The Willing Embrace of Training

We were talking a couple of weeks ago about the artist’s or warrior’s “willing embrace of chaos.”

There’s another, far less glamorous item that the artist or warrior embraces.


There’s an axiom in every army in the world.

“In an emergency you don’t rise to the occasion, you sink to the level of your training.”

“We sink to the level of our training.’

Soldiers train, athletes train. Why? Because they know that under game pressure or the surprise and dislocation of an emergency, the mind goes into a freeze or a fog. Training is to embed a conditioned response to this state, one that doesn’t require cognitive thinking. “Run to the sound of the guns.” “Drop and return fire.” “Get out of the house!”

Sailors practice “Man overboard!” drills, families rehearse earthquake drills. Even in elementary school (sad, sad to say), kids and teachers practice active-shooter drills.

You and I as writers face an emergency enemy too. Its name is Resistance. Resistance says, “You had a great day of work yesterday, let’s slack off today.” Or “This new idea of yours is a loser. Let’s drop it.”

In Act Two, we hit walls. Close to the finish, we experience panic. When it comes time to take our work to market, we freak, we freeze, we run for cover.

In an emergency we don’t rise to the occasion, we sink to the level of our training.

There’s only one answer for you and me, or for any solitary artist or entrepreneur.


We must rehearse and reinforce ourselves every day to respond to these emergencies without haste and without panic. The firefighter knows that walls will unexpectedly crash and floors will give way beneath him; the triathlete knows her bike chain will snap out of nowhere or her hamstring will seize up two miles from the finish line. 

To prepare for these exigencies, they train. They rehearse. They prepare mentally.

You and I are athletes and firefighters too. It’s not glamorous or cinematic to prepare mentally for the hour when two years of work unspools into nothing. But it’s professional. It’s the game. It’s the life we’ve chosen.

 “Run to the sound of the guns.” “Drop and return fire.” “Get out of the house!”


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 November 17, 2021 at 2:17 am

    This is very helpful. At a meta-level too, reading, absorbing and rereading Steve’s missives are an aspect of our training. I often write haiku, or play with doggerel, or learn words to gain more facility with them. But in the art of writing really, the act of doing it is itself surely the training? Hmm, those kinds of supplementary actions I’ve mentioned can go with Cameron’s Artists Dates, and research. But really it’s clearing a few hours of time, blocking out all that stressful life s**t that constantly threatens to overwhelm, and often does, and getting the butt in the chair.

    Goddamn I need a time machine to next Wednesday, to gain some understanding of what Steve means by training. I don’t recall Steve mentioning ‘training’ in his books? This is an interesting paradigm to explore.

    Sir, please continue with this next week…

  2. Rick Matz on November 17, 2021 at 6:08 am

    The reason that I practice every day is that life just works better that way.

  3. Sam Luna on November 17, 2021 at 10:08 am

    This post reminds me of 2 other bits of wisdom I keep close.

    My Dad told me that when he was in Basic Training (before his deployment to Vietnam) their instructor made it very clear they weren’t being taught to shoot weapons to kill people, they were being taught to shoot weapons so that when people tried to kill THEM they had the ability to defend themselves.

    In her excellent book “The Art of Slow Writing” Louise DeSalvo wrote “I prefer to demythologize writing and frame writing as a kind of work that we do no matter what.”

  4. Brian Nelson on November 17, 2021 at 1:53 pm

    Interesting, and as usual, uncanny timing about what is bobbing around in my head as Steve hits with another truth bomb.

    Battle drills. Not only do they work for the infantryman/team/squad/platoon–they also work in Tactical Operations Centers(TOCs/JOCs…Joint Operations Centers–not Doobie Brothers’ joint..but Army, Air, Navy, in one location) from Battalion to Corps…what to do–EXACTLY AND IN WHICH ORDER–when something drastic occurs.

    We had Battle Drills in our TOC for at least 30-40 different scenarios–from TICs (Troops in Contact) to NDs (negligent discharge) to preparing for a VIP visit. I was indoctrinated/institutionalized enough to believe in these practices from exposure alone, but it wasn’t until we had one of our Soldiers in a TIC in which he was eventually killed that they become Gospel to me.

    Here’s what I understood from that experience. There are times when something is so dramatic that the normal human response is exactly what Steve says about freeze or fog, BUT if action(s) is not taken–things will become much worse.

    When the first call came in from one of our companies that a Soldier was in a TIC–all sorts of forms, reports, and actions needed to be taken–and they were–all while a hanging doubt/fear hung around us like a dark cloud.

    The incident went on for about 2-3 hours in the TOC as more and more reports came in, and we generated more reports to higher. Some of this action was Byzantine in retrospect, but more importantly–it gave us actionable steps to take.

    Now, 15 years later, I think the true value in Battle Drills is about action. We are embodied. We cannot live fully in a cerebral existence–in fact, I think some of the failings of our mental health paradigm is that everything needs to be acted out. We do not live in the Matrix, we live in our bodies on this planet. We need to act.

    Battle Drills beget action. Action solves problems.

    I would really love some specific examples from Steve and others about ‘Resistance Battle Drills’ successfully implemented.

    • Maureen Anderson on November 17, 2021 at 5:35 pm

      Here goes, Brian.

      What about following a rule that if you get a rejection you have to pitch someone else the very same day, no exceptions? Or that you have to take at least one small step toward your dream, every day, no exceptions?

      When our daughter was little she was riveted by my attempts to get published, be on the radio, whatever. She saw me fail much more often than I succeeded, of course. We joked it was straight out of the movie Robots: “Boy, when you pick a lost cause you really commit.”

      Now she credits me for her resilience.

      I recognize my shortcomings, and I build scaffolding around them. Instead of pretending to like vegetables, for example, I made a rule I’d have at least one bag of spinach and one bag of broccoli every week. I haven’t made an exception in more than twelve years.

      Which is not to say I’m not paralyzed by fear (of wasting my life) and Resistance and all that. But the older I get, and with help on Wednesdays (!), the more I love waking up and wondering what I can chip away at next.

    • asd on November 29, 2021 at 11:41 pm


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  6. Tolis Alexopoulos on November 18, 2021 at 12:00 am

    Thank you dear Steve,

    I believe strongly in training/practice too. Not just a bit of it, but a lot. Even concerning our mundane everyday issues -even there it can give us a head start. I wonder if we could train on anything concerning our lives and works.

    Maybe the best trained ones on any field are not defeated even if all their work fails. Because they have built character, and nothing or no one can take that from them -a solid gain, a rock of integrity.

    Also, the best trained ones are those with the most insights (that rose up during the infinite hours of working) and the most abilities concerning finding balance that matches every situation they may be in. This alance, it’s so fragile and fleeting!

    Finally, i think that in today’s competitive world, which is universally competitive, the soldier/writer/professional who will survive long enough to claim the grounds, will be the one who trained in all circumstances and dangers, even the most fearsome.

    Personally the only training ground that I still haven’t faced -only partially- is to work on the book and to work at a job to make a living and to have to attend a family and a child at the same time, while of course facing all other aspects and conditions and needs of life simultaneously. I think that situation is the most difficult training one can face (extreme situations excluded).

    My best wishes to all great people here.

  7. Kate Stanton on November 18, 2021 at 9:50 am

    “When it comes time to take our work to market, we freak, we freeze, we run for cover.” Oh, yes. All of the above.
    This week’s mantra:
    “In an emergency we don’t rise to the occasion, we sink to the level of our training.” So STOP sabotaging and START training, Kate.

    Thanks Steve!

  8. Yvonne on November 18, 2021 at 6:22 pm

    “This new idea of yours is a loser. Let’s drop it.” EXACTLY right where I am now! I so love and look forward to Wednesdays! Thank you, Steve!

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  11. Brian Nelson on November 19, 2021 at 3:25 pm

    I just saw this on FaceBook—if anyone is interested in what Callie as been up to lately:

    No doubt she is a mover and a shaker. Callie does the training.

    • Joe on November 20, 2021 at 7:13 am

      She’s definitely passionate about the things that are important. I miss her Friday morning essays.

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