My first agent was a gentleman named Barthold Fles. He was seventy-six; I was twenty-nine. One day over coffee Bart asked me, “How much is 427 minus one?”

 I gave the obvious answer: 426.

“No,” said Bart. “It’s zero.”

He was speaking about pages in a novel.

427 minus one = zero

If the full book is 427 and you’ve written 426, you haven’t got 426/427ths.

You’ve got nothing.

Bart didn’t need to say any more. I went home and got back to 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.

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. Tolis Alexopoulos on January 19, 2022 at 2:41 am

    All the other pages are inches of ground that we claim, so as to reach that fortress-page.

    Until that day, it’s just us against the fruitless ground of marches.

    We don’t find a short passage, there are none.

    We can’t fly, nor use vehicles, nor be thrown from the sky. Only use those feet we have, our mind, and our survival kits.

    And if will fail, none will claim that castle.

    Thank you dear Steve, I wish everyone a great working week! Survive and conquer.

    • Cheri on January 19, 2022 at 7:49 am

      I love this!

  2. Jackie on January 19, 2022 at 4:21 am

    I’m unsure who said it, but I came across this quote, “An amateur writer has the most beautiful first half of a novel you’ve ever read sitting in their drawer. A professional writer has a finished piece of junk that they are working to make better.” I raise my glass to all the finished pieces of junk. Cheers! Thanks, Steve and all for being here. Let’s all aim to finish.

  3. Sam Luna on January 19, 2022 at 5:47 am

    Finished work that nothing happens with doesn’t get enough credit. It’s incredibly useful. First it gives you a sense of accomplishment and the muscle memory to repeat the process. But second and most importantly you build a morgue to pull characters, scenes and plot points from. There’s too much emphasis on the marketing and selling of finished work, especially in the book world. Not everything is worthy of public consumption. A lot of stuff you just finish for the sake of it, and store it, and then one day realize what you really need to do with it or better yet cannibalize it to write something better.

    • Derek on January 19, 2022 at 10:35 am build a morgue to pull characters, scenes and plot points from.”

      Guilty on all counts, but sometimes a name or character is too good or too familiar to forget about. I tend to reuse names, it could just be that I’m used to typing them.

  4. Brian Nelson on January 19, 2022 at 6:24 am

    This might not be the same, but it is where my mind immediately went.

    I spent 25 of 27 military years in the intelligence community. Suffice it to say, these men and women, are generally not the barrel-chested, steely-eyed, athletically oriented group of people in the military. It is where the artists of the military find themselves…that and the band. They are linguists. Intellectuals. Musicians.

    The APFT (Army Physical Fitness Test) consisted of three events: 2 min push-ups, 2 min sit-ups, 2 mile run. There are minimum and maximum numbers of repetitions for pushups and situps (42 pushups minimum when I first joined, and 82 was the max). They are adjusted for age/gender (oh my!). The run had to be completed between 11:56-16:56 (17-21 year old male).

    Many of my Soldiers would do the minimum number of pushups to pass, then get up. Their thinking was ‘save some energy for the run’ which is the event that created most APFT failures. It drove me crazy. I hated it.

    When I took command, I told my company, “If you stop doing pushups before the 2 min are complete, I will kick you in the ribs and give you a ‘needs improvement’ on your evaluation. I am less interested in how many pushups you do but more interested in how hard you will work for it.”

    Finishing strong, like so many other good behaviors, takes practice. How we do anything is how we do everything kind of thinking. I always looked at the APFT as a reminder of what it feels like to ‘leave nothing’.

    The irony for those of us who’ve held back in most efforts is we miss the heart-opening optimism and joy that comes from all out effort. Maybe it is God’s way of nodding approval and saying, “Well done. Now feel this.”

  5. Kate Stanton on January 19, 2022 at 6:50 am

    Bart sounds like a fascinating human being that lived a very full life. Helping authors that were blacklisted. Playing the violin. Polyglot. Wrote a book on Dvorak. Now Steve is sharing his experiences with him with us–proof that after we die what we do while we are here matters. Beautiful things…

    Inspired by the last line…I should get back to work! Songs don’t write themselves.

    • Joe on January 19, 2022 at 9:32 am

      Kate… From Bart’s wiki page, I liked:

      Anaïs Nin … left him [as a client] soon after she joined his client circle, citing unorganized business conduct as a reason. “Bonjour, friend, and good-bye, literary agent”, she wrote to him. In biographical notes on Fles, however, she stated that he had refused to take on her boyfriend Henry Miller. Miller himself also had hard feelings…”

      Shows that there’s always another side to the story.

      • Kate Stanton on January 19, 2022 at 10:39 am

        Nice catch, Joe! It makes me wonder how many sides there are to every story. His, hers, and finally what is the truth?!

  6. Paul J Triller on January 19, 2022 at 8:15 am

    Short…and very much to the point.
    Back to work…no excuses.

  7. Brad Chambers on January 19, 2022 at 8:59 am

    As a 30-year veteran Navy Intelligence Office, Brian’s post brought back lots of memories of the yearly PT test. Not all of them positive!
    And the description of the intelligence community is apt. The best analysts have a creativity and talent for linking what may appear to be unrelated pieces of information into what in the intel world is called an assessment.
    Right brain thinkers are valuable, no doubt, but so are the creative “What about” types that see outside the box.

    Something I haven’t seen Steve or anyone mention, although in my opinion it’s in the same ballpark, is researching, prepping, and writing a speech or presentation at a conference. How to fit what needs to be said into the time constraint you’re given. What kind of presentation should it be: narrative only, narrative with Powerpoint, narrative with sound effects, etc. Not the same challenges as writing a novel, but challenges nevertheless.

    I have had a couple of topics playing around in the back of my brain for some time now (and since I hear so many of you screaming, “What are they???” one is “Leadership Lessons of Ted Lasso”). But, to the subject of Steve’s post, I don’t have 426 pages completed, I don’t even have 4 pages. Just an outline. Waiting on me to get to work.

  8. Adam Schwartz on January 19, 2022 at 9:29 am

    As we say in Indiana, “Get ‘er done!”

  9. Rene Remington on January 19, 2022 at 9:40 am

    Steven, your agent was a terrific teacher. Home run hit today. Thank you

  10. Joe Jansen on January 19, 2022 at 9:42 am

    Today’s is like a Zen koan of Writing Wednesday posts. I did a little search for “writer quotes on finishing.” These were a couple of the good ones:

    “I went for years not finishing anything. Because, of course, when you finish something you can be judged. I had pieces that were re-written so many times I suspect it was just a way of avoiding sending them out.” – Erica Jong

    “Whatever it takes to finish things, finish. You will learn more from a glorious failure than you ever will from something you never finished.” ― Neil Gaiman


    “I think I did pretty well, considering I started out with nothing but a bunch of blank paper.” – Steve Martin

  11. Gerry Lantz on January 19, 2022 at 10:00 am

    Wendell Berry the great Kentucky poet/novelist is appropriate here I think:
    “Our Real Work”

    It may be that when we no longer know what to do
    we have come to our real work,
    and that when we no longer know which way to go
    we have come to our real journey.
    The mind that is not baffled is not employed.
    The impeded stream is the one that sings.

    • Joe on January 19, 2022 at 12:40 pm

      That last line is a good one.

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  16. Carla Kuhn on February 10, 2022 at 11:10 am

    I am not an initiate of writing or authoring or manuscripting, so you’ll have to inform me. I am not exactly sure what this example is pointing out. I reckon that those 426 pp may need a 427th not for any arbitrary page count reason. Rather, that the last page ought to leave the reader exactly where the previous 426 well-written pages should have conveyed the reader. In other words, 426pp transported the reader to that exact place that first compelled the writer to take up the pen and craft the story that needed to be told. The 427th is where reader steps off into that place of feeling what s/he had not ever felt before.

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