The Artist’s Journey in the Real World

 

I described in The War of Art the moment when my own artist’s journey began. It was in New York City. I was supporting myself driving a cab. I sat down one night in my sublet at 84th and York and tried for about two hours to write.

It worked.

For the first time in nearly a decade of trying, the act pulled me together instead of breaking me apart.

I knew I had turned a corner.

I knew I would be all right.

But here’s the key question:

 

            What happened after that?

 

Did I immediately achieve “success?” Did I instantly bang out a novel and sell it?

Here’s the real-world chronology:

I keep driving a cab.

Six months later I find a job in advertising.

I work for two years, save my money, quit, write a novel, can’t sell it.

In other words, I’m now four years into my artist’s journey with no money and no recognition to show for it.

I go back to advertising. Two more years. I quit again. Write another novel. Can’t sell this one either.

Eight years now.

I move to Los Angeles to try to write for the movies.

Four years, nine spec screenplays. Can’t sell any.

Thirteen years now.

My agent teams me with an established screenwriter/producer. I work for four years that way. For the first time, I’m actually paying the rent.

But, in artist’s journey terms, I still haven’t found my voice. I’m still not writing from my real center.

Seventeen years.

My writing partner and I split up.

I work as a solo writer for three more years.

Two or three scripts come out in my actual voice. But I can’t sell them.

I bail from screenwriting, try another novel.

It sells.

So do #2, #3, #4, etc.

I’m supporting myself at last.

I’m writing from my real center.

Elapsed time from start of artist’s journey: twenty-one years.

(Not counting the eight years preceding that, before I turned the corner.)

The writer’s life—or the dancer’s or the filmmaker’s or the entrepreneur’s—is a lifetime commitment.

The artist’s journey lasts as long as we live.

It may take forever to pay off.

It may never pay off at all, at least not in dollars and cents. Maybe never in critical terms either.

This is the artist’s journey in the real world.

Can we sustain it? Can we keep it going in the face of adversity, of contempt, of rejection, or worse, of self-contempt and self-rejection?

Can we believe in our destiny when no one else does?

Can we take satisfaction in the process?

Can we believe in the journey itself?

 

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.

do the work book banner 1

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.

noboybookcover

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

30 Comments

  1. Susan Setteducato on August 8, 2018 at 6:13 am

    Steven, I can’t thank you enough for your words. It’s so easy to feel like Sisyphus on this journey. I can’t see what’s around the corner but I can do what is in front of me to do. Chop wood. Carry water. Keep writing. Thanks for the light this morning.

  2. Mary Doyle on August 8, 2018 at 6:16 am

    “The artist’s journey lasts as long as we live.” Never give up. Thank you so much!

  3. Joel McMahon on August 8, 2018 at 6:39 am

    Perfect timing. Great bullets. A message I need….every day. “Resistance: die you so-and-so.”

  4. Brian S Nelson on August 8, 2018 at 6:49 am

    Steve,
    I returned from Afghanistan in 2007. Didn’t shave for about 5 days, very unkempt. I looked in the mirror and saw all the salt, little pepper. I remember thinking that I was 38 and not rich yet. I was, and remained for years, focused on financial success as my maker of value in the world. It shames me to think of it now.

    There are times I still struggle with Greed. I have big, unhinged thoughts about ‘scaling’ an operation. All that said, we’ve successfully produced a race in Tacoma for the past 8 years. I’m now DANGER CLOSE to 50, which we all know is OLD. Or at least old to anyone in their 20’s/30s. We haven’t made enough money to cover the operational costs of a sanctuary yet–but we have produced something that delivers joy and connection to over 400 people in the lazy days of August. We have never lost money, and made some. Enough to keep the animal rescue going at our current size. (small, all volunteer, distributed network of foster/adoptive homes).

    I find it reassuring that you, Pete Carroll, and others have found their strides later in life. No tech titans. No college dropout, garage business insta-gazillionaire. The journey, which I now understand as my cross to bear, is delightful. Filled with heartache, worry, stress–but when the last person was coming down the stairs Sunday surrounded by her team of 30, and hundreds of people cheered her on, I wept. I was just starting the awards ceremony, and got all misty-eyed. That is what we produce. Well earned joy. It is a much better marker of value than my bank account.

    Thank you for all that you do. It helps.
    bsn

  5. BarbaraNH on August 8, 2018 at 7:27 am

    Heartfelt thanks always to you, Steve, and everyone who is connected in keeping us going. I love Wednesday mornings.

  6. Wilcox on August 8, 2018 at 7:58 am

    Years ago I went to an event and Ossie Davis was there. I asked him what is one one the best advice he could give me. He said to always continue to write your screenplays because when you do sell one the others will sell too.. I believe if you are not getting joy out of writing than this is not your passion. Some people never get published but they are happy writing everyday. Thanks for sharing.

  7. Stephanie Raffelock on August 8, 2018 at 7:59 am

    I may not have twenty-one years. I came to writing late. I came to myself late. I only started writing when I was brave enough to think that I might have something to say and by then I was in my sixties.

    I practice every day. I’ve written seven novels, six and a half of which I’ve finished. Most were crap and two of them hold up as good stories. My agent didn’t sell the first one and doesn’t like the second one. I feel like I’m at a crossroads, somewhat frozen, lamenting my years and feeling some heartbreak, but eff it. I’m going to keep going. If the artist’s journey is, as Mr. Pressfield says, a lifetime commitment, then age should not be a deterrent, but part of the development.

    My journey is as much about the quest for significance as it is a quest for a really good, well written story. How foolish was I to create an encore as a novelist wanna be? As Billy Joel once sang “I have been a fool for lesser things.” Write on.

    • Anonymous on August 9, 2018 at 7:56 am

      I am going to say that you are not foolish at all, because I am another old fart doing the same.

    • gwen on August 9, 2018 at 2:24 pm

      Not foolish. We can only do what we can do! I’m a wanna be who hasn’t started yet. Well , nothing solid, just ramblings. So, you’ve finished novels!! Right on!

  8. Anita Rodgers on August 8, 2018 at 8:23 am

    Yes.

  9. Susie Cutter on August 8, 2018 at 9:21 am

    I am enjoying your book, but this is a bit depressing to read since I am 55 years old and if it takes me that long to have anything done.. I am sure I will be dead are damn near dead. HAHAHAHHA

  10. Curtis on August 8, 2018 at 10:34 am

    Mr Pressfield. Thank you. Your writing experience is an excellent and specific application of the more general under standing that Scott Peck brought to light in his 1978 book “ The Road Less Traveled”

    He bottom lined the whole show.

    “Life is difficult. “ So says Scott Peck riffing on ‘The first of the “”Four Noble Tuths”” which Buddha taught —“ Life is suffering.”

    Peck’s insight… “…once we see the truth, we transcend it. Once we truly understand and acept it —then life is no longer difficult.”

    ( P.S. Notice that even Peck chose the word “difficult” rather than the more ragged turth of the word “suffering” Buddha used.)

    My take. Accpeted or otherwise…. we are going to hold a little aggrivation in reserve if we arn’t able to grab the brass ring.
    Again, Thank you.

  11. Michel Porro on August 8, 2018 at 10:47 am

    Luckily we are not a lamp post, so we can see what’s around the corner. But we must to walk there.. In this marvellous podcast: https://www.everythingisalive.com/ Maeve tells us she’d love to see what’s around the corner.. Thank you Steve for being so generous.

  12. Isabelle on August 8, 2018 at 11:07 am

    Your age is greater and smarter than what you make of it: old.

  13. Kat Faitour on August 8, 2018 at 12:31 pm

    This post is everything I needed to read. THANK YOU, from the bottom of my heart.

  14. Eleanor F.J. Gamarsh on August 8, 2018 at 3:28 pm

    I believe I’m living the answers to the last three questions. With wonderful support from people I’ve met in online writing groups who have become friends, I am in the process of learning how to prepare a collection of short stories to publish via Createspace. I can’t take classes so am working with what’s publicly available to learn how to do this. I amaze myself at 84. Thanks for this article.

    Sue Cutter, please don’t cut of your chance so short unless you seriously believe you have precognition. i had no plan to become a writer but had something I believed was important enough to begin writing about it in 2010. I’m still working on it and am taking an online course beginning Friday to help me with it.

  15. Maxima Kahn on August 8, 2018 at 3:54 pm

    Thank you for being honest about just how hard and long the journey can be–and still be worth it in so many ways. I’ve been on my Artist’s Journey so long that I cannot find an “epiphany” point following “my all is lost moment,” or a turning point where I entered the Artist’s Journey. And I’m still waiting/hoping for it to pay off in real world terms at least a bit more. But no matter what I’ll keep creating, because I have to. That is what I do. So thank you once again for the encouragement and honesty. I’ve been plowing through my copy of the Artist’s Journey, even though I read all the posts as you shared them. Great to have it and read it again (and again).

  16. Marvin on August 8, 2018 at 7:06 pm

    I have been working everyday on a writing project for about 4 years. When i get close to completion stage, and work toward getting it out, my mind gets so full of jarring thoughts that it throws me right off the track. i can’t concentrate or deliver.

    How can i handle it. I have the War of Art, and Do the Work. I read them about 5 years ago. Per haps i should do a re-read. Any advice in the meantime?

    Ironically, I am doing a book on unblocking and achieving.

    My own methods usually work. But not when it gets so intense.

    • Gabby on August 10, 2018 at 6:15 am

      Marvin, I know not everyone believes in this, but maybe you need a writing buddy or support team for such moments? People who can say the right thing to you when you get to those jarring thoughts?

  17. Julie Murphy on August 9, 2018 at 6:29 am

    “It may take forever to pay off.”

    A turning point for me was when I realized I had to first write for me. Regardless of anything else, I had to give my gift…which is separate from that gift being received. Unbundling the giving of the gift from recipients receipt of that gift is helpful while we give our audience time to get ready to understand what we made.

    Art often precedes appreciation. Sometimes we’re so close to it, we don’t fully appreciate our own work right away either. Thanks, Steve.

  18. Mia Sherwood Landau on August 9, 2018 at 7:09 am

    At the burning bush, God announced to Moses (and to the world) his name is Ayeh Asher Ayeh. Which is translated many ways by many scholars, but one translation is, essentially. an announcement involving the verb “to be.” It is a statement about the past, the present and the future… I WAS – I AM – I WILL BE. I think about that basic, foundational name of God when contemplating who I am as a person and an artist. Who I was and who I am now are building blocks in the process of who I’m becoming. The person I am becoming tomorrow has the capacity to write words and ideas I don’t have yet. This reality has two effects. One, it makes me put things off until tomorow. Resistance loves that one. And two, it makes me get going today because that’s what is forming the person I’ll be tomorrow. Your post is such a great example of becoming, and deeply inspiring to those of us who also measure our art in decades, not weeks or months!

  19. Debbie L Kasman on August 9, 2018 at 8:28 am

    My new favourite! Keep sharing!

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  21. Sandra on August 10, 2018 at 7:27 am

    Sir, you are an inspiration. I asked myself the last five questions posed. And, yes – I’m in it for the long haul. You are the perfect example of what a true artist endures when writing runs through their veins.

  22. Eugene Salomon on August 10, 2018 at 9:23 am

    Thirteen years, no sales, and yet you were able to get an agent. There must be a story there. Would you care to share it?

  23. Skye on August 11, 2018 at 2:27 pm

    Steve, how did you know to go on?

  24. Anonymous on August 13, 2018 at 11:44 am

    Steve,
    I call myself the Accidental Author. English was my worst subject. I never intended to be an author. But, when my son had a traffic accident I was possessed by an unknown disire to write about the accident. I ask for court records and was denied. I found someone who didn’t like the judge and I paid for all of the transcripts of the different court proceedings. To make a long story shorter, it took me 14 years to write the story.
    I self published and sold two cases of books at the Tybee Island Light House. I was raised on Tybee and it paid off.
    I continues having book signing and was told by Wayne Dwyer himself he sold books out of the trunk of his car for years.
    This passed May it was the best Seller in memoirs on Amazon. After the first book I discovered I love to write.
    Dry few people have a fast road to success.
    Enjoyed your writing.

  25. Ricardo on August 16, 2018 at 9:23 pm

    I’ll turn 38 next month.
    For all my adult life I started to paint and quit shortly after, countless times.
    Started again a year ago, drawing, studying, and keep going.
    Your books help a lot!
    I realized what were my pitfalls, and feel more prepared to overcome Resistance, every single day!
    One thing is for sure:
    I had a job for thirteen year where I learned how to be miserable.
    I had to keep going in spite of my body pains, sleep deprivation, depression.
    I had to keep grinding to pay the bills.
    You teached me how to use that to do my REAL work. And that’s invaluable!
    Reading this article, I feel even more resolute.
    It doesn’t matter what will happen tomorrow.
    All I know is that I’ll keep showing up!
    Thank you.

  26. Marc E. Harris on September 10, 2018 at 9:24 am

    Thanks, Steven, this is good inspiration for me right now and probably for others as well. I am approaching 56, have 2 teenage children and struggling to find my way in the writing world. I spent many years in corporate media operations and was downsized. I have since started my second career as a Project Manager. It pays the bills and such but the true satisfaction has still eluded me. I am working on my second self-published book (Fantasy Adventure Novel) and at times feel the lack of energy to continue. T his note will really go a long way in re-energizing me. Thanks,
    Marc

  27. Jenny Leigh Hodgins on October 11, 2018 at 6:22 pm

    Thank you for a wonderful reading experience. I think you hit the nail on the head with the question about whether we can enjoy the journey. When you’re an artist, you are an artist for life. Despite obstacles, lack of support, or whatever else, a true artist has a mission to fulfill no matter what. I appreciate the confirmation that anything worthwhile is not easy to achieve. Art is truly worthwhile and soul-fulfilling.

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