About a year ago I wrote a series of posts titled “Report From the Trenches.” They were about a particularly ugly run of months when I was struggling to make a book-in-progress work.

The good news is that in the end (I think) the process succeeded.

The bad news is I’m back in that same place on the next book.

Paul Bettany as a Wall Street exec in “Margin Call”

I never learn.

I forget each time how back-breaking it was the time before.

One of my favorite movies of the past few years is Margin Call, written and directed by J.C. Chandor. It’s roughly about the market crash of 2008, as seen from the inside—from the point of view of the execs at a giant Wall Street firm who make the decision to tank the U.S. economy to save their own company’s ass.

One of the pivotal characters is played by Paul Bettany, another fave of mine. At one point in the dark hours of the story, a junior exec (played by Zachary Quinto, who was also one of the producers on the film) asks Bettany what top management intends to do.

“It ain’t gonna be pretty,” says Paul Bettany.

The creative action in writing (or any art) is like giving birth.

It’s not pretty.

There’s blood.

There’s chaos.

Weird-looking tools and implements are involved.

People who love each other dearly are cursing each other’s guts.

By the time the baby has safely made his or her entry into the world, the floor of the room is littered with bloody gauze compresses, sodden towels, sanitary wrappers, not to mention bodily fluids that not even the delivery nurses can identify.

It ain’t pretty.

My days of writing right now start with me plunging into scenes in which I have no idea what is going to happen (beyond an outline that I’m now cursing furiously because it isn’t helping me at all) and end, a few hours later, with me clicking the SHUT DOWN panel and staggering out to the pantry for a stiff drink.

This, I’m afraid, is the way it works.

Universes come into being amid collapsing stars and exploding supernovas.

Nations are born in brutal revolutions and counter-revolutions.

Even the cutest litter of kittens spills forth to daylight in a slippery, sanguineous pile of slop.

We need to remember this, you and I, when working events take a turn for the misshapen and the unlovely.

It ain’t pretty.

 

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

17 Comments

  1. Paulinho Uda on October 24, 2018 at 4:52 am

    It’s like the pain of childbirth. Pain has extremely important functions. It shows how the body should act during the process. It teaches the best position, when it is time to force, instinctively teaches what to do to facilitate the physiological process to bring the baby into the world.

    It is a very wise pain. But, it ain’t pretty.

    • Elise V Allan on October 24, 2018 at 2:05 pm

      I like your comment on the wisdom of pain, Paulinho; it helps to remember its function!

  2. Mary Doyle on October 24, 2018 at 5:14 am

    “I forget each time how back-breaking it was before.” Nature has a way of erasing that pain the same way it does after that new baby is placed in its mothers arms. Thanks for another great post!

  3. Brian S Nelson on October 24, 2018 at 6:59 am

    It ain’t pretty, and it ain’t easy. A couple of friends have recently started ‘open-enrollment’ leadership classes. One is targeted specifically young professional women, the other is open to everyone. Both called me at different times about how no one was signing up…and we discussed HOW HARD creation is. If any of us really knew how hard it was, we’d quit before starting. Mary Doyle is exactly right, Nature has a way of erasing the pain…

    I do not think we are equipped to go into battle without some level of self-deceit. Uhtred, Bernard Cornwell’s protagonist in The Saxon Stories, mentions how men talk about anything but the battle just before war. Women, jokes, next year’s harvest. The act of creation must also carry the same ability to self deceive.

    I loved the ‘From the Trenches’ series. There is something consoling to read about your own suffering.
    “I never learn” had me ruefully smiling and nodding my head. Thank you.

  4. John Arends on October 24, 2018 at 7:06 am

    This perfectly matched for my day ahead. How did you know?

    Thanks. I think.

  5. Ms. Moretti on October 24, 2018 at 7:20 am

    Thanks for the reminder that the process itself is a swirling mass of chaos – at least on the outside. The only way to get here for all of us is to have blood and fluids spent on behalf of a most precious thing: the birth of yet another non-being into being. Another idea or passion into manifestation. And then, the necessary forgetting.

  6. Rachel Goldstein on October 24, 2018 at 7:37 am

    Thank you for reminding me that the finished book in all its polished beauty and glory is a very different thing from the process that created it. It confirms that my own struggles to write doesn’t mean I should give up; rather, that struggle and the extremely uncomfortable emotions it evokes is the name of the game in getting it done.

  7. Robin Garbose on October 24, 2018 at 8:03 am

    Rebbe Nachman of Breslov says G-d gives us the “gift of forgetting.” Otherwise we would never do it again.

  8. Stan Hustad on October 24, 2018 at 8:04 am

    That’s more than okay and I am for and with you… you are beautiful even late at night. I once got a “nasty” e mail from one guy who once said about a typo made late at night in my send -out e mail…, “If you can’t do this right, why should I believe you can help me?”

    My first response was, “You are right, I for sure can’t help you and if I could, I shouldn’t, because you are a ___________. But I did not send that… you either bless or curse and and i always seek to choose the latter.

    So you are fine and blessings on you and your family,

  9. Sue Trumpfheller on October 24, 2018 at 8:16 am

    I just finished a website with blog and newsletter. Lots of learning and pains. I even had to ask for help. Not my usual style but fun in the end. Perfect timing on this post.

  10. Joanna Marsh on October 24, 2018 at 8:28 am

    Perfect timing. Thank you for writing this!

  11. Bing on October 24, 2018 at 8:55 am

    I am in that place right now. I cry out to God,’ where are you? You said ask anything and I will give it to you.’ He will, I just have to do the bloody work. Michaelangelo totally understood this conversation. Thanks for letting me share.

  12. Morgenholz on October 24, 2018 at 9:12 am

    Writing is about sitting down and banging it out. You drama cats need to step away from the keyboard and scale a wall without a rope, or paddle out into an overhead swell to clear your heads.

  13. Peter Brockwell on October 24, 2018 at 11:29 am

    Hahaha, Steve, in equal parts you’ve inspired and amused me, and kicked a generous dose of reality into my lazy ass. Many thanks, Peter.

  14. Julie Murphy on October 25, 2018 at 9:38 am

    If I had to choose whether Report from the Trenches or The Artist’s Journey had more of an impact on my life and work, it would be a tough choice. Still, I’d go with the Trenches posts.

    The raw reality of your posts hit home in a way that still stays with me. Maybe because the one-post-at-a-time demands I live with only one idea for a week before getting another helping. Maybe posts can allow for a depth of dissolving and integrating truth that force us to not skip steps.

    It can’t be pleasant to be back in the trenches, Steve, but you’re putting your time there to good use. And I’m grateful to glean from your new reports. Thanks.

  15. Sandra on October 27, 2018 at 7:39 pm

    Mr Pressfield, when I finish this book, I’ll have you to thank. I appreciate your posts more than you know. Thank you, sir.

  16. Olu on November 3, 2018 at 4:24 am

    Nice, thanks Steven.

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