   O  U  R

A    B  O  D  Y    O  F     W  O  R  K  



This is my twentieth book.

Looking back, here’s the Big Takeaway:

I never had any idea, before I wrote a book, that I was going to write it. Or, perhaps more accurately, that I was going to write that specific book. The book always came out of nowhere and always took me by surprise.

Let me express this a different way.

No matter what a writer or artist may tell you, they have no clue what they’re doing before they do it—and, for the most part, while they’re doing it.

Or another way:

Everything we produce as artists comes from a source beyond our conscious awareness.

Jackson Browne once said that he writes to find out what he thinks. (Wait, it was Joan Didion who said that … no, Stephen King said it too.)

I do the same, and you do too, whether you realize it or not.

The key pronoun here is you.

Who is this “you?”

The second and third theses of this book are:

1. “You,” meaning the writer of your books, is not you. Not the “you” you think of as yourself.

2. This “second you” is smarter than you are. A lot smarter.


My long-held belief is that an artist’s identity is revealed by the work she or he produces.

Writers write to discover themselves. (Again, whether they realize it or not.)

But who is this self they seek to discover?

It is none other than that “second you”—that wiser “you,” that true, pure, waterproof, self-propelled, self-contained “you.”

Every work we produce as artists comes from this second “you.”

This “you” is the real you.




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 April 11, 2018 at 5:21 am

    I like this discovery process is moving from ego life or planned life into the unknown. I know this isn’t for everyone.
    Recently, a supporting character in a story I’ve been writing came forward with his own story. So I’m sort of scrapping my first, second, and third ideas and jetting them into a back room while he claims the stage and gets the limelight.
    I think one of your books talks about being willing to start over. This was helpful in giving me permission to let go of a project at least for a while and attending to what is up right now.

  2. Mary Doyle on April 11, 2018 at 5:54 am

    “The ghost that we give up is the ego. The illusion of control.” And doesn’t that ego try to hang on for dear life? Thanks so much for this!

  3. Georgia l Piazza on April 11, 2018 at 6:24 am

    Thank you so much for these commentaries. Much of my artistic journey has been a mystery and you clarity that the journey is a mystery and that’s OK.

  4. Mia Sherwood Landau on April 11, 2018 at 6:33 am

    Yes! I love to hear about the amphibious, indestructable ME, the unsinkable vessel loaded with precious cargo. When you talk about it I believe in myself even more, Steven. Yes! Please keep talking to me!

  5. Daniel R. Foley on April 11, 2018 at 7:02 am

    I finally saw “The Legend of Bagger Vance.” It worked on all cylinders, and I suspect will make it to legend status itself. I found the “metaphysics” (for lack of a better term) most intriguing, and wonder what your source is. It easily qualifies you as a Jungian, for instance, a Zenist, or Western mystic. I’ve now had three books “write themselves,” but no buyers yet. I find the selling a lot harder and more frustrating than the writing. It is what makes my life worth living.

  6. Erik Dolson on April 11, 2018 at 7:50 am

    The sensation while writing a book of having characters “take over” their roles is startling, and forces me to wonder “who am I?’ if seemingly well developed personalities emerge in a work that “I” am supposedly creating. Going back days or weeks or years later and realizing I’m not smart, insightful or connected enough to have written what “I” created, is equally disconcerting.

  7. Lyn on April 11, 2018 at 7:57 am

    Your book, The War of Art, and these posts are pure genius. Expressions of the soul, full of metaphysical insight that speak to who we really are. And I cherish every one of them. Self-discovery is indeed the journey and the way you let the truth shine through you! I hope you know how deeply you are appreciated.

  8. Sandra on April 11, 2018 at 8:09 am

    Two words: Thank you.

  9. Heather Hobbs on April 11, 2018 at 8:42 am

    Great post, Steven! Your thoughts on writing always give me clarity. My writing reveals much of who I am, what I value and what I believe. Often this is revealed in the writing process. I find myself saying,”Yes, that’s what I’m trying to say” when they land in my consciousness like they’ve always been there. Thank you for putting this into words.

  10. Brian S Nelson on April 11, 2018 at 8:53 am

    It would be interesting to see the unfolding the the ‘you’ on a timeline. I have a mini-hypothesis that, at least for men, it seems that the unfolding/revealing happens on/about age 50. You have written that you chose to Turn Pro after many years as an amateur.

    Another guess is that you needed to spend some years as a Pro before you truly unfolded to yourself.

    Pete Carroll writes about how he was continually fired until had his own ‘Jerry Maguire’ moment and wrote his winning philosophy…then went onto USC and the Seattle Seahawks. Bill Gates finding his true calling with his Foundation not Microsoft, and Steve Jobs return to Apple.

    I wonder how many skins must be shed, even if there was success previously, before one gets to the true ‘you’. My examples are all men. I also think that men are a bit slower at this then women. Maybe because we don’t have the innate capacity to bring life, we must find another opening to the infinite.

  11. Bane on April 11, 2018 at 3:47 pm

    “To destroy for meat the oxen of the most exalted Sun.” #egojourney

  12. Julie Murphy on April 11, 2018 at 4:00 pm

    Well put, Steve, you are spot on again.

    I had to grow into my book in order to write it. Batting around my final new, improved, and failed theory led to my all is lost moment. It was only after I’d exhausted my best efforts that an authentic idea appeared. Ironically, it was an unconscious theme I’d been swimming with for the past 6-months.

    My authentic idea arrived on my birthday, which I don’t think is a coincidence.

    Great post–thanks!

  13. Andy on April 11, 2018 at 7:53 pm

    When I’m writing, drawing, playing music, I’m in the details, note per note, line per line, color and shade. I start with an idea of where I’m going but come out with something that dumbfounds me. Well. These hands forged it. But I’m just reporting what I see. Not what I think I know.

  14. Andrew M. Prokopis on April 12, 2018 at 7:36 am

    These ‘session’ have helped to clarify for me what I have somehow felt, known, to be going on. Having the clarity has made all the difference for me. Knowing that there is ‘a way’ and that that ‘me’ is on the way, or poised to be on the way…is extremely helpful. It gives me clarity, courage, curiosity…..I am more open.

  15. Francesca on April 15, 2018 at 4:30 am

    Everything you’ve written so far rings so perfectly true, basically you’ve articulated the threshold world I’m stepping into. Thank you! I feel like I can take a big breath and relax into trusting my instincts even more now after having you describe these processes.

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