The Intersection of Necessity and Free Will

“What I have tried to do is follow the dictates of Necessity. This is the solitary god I revere and, in my opinion, the only god that exists. Man’s predicament is that he dwells at the intersection of Necessity and free will. What distinguishes statesmen, as Themistocles and Pericles, is their gift to perceive Necessity’s dictates in advance of others—as Themistocles saw that Athens must become a sea power and Pericles that naval supremacy prefigures empire. That course of individual or nation aligned with Necessity must prove irresistible.”

This passage is from Tides of War, published by Doubleday in 2000. The speaker is the true historical character, Alcibiades of Athens (or my fictionalized version of him).

You and I too reside at the intersection of Necessity and free will.

Our vocation is Necessity—the works we are called by our unique genius to produce.

Free will is that agency that enables us to act.

Between the two stands Resistance.

Our job as artists and as free men and women is to first discern and then align ourselves with our own Necessity, the creative calling of our hearts, and to summon the resources and resolve (and the skill) to follow the dictates of that call.


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


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. Ms. Moretti on December 23, 2020 at 7:26 am

    Discernment and Resolve
    Killing me lately
    As the (me) gets chipped away, I know the [ME] is waiting patiently
    Thanks for this! Like many of us, such a timely message for today…

  2. Mia Sherwood Landau on December 23, 2020 at 8:21 am

    Your definition of Necessity is refreshing (as usual) and redeeming. Standing face-to-face with Resistance from this vantage point of Necessity, many other things considered necessities by many other people pale. This solitary standoff with our own perpetual adversary IS the war we wage as artists. I never tire of saying I love you because your posts bring me back to myself as an artist, Steven. What a gift. Thank you, thank you, thank you. Oh, and it’s not just me! Wouldn’t it be fascinating to know how many people feel this way about you, too? I am speaking for all of us today. THANK YOU!

  3. Joe on December 23, 2020 at 8:25 am

    The best I can do today is to quote from that chapter (XXIX) of Tides of War (the passage I’ve most shared):

    Three and a half years later, before Byzantium, I attended a night-long drinking bout. Someone had put the query “How does one lead free men?”

    “By being better than they,” Alcibiades responded at once.

    The symposiasts laughed at this, even Thrasybulus and Theramenes, our generals.

    “By being better,” Alcibiades continued, “and thus commanding their emulation.” He was drunk, but on him it accounted nothing, save to liberate those holdings nearest to his heart.

    “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.”

    “A commander’s role is to model arete, excellence, before his men. One need not thrash them to greatness; only hold it out before them. They will be compelled by their own nature to emulate it.”

    • Brian Nelson on December 23, 2020 at 11:08 am

      Had to look up ‘arete’, (my iphone has it underlined in red) what a perfect word!

      I’d like to add it to my vernacular, but can see eye rolls from others as the height of pretension.

      Great quote, Alcibiades dropped a truth bomb!

  4. Phil on December 23, 2020 at 8:26 am

    In my book, I replace Necessity with Responsibility. Responsibility = Work. And we have to do the work. One who doesn’t take responsibility has no meaning. Its in doing/creating something worthwhile that we create meaning in our lives. Thanks for the words of wisdom. Necessity is the fuel. #letsdothework

  5. Andrew lubin on December 23, 2020 at 8:28 am

    Most of us have the Skill; it’s Resolve that gets sidetracked in life’s day-to-day. So it’s time for me to go; I have a book review to write…

    • Katie m. Berggren on December 23, 2020 at 8:30 am

      Amen to that, Andrew!

    • Brian Nelson on December 23, 2020 at 11:18 am

      You’ve reminded me of my own responsibilities in this regard! Merry Christmas!

      • Andrew lubin on December 23, 2020 at 3:14 pm

        Thanks Brian, and let me wish you a Froliches Weinachten! Andrew

  6. Sam Luna on December 23, 2020 at 9:07 am

    This post is about the most succinct way of defining what the battle against Resistance is yet. You have the idea, you have the will, and now you have to Do The Work (another Pressfield title!) An unbelievably simple concept that most of us (myself included) have to re-learn again and again and again. Why does it never get easier? How many faces does Resistance have? An infinite number?

  7. Renita on December 23, 2020 at 10:04 am

    Thanks, Steve.
    Love your consistency. Reliability in statistics is when the tool that measures is consistent. It does have to be perfect. You can make the adjustments for that when it is reliable. There’s a lot to be said for reliable people even if they are a little bit off. They are dependable.
    If a scale is consistently 1 pound off you can make the adjustment yourself. It’s still dependable.
    I’m amazed at how this is so essential.

    • Renita on December 23, 2020 at 10:06 am

      It does not have to be perfect. Is what I meant. But to be valid it must be addressing the thing. I am seeing that Resistamce will attack either of those. By being reliable we have control over that part. That protects our validity.

    • Brian Nelson on December 23, 2020 at 11:17 am

      You nailed something I’ve observed at the Y over the years. Most of my ‘loose-tie connections’ (Gladwell term) who have provided me so much in friendship, introductions, leads for whatever venture I’m on—have come from these people I’ve seen at 0600 M-F in the gym or locker room. I don’t know much about them (initially) other than they are getting it done consistently for a decade or more. The degree of trust I have with them can only be attributed to consistency.

      So many other character qualities I assume from this one trait. Likely still married, likely ‘tithe’ in some capacity, likely meet their suspenses are work, likely help others when needed (they always provide a needed spot on the flat bench)…but the operative trait is consistency.

      Merry Christmas!

  8. Brian Nelson on December 23, 2020 at 11:40 am

    Powerful as usual.

    As I’m on a second career and have frequently questioned if my career as a Soldier was a shadow career—have decided it was necessary to learn/ingrain the habits & values requisite for this next adventure.

    For me, determining my own Necessity has been/is as challenging as fighting Resistance. I’m ‘handicapped’ by too many interests and passions. Not quite a polymath, but capable in many areas actually seems to frustrate fidelity in this regard.

    As I stumble, bumble, and fumble my way—this site has provided me hope, direction, and a tribe of doers from whom I continue to learn.

    Happy Holidays to Steve, Black Irish Books, and all contributors.

  9. Susan on December 23, 2020 at 1:36 pm

    Thank you !

  10. Adrienne McLean on December 23, 2020 at 2:12 pm

    Thank you Steven. You make what seemily is to me complex so simple!

    The intersection of vocation and free will is Resistance

    How absolutely true!!

    Do you ever run webinars? I’d love to hear you speak on this.

  11. York on December 23, 2020 at 7:18 pm

    Oh Man!

    Great timing as usual Steve. As I get closer to taking the leap I feel more Fear and Resistance rise up and take all forms to challenge me. I’ve been listening to Art and Fear recently and it’s incredible how many followers of the path of the artist say the same thing. Continue in the face of fear. Obviously be as rational as you can be considering creating art is quite wonky, but persist.

    Use Free Will to meet Necessity!

  12. Mick O' Lally on December 24, 2020 at 9:03 am

    First, Merry Christmas!
    Second, Free Will isn’t free it comes with a price.
    Third, Steven combines in one writer Qualties of O’Neill, Steinbeck, Faulkner and Hemmingway! What a combination and we are all benefitting from his unique ability to makes us think and build a better life.
    Fourth, I can see a day when Mr. Alfred Nobel comes knocking on his door.

    There’s more but I will come back later.

    Happy New Year!!!

  13. KIMBERLY CLARA FRASSETT on December 24, 2020 at 10:43 am


    The way you encourage me and the rest of the world makes me want to dream bigger, love harder, and move toward the very necessary accomplishment of my destiny or calling. You are a warrior leading by example.

    This is you:

    “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.”

    “A commander’s role is to model arete, excellence, before his men. One need not thrash them to greatness; only hold it out before them. They will be compelled by their own nature to emulate it.”

    You are modeling greatness and encouraging your troops to shoulder up with you.

    Keep up “THE WORK”. Together the world will be a better place as we evolve into our future.

  14. Alkan on December 25, 2020 at 3:04 am

    So true. I have an interesting story that I’ve experienced this morning. Building a freelance writing career is my focus at the moment. This morning, I got an order on a topic that I have no experience in. When I looked at the details, the first thought was “Cancel this project immediately.”.

    Then I looked into the topic. It was something that I’ve never read before but it didn’t sound that difficult. There were only some jargon used. Another thought popped up: “Challenge yourself”.

    I was between “Cancel this project immediately” and “Challenge yourself”.

    Interesting. I guess most of the time, I’m between “Quit now” and “Grow”. It’s the choice to choose one of them at all times.

  15. George Carpenter on December 26, 2020 at 8:05 am

    Marrying The Muse: The Lover Archetype in the War of Art.


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