The Loser’s Journey Revisited

In The Artist’s Journey, Steve includes a section related to the artist’s skills. Here are a few:

The artist learns how to start.

The artist learns how to keep going.

The artist learns how to finish.

The artist learns how to hang on.

The artist learns how to let go.

The artist learns how to be alone.

The artist learns how to work with others.

The artist learns how to handle rejection.

The artist learns how to handle praise.

The artist learns how to handle panic.

The artist learns to give up.

The artist learns to go beyond what she knows.

The artist learns to be brave.

The artist learns to keep the pressure on.

Often, my daily goals resemble Steve’s skills:


Keep going.


Hang on.

Let go.

Be alone.

Work with others.

Handle rejection.

Handle praise.

Give up.

Go beyond what I know.

Be brave.

Keep the pressure on.

When my daily goals look like Steve’s skills, I know I’m stuck in my hero’s journey, which feels like the zero’s journey.

Do you know the following quote from Kurt Vonnegut?

Do you realize that all great literature—Moby Dick, Huckleberry Finn, A Farewell to Arms, The Scarlet Letter, The Red Badge of Courage, The Iliad and The Odyssey, Crime and Punishment, the Bible, and “The Charge of the Light Brigade”—are all about what a bummer it is to be a human being?”

That bummer, buzz kill, wet blanket extinguisher of all hope is what the loser’s journey feels like—just muddling through the crap, no Emerald City in sight, flying monkeys all over the place.

Start is easy.

Keep going is tough.

Finish is near impossible some days.

Hang on makes me want to scream—as does let go.

Be alone is never a problem.

Work with others is sometimes a problem.

Handle rejection is always a problem.

Handle praise can lead to problems.

Give up happens a lot.

Go beyond what I know . . . How do I know what I don’t know?

Be brave is a coin toss between being strong and breaking.

But on the days when I can nail all of them?

Artist all the way.

The difference?







The difference between zero, hero, and artist is 1) having the experience to nail the artist’s skills—and knowing that we’re working on multiple tracks, so while we’re an artist on one, we might be a zero hero on the other (think John McClane: hero as a pro and zero with family)—and then 2) having enough sleep, exercise, and good food to ward off the toxic personalities that suck out the life when caffeine, sugar, and lack of sleep and exercise dominate.

I know artists who drink and/or do drugs—and artists who work on little sleep and lots of drama. Not me. I can’t do it.

When the structure fails, so do the skills.

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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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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. Erik Dolson on August 3, 2018 at 6:19 am

    There’s a street musician in Vancouver, B.C. who plays down near the market on Granville Island. He is festooned with sensors that respond to pressure and position, and wrapped wires that lead to a synthesizer of sorts. The toes of one foot will play one set of tones, the heel will play another, the other foot, hands, arms, and head, etc.

    He designed all of this himself — and he has become his instrument.

    He is very thin, and intense. It’s as if he is being consumed by his art, or is making the most profound sacrifice to it. He causes me to wonder how many artists become merely — or primarily — the gateway through which art seeks expression.

    • stacey williams on August 3, 2018 at 11:05 am

      this is more than helpful thanks

  2. Gwen Abitz on August 3, 2018 at 6:35 am

    Thanks Callie. I believe today’s WHAT IT TAKES says it all of what I have needed to do, as well. Along “the way” I have needed to create for myself a GET REAL foundation with the six pillars of feel, deal, heal, live, give, grow. FEEL, DEAL, HEAL being the hero’s journey. LIVE, GIVE, GROW being the artist’s journey. For me, when “the artist journey” began to happen or when into it; it was like OH!!! OK there has been a shift. It seems I always have to take a step back [though] into the “hero’s journey” to be able to take a giant step forward. Being with humanity in today’s world making sure I have all “the facts” so there will be no “fake news.”

  3. Mark Ross on August 3, 2018 at 6:44 am

    The biggest takeaway for me from this post:

    Maintain the structure at all costs. (Eating/sleep/exercise/meditation/…)

    The work can’t happen (consistently) without it.

    Thank you for the reinforcement.

  4. Mary Doyle on August 3, 2018 at 7:00 am

    “When the structure fails, so do the skills.” That pretty much sums it up – thanks Callie!

  5. Gabby on August 3, 2018 at 7:03 am

    I am sorry I have not been commenting more on your posts. I always appreciate your directness, your humor, and your humility.
    I have missed somehow the explanation of how vampires fit into your process of creative work.

  6. Evelyn on August 3, 2018 at 7:10 am

    Your self care message is such an important reminder for artists as short-changing self care is our go-to punishment when we feel we are falling short, and the easiest way to self-sabotage. I can’t work without the sleep-exercise-good -food structure either Callie.

  7. Pascale on August 3, 2018 at 7:54 am

    Both the message and the timing of it are exquisite. Thank you.

  8. Dave Colquhoun on August 3, 2018 at 8:00 am

    Excellent post Callie, that is so true about what happens when the structure breaks down, when it happens to me, usually lack of sleep, I am no where near my true self making it difficult to do my work.

  9. Patrick on August 3, 2018 at 8:31 am

    “When the structure fails, so do the skills.” – perfect.

  10. Caron Harris on August 3, 2018 at 9:40 am

    I totally love this post. I had to think about the Vampires for a minute, but then, if you don’t take care of yourself you turn into a vampire, right?! Anyway, this one hit home for me on a lot of levels, so thank you so much for putting it out there.
    As an aside, I have read both new books (The Artist’s Journey and Running Down a Dream) and found them both very useful and enjoyable. Thanks to Black Irish for these, and all the posts. Big thumbs up!

  11. Madeleine D'Este on August 3, 2018 at 2:07 pm

    Um, are you inside my brain?
    Absolutely pertinent and bang on the money. Including the vampire reference – because my current struggle-town WIP features…you guessed it…vampires.

  12. Sandra on August 3, 2018 at 6:23 pm

    Beautifully written. Thank you.

  13. Dorothy Seeger on August 3, 2018 at 9:29 pm

    I just emerged from three months in a rehabilitation facility, during which time I lost, not only a whole season, but the structure which I had with difficulty constructed prior to my accident. I can attest that when structure goes, the motivation and ability to sit down and write goes also. Thank you for reassuring me that I am not alone and that, with perseverance, I can get my structure back, and with it will come the skills!

  14. Brian S Nelson on August 4, 2018 at 11:35 am

    So true. The ‘mania/madness’ of creation goes off course if/when I do not stay grounded. Sleep, exercise, diet, etc.

  15. Tesia Blackburn on August 8, 2018 at 1:21 pm

    How many young (and not so young) creatives have we lost because they bought the Myth Of The Tormented Artist? Thank you for reminding us not to buy in to those dark stories about what it takes to succeed. And indeed, what success may really look like.

  16. jiggy on November 1, 2022 at 2:37 pm

    very accurate and insightful

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