Coco Chanel’s advice for writers

Coco Chanel was asked once, “What’s the single piece of fashion advice you would give to ladies (and gentlemen)?”

The grand dame of Parisian couture replied:

On your way out the door, stop and look in the mirror. Then take one thing off.

We as writers could do a lot worse than to heed Coco’s advice.

What paragraph, what chapter, what section would our book be stronger without?

Sometimes Coco didn’t follow her own rule

 A Hollywood producer I respect once told me,

“There never was a script that didn’t get better with ten percent cut.”

She added:

“And when you’ve cut ten percent, cut ten percent of THAT.”

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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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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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25 Comments

  1. Joe on August 4, 2021 at 3:05 am

    Write fat. Get skinny.

  2. Peter Brockwell on August 4, 2021 at 4:58 am

    The more work you can get the reader to do themselves, but without them realising that’s what they’re doing, the better…

    Hell, get the readers to write the damn thing! 🙂

    • Joe on August 4, 2021 at 6:46 am

      Hemingway’s words in “Death in the Afternoon” capture it pretty well:

      “If a writer of prose knows enough about what he is writing about he may omit things that he knows and the reader, if the writer is writing truly enough, will have a feeling of those things as strongly as though the writer had stated them. The dignity of movement of an ice-berg is due to only one-eighth of it being above water.”

      • Mia Sherwood Landau on August 4, 2021 at 7:22 am

        To give the reader, watcher, listener space for their own unique ah-ha moment is high art.

        • Joe on August 4, 2021 at 7:52 am

          Agreed, Mia. There’s something I’d shared in here before (maybe last year)…

          I’m thinking again of “the beholder’s share” (term from art historian Alois Riegl).

          Say you have a painting, but that painting is not complete until the viewer responds to it. Here’s a cool (5-min) talk by Eric Kandel (another Nobel Prize winner, his was in 2000). https://youtu.be/IoubVUSk7h0

          He grabbed me with his brief discussion of why the Mona Lisa is considered one of the masterpieces of western art. He points to the ambiguity of her facial expression: Is she smiling or is she not? We’re EACH drawn in because we’re compelled to participate by engaging and wanting to understanding her. Since the beholder’s share varies for each of us, because we’re each bringing an element of our own creativity into it, we each derive our own meaning. We’re co-creating.

    • Jubilee on August 4, 2021 at 11:52 am

      🤣😂🤣

  3. Jesse on August 4, 2021 at 7:44 am

    By Mr. Hemingway, the shortest story ever written:

    “For sale:
    Baby shoes. Never worn.”

    It gets my eyes itchy just rewriting it.

    Wonderful incites Mr. Pressfield, as always. Thank you.

    • Joe on August 7, 2021 at 10:44 am

      Jesse,

      Other good examples of a six-word story (from a recent posting by Narrative magazine):

      Longed for him. Got him. Shit. —Margaret Atwood

      Without thinking, I made two cups. —Alistair Daniel

      Revenge is living well, without you. —Joyce Carol Oates

  4. Sam Luna on August 4, 2021 at 8:59 am

    Just printed this whole thing, comments included, and stuck it on top of the 4th draft of something.

  5. Michael Esser on August 4, 2021 at 9:39 am

    “There never was a script that didn’t get better with ten percent cut.”

    I think that is great advice to all those who have TV shows on the various streamers and other platforms. Most of them have so much stuff to cut out that what remains would be good for 45 min of a movie. Yet they manage to draw it to eight episodes.

    I haven’t seen a TV show for a long time that would require a brain to be watched.

  6. Aaron on August 4, 2021 at 11:19 am

    Kill your darlings. I go too far and delete the whole damn thing sometimes.

  7. John Karem on August 4, 2021 at 1:21 pm

    “Just as listening is highly underrated, give the reader, viewer, the space to “hear” the depth of your message”

  8. Anonymous on August 4, 2021 at 1:33 pm

    Mark Twain once said, “I didn’t have time to write you a short letter, so I wrote you a long one.”

  9. Tolis Alexopoulos on August 5, 2021 at 12:54 am

    Thank you again Steve,

    I am cutting out lines from the text for a few weeks now I think. When I wrote them, the chapter was beautiful -more accurately, full of meanings and colors. But then I realized that when reading them my brain takes in so many information and images and so, even if they are all beautiful and important in their way, they make it delay, even get tired. It hurts to delete many of them, I know I spent a lot of time, endless hours creating and giving them life. On the other hand I felt this: hiding them, and thus forcing the reader to guess them or something like that (but notice that they exist in the first place, I didn’t just write plain text from the beginning) would create mystery and a sense of fulfillment. Fulfillment from austerity? That’s a paradox! In my life I found women with austere bodies and expressions the most attractive to me. I wondered some time about why I did, and I guess that I liked austerity as an energy of life, and on them it would symbolize the existence of beauty without anything to distract you from it, plain and simple -just that, nothing else. Its difficult to describe. I would guess that austerity, or focus only to what matters and nothing else, that goes along with other great characteristics, brings the sense of fulfillment because it is easy to focus on. I would prefer austerity that comes after a long road full of colors and battles though, although natural austerity has an exceptional and, I think, archetypical beauty too! The heart can’t tell the difference I guess.

    • Jurgen Strack on August 5, 2021 at 2:49 am

      Sounds like those women you describe may have taken Coco Chanel’s advice Tolis

      • Tolis Alexopoulos on August 6, 2021 at 12:32 am

        Could be so, Jurgen! Thank you for commenting, and keep trying for your goal until the end. Never give up, never calm down.

  10. Jurgen Strack on August 5, 2021 at 2:46 am

    Less is more? 🙂

    Someone once said, “Simplify, Simplify, Simplify!” And, “wouldn’t one simplify have been enough?”

    This week’s pearl of wisdom makes me feel less concerned about whether my book achieves 289 or so pages.

    I love 😍 participating in this.

  11. Jackie on August 5, 2021 at 4:29 am

    I painted with a group of women for years. One of us was always reminding another to “put your brush down and sit on your hands.” Another nugget we shared was the magic of the trunk. Put your painting in the trunk of your car. Drive around for a week then look at it. With new eyes, it was either deemed finished or you would see what needed reworked. Thanks to all for the community.

  12. Victoria Maxwell-Davis on August 5, 2021 at 3:59 pm

    The discipline in crafting a moving haiku epitomises this.

  13. Kate Stanton on August 9, 2021 at 6:26 am

    Just as I enjoyed the Warrior videos on YouTube last summer, I am also enjoying the BOOKS I LOVE series. Thank you!! I enjoy reading your blog and the comments from your thoughtful readers. I will take this blog post into consideration while producing songs. I am still learning a lot and when I learn a new skill, I tend to overdo it. This is great advice to wait it out–less is more sometimes!

  14. Marian on August 10, 2021 at 9:29 pm

    She was a collaborator with the Nazis in Paris.

  15. sunil808 on August 15, 2021 at 12:33 pm

    this is really good article thank you for sharing with us

  16. spicemoneylogin.in on August 16, 2021 at 2:49 am

    thank you for sharing..

  17. myfiosgateway.one on August 16, 2021 at 2:50 am

    thank you

  18. KiziMizi on September 4, 2021 at 5:25 am

    She had good quotes:

    “The best color in the world is one that looks good on you.”
    “Beauty begins the moment we choose to be ourselves.”

    Thanks for sharing

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