How many words did you write today?
This post is on the subject of putting your ass where your heart wants to be, i.e. the process of pursuing your creative or entrepreneurial dream by working for it.
When I sit down to write in the morning, I literally have no expectations for myself or for the day’s work. My only goal is to put in three or four hours with my fingers punching the keys. I don’t judge myself on quality. I don’t hold myself accountable for quantity. (At least not at this stage; later, I will.) The only questions I ask are, Did I show up? Did I try my best?
Here’s what I wrote in The War of Art:
How many pages have I produced? I don’t care. Are they any good? I don’t even think about it. All that matters is I’ve put in my time and hit it with all I’ve got.
In other words, my goal (even after more than forty years of doing this) is simply to park my butt in front of the keyboard and work as hard as I can. I know from doing this for all those years that the physical act of sitting down at my desk for the required hours will produce, without fail, a day’s work.
And I know something more. If I can stack up enough days, enough weeks, enough months, in the end I’ll have a book. I’ll have a movie. I’ll have something.
How did it happen? By putting my ass where my heart wants to be.
Thank you dear Steve, and also thanks for “The Writer’s Desk” book that you mention underneath the picture.
My Muse calls me to correct everything before moving forward, and it seems hard as hell. But indeed, if I do that for those hours that I want to, then I have done the day’s work and feel complete (in a neutral term -no excitement, no glory).
What are we looking for? Perhaps the meaning of life. Abandoning our prude matter and joining the order of the cosmos. BUT we must survive so rules come first. Hours, hours, hours.
Nice post Steve.
We need to become Arjuna, unflinchingly doing what we’re supposed to do and, just as Steve embodies, not attaching ourselves egoically to the results. We know when we’ve achieved this because, as writers, we feel quietly satisfied afterwards.
Let’s reduce this to a practical coordination problem between the butt and the chair…
The title of this post alone accused me; I’ve been stuck for a while. Thank you, Steve, for the nudge back in the right direction.
Much appreciated, I make sure I write consistently.
I’ve always appreciated your emphasis on process and discipline over product. The act of sitting down to meet the Muse and making pages into books are two different things.
Thank you, Steve. Thank you, Stephen King. Two brilliant minds that possess so much talent and yet continually promote hard work. This post reminded me of the last time I watched The Shawshank Redemption, which is one of the best films in my humble opinion. When Red says, “I have to remind myself that some birds aren’t meant to be caged. Their feathers are just too bright. And when they fly away, the part of you that knows it was a sin to lock them up DOES rejoice. But still, the place you live in is that much more drab and empty that they’re gone. I guess I just miss my friend.” That’s good writing. My Wednesday wake up call! I know where I should be right now!
Kate, Red’s words sound like a perfect description of grief, don’t they?
With all of the tips, tricks, techniques, and tools that we chase, it all boils down to this, doesn’t it?
I was listening to Neil Gaiman’s conversation with Tim Ferriss (in advance of seeing Neil speak here next month). About getting words onto the page, he talked about his love of fountain pens on a first draft. You can’t stop. You can can’t really sit there and agonize over a word or passage (you’d end up with a pool of ink on the page). Keep moving.
The Jill Krementz book has been on my shelf for years (a great gift for yourself or any writer in your life). Richard Ford, Stephen King, Toni Morrison, Rita Dove, Isaac Bashevis Singer, Russell Banks, Kurt Vonnegut… They’re standing, they’re sitting, they’re lying in bed. They’re inside, they’re outside. They’re using pens, pencils, computers, notebooks. They’re writing on their laps, at architect’s drafting tables, on the kitchen counter, in a hotel room, in a boat house. Late at night or early in the morning. They’re writing from an outline or they’re freestyling it by the seat of their pants. The thing they have common is they’re putting down one word after another.
Hi Joe! I may or may not be shopping online for an artisan fountain pen from India right now…
Neil Gaiman is another brilliant writer. Toni Morrison. So many that put their ass where their hearts wanted them to be!
Yep. Find joy in setting your shoulder into the plow. And even on the days when you can’t find joy, find satisfaction in doing it. You’re closer to where you’re headed than you were before.
Between this post and a book I’m reading, Ed Catmull’s Creativity, Inc., I wonder if I’m missing the point of my life by trying to figure it out. Does that make sense? Maybe the answer is just to keep working, to trust Steve’s contention that writers write to discover themselves. I want so badly to know what I’m “supposed” to be doing with my life, but all signs point to living the mystery versus attacking a so-called problem.
I share this feeling with you. I have numerous interests/passions, and I’m ‘good’ at a number of disparate things as well. Seems a mostly ‘American problem’: Jack of all trades, 3-letter athlete who never excels in one sport. I think you named is as a ‘wanderer’ a few weeks past.
Jordan Peterson takes a look at ‘flow’ that I tend to agree with. He says that we can ‘feel’ it in our bones when we are at the right place, right time, doing the right thing.
Since retirement, I have tried a couple of different directions with my business–but also leaving it open to other possibilities that are both interesting and areas in which I can provide value.
I’ve always been perplexed by, and a tiny bit envious of those who seem to know exactly what they are supposed to do. Then I read something like this: “Until one is committed, there is hesitancy, the chance to draw back, always ineffectiveness. Concerning all acts of initiative and creation, there is one elementary truth the ignorance of which kills countless ideas and splendid plans: that the moment one definitely commits oneself, then providence moves too.
All sorts of things occur to help one that would never otherwise have occurred. A whole stream of events issues from the decision, raising in one’s favour all manner of unforeseen incidents, meetings and material assistance which no man could have dreamed would have come his way.
Whatever you can do or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius, power and magic in it. Begin it now.” by William Hutchinson Murray
…and think I need to push all the chips in on one particular avenue. I have felt the same way since high school when I had to choose between soccer and basketball–both winter sports where I grew up. Loved them both, was good (but not great) at both–and I ended up going back and forth each year.
Then–back to your dilemma–is this what I’m ‘supposed’ to be doing. My latest method to figure this out is my nascent habit of prayer. Just let me align my will with yours God, cuz I can’t figure it out.
It just occurred to me that Steve might refer to those thoughts of ‘what am I supposed to be doing’ as Resistance. Maybe what you’re doing in that very moment is what you’re supposed to be doing–and those errant thoughts are the distraction/Resistance. Obviously writing this to myself as much if not more than you…
Brian, well said!
“I wonder if I’m missing the point of my life by trying to figure it out.”
I think every human on earth wonders this every day, Maureen, myself included! Read anything by Pema Chödrön (spoiler: her answer is “yes.”)
I both laughed and wanted to cry after reading your post! Especially the ‘Sigh’.
I enjoy Pema…need to revisit myself!
Brian and Sam,
When I’m immersed in work I love I never worry about things like this, so the lesson is obvious. Spend more time working, less time fretting.
I’ll probably always wonder what the throughline of my story is, and that’s okay. I’m still working on it.
Sam, I was goofing around yesterday and said, “Hey, Siri. What’s the meaning of life?” The response:
“Maybe the meaning of life is to find meaning in life. If you find things in life that mean something to you, you’re probably on the right track.”
I thought, “Wow, Siri. Not bad.”
The other thing that came to mind was Joseph Campbell’s response to Bill Moyers’ question about the meaning of life. Campbell said:
“People say that what we’re all seeking is a meaning for life. I don’t think that’s what we’re really seeking. I think what we’re seeking is an experience of being alive. So that the life experiences that we have on the purely physical plane will have resonances within that are those of our own innermost being and reality. And so that we actually feel the rapture of being alive.”
Joe, love, love, love the reminder re our seeking the experience of being alive.
Truth spoken wisely.
I needed this. Yes for my writing, but also in a few other things.
I love this post. The advice is so clean, so true, so dam simple. If one practices this, she will end up with a book, a collection of art, or be a better dancer. When I read this post, it felt warm in my tummy, I can do this! Thank you Steve
Bing took the words right out of my mouth!
Thank you, sir.
Steven, this post is not only read-out-loud, it’s laugh-out-loud true!
Am I the only one who’s heard the story of author who’s wife gave the ultimatum…come down from the attic and have dinner with your family or this will be the last you see of us … wife leaves he gets up and shuts door behind her…continues writing. Thinking Alex Hailey (?) as he was writing Roots(?) Is this urban legend or true?
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Everyone, consider this great parallelism… look at the truth behind the epic trilogy. Look at the “Desk of the Writers” in movies. This flat and almost nonsense scene, if well put with all the others, and with music etc., could (and DID) conquer the hearts of the whole world. It is US, it is every separate scene of OUR works.
Love this introduction so much! “When I sit down to write in the morning, I literally have no expectations for myself or for the day’s work. My only goal is to put in three or four hours with my fingers punching the keys.”
What a philosophy! I imagine lots of people – including me – would write so much more, and so much better, if they only throw away their crippling expectations when sitting down to write, and instead just sitting down to write. Thanks for another illuminating post, Mr. Pressfield.
I did just that … For two years I sat down most days typing .. I listened to coffee sounds 2 or 3 times for an hour a day and that’s how I knew I’d get words on the page. Eventually I completed my first ever manuscript. Thanks to Steve and you guys on this forum too I kept going.
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