If you’re a working writer struggling to get published (or published again) or wrestling with the utility or non-utility of self-publishing, you may log onto this blog and think, Oh, Pressfield’s got it made; he’s had real-world success; he’s a brand.

Even J.K. had to learn to do without

Trust me, it ain’t necessarily so.

I don’t expect to be reviewed by the New York Times.

Ever.

The last time was 1998 for Gates of Fire. The War of Art was never reviewed, The Lion’s Gate never. My other seven novels never.

My recent novel, The Knowledge, came out a while ago. It was reviewed nowhere by no one.

If I want to retain my sanity, I have to banish all reliance on what Shawn calls 3PV, “third-party validation.” I cannot permit my professional or personal self-conception to be dependent on external acceptance or approval, at least not of the “mainstream recognition” variety.

It’s not gonna happen.

I’m never gonna get it.

If you’re not reviewed by the New York Times (or seen on Oprah) your book is gonna have tough, tough sledding to gain awareness in the mainstream marketplace. There are maybe a hundred writers of fiction whose new books will be reviewed with any broad reach in the press. Jonathan Franzen, Stephen King, J.K. Rowling, etc. I’m not on that list. My stuff will never receive that kind of attention.

Does that bother me? I’d be a liar if I said I didn’t want to be recognized or at least have my existence and my work acknowledged.

But reality is reality. As Garth on Wayne’s World once said of his own butt,

“Accept it before it destroys you.”

It’s curiously empowering to grasp this and to accept it.

It’s truth.

It’s reality.

It forces you to ask, Why am I writing?

What is important to me?

What am I in this for?

Here is novelist Neal Stephenson from his short essay, Why I Am a Bad Correspondent:

Another factor in this choice [to focus entirely on writing to the exclusion of other “opportunities” and distractions] is that writing fiction every day seems to be an essential component in my sustaining good mental health. If I get blocked from writing fiction, I rapidly become depressed, and extremely unpleasant to be around. As long as I keep writing it, though, I am fit to be around other people. So all of the incentives point in the direction of devoting all available hours to fiction writing.

I asked hypothetically in an earlier post, “What if a writer worked her entire life, produced a worthy and original body of work, yet had never been published by a mainstream press and had never achieved conventional recognition? Would her literary efforts have been in vain? Would she be considered a ‘failure?'”

Part of my own answer arises from Neal Stephenson’s observation above.

I wrote for twenty-eight years before I got a novel published. I can’t tell you how many times friends and family members, lovers, spouses implored me for my own sake to wake up and face reality.

I couldn’t.

Because my reality was not the New York Times or the bestseller list or even simply getting an agent and having a meeting with somebody. My reality was, If I stop writing I will have to kill myself.

I’m compelled.

I have no choice.

I don’t know why I was born like this, I don’t know what it means; I can’t tell you if it’s crazy or deluded or even evil.

I have to keep trying.

That pile of unpublished manuscripts in my closet may seem to you (and to me too) to be a monument to folly and self-delusion. But I’m gonna keep adding to it, whether HarperCollins gives a shit, or The New Yorker, or even my cat who’s perched beside me right now on my desktop.

I am a writer.

I was born to do this.

I have no choice.

 

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

51 Comments

  1. Elise on October 31, 2018 at 6:05 am

    Thank you — I needed this today!

    • G.R. on October 31, 2018 at 6:10 am

      Me too.

    • Andrew Mackay on October 31, 2018 at 6:24 am

      Me three!

      • Keena on November 1, 2018 at 10:25 am

        Me four! Thank you!!! 🙂

        • Anne Marie Gazzolo on November 3, 2018 at 2:51 pm

          Me five! Thank you! You rock, Steven. We love you and that you are in the trenches with us, brother, kindred spirit, guiding light, hope-bearer. God bless!

  2. Mary Doyle on October 31, 2018 at 6:10 am

    Ditto on Elise’s comment. This is a powerful reminder that doing this work for its own (and for our own) sake is enough. Thank you!

  3. Mary Scriver on October 31, 2018 at 6:15 am

    What makes all the difference is the Internet. Blogging is publishing that does NOT depend on a business that wrings profit from the efforts of writers. I quit looking at conventional publishing when editors changed my opinions and descriptions to fit their ideas and some kind of image they were defending. This means that one’s writing — which I agree is for me just an artesian aquifer that demands to be shaped into print — has to be found or must be promoted by the writer which cuts into writing time. So what we need is action from the reading side: ways to find us and our material. We need ACTIVE reading that comes scouting instead of passively waiting to be told what to read.

  4. Veronica Knox on October 31, 2018 at 6:18 am

    What a great message on All Hallows Eve! It’s safe to go into the writing room. Thanks for this post.

  5. BarbaraNH on October 31, 2018 at 6:24 am

    And, thank God that you do! You keep us all sane.
    Your hypothetical question perfectly describes Emily Dickinson, Vincent Van Gogh.
    Thanks, Steven!

  6. Maria Iacuele on October 31, 2018 at 7:09 am

    Thank you for this post! And, I loved your book “The War of Art! Boy”, could I relate. I’m now reading “Turning Pro”. My son’s friend turned me on to you. I so can relate. I’ve been writing for 25 years. My passion is screenwriting. God only knows why….because I don’t! Except, that if I don’t write, and if I don’t write screenplays, I’m just going to wither up and die. I had one optioned twice, and nothing became of it. I almost had a play taken on by a local theatre but, the theatre closed down! 25 years later, I sit here reading your great books and rewriting my first screenplay that was optioned. Why? Because if I don’t I’ll just probably die…..I’d rather die trying. And, I still have faith that God knows why this is all happening!

  7. Joe Jansen on October 31, 2018 at 7:16 am

    I feel like today’s post is equal parts Steve encouraging those of us here, AND trying to encourage himself. I’ll just say this: there are different kinds of recognition.

    I doubt that Franzen is held in highest regard by a corps whose tagline is “Earned, never given.”

    I don’t think Harry Potter appears with perennial consistency on the US Marine Commandant’s Recommended Reading List.

    I don’t look to “Pet Cemetary” for insights into the nature of command, like:

    “The commander at arms manipulates the ungovernable and the unpredictable. In battle, he directs the unknowable amid the unintelligible. This has always been clear to me. But it was not until the mutilation of our comrades at Issus, not until the flight of Darius and the riot of our army, not til then that I reckoned truly how little dominion even he wields who calls himself victor and conqueror.”

    None of those other books have given me reason or the means to quote Alcibiades in a late-night discussion of what it means to lead free men, like:

    “When I was not yet twenty, I served in the infantry. Among my mates was Socrates the son of Sophroniscus. In a fight the enemy had routed us and were swarming our position. I was terrified and loading up to flee. Yet when I beheld him, my friend with gray in his beard, plant his feet on the earth and seat his shoulder within the great bowl of his shield, a species of eros, life-will, arose within me like a tide. I discovered myself compelled, absent all prudence, to stand beside him.”

    Myself, I don’t give a sh*t how many movies they make from the books of those other fine authors.

    • Brian S Nelson on October 31, 2018 at 8:21 am

      Joe,
      I agree with you 1000%. One of my favorites:

      “A king does not abide within his tent while his men bleed and die upon the field. A king does not dine while his men go hungry, nor sleep when they stand at watch upon the wall. A king does not command his men’s loyalty through fear nor purchase it with gold; he earns their love by the sweat of his own back and the pains he endures for their sake. That which comprises the harshest burden, a king lifts first and sets down last. A king does not require service of those he leads but provides it to them…A king does not expend his substance to enslave men, but by his conduct and example makes them free.”

      • Joe Jansen on October 31, 2018 at 2:49 pm

        Another good one from “Gates,” Brian. Thank ya for sharing it.

        Someone close to me has been in the Marine Corps for more than three decades. When he became a flag officer, they sent him to a series of training lectures to give direction on “being a flag officer.” He said the first speaker was a lieutenant general. The first thing this three-star said to the group: “The first thing you all should remember: always carry your own bags.” Conduct and example, right?

  8. Christy Moceri on October 31, 2018 at 7:19 am

    After four years of my first serious effort to write a novel, I pitched it to an agent at St. Martin’s Press during a writer’s conference. I’d spent hours working on the pitch, rehearsing, losing sleep, I was a wreck by the time I got in front of her. I had ten minutes to sell my soul. She rejected me because the novel sounded ”too dark” for her tastes.

    You’d expect it would crush me, but being rejected was liberating. I realized that I was already living the dream – writing, connecting with other writers, sharing my work, struggling through the process, overcoming existential despair through sheer concerted effort – the only reason I want to make money is so that I can get more of what I already have. Turns out the thing I value most is something no agent, publisher or critic can take away from me.

    And yes, people write for all different reasons. Some because it’s fun, some to make a living, and some of us because we need it to survive. That’s why I always connected with War of Art and your general take on the writing process. You understand that suffering is endemic to the process, that the suffering is part of the meaning, and that we have no higher calling.

    • Joe Jansen on October 31, 2018 at 7:34 am

      I like what you have to say.

    • Kerry O'Brien on October 31, 2018 at 1:56 pm

      Thanks for sharing this experience. If we’re relying on that one validation, it’s crazy to think that we would take all of our artistic visions, work, sweat, and courage through failure, and gamble all of that on the hope that a few microscopic nerves in some stranger’s brain will fire in a favorable direction.

  9. Katie Mullaly on October 31, 2018 at 7:42 am

    As a self-published author of three children’s books, I can tell you that the reaction and input I get from parents and kids who LOVE my books and whose lives are changing for the better because of my stories, has become so much more important than a NYT review (although it would be great). By spending my efforts getting my books directly into the hands of readers and interacting with them, my stories are becoming visible, one sale and impact at a time. So my dream is to affect the lives of others, and I get to live it.

    Thank you Steven for the reminder of why we do what we do.

  10. Gwen Abitz on October 31, 2018 at 7:46 am

    For me, following “the course” not “ignoring” your purpose driven life and taking the road less traveled with your choice for “sharing” the “reality” has left a deeper imprint and impact and a much broader scope of “the camera” [maybe not yet realized] then the New York Times could ever have done.

  11. Adrian on October 31, 2018 at 7:47 am

    I keep all my scripts and manuscripts in a giant stack on a shelf above my writing desk. I’ll keep working them and adding to the pile until they wheel my corpse out, I suppose. To paraphrase David Mamet, I write for the same reason beavers eat wood: if they don’t, their teeth grow too long and they die. Thanks as always for reminding us we’re not alone Steven.

  12. Cynthia Wikler on October 31, 2018 at 7:48 am

    Wow, I really, really needed to hear that. Thank you.

  13. bing@olypen.com on October 31, 2018 at 7:56 am

    I am really glad that you said all this Steve, it was very clean. It helped me to stop for a moment and also be very clear about my own creative life. I also feel like I got to know you on a deeper level more than ever which was the best part.

  14. Vanessa Standard on October 31, 2018 at 8:09 am

    Wow!! You are a true hero Mr. Steven Pressfield, I’m in LOVE w your bold honesty and authenticity. You write so matter of fact which warms my Heart on the deepest levels. You teach what you preach. Thank you for being an amazing agent for positive and courageous change. You are a magnificent role model. Thank you.
    -Vanessa Standard

  15. Carolyn McBride on October 31, 2018 at 8:22 am

    Absolute truth. I need to write too, or I become a nasty, growly bear. I am writing for myself mostly, a sci-fi novel that explores the fight to colonize another world in another universe. I’m not gonna lie, it would be really cool to see it published by my first choice of publishers. But the odds are slim, so I’ll go with choice B. But if that doesn’t happen? I’ll self-publish and keep on writing. Because I have to. Because all the characters that talk to me all day long need their stories told. Someone has to tell them, and these people seem to have chosen me.
    That’s why I write.

  16. Lillian on October 31, 2018 at 9:01 am

    Thank you for these words. I needed to hear them right now more than you can know. Thank you.

  17. William Evans on October 31, 2018 at 9:40 am

    The need to write is the need to communicate an idea, images and characters who feel real. And so we are compelled to write. The work of getting it published is that last step in the process, to achieve communication. Otherwise the pile of manuscripts just collects dust. I have to wonder, did Emily Dickinson ever wish she’d been widely read? If not, she’s probably the exception to the rest of us. It’s a really hard issue to confront, because it is a measure of our work – and of ourselves – whether we wish it to be or not. Yet we continue to write. Standing with Socrates.

  18. Andrew K on October 31, 2018 at 10:50 am

    Steve’s post prompted some consideration and soul-searching. Thank you Steve! : I write because I must. I see two senses of the word “must”. The first is that I “must” write an article, a blog or an email in the service of some cause or job. The second “must” is that writing lets me free my mind.

    When I write, a floodgate opens inside. Typically, I spend a lot of time in my head. I create ideas, solve problems and also worry too much. Yet writing gives thought a release. The pressure cooker opens. A dam breaks, and water flows.

    When I write, clarity comes. By articulating an idea, thought turns from the murky stuff of the mind and takes on form. Form can be reflected on, analyzed and seen from different viewpoints in the clear light of day. In contrast, unspoken thoughts, mental chatter, are like whispers in the dark.

    Writing opens a gap where silence steps in. Articulating a thought requires that I first become aware of it. Awareness leads to silence. Then in throwing thoughts down on paper, a gap opens up further. Perhaps it is like mist turning to rain, and in a shower of words the sky and the mind clear.

    From the side of the speaker or author, these are two reasons I write. From the other side, I have read works that made me love more; that made me feel less alone; that shared profound insights that opened up my life; that made me give more and ask less; that made me more human. Do I not then share a responsibility as a writer to pass that on, or at least try?

    Whether I write to live free in my own head, or trying to share something of value, writing allows me to be me, but bigger and bolder.

    Thank you Steve

    • Martha Shoemaker on October 31, 2018 at 1:02 pm

      Thank you. That’s great.

  19. Gar LaSalle on October 31, 2018 at 11:07 am

    I discovered you with Gates of Fire. I believe in you because of it.

    We give too much power to the NYT and the mainstream publishers, which feeds their arrogance.

    This particular article I will save and send to other authors when I sense their disillusionment.

    Thank you, Steve

  20. Margie on October 31, 2018 at 12:14 pm

    I am not one to leave comments, but each week I can hardly wait to read your blog. I only recently learned of you through a post by Marie Forleo .

    Anyhow, when I read your blogs I feel grateful for an underlying integrity that shines through your words. It is refreshing. And today’s is no exception.

    Your talent, skill and your candor help me stay focused on what really matters. I am learning( at least a tiny bit)nto replace my “wanna be” tendencies with a disciplined attitude of “let’s-just do-it.” Why? Just because …

    And I really resonated with Andrew K.’s response! Well with all the responses in one way or another! Wow.

  21. Anita Rodgers on October 31, 2018 at 12:29 pm

    All I can say to this is, me too. Love ya, Steve.

  22. MBMc on October 31, 2018 at 1:05 pm

    Amen.

  23. Jule on October 31, 2018 at 1:38 pm

    The first part of this post reminded me of something the great sage Bruce Willis (yeah him, the Die Hard guy) said in an interview sometime between 1991-1997. “If they say I’m great, am I great? If they say I’m shit, am I shit? I learned a long time ago not to judge myself by what (insert swearing) other people have to say.”

    The last part reminded me of a ceramics class I took in college. The group was standing in front of the giant, encrusted clay-making machine as the professor dumped bags of powder and stone into it. I turned to the guy next to me. “How come you’re here?” His eyes were big, taking in the machine and the dust and the possibilities. His answer: “Because I have to be.” The rest of us were fooling around in clay class but he had already turned pro.

  24. Andy on October 31, 2018 at 1:49 pm

    I’ve stayed in a couple of situations over the last several months that has damn near killed my art and damn near institutionalized me with anxiety. Living in the wrong place (to save money) and working in the wrong place (to make money). I know the work routine, but the shift takes my creative time away. Living with family makes sense, but I live with a couple of people who feel that my energy is also theirs. Then I get pent up with anxiety with no relief valve. Then… I started to write again. And get art materials. And strum my guitar. And sing in my car. And let go. Let go. Let go.

  25. Beth Barany on October 31, 2018 at 1:52 pm

    Me too. Or me three.

  26. Kerry O'Brien on October 31, 2018 at 1:56 pm

    Thanks for sharing this experience. If we’re relying on that one validation, it’s crazy to think that we would take all of our artistic visions, work, sweat, and courage through failure, and gamble all of that on the hope that a few microscopic nerves in some stranger’s brain will fire in a favorable direction.

  27. Susan on October 31, 2018 at 2:52 pm

    If it makes any difference, I coach hundreds of artists and your books are their bibles.

  28. Tesia Blackburn on October 31, 2018 at 8:13 pm

    I’ve been a working artist for over 25 years. What that means is I teach – a lot – to support myself. My own work has never received the kind of recognition that some of my students have seen. And yet, one student gets accepted to a prestigious art journal, another gets a publishing contract, many more have shows, sell work and so on. I get emails full of love and gratitude for the instruction I give. A solo show at the Whitney? Ain’t gonna happen. A “tribe” of students who love me and will follow me just about anywhere? Yes. Success is all in how we define it and I think I’ve found mine. BTW, they are all given the reading list: The War Of Art, Turning Pro, Do The Work and The Artist’s Journey. Thanks Steve! This really rang true.

    • Maureen Anderson on November 1, 2018 at 9:12 am

      The War of Art is the perfect gift for anyone trying to make something happen in the world, isn’t it? I love having this reminder as we go into the gift-giving season. 🙂

  29. Rebecca on October 31, 2018 at 10:44 pm

    Im so very pleased that you do!! You’ve changed me, my work ethic and reinforced my determination to write my work regardless of what others say, or don’t say! You’re a pro 🙂

  30. Jen S. on October 31, 2018 at 11:02 pm

    What I love about Steve Pressfield: how concise you are. There’s never an extra word or bit of fluff. Thanks for showing us how it’s done.

    And, once again, you’ve got that shaman wisdom flowing through you… 🙂

    • Kathy G. on November 2, 2018 at 11:19 am

      I agree!

  31. Laurie Woodward on November 1, 2018 at 5:59 am

    Thank you for this. I needed to hear this. I struggle with just these issues. I may have five published books, but they aren’t selling a lot, nor getting scores of reviews. Even my boyfriend says I should just switch to a “popular” genre like soft porn. “Why don’t you just write something like Fifty Shades of Grey?” he says. “That made a lot of money.”
    I try explaining that I’m not drawn to that. It’s not where my mind wanders to when I dream of stories, but the bottom line is that money = success.
    I say bullshit. We must do that which feeds us. We must be true to who we are. Each of us has a unique vision and way of expressing ourselves.
    For millennia humans have painted on walls and gathered around fire pits to tell stories, trying to make meaning of life. It is who we are. It is what we need.

  32. Bill Heavey on November 1, 2018 at 6:47 am

    I live in the same world. I’m a writer and not much good for any honest work. Brother can you spare a dime?

  33. Kevin on November 1, 2018 at 6:54 am

    To me, Steve’s words here also speak of more than writing; you can apply the same concept to life itself. Relatively few people are fortunate enough that their work-impact lasts much beyond a generation. For the mass rest of us, our consolation is that we are fulfilling our purpose, even if only to ourselves and the Muse that supports and feeds us, and perhaps, like Steve, any impact we have on a small group that is fortunate enough to know us and our work is enough.

  34. Lucas Baker on November 1, 2018 at 8:41 am

    Hits home for me! I’ve been writing fiction for only two years but it’s strangely encouraging to hear you say that it’s ALWAYS going to be a slog. And you’re right, recognizing that the desire for mainstream recognition is useless and self-defeating makes you ask yourself why you’re writing in the first place. Mainly it’s for my own mental health, like the Stephenson quote says. Keep going, people!

  35. Sandra on November 1, 2018 at 6:06 pm

    I LOVE YOU (professionally, of course)!
    Yes. You are the reason I continue to write. You are the reason I believe in myself. Thank you.
    That old sticky note still clings to my desk…the one that reads, “Did I overcome resistance today?”
    Mr. Pressfield, you are my inspiration.

  36. Julie Murphy on November 1, 2018 at 7:51 pm

    The man who was my husband was a violinist and prolific composer. Sometimes he would wonder why he wrote that which would never be heard.

    Sometimes what needs to be said, may not need to be heard by anyone else. Maybe art is first for the artist. We need to read what we write, see what we paint or feel what we sculpt.

    Maybe in its finest moment art it both brave and selfish. Maybe what we publish is just the left overs of our feast.

  37. Mia Sherwood Landau on November 2, 2018 at 4:50 am

    Steven, I sincerely hope it’s ok to say that the articulate, soulful comments here somewhat eclipse your post. But, I’m pretty sure that’s one of your goals in life, right? You are an instigator of artists, and that is a very, very good thing for us. You would have made a great university professor if you could tolerate the social and political environment. But your tenacious vulnerability as an introvert writing books and blog posts reaches and teaches us, right where we live.

  38. Mike on November 2, 2018 at 7:18 am

    “That pile of unpublished manuscripts in my closet may seem to you (and to me too) to be a monument to folly and self-delusion.”

    After reading Erasmus’ In Praise of Folly I think we should all build our own monument to folly.

  39. Kevin Worthley on November 2, 2018 at 11:20 am

    Just read this quote from Anthony Bourdain and thought I’d share with everyone – seemed appropriate…

    “The absolute certainty that nobody was going to care about, read or buy Kitchen Confidential was what allowed me to write it. I didn’t have to think about what people expected. I didn’t care. As a result I was able to write the book, quickly and without tormenting myself. That was in many ways a very liberating place to be. I’ve kind of tried to stick with that business model since…Not giving a **** has been a very successful business model for me. [Not having] a reputation to lose, is a huge advantage.”

  40. Jacqueline on November 5, 2018 at 3:55 am

    And that is entirely the point Steven. To write. To actually put those thoughts on paper. To peel away the layers of worrying about what so and so will think, and not minding whether so and so will approve. Writing is for free. It has no limitations or restrictions apart from the ones we impose on our own in order to fit in..to blend in with everybody else. Thank you so much for the insights shared. This is reality.

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