The Artist’s Journey, #16

Now, at this sixteenth installment of The Artist’s Journey, we’ve left the Apollonian mind behind and have entered the Dionysian. Way fun! To catch up on any posts you might have missed, use these links: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6, Part 7, Part 8. Part 9. Part 10. Part 11Part 12. Part 13. Part 14.  And Part 15.

76. WHAT IS THE ARTIST AFRAID OF?

The artist is afraid of the unknown.

She’s afraid of letting go. Afraid of finding out what’s “in there.” Or “out there.”

I’m not speaking here of unearthing within ourselves heretofore-unknown sordid, depraved, vile, degenerate urges. I don’t mean the fear of realizing that we’re all child molesters at heart or that we would have joined the Nazi Party if we’d lived in Germany in 1934.

The artist is afraid of finding out who she is.

This fear, I suspect, is more about finding we are greater than we think than discovering that we’re lesser.

What if, God help us, we actually have talent?

What if we truly do possess a gift?

What will we do then?

77. THINKING WITH YOUR OWN MIND

What exactly are we trying to accomplish on the artist’s journey?

We’re trying to think with our own minds, not with anyone else’s, and thus to speak in our own voice. On a deeper level, we are learning to bypass our front-mind, our ego-consciousness (and self-consciousness) and go directly to the next level, the unconscious, the superconscious, the Self, the Muse.

As in zazen the student is seeking to sit, i.e. meditate, without thinking. To empty her mind of all ego-spawned “thought”(which is really mindless chatter) until her consciousness becomes as clear as a glass of formerly-muddy water after the silty particles have settled to the bottom.

This is exactly what the artist does when she sets her brush to the canvas.

It’s what the musician does when he places his fingers on the keys.

The artist and the writer enter the Void with nothing and come back with something.

78. THE VOID

How does a writer write a scene, or a choreographer design a dance sequence?

They start with nothing. An intention only.

They reach into the void and they pull out a sentence, a first step.

They go back in, like James Spader reaching through the liquid-metallic membrane in the movie Stargate. They pull their arm back out with the next sentence or the next dance move.

Now they have momentum. A tiny bit anyway. They feel a glimmer of courage.

They reach through the membrane again, this time up to the elbow.

Next: the shoulder.

They step all the way through.

Their hearts are hammering.

It’s terrifying releasing one’s hold on the known.

79. THE OTHER SIDE

What’s on the far side of the Stargate?

We are.

The writer and the dancer and the filmmaker ourselves.

Our selves wait there, breathless, trembling, pulling on the ego-writer and ego-dancer and ego-filmmaker with all their strength.

“Come through! Hold out your hand! Here, take this!”

80. MY OWN EXPERIENCE

From the moment of turning pro (my “dishwashing moment” in New York City), it took me nearly twenty years of full-time trying before I could write in my own voice.

I was close in those two decades.

I had moments.

But I could never really do it.

I tried everything to break through. I tried trying super-hard. I tried giving up. I employed psychology. I used reverse psychology. I was like Nuke LaLoosh wearing women’s undergarments beneath my Durham Bulls uniform.

Anything to make myself STOP THINKING.

I watched thousands of movies, read hundreds of books. I literally copied pages from writers I loved, trying to find a voice, any voice.

Was there an Aha moment?

Yes, and it came in the way I least expected.

81. WRITING IN CHARACTER AS SOMEONE ELSE

I was fifty-one when I started writing The Legend of Bagger Vance. The narrator of the book was a physician in his mid-seventies. I realized right away that this character, whose voice I was going to write in, was smarter than I was.

How could I speak as him?

How could I know what he knows?

It seemed functionally impossible.

I stuck my hand through the stargate and it worked.

I found my voice by writing in somebody else’s.

I was absolutely amazed when it happened, and when it continued to happen, day after writing day.

In my second book I wrote as another character, completely different from the first.

In my third, I wrote in the voices of three characters, each one different from the others and from all others that had come before.

It worked.

It worked seamlessly and effortlessly.

All at once, I could do it.

82. THE AMAZON MIND

In Last of the Amazons, I tried to imagine on the page the ancient race of female warriors.

Here’s a description of the Amazon mode of thinking, offered by one of the characters in the book, a young Athenian who has traveled to the Amazon homeland near the Black Sea and lived for a time among this legendary all-female culture.

The Amazons have no word for “I.” The notion of the autonomous individual has no place in their conception of the universe. Their thinking, if one could call it that, is entirely instinctual and collective. They think like a herd of horses or a flock of swallows, which seem to apprehend and respond with one mind, acting intuitively and instantaneously in the moment.

When an Amazon speaks, she will pause frequently, often for long moments. She is seeking the right word. But she does not consciously search for this, as you or I might, rummaging within the catalog of our mind. Rather she is waiting, as a hunter might at the burrow of her quarry, until the correct word arises of itself as from some primal spring of consciousness. The process, it seems, is more akin to dreaming than to waking awareness.

To our Greek eyes, this habit of pausing and waiting makes the speaker appear dull-witted, even dense, and many among our compatriots have lost patience in the event or, concluding that these horsewomen of the plains are a race of savages, have given up entirely on attempting to communicate with them.

To the Amazons, of course, it is we Hellenes who are the witless ones, whose “civilized” consciousness has lost access to the well of wisdom and sense upon which the plainswoman readily draws, and who as a result are cut off from the immediate apprehension of the moment, immured within our own narrow, fearful, greedy, self-infatuated minds.

The Amazon mind as imagined in this passage is not far off from the artist’s mind when she is at work.

 

THE WAR OF ART

Read this one first.
It identifies the enemy—what I call Resistance with a capital “R,” i.e. fear, self-doubt, procrastination, perfectionism, all the forms of self-sabotage—that stop us from doing our work and realizing our dreams.
Start here.
Everything else proceeds from this.

The-War-of-Art

DO THE WORK

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.

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THE AUTHENTIC SWING

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.

The-Authentic-Swing

NOBODY WANTS TO READ YOUR SH*T

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.

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TURNING PRO

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?"

Turning-Pro

14 Comments

  1. Mary Doyle on May 30, 2018 at 6:06 am

    Your description of your own “aha moment” gave me chills. Each week you pull the curtain back a little bit more. We are in your debt. Thank you!

  2. Beth Barany on May 30, 2018 at 6:18 am

    Yes. This. Thank you.

  3. Rock K on May 30, 2018 at 7:12 am

    Loving the installments. I wonder what voice you might hear if you went back and browsed your pre-voice work? Was there an evolution of voice, or did it flash from dark to light? Just curious. Thanks for sharing!

  4. Marina Goritskaia on May 30, 2018 at 7:54 am

    I could not agree less about the source of fear. This is highly subjective.

    • Curtis on May 30, 2018 at 9:06 pm

      I think that’s what he announced about this section. Being Dionysian at least hints at the subjective. Actually, it hints a lot. But, I could be wrong.

  5. Renita on May 30, 2018 at 7:55 am

    Steve, I appreciate you and what you are doing more than I can say. Profound thanks! In the comments each week here I have Witnessed how you have changed lives and brought people to discover themselves ever more deeply. What greater gift can a man or woman send? It is loaves and fishes to the masses. 🙏🙏🙏
    Renita

  6. Brad Graft on May 30, 2018 at 8:00 am

    This feels like the heart of the book. Mary’s right–“we are in debt.” Steve has shared this “aha moment” before, yet he’s peeling deeper into the onion this round.

    Having just written two novels on steppe nomads—also from the Black Sea region—I still marvel at Steve’s shared description of the “Amazon mind.” Just as Steve’s Amazons draw from “the well of wisdom” before speaking, so does Steve when crafting like passages.

    Sure the Muses played their part, but there’s more to the story. That Amazon passage also came naturally to Steve Pressfield, because he understands the Marine Corp Leadership Principle of “Unselfishness.” Recall about a year ago when Steve wrote his “Clueless Asks” blog entry. Some of us didn’t like it. Some took his points personally; felt hurt. Some of us forgot the gifts he had already provided (in the form of his non-fiction, “self help” books; this blog). Yet here he is—unselfishly taking time away from his own art to help us once again. He’s giving back like few others with his talent would. Don’t forget this.

    If not for Steve’s non-fiction, his example, his nudge—I’m quite sure I would have let Resistance take its course with my art. Hats off to Steve Pressfield and his current work. Semper Fi.

  7. Gwen Abitz on May 30, 2018 at 8:47 am

    I have yet to come up with “the answer” [for myself] to the question I keep asking myself: What is the difference “that feels so different” when first learning about THE WAR OF ART and Steven Pressfield when [for me] the spiritual content/context what Steve writes is the same as the other spiritual leaders/teachers and or Gurus I have come across on My Journey. I don’t know may have something to do with not being so politically correct being in the arena and not being so airy, fairy about his out there woo-woo-ness. That HEY!! we have that too. Steve sharing his Process writing THE LEGEND OF BAGGER VANCE and his “honesty” of his Artist’s Journey becoming a PRO seems more of “the down to earth process”; more of a REALITY and not so “untouchable” to finding One’s Self. Too, maybe a dividing line could be: Being an author and screen writer is Steve’s Business Side; his Spiritual Side is not his Business Side and simply BEING who he IS. So no conflict of interest. My two cents worth anyway. Still do not know if I answered my own question.

  8. Daniel DeNapoli on May 30, 2018 at 10:46 am

    Great!!! You open all our minds to find we are ETERNAL talents and must drop all FEARS!!!!
    We are Stardust!! We are all DIVINE!!! This Talent thing means next to nothing– we are all INFINITE!!
    And Pressfield has a way to push us to see that DIVINITY!!
    Great BOOK GREAT WORDS!! The Artist is a WARRIOR!!!

  9. Daniel DeNapoli on May 30, 2018 at 10:46 am

    You open all our minds to find we are ETERNAL talents and must drop all FEARS!!!!
    We are Stardust!! We are all DIVINE!!!

    This Talent thing means next to nothing– we are all INFINITE!!
    And Pressfield has a way to push us to see that DIVINITY!!
    Great BOOK GREAT WORDS!! The Artist is a WARRIOR!!!

  10. Erik Dolson on May 30, 2018 at 8:05 pm

    We are not what we think.
    More, not less.
    We see wave, are of water.
    Ahhh.

  11. Sandra on May 31, 2018 at 5:06 am

    Thank you.

  12. Aiyana Stern on May 31, 2018 at 10:41 am

    Yes! Is all I can say about the Amazon mind.

  13. Madalena Penny on June 1, 2018 at 3:32 pm

    Today, you are more than you were yesterday. 24-hours more, to be precise. Each day, you live you accumulate. Everything you have thought, felt or done has added to who you are right now.
    I recently visited Vietnam – I’m from England, so you can imagine the culture shock. I went to a bar and asked for a diet Coke. They had never heard of a diet coke. There are no diet products in Vietnam. The word is unknown. The people there do what they can, they care about each other and make the most of what they have. They know no different.
    I then had to go to New Orleans, and watch homelessness, silent racism, (which seems to be the norm), people trying to be superior to each other and a wealth of mental problems, peer pressure, poverty, and appearance approval hinged on weight. But it’s OK to have these problems, diseases and obesity – because you can buy stuff to combat it.

    There is a piece of Gold in all of you. It doesn’t need you to be thin, successful, rich or even happy. It just requires you to listen. Trust me-it’s there and it’s the only inch of you that matters.

    I do like this blog, it questions everything. And it’s not one of those celebrity author sites that focus on selling stuff. It has volumes of integrity. (Probably why I keep coming back when I get in a funk).

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