#4 Forging the Artist’s Essentials

Before I get started with this post, today is the last day to order the special “Resistance Digital Bundle” (audios and ebooks) of Steve’s The Artist’s Journey and Tim Grahl’s Running Down A Dream, both of which were released last week by Black Irish Books.

The Odyssey opens with Homer’s call to the Muse, to sing to him of “the man of twists and turns driven time and again off course . . . “ and of the man who fought “to save his life and bring his comrades home,” but who ultimately failed to “save them from disaster, hard as he strove—the recklessness of their own ways destroyed them all . . . and wiped from sight the day of their return.”

The recklessness of their ways . . .

That’s a hallmark of the hero’s journey.

In The Artist’s Journey, Steve wrote:

In the mythology of the hero’s journey, the hero at the conclusion of her ordeal returns home safely from her wanderings. But she does not arrive empty-handed. She returns with an “elixir,” a “gift for the people.”

This gift is the product of the hero’s solitary suffering. It may be wisdom or queenly command. It may come with fire or the sword, driving out the evil forces that have infested the kingdom. Or it may come gently, as poetry or music that heals and restores harmony to the land.

How does the hero do that?

She has systems in place.

To obtain her goal, she knows the actions she has to take and she knows the exact order in which those actions must be taken.

Dorothy wears the ruby slippers during her entire hero’s journey, but it isn’t until she reaches the end of her yellow brick road that she realizes that the shoes she’s been wearing all along are her system for getting home.

The hero has to go through the process of identifying the system and then once in place, the artist steps in.

What does that look like for the rest of us?

In Tim’s Running Down A Dream, Tim’s #4 tool is “Create Systems for the Essential.” He wrote:

First, and foremost, systems save time. By putting your keys in the same place every day or cooking the same thing for breakfast every morning, you save time in planning, preparation, and doing. You never lose your keys. You always know what you need at the grocery store, etc.

Second, systems save mental energy. You no longer have to decide what to do. Your system takes care of it for you. Also, you stop forgetting to do things because your system always tells you what to do next.

For someone like Thor, a system is the use of his hammer. In a fight? Go right to the hammer. No time spent on considering options. The hammer works. Use it. Hammer gets destroyed? Hell breaks loose and time is wasted sorting out another system.

For this mortal, I have a contract that I paid a publishing industry attorney to develop for me. The language is standard. I don’t have to recreate the contract with every job. I just have to change language unique to specific customers.

I have a mileage form to track business-related travel. I don’t have to recreate the form every month. I just have to check with the IRS every year for the allowable mileage rate. I make that change and the form stays the same.

I have an expense form that I use to track expenses each month and a folder sitting on top of my desk that’s specifically for receipts. If I make a purchase, the receipt goes in the folder and the purchase is recorded on the expense form.

This is kin to doing proactive maintenance on your car or your HVAC unit or having an annual physical done. The more proactive check-ups and systems you have in place, the less likely you’ll find yourself blindsided.

How did I come to doing these things?

In the first few years I started my business, I only wanted to do the creative work. I didn’t want to do the un-fun, non-creative bits. This meant that I was awful about tracking mileage and expenses on a daily basis, which led to a time suck when I sat down to hammer through it. I still want to do the creative work over the clerical crud, but . . .  Both are important to running a business, so both have to get done. I enjoy one and have a system in place to help me avoid hating the other.

With a system in place—and as long as I follow the system—there’s no problem. However, when the system isn’t being followed . . .

About four years ago my family and I moved to a new home. Within the first year or so, the master bath leaked into the dining room below, the AC in the attic broke and flooded the bedrooms below it, the water line to the fridge broke and flooded the basement, a hail storm hit and did damage to the roof, and some kids playing in the woods behind my home thought it was a good idea to fill the uncovered manhole with rocks and branches, which resulted in a sewage backup and crap overflowing into the woods and creek.

At the time I was’t following systems because the move had thrown me off—and then I spiraled out as one thing after another occurred. Work suffered. Family suffered. I stopped going to the gym. I ate on the go. I barely slept.

I’m not saying that all those things happened because I wasn’t following my systems, but . . . The universe has a way of nailing you when you aren’t doing what you’re supposed to be doing. I know that Drama visits more often when I’m not following my systems.

That’s the difference between the hero’s journey and the artist’s journey.

With the hero, even the slightest disruption blows him of course. With the artist, she has systems in place to get home—even if those around her are the ones at fault for opening Aeolus’ bag of winds.

Posted in

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.

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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

10 Comments

  1. Mary Doyle on July 20, 2018 at 5:51 am

    Great post Callie! I’m a firm believer in systems – they definitely streamline your life. Late last year when I was preparing for out-of-town company I came to the realization that my environment i.e. my home had devolved into a chaotic mess. I spent several months cleaning out and reorganizing every closet, cabinet and drawer to support the way I live now. It’s made a huge quality-of-life difference for me – navigating my space is now effortless. I think we need to look at our systems every so often and revamp them as needed.

  2. BarbaraNH on July 20, 2018 at 6:39 am

    And, when things change in your life – like what’s priority or working on an additional project – the systems have to change, too. Your post is so, so timely to remind me to get them in place. As though Tim’s book, which I started a week ago wasn’t enough of a reminder, your post is a beautiful, but insistent, reminder to get them sorted out again. Thanks!! I’m on it, Chief!

  3. BETH BARANY on July 20, 2018 at 6:43 am

    I both adore and loathe systems. I love them with I set them up and use them. And I love setting them up. But another part of me just wants to Get To Work and be the creative wizard I am in complete chaos. I love that whirlwind too.

    Thanks, Callie, for the reminder that systems bring order SO THAT I can get to work. I think on what if any refining of my systems I need to do.

    I’m curious — how did you restore order after the horrible disasters following your move?

    • Brian S Nelson on July 20, 2018 at 7:02 am

      Beth,
      I agree. That is a story with both interest and value baked in as well.
      bsn

  4. Mat Knight on July 20, 2018 at 7:27 am

    I have to say it: This website is getting scary. You’re becoming what you claim to be against: a form of Resistance. What started with the clean, sparse, fifty-words-per-chapter advice of the “The War of Art” is now a mass of books, articles and junk email trying to get me to sign up to courses. To anyone trying to write who reads this, buy Pressfield’s “The War of Art” and Coyne’s “The Story Grid”—they are brilliant—and leave it at that. Don’t let yourself be buried under this now-avalanche of distracting ‘motivation’.

  5. Erik Dolson on July 20, 2018 at 9:29 am

    “The universe has a way of nailing you when you aren’t doing what you’re supposed to be doing.”
    Sometimes the Universe nails you when you are.
    Did chaos cause systems to fail, or systems failure lead to chaos? Is “Universe” expression of self?
    Everything exists within its context.
    Nothing exists without its context.
    Even systems.
    Hah!

  6. Erik Dolson on July 20, 2018 at 9:51 am

    To Mat Knight:
    I too preferred the old presentation, which felt like there was a cleaner message. While there are different motives for reaching more aspiring writers, none of them “wrong” or “bad,” one size does not fit all. I don’t know what has more value to the “new” visitor, as opposed to those of us who’ve been around a few years, but I trust the people here and allow myself to be more selective.

  7. Joe Jansen on July 20, 2018 at 10:20 am

    Always good stuff in here. Practical, but with depth.

  8. Brian S Nelson on July 20, 2018 at 11:19 am

    Great post Callie!

    Oh, I found something others may find of value. If you are a book listener more than a reader–I just found this app for mp3 books (like the ones we purchase from Black Irish Books). It is called ‘MP3 Audiobook Player: https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/mp3-audiobook-player/id891797540?mt=8

    Pretty easy. I just loaded it, and pulled over all of my BIB books into this app. This app is much better designed for audiobooks than iTunes.

    Have a great weekend.
    bsn

  9. Michel Porro on August 2, 2018 at 12:14 am

    Very true Callie. Systems are like meditating in the morning, or doing the 12 minute exercises after meditation. Just follow the system, even though it is not always convenient or pleasant. Work or family issues sometimes get in the way. I KNOW that I feel better following the system, and I KNOW that I feel worse when I don’t. That keeps me in line. Like you said: following the system of preventive car maintenance increases a longer life span. Your blog is priceless.

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