Write the Book You Can’t Write

I know (from letters and e-mails sent in) that many readers of this blog are published writers, even multiply-published writers, as well as successful artists and entrepreneurs of all kinds.

Seth Godin, post-Yoyodyne

If you’re one of them (and even if you aren’t), for sure you can look back on certain successes you’ve had and say to yourself,

“How did I ever do that?”

How did I write Braveheart? Where did I find the guts to launch Yoyodyne?

Two answers come to mind.

“I was so desperate I had no other choice”

Or

“I was too dumb to know I couldn’t do it.”

Either one of those is a fabulous place for an artist to be. (It might not feel like it at the time, but it is.)

Consider what it means when we stand on the threshold of a new project and think to ourselves, “This is way too big for me. I can never pull this off. It’s so far out of my league it’s ridiculous.”

Whose voice is that?

It’s not our voice.

It’s the voice of Resistance.

Recall one of the Cardinal Truths of Resistance:

The greater a new project’s importance to the positive evolution of our soul, the more Resistance we will experience to attempting it.

In other words, when the voice in our heads tells us we can never achieve such a bold aspirational venture, what it really means is:

Yes, we can.

If the dream were not possible for us, Resistance would never feel the need to bomb us with megatons of negativity.

Resistance, remember, understands our capacities far better than we do.

It knows we can fly the Atlantic solo. It knows we can reach the South Pole by dog sled. It knows we can make it to the moon and back.

That’s why it feels the need to marshal all its resources to convince us we can’t.

I wrote in The War of Art,

The counterfeit artist is wildly self-confident. The real one is scared to death.

Take Resistance’s word for it.

When it tells us we can’t, it means we can.

Write the book you can’t write.

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?"

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A 1-Day Event With Steven Pressfield

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42 Comments

  1. Barbara Newton-Holmes on May 15, 2019 at 7:13 am

    Wow. Still feels like this might be true for everyone else but me, but it’s great to hear it again. Thanks for making Wednesdays always special, Steve.

  2. Mary Doyle on May 15, 2019 at 7:23 am

    Count me in the “scared to death but still trying” group. Writing Wednesdays helps to make that possible for me – a thousand thanks Steve!

    • G.R. on May 15, 2019 at 8:04 am

      Me too.

    • Matthew Lutz on May 15, 2019 at 8:17 am

      Me too 🙂

  3. Joe Jansen on May 15, 2019 at 7:49 am

    Good to think of it in terms of “It’s not my voice.”

  4. Julie on May 15, 2019 at 8:05 am

    I want my own movie studio to make movies that have a positive message & I am absolutely terrified. But, your blog posts make me feel courageous. Your books have changed/saved my life. Thanks, Steven.

    Also, I am currently reading The Knowledge. So, good!

  5. Graham Glover on May 15, 2019 at 8:09 am

    I’m working on my next photography project. It’s street photography in NYC in less than two weeks. I’m developing my theme for the project, and I think I’ve found it: “Seeing the city in ways no one has ever seen it”. How funny is that?! How ridiculous and crazy is that? How bloody impossible is that?! I can’t do this. Obviously that’s now the theme of this project.

  6. SJ Grogan on May 15, 2019 at 8:10 am

    Yeah, another “scared to death but still trying” group member here. I guess I’ll be finishing that manuscript after all. Last one in a trilogy (first two done and edited; as much as I can do alone), this final ending came up and slapped me in the face with doubt and resistance. I backed off and shelved the project though it’s still percolating in my noggin. Time to do it.

  7. Laura Barnett on May 15, 2019 at 8:10 am

    Always insightful and encouraging! Thanks, Steve. You are my hero.

  8. Nicoletta on May 15, 2019 at 8:17 am

    I’m scared to death I will never learn to play the piano. This because music is all I want.
    Hello
    I’m Nicoletta
    I’m a resistance addicted

    • Graham Lawrence on May 16, 2019 at 12:57 am

      Listen to me, Nicoletta. I too always wanted to play the piano. I even lived with my piano-playing wife and her piano for nearly 40 years before starting to do anything about it. There was always resistance, such as work or other interests. How crazy is that, I could just bang my head against a wall with regrets for the rest of my days. But I didn’t. I started regular practice and piano lessons at the age of 66. I’m making progress. If I can do it, you sure as hell can.

  9. Ken Robertson on May 15, 2019 at 8:19 am

    Thanks Steven. I tell people that “my greatest gift is that I’m too stupid to know it’s impossible.” Thanks for reminding me that I’ve temporarily strayed from the path and need to “wander back to stupid.”

    • Joe on May 15, 2019 at 8:27 am

      I’ll set up camp, Ken. Only problems: I don’t know where I am and don’t know how to make a fire. You: reading your map upside down and dropped your compass in a cat hole. We’re all in this together, right? 😉

  10. stacey williams on May 15, 2019 at 8:26 am

    WHEW thanks for the smack in my face today will be the death of my procrastination

  11. Mia Sherwood Landau on May 15, 2019 at 8:34 am

    This morning, in the midst of my own writing, doing what I can’t do, what I am somewhat ashamed to do, I emailed my adult daughter about a business idea. I saw myself write this to her, “My shame is turning into my fame.” Yeah, I really typed that, knowing it was probably more for me than for her today. Your words in this post are, as usual, food for my growth as a writer. Nobody talks about Resistance like you do, Steven. Nobody. THANK YOU!

  12. Gigi Blackshear on May 15, 2019 at 8:42 am

    I wrote my first book in order to survive. It is really awful, but that’s why I had to get it out. The second book, because it would not leave me be. The third…Do I really need a reason or can I just WRITE THE DAMN BOOK!

  13. BRENDON LUMGAIR on May 15, 2019 at 9:05 am

    Thanks Largo!
    I was about to lock myself in a cabin and write my non-fiction self-help book on sleep when I listened to “Nobody wants to Read Your Sh*t” two weeks ago.
    Since then I have been possessed by the muse to write it as a novel instead (think “Eat, Pray, Loves” meets “The Monk Who Sold his Ferrari”).

    The idea scared the sh*t out of me and I shrunk back to the idea of writing the non-fiction version first then the novelized form next year.

    I read Story Grid and the Jabs 1-3 and became further infatuated. Yesterday I wrote my Global Story Grid Foolscap. Your blog has cemented my mind to tackle the novel first, starting today! (and not look up from my computer until I type “The End: Rest in Peace Mofo”)

    • Ellen on May 26, 2019 at 12:51 am

      Don’t waste any more time and effort with “damning”…You’ve got your solution….WRITE THE DAMN BOOK!
      Just remember to keep your head up! Literally… All that typing at once will kill your back, your neck & squeeze your brain! GO GET ‘EM!

  14. Joe on May 15, 2019 at 9:31 am

    The next little thing I read this morning was from LitHub, this short essay by Guy Gavriel Kay on “doing whatever it takes.” Seems in keeping with the theme today, so grabbing a couple excerpts:

    Regarding the story we tell about “what worked for us,” that story is “offered in the hope it intrigues or amuses. It is not a template. I don’t think there are templates for the creative process, beyond the very basic, obvious one: if you don’t do it, it won’t get done. Putting in the hours. Trudging up the hill, metaphorically, when the cool people are still dancing.” [[Loved that… what we say NO to, when the cool people are still dancing.]]

    “…don’t let anyone tell you you have to take a brain-cleansing run at dawn, or do an hour of yoga before you can truly access the sacred waters in the deep well of art” (unless a run or yoga works for *you*).

    “Get to those waters however you can. Accept that art happens in the midst of life and life changes on you and changes you, makes demands, imposes constraints.”

    “I bought a battered German typewriter in the flea market in Athens and lugged it on the overnight ferry to Crete. It had an umlaut key!” and ends the essay with: “Though I do advise, having read my Chekhov, that if you show an umlaut in act öne, you do have to use it in act three.”

    https://lithub.com/some-writing-advice-dont-take-others-advice/

  15. Noelle Davis on May 15, 2019 at 9:44 am

    Thank you for the reminder Steve, I really needed it!

  16. Michelle on May 15, 2019 at 10:19 am

    Thank you Steve for your Wednesdays of courage workouts 🙂 Your a wizard who listens and helps us all. I hear the muses through you and 🙏🏻 Namaste

    I’m in The hurricane to create (teen program, story: storytelling/screenplay) something way past my own memoir for the hurting collective youth. You and Marie Forleo are great supports.

    So keep it coming Steve and team.

    Blessings

  17. LISA M BEST on May 15, 2019 at 12:11 pm

    I awoke this morning with an idea to promote business. Next I said I can’t because and stopped. As soon as the words came out, I realized wow, Resistance, and I am holding myself back. About an hour later, realized I can just make one small change and I can proceed with the idea from this morning.

    I’ve been rereading The War of Art, 1 essay a day for about a month. Along with these posts it is just stabilizing. Thank you so much Steven. Your words are life changing.

  18. Nükhet on May 15, 2019 at 12:58 pm

    Damm right. Thank you for the reminder and for everything! For your lifes work! I am so happy i found IT. When shit hits the fan, i know i can come back to my audible and there is steven. He gets me. He understands what i am going through. He kicks my ass and he has my back. Thank you Steven!

  19. Stu Lloyd on May 15, 2019 at 3:29 pm

    That’s often the feeling I get when I thumb though my published books: Gee, did I really write that? How the hell did I do that?!? It almost always feels like it was written by someone else – perhaps that someone else I become when I’m in the zone.

  20. Jule Kucera on May 15, 2019 at 4:29 pm

    “If the dream were not possible for us, Resistance would never feel the need to bomb us with megatons of negativity.”
    I love that logic and how it enables me to see that when resistance rears its head, it’s actually a good sign—I can do this.

  21. Paul fairweather on May 15, 2019 at 4:31 pm

    Steven
    reading your post gave me goosebumps. My story, like many a creative, is complex, and I have dabbled in many many creative pursuits and occasionally been successful in some. Last night, after a standup gig (a new pursuit), I was inspired to revisit an old idea. A BOOK. A book that I just had to do. This morning I sat down and wrote out a list of chapters, then opened my email to find yours “write the book that you cannot write”. Yes, resistance is a consistent part of my life, but at times it is so strongly opposed to messages that come just appear out of the ether. – just like your email this morning. thank you!

  22. Gaynor on May 15, 2019 at 4:35 pm

    Wow!! Steve, thank you!!
    Your post arrives in my inbox the day after I promised myself, ‘if I ever find that ‘lost’ journal with all my writing inspiration, I will make a start, and do it SCARED if I have to!’ Yes… you guessed it, miraculously I have found that journal last night!! This is crazy!! You have reminded me of Van Gogh’s thought… ‘If you hear a voice within you say ‘you cannot paint,’ then by all means paint, and that voice will be silenced’
    Today I silence the voice!! Thanks for the encouragement Steve 🙂

  23. BRIAN S NELSON on May 15, 2019 at 8:16 pm

    Love it.
    bsn

  24. Sandra on May 15, 2019 at 8:26 pm

    RESISTANCE keeps knocking at my door, but it’s YOUR voice that keeps it at bay. Truth be known, more often than not, I find myself wanting to throw in the towel … until Wednesday rolls around. Thank you, sir, for helping me get back in the “ring”.

  25. Mike Steele on May 16, 2019 at 8:30 pm

    I have been reading all I can of your books over the last couple months. It has made a real impact.

    I just completed this short video, and I would really like for you to see it.

    Thank You!
    -Mike Steele

  26. Cathy Ryan on May 17, 2019 at 3:47 am

    Thank you.

  27. Jill on May 17, 2019 at 11:22 am

    I know there’s no way in hell I can finish 32 canvases to fill an entire floor of the gallery by November. It’s mid-May and I’m just about to finish the 7th canvas. I don’t know why I agreed to do it at the beginning of March. Good thing I am too stupid to know it. I am scared AF. But you know what, I think I’d rather die trying / if I don’t make it, it sure as heck won’t be for the lack of trying. Good to be stupid! ^_________^ /

    Good to have Mr Pressfield ^_____^**

  28. Evan on May 18, 2019 at 2:26 am

    A seed. Will water. Thank you.

  29. Charles on May 18, 2019 at 6:20 pm

    Thank you Steve : )

  30. Anise Tatur on May 19, 2019 at 9:09 pm

    I have been reading all the messages above and each of you guys reflect a bit of myself..then I get inspired. I am learning by listening to my own voice but I have fears that keep stopping me… I mean I can’t do it.. I tell myself no one will read my book and it will finish in the bin.. Then that voice talks to me in the night. I continue to write. The book is getting somewhere.. Except I stop… Scared not to be able to find a good ending. My greatest fear is that.. That book is on since 2007 and never ever can finish it. 232 pages already written. Scared to show it to an Editor. Because I can’t finish it. Today after reading all your comments I feel lighter and my brain is telling me to finish that damn book. What am I waiting for..want to thank you Steven for your help. No matter what, there’s always your advice there pushing me to go for it. I will end that book. Soon. It’s a promise I made to myself this morning. Thank you again.
    Anise

  31. Yvonne on May 22, 2019 at 12:49 pm

    I really needed to hear this. Thanks, Steven, for your encouragement and wisdom!

  32. Madalena Penny on May 26, 2019 at 9:09 pm

    I can always be certain that when in need of a kick up the backside and in need of inspiration – this blog never fails to deliver. I read all the comments and it gets me to question myself. We all have our reasons for not accomplishing our own unique expression. I find resistance incredibly useful. It’s mere existence and its effect it can have on us is a testament that only those willing to overcome their resistance can achieve something amazing. If everyone could overcome resistance it wouldn’t be an accomplishment and no one would have to work for their art. The self-doubt and form of our expression that is woven into every process of creating something from within us will be within your creation. Not many people can do that.
    If you don’t risk anything – you will never gain anything.

  33. Nadine on June 4, 2019 at 2:27 pm

    Ask and you shall receive… yep. I’ve asked for a mentor (present or not, living or not) and here I am. The “War Of Art” was one of my first interest but I’ve decided to start reading “Do the Work” first since that’s where I’m kinda of stuck for my book.
    All the research is done and I work on it sporadically since last year. But this massive, and dense, wall of Resistance is active and very effective. Do I really want to write this book? Not really… but I have to. It’s a calling and I know, deep within, that I have to do this “self help” book – and to be frank, I just love to create and write.
    I’ve finished a previous book (around 350 pages) that was about to be published by an editor. But the young lady told me, after a few weeks, that she decided to abandon the project. My book helped her realize that she no longer wanted to be in her father’s company and she was going on a new venture. I grinned and laughed: I was happy that the book helped her but no need to say that I was stunned at the same time. I thought then, that maybe it wasn’t a good timing – I had many rejections before her and it didn’t bother me since it is part of the game. But at that time, since my energy was very low, I decided to put it aside. That was 2007 and I never touched it again.
    I thought that this rejection may be the main reason for the massive Resistance for this new book I’m working on. But I doubt it. It’s deeper than that: I know that I need to internalize, ingest, that I am worth it. That it has its reasons to be, that I need to strip the layers and become the best version of myself during the process. And that is where, I think, Resistance loves to operate.
    Thanks to you, Steve, I feel I now have an ally who understands the process. An ally on whom I may lean on from time to time. And an ally who will help me kick my butt when needed.
    I am now chewing on ( read, devour) your excellent book “Do The Work”. Next one is “Nobody wants to read your Sh*t”. – love that title, he he –
    And for the “piece of resistance”: “The War of Art”. ( I’m starting and the end, like you suggested 🙂 ..)
    Many thanks for your great work.
    And to all, best of success with your project!
    Note: I’m French so, sorry in advance for errors that may slip in 😉
    Cheers!

  34. Maxim Dsouza on June 11, 2019 at 11:14 pm

    Well described. Until it is done, we worry how do I do it. Once it is done, we think how did I do it. It repeats every time.

    The fear of the threat is usually more dangerous than the pain experienced from the actual situation.

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