Pick the Idea That’s Craziest


Sometimes you and I as writers will see a whole menu of ideas before us.

One will seem surefire commercial. Another will seem risky but fun. A third might seem totally off the wall.

Dick Rowe, “the Man Who Turned Down the Beatles”

Which one should we pick?

Before I give you my own idiosyncratic answer (which you’ve probably guessed already), let me cite two instances from my own career.

The idea for The Legend of Bagger Vance came to me just as my screenwriting career, which I had dedicated ten years of my life to, was about to catch fire. The idea came as a book, not a movie. My agent fired me over it. He thought I was crazy to do it.

It turned out to be the first genuine success of my career.

The idea for Gates of Fire seemed (to me, as I considered plunging in to write it) even less commercial. It seemed absolutely loony. An epic about warriors from 2500 years ago, from a country nobody has heard of, fighting in a battle no one can remember, in a place no one can spell, let alone pronounce.

Gates has sold over a million copies and is still going strong.

For me, the craziest, least likely ideas have always worked out the best.


Here’s my theory:

Because these ideas weren’t crazy at all.

They only seemed crazy to me, at their inception, because I was thinking with my head.

The sphere of creativity does not operate by the same laws as that of normal, conventional enterprises.

I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again:

You and I as artists have no idea what we’re doing.

We may think we do. We may imagine that we understand what the zeitgeist is calling for. We may believe that we are manipulating our material with clear-eyed, conscious control.

We’re not.

What is really happening is this:

You and I as artists inhabit one dimension of reality—the material dimension.


All creativity has its origin in a different sphere—the plane of potentiality.

Our job is to tune in to that sphere. And to trust it.

What seems “crazy” to us on our level is not crazy at all on the higher level. In fact it’s the opposite of crazy. It’s exactly what needs to be expressed and what needs to be heard.


Quantum mechanics.

E = MC2..

Do we want to be the guy who turned down the Beatles? (When we ourselves are the Beatles?)

Sometimes it’s crazier to pick the conventional idea than it is to go with the craziest.


P.S. In Dick Rowe’s defense (he was Head of A&R at Decca Records in the 50s, 60s, and 70s), he did sign The Rolling Stones, the Moody Blues, the Zombies, and many, many more.



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. Mary Doyle on April 17, 2019 at 7:25 am

    Love, love, love this! Listening to ourselves is where greatness begins – thank you for the reminder.

  2. Joe Jansen on April 17, 2019 at 7:37 am

    You’re getting my attention with references here to quantum mechanics and E=mc2, relative to understanding how creativity and ideas may reside in a separate realm, in some nearby dimension. Is it that some element of our consciousness is a bridge between this “material world of forms” and the dimension of “energy and ideas”? And it is by our intention and our action (ie, doing the work) that a bridge opens between those two (and we perceive that “bridge” and that “opening” as a muse)?

    I’m guessing that people here are well familiar with mythologist Joseph Campbell. I watched this talk recently (https://youtu.be/5nX1AvKipqg), where he says: “What is the sound that is not made by any two things striking together? It is ‘aum.’ It is the sound of the energy of the universe of which all things are manifestations. The energy is what underlies all the forms — E=mc2 — and the sound of that energy is said to be ‘aum.'” I’m struck by the profundity of supporting an ancient spiritual insight with a reference to the cornerstone equation of special relativity… it kind of makes your head start nodding with understanding. And is right in line with what this post is saying today.

    Another thing from theoretical physics that fits in with today’s post, and something that I admit I do NOT fully understand, but I’m trying to get my head around: AdS/CFT Correspondence (anti-de Sitter/conformal field theory; you can google it). My best understanding is that this theory has to do with the conjectured relationship between two different theories of physical reality, the shape of space, number of dimensions, and most interesting in our current discussion here — how it informs a “holographic” interpretation of physical reality.

    The best my simple mind can picture it: the physical world we observe is a holographic representation of a higher dimension that has a different/similar/parallel reality imprinted on it. I’ve heard it described with the metaphor of going to a 3D IMAX movie. On-screen, we’re viewing information that’s being displayed in two dimensions, but when putting on those glasses, we have access to encoded data that lets us perceive it in three dimensions. I’m sure there’s a physicist in the crowd who could correct my understanding, but that’s the best I can do. But again, support for today’s theme of: “All creativity has its origin in a different sphere.”

    Here’s another trippy thought: Isn’t “Plato’s Cave” describing this very thing? What do y’all think?

    Oh, and the caption on Dick Rowe’s picture could be: “Yeah, but…”

    • Veleka on April 17, 2019 at 9:32 am

      Plato’s cave is a great analogy for this.

    • Anusha Narayanan on April 17, 2019 at 10:12 am

      What beautiful comments. Your comments are just as engaging and intriguing as Steven’s post itself. Wonderful! Thanks Joe Jansen.

    • Steve Koehler on April 17, 2019 at 1:08 pm

      Hi Joe-great stuff you’ve written here! *Do you have a website, or some way that people can dialogue further with you in regards to all of this? Regarding Plato’s cave–YES YES YES! I did a one man show about a number of years back, and this is a reminder to me to revisit that material.

      Best wishes-Steve Koehler

    • Joe on April 17, 2019 at 3:09 pm

      Hey y’all. I’m grateful for what Steve offers here consistently, week-after-week. Wednesdays are sometimes better than Fridays, knowing there’s going to be the gift of a Writing Wednesdays sitting here waiting for all of us. (And thanks to Jacquie, who I’m guessing is now the one getting these posts up and live every week.)

      I’m happy to have anything to contribute toward the discussions in this space. My name field is hotlinked and a contact form is there. While I’m glad to chat offline (that insufferable corporate lingo), I’d love to see those conversations out here in the open. Always stoked to see the Comment count blowing up on these posts, knowing that people are responding to the ideas and sharing their thoughts.

    • Lindsay Peet (AKA Lindsay Petersen) on April 19, 2019 at 8:46 am

      I’m a devotee of Paramahansa Yogananda, and we study the Bhagavad Gita (with Arjuna, perhaps known to you as Rannulph Junuh) and Aum is indeed the ‘Word’ that caused the universe to manifest.
      When I write I ask that I be a clear channel, free of ego, for the story that is struggling to come through me. I’m not the author, I’m the amanuensis, taking dictation from a higher plane. I find a purity and clarity then.
      I also find an odd kind of kinship with the Creator — it seems these beings whose tales I’ve plotted out have self-will, and rudely refuse to follow my plans!

    • Madalena Penny on May 26, 2019 at 9:29 pm

      I think you have summed up something very profound Joe. It is the observation that creates our reality – but it is just our reality that is of the mind, as it is only the mind observing it. Before any observation by anyone- it is all just pure potential waiting to be moulded. But art arises from beyond the mind. It is a chymical marriage between the invisible or spiritual and form. It is spiritual expression made flesh. I believe that everything carries it’s own frequency – an energy that resonates and is attracted to similar frequencies. Even a thought exists in form because we experience it. Artistes can sometimes catch onto a frequency and create something, that is of them and is made through them. I feel it is the marraige of the two states wave and particle.

  3. Jane Asher on April 17, 2019 at 8:07 am

    Just when I was thinking of switching gears and taking the safe route. Your inspiration flowed into my in box at the ideal time..thank you Steven. I appreciate your approach, thought and guidance.

  4. BarbaraNH on April 17, 2019 at 8:11 am

    Thanks. As always. Your posts are the beacon for the week.

  5. Peter G. Sutton on April 17, 2019 at 8:15 am

    Sounds crazy to me

  6. Slavomira on April 17, 2019 at 8:15 am

    That´s just great! I am full of inspiration right now 🙂

  7. Pamela Hodges on April 17, 2019 at 8:18 am

    My cat would agree. It took him years to get me to make his book.
    It was a crazy idea.
    So, trust Steven Pressfield, and your cat.

  8. Peter Stone on April 17, 2019 at 8:19 am

    This is my start… my week then month of creative commitment to the off side, the side protected now get a wide open welcome and download accented by fire color and creative expression on paper and visuals.

  9. Gwen Abitz on April 17, 2019 at 8:20 am

    Melissa Lyons, the breeder of my 6 months Schnoodle puppy (the craziest thing to do getting a puppy at my age) gave me FOOD FOR THOUGHT when I shared a Power Point with her I had done in 2016. (Melissa knowing NOTHING about what is going on with me regarding writing “the book” ) casually mentioned to me “maybe you should write children’s book about your adventure with Zoe.” SO maybe not “so crazy” getting a Schnoodle puppy at my age if it means getting “the story” written. Zoe’s Spirit definitely lit “the fire” of my 5-year old within me. PS: A Schnoodle is a Schnauzer Poodle Mix. Smart and stubborn with UNENDING ENERGY. Trainer told me a double whammy and who in the heck would sell this breed to a little old lady “my age.” No offense was taken. 🙂

  10. Ruth on April 17, 2019 at 8:32 am

    If someone manages to get you to tell them your idea for a story, play etc. (you probably shouldn’t tell until it’s finished, but if you do…) and they give you that “what the?” look – you KNOW you have something great!
    it took me a long time to learn that, and I still have trouble being confident in my ideas. But I don’t want to write the mainstream stuff. I have no interest in it.
    Steven is right. Very inspiring.

  11. Cali Bird on April 17, 2019 at 8:41 am

    This has made me feel better as part of me has been overwhelmed and doubting one of my ideas recently. The lesson: don’t play safe. Trust what the creative gods require of you

  12. Jocelyn Ring on April 17, 2019 at 8:56 am

    Using this as inspiration for the work at hand.
    “What seems ‘crazy’ to us on our level is not crazy at all on the higher level. In fact it’s the opposite of crazy. It’s exactly what needs to be expressed and what needs to be heard.”
    and this..
    “Sometimes it’s crazier to pick the conventional idea than it is to go with the craziest.”
    As I’ve been contemplating which path to choose…conventional or crazy. I’ll follow crazy, since it’s full of possibilities and many before me have shown where conventional leads.

  13. Rock Kendzior on April 17, 2019 at 9:14 am

    I love the crazy talk! I know I wrestle with logic of my art, but if I truly wanted logical, I’d make furniture. As always, thanks!

  14. Mia Sherwood Landau on April 17, 2019 at 9:42 am

    Conceived in our right brain and raised up in our left brain. We start out wild and crazy, and then at some point we get focus and we organize, like the miraculous cells at the beginning of a life. You are saving us all a lot of $ at our shrink’s office, Steven!

  15. Jill on April 17, 2019 at 9:56 am

    This also works for writing ads > my new boss / creative director at the agency, who’s half my age, says I should make my ads more ‘fun’ and ‘engaging’ so I reckon this is the way to do it (or at least one way).

    I know for sure this works for painting (because I paint, too) ^^

    I remember reading elsewhere on this site that you have to do the thing you’re most afraid of? So in a way I guess this ties in with that because it’s easy to be afraid of pursuing the crazy ideas because we’re worried maybe that people won’t like it or laugh at us or something ^^;

    Sometimes I guess we just have to trust our gut more and not worry about whether other people will like it ^^;

  16. Stephanie Clayton on April 17, 2019 at 10:03 am

    So meaningful for me today. I am forever grateful for these posts.

  17. Yvonne on April 17, 2019 at 10:39 am

    This is fantastic! Thank you!

  18. Bill Harrison on April 17, 2019 at 10:43 am

    As someone trained in psychology, the way I understand this concept is that creativity is largely the work of the unconscious mind. By definition, the unconscious is the part of ourselves that’s out of our control and awareness. When we are lucky enough to receive brief flashes of insight or imagery from that part of ourselves I believe it’s important to take advantage of whatever arises during those moments. Call me crazy, but this is how I understand how I frame “inspiration” for myself. Thanks for the great post.

  19. Jim Gant on April 17, 2019 at 11:41 am

    Steve and Callie,
    Hope all is well. Keep up the great work. One Tribe at a Time was a pretty crazy idea. Was it not? 🙂 Point made in spades!
    Much love from the great Northwest,

  20. Chris on April 17, 2019 at 4:05 pm

    Thank you.

  21. Julie Cunningham on April 17, 2019 at 6:17 pm

    Yes thank you so much Steven. I started a very out there idea just yesterday and woke up with the doubts crowding in. The ideas and timing were perfect to keep me onto it! I believe you are getting close to what Henri Corbin described as the ‘imaginal realm’.

  22. Johanne Kieffer on April 17, 2019 at 7:19 pm

    Yes! Tune in, trust and move forward, intuition is always right. Some of my best ideas have come to me while gardening, sort of my moving meditation when I get quiet and connect with nature. Thank you Steven for reminding us that creativity is something that comes through us, not from us.

  23. Sandra on April 17, 2019 at 8:38 pm

    Words of wisdom. Thank you!

  24. Jay Cadmus on April 18, 2019 at 11:27 am

    Thanks for your thoughts on complimentary development patterns. The life one follows can be build on that “craziness” as well. When you are willing to depart from the comfort of past involvement, it seems a spirit becomes available to guide you into the next realm. I am hoping that my next adventure in writing bring me the joy of personal discovery. Using your wisdom confirms I am on a path lead by spirit.

  25. Gregory on April 19, 2019 at 4:53 am

    Wow, this one helps me with my quest, Steven. I was fired (actually forced to retire rather be fired) for raising my hand to say “we have a potential patient safety problem here” while working for a medical device company. When they put me on a performance improvement plan, then had a doctor do a surprise health assessment on me (Now, who was acting crazy, really?), I knew I was onto something! Like Shane, this was my coincidence of the anagnorisis and the peripeteia. From having been a respected engineer, manager/lead decision maker for years, and the author the decision-making process, suddenly, under new-company leadership, I found out I was no longer empowered to make safety-critical decisions. I was now looked upon as a whistleblower and my good reputation ruined by them. But, I now know who am I and what I have to do. I have both a story to tell and a process to share that will help others, and I’m battling the resistance to get it written.

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  28. Ken on April 20, 2019 at 12:03 pm

    Just as I was about to succumb to doubt…I read this and will continue to write the book that is inside me. Thank you, brother.

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