Thank You, Tom Guinzburg

My original manuscript for Gates of Fire, back in 1996, was 802 pages long.

My agent told me he had no chance of selling it unless I could cut three hundred.

Here’s the story:

P.S. A couple of biographical notes re Tom Guinzburg: he was the first managing editor of The Paris Review … and he was awarded a Purple Heart as a Marine on Iwo Jima.


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. Peter Brockwell on February 17, 2021 at 3:14 am

    Steve, I know you never would, but if you were ever minded to publish your original 802pp manuscript, or just send it out to us as a PDF, I know we would love to read it! Certainly, GoF is how I discovered you – a gift from a friend during our USA road trip in 1997. First I must reread your ancient Greece books, starting with ToW.

    I’m trying to wrap my mind around how you have created a body of work that hangs together so well. I think I need to say a firm ‘No’ to a great deal more that I’ve allowed to invade my life this last thirty years, and especially the last four years.

    • Sam Luna on February 17, 2021 at 7:22 am

      Yeah I agree with Peter — I think we need the 802 page “director’s cut” of this one.

  2. Joe Jansen on February 17, 2021 at 5:34 am

    I’m on board with this. There have been a couple writers I greatly respect who’ve offered the kind of encouragement being discussed here. I printed them off and they don’t need a frame (photo in Dropbox):

    • Joe on February 17, 2021 at 7:12 am

      And if Steve is keeping a list of future topics to cover in the “In the Trenches” subcategory, I’d be interested to hear what that process was like. Certain, one can’t chop 37,000 words by going line by line. Did certain characters get benched? Did whole secondary storylines get axed? How does an author approach a task like cutting a manuscript by 30%?

      • Brian Nelson on February 17, 2021 at 7:21 am

        I love your mouse pad as well!

      • Peter Brockwell on February 17, 2021 at 7:45 am

        Joe, that’s a wonderful little writing cave you have. What’s the trail on your desktop? The PCT? Looks incredible. I’d give a lot right now to be hiking there.

    • Joe on February 17, 2021 at 8:29 am

      Brian: I like it, too. I never got a tattoo… always fearful that in the artist’s portfolio, it would like art, but then get on my right shoulder and look like graffiti. Mouse pads profess affiliation, but with less risk of bodily defacement and censure from grandmothers and aunts.

      Peter: It’s one of the big three… just off the CDT / Continental Divide Trail. We were about 20 miles deep into the Bob Marshall Wilderness in northern Montana, backpacking in from Benchmark with the objective of the Chinese Wall.

      As long as we’re on it, this was a three-minute video of those five days, put together and entered into an outdoor film fest:

      • Brian Nelson on February 17, 2021 at 9:57 am

        Thanks for sharing. That was beautiful. I don’t know why, but when said, “Gather around Gents.” I had this swell of emotion. That is such common vernacular in the military—I bet I’ve heard that 100s of times in my life. Not always good news, but something so inviting. I still use “Gents” as my primary address to a group of males. Men, teens, children. Maybe I’ve idealized the term to “Men at our best”.
        Love it.

        • Joe on February 17, 2021 at 11:00 am

          Brian… it carries a sense of respect for those being referred to, doesn’t it?

          I’m guessing Steve had something like this in mind when he chose the name of “Gent” for the main guy in “The Profession.” I still hold that that novel needs be on-screen.

      • Peter Brockwell on February 17, 2021 at 10:29 am

        Joe thanks very much for sharing. Great video, music and hiking. Awesome. The wilderness you dudes have over there is the real deal.

        • Joe on February 17, 2021 at 10:56 am

          Peter… some 640 million acres of public land in the U.S. (about 28% of the total). I’m acquainted with Field & Stream magazine contributing editor Hal Herring (, who has described America’s public lands as “where you can walk where you want, and nobody can call the sheriff on you.” It’s a real gift, for all people regardless of their place of origin.

        • Joe on February 17, 2021 at 11:13 am

          That is, Peter: c’mon over. This land is your land.

  3. Brian Nelson on February 17, 2021 at 7:20 am

    I don’t think there is anything more powerful than a well-timed, well-aimed piece of praise or encouragement. It is better than Blue-Meth for energy.

    Leaving Afghanistan, I was in the middle of what we call RIPTOA-relief in place, transfer of authority. I was a CPT doing the operations officer job. It is a Major’s billet, but we didn’t have another MI Major. I was exhausted. Sitting with the G2 (Division Intel Officer) and my replacement, MAJ Branch (we’ve since become lifelong friends) talking about task organization, (they had a different MTOE–essentially different amount of HUMINTers, SIGINTERs, totally differently organized MI Battalion).

    I was telling both of them how I would deploy their assets, things we learned, etc. Again, I do not think I have ever been so bone-tired in my life. I’d had a two week head-ache that wouldn’t leave. We had just removed teams from 24 separate FOBs (forward operating bases) by ground and air in January.Flying in Afghanistan in the winter is scary stuff. If we were unable to get everyone out–we’d bust BOG (boots on ground) which would go straight to SECDEF. Anyway–it was super stressful, exhausting, and I felt like I had the entire weight of the world on my shoulders.

    As we were leaving the G2s office (LTC), the G2 walked up between us and put his arms around both of us. “Dave (my replacement) all of us here at Division know this Captain has been in command all year. You should listen to him.”

    I nearly broke down and cried. It was the highest praise from a guy I really respected. I remember thinking, “At least someone noticed.”

    Evaluations be-damned. Awards? Who cares! But praise and encouragement from someone I respect? That is pure gold. That was 14 years ago, and I remember it like it was yesterday. I still hold on to it. I reminds me that, at least once I my life, I was up to the task.

    As always, this site has left me renewed, refreshed, and again ready to attack my work and life. Thank you.

    • Ted Lou on February 17, 2021 at 7:29 am

      Got me right in the heart. I have your back, my friend. 🤠

    • Rodney+Page on February 17, 2021 at 8:19 am

      Profound, and so true! Thanks for sharing!

    • Joe on February 17, 2021 at 8:47 am

      Great story, Brian, and illustrates the point so well. Here’s a trophy. Here a ribbon. Here’s a piece of metal. All of those are stand-ins for what we REALLY seek… the recognition of our value. To be seen and understood. To be witnessed.

      • Brian Nelson on February 17, 2021 at 9:04 am

        Thanks Joe/Rodney/Ted,
        I’m tossing some words on pages to try and articulate, finally for myself and maybe others, my philosophy of leadership.

        I have 4 principles: You Matter. You Belong. We need You at your Best. Let’s get to work. They are ordinal in application.

        I have been thinking about the “how”, the behaviors, actions, to demonstrate to people they matter.

        I think it comes down to attention and feedback. Pay hyper close attention to your people-especially the youngsters, the newbies—and praise the hell out of anything they do right. Also, use their first names.

        Joe—you nailed it by saying “witnessed”. I don’t think it was my motivation to work so hard, but when it was witnessed—the weight fell away. I was ok. It would be ok. I had done my job, and could now let go and allow Dave to grab the reins.

        BTW…I just got my website up yesterday. Needs a lot of editing, but finally paid a pro to get it done. Now that it is up, I can see more clearly what needs fixing. I was stuck for over a year trying to get it produced myself.

  4. Stephanie Clayton on February 17, 2021 at 7:22 am

    LOVE the videos!

  5. JJ on February 17, 2021 at 7:41 am

    Ditto for the long version of Gates of Fire.

  6. Brad Graft on February 17, 2021 at 7:55 am

    Motivational stuff. We sometimes forget what Steve has been through. Not many in his station take the time to provide the encouragement he has to so many. A thanks from us all.
    Thanks for your share, Brian. Fitting and powerful as well. And Semper Fi, mac.
    And same– I’m “all in” on the 800 pages of original GOF.

    • Joe on February 17, 2021 at 8:56 am

      Good points, Brad. I think that’s why, if we look in the right margin at “Most Popular” posts, Steve’s “In the Trenches #1” essay is at the top of the list.

      How many times are people looking for a shortcut, a secret, a “life hack”? We think we’re looking for fairy dust to sprinkle over our sh!t, when what we really need is just to know that we’re not alone.

    • Brian Nelson on February 17, 2021 at 9:16 am

      Thanks Brad. Agreed that Steve’s bio is inspiring. If he had a best seller at 24, we may not be here now.

      Sitting in VA after getting my first vaccine shot. I tell you, I’ve had the best medical service from the VA in my entire life.

      We get a shot, then wait 15 min to ensure we don’t have an adverse reaction. I’m certain that at 51 I’m the youngest guy in this room. It is humbling. I always think when on the VA campus that these old men, and their old wives frequently assisting them, were warriors at one time. Heading into harm’s way. I picture them laughing and giving each other shit, making crude jokes filled with gallows humor. Writing letters home. Afraid and excited. Praying they don’t let their buddies down. Praying to God they can be courageous when needed.

      I feel blessed to be able to ‘See’ them. Our culture dismisses our elders, and I’m afraid we are going to pay for this in a profound way.

  7. Mia Sherwood Landau on February 17, 2021 at 9:02 am

    Steven, your demeanor and delivery in this video talking about your own writing is exemplary. I want to be as natural and balanced as you are when I talk about what I write. You have found the sweet spot between puffed-up pride and self-effacement that is so hard to find. Wow, thanks for this video for a reason you may not have intended but masterfully achieved.

  8. Yvonne on February 17, 2021 at 12:33 pm

    Steve, thank *you* for the encouragement, in the form of weekly blog posts, JABs, books that I’ve read and reread too many times to count (and thank you for your ever-timely, valuable advice on how to make our writing better!). I’m really grateful. Your posts always make me look forward to Wednesdays. Wishing you success with “A Man At Arms”–we all already know it will be outstanding!

  9. Jim Gant on February 18, 2021 at 8:46 am

    Thank you Tom Guinzburg.
    Thank you Steven Pressfield.
    Thank you Printer Bowler.
    Thank you Callie Oettinger.
    Thank you Shawn Coyne.

    You write it and I’ll get it out there…Damn right you did!


  10. Mary Darling on February 19, 2021 at 6:54 am

    God bless all our military!

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    I don’t think there is anything more powerful than a well-timed, well-aimed piece of praise or encouragement. It is better than Blue-Meth for energy.

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    I’m on board with this. There have been a couple writers I greatly respect who’ve offered the kind of encouragement being discussed here.

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    Great story, Brian, and illustrates the point so well. Here’s a trophy.

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    I think you left out the part where Sterling and Tom gave the 800+ page manuscript to his daughter Amanda who was working for Sterling at the time! : ) (Thank you, truly, so much for sharing this.)

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