The Known and the Unknown

When we set out to write a book or a movie—or when we embark upon any innovative venture—we’re taking a step that has terrified the human race since our days back in the cave. 

This isn’t Nordkapp but it’s close

Why is creative commitment so scary? Because when we commit, we’re moving from the Known to the Unknown.

The definition of dream is that which exists only in our imagination. In other words, in the Unknown.

When we say, “Put your ass where your heart wants to be,” we’re proposing a mindset that is designed to outfox Fear of the Unknown. It says:

Don’t try to overcome your fear. Fear cannot be overcome. Instead simply move your will and your intention into the arena you fear… and see what happens.

When we sprint barefoot across the arctic ice and dive head-first into the frigid waters off Nordkapp, Norway, (yes, it’s a real place) we have literally flung our goose-bumped, Speedo-clad flesh into the Unknown.

Inspiring, ain’t it?

DO THE 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.

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THE AUTHENTIC SWING

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.

The-Authentic-Swing

NOBODY WANTS TO READ YOUR SH*T

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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TURNING PRO

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?"

Turning-Pro

38 Comments

  1. Jackie on May 4, 2022 at 4:07 am

    Every day at the desk or easel, ass in the chair, defines badass. Where’s my bikini. Let me dive in! Have a productive week all.

  2. Joe Jansen on May 4, 2022 at 4:07 am

    Looking for some quotes on this topic. These floated to the top:

    “There are things known and there are things unknown, and in between are the doors of perception.” — Aldous Huxley

    “One is never afraid of the unknown; one is afraid of the known coming to an end.” — Jiddu Krishnamurti

    “People have a hard time letting go of their suffering. Out of a fear of the unknown, they prefer suffering that is familiar.” — Thich Nhat Hanh

    (Thanks for the call-out last week, Peter and Maureen. All is well here!)

    • Joe on May 4, 2022 at 5:38 am

      For me, it’s not so much “fear of the unknown,” but “fear of being seen in a pair of Speedos” (which my Australian friend tells me are referred to as “budgy smugglers” down on the prison island).

      • Jackie on May 4, 2022 at 6:19 am

        Budgy smugglers, hilarious! I came across this quote: Barriers are entirely in your mind, and you can choose to accept those barriers, or you can have the guts to dance, to tango with the unknown, to take that first step and see what unfolds. -Albert Lin, engineer, archaeologist, Nat Geo Explorer

        On the note of dance, I attended a wedding this past weekend. I dance as I always do, with no cares. (And yes, I look kooky.) A few women my age also danced. In a subtle way, they began to mock me and laugh among themselves. This was not imagined. I’ve had friends comment that when I dance, I hold nothing back. I thought, yes! I accomplished another successful day because I dared to chance making an ass of myself. I had fun. Dare, my friends, dare to see what unfolds.

        • Brian Nelson on May 4, 2022 at 7:14 am

          Jackie,
          I had a great picture in my mind of you dancing with wild abandon. Cracked me up.

          As for speedos…a couple of buddies and I double-dog dared each other to do a couple of triathlons (olympic distance: swim 1 mile, bike 25 miles, run 6.2 miles). We were in Texas at an AF Base for some continued training after language school–and mid Texas was so flat you could look west and see the back of your head. Basically–it was so boring compared to Monterey, CA that we thought training for a tri would stop boredom.

          The race was in Del Rio, Texas–the lake was warm. So…we show up, never doing a race in our lives, wearing budgy smugglers–and EVERYONE ELSE were wearing wetsuits. As one of the volunteers was using a Sharpie to write our numbers on arms and legs, I look over at one guy sheepishly. He tugs at his wetsuit and says, “Bouyancy!”

          We were SO embarrassed!! 500 people in wetsuits, and us three standing in banana hammocks…
          bsn

          • Jackie on May 4, 2022 at 8:31 am

            I’ve accomplished what I set out to do today, cracked someone up. Thanks, Brian. As for the banana hammock, (my other favorite name for a speedo), You learned that you can’t actually die from embarrassment and came away with a hilarious story.



        • Joe on May 4, 2022 at 7:23 am

          Jackie… following your cue on “the dance.” I’ve loved this passage from the British philosopher Alan Watts:

          “When dancing, you don’t aim a particular spot in the room and say, ‘That’s where you should arrive.’ The whole point of the dancing is the dance.”

          https://youtu.be/gTLYiOg9C6M

          • Jackie on May 4, 2022 at 8:26 am

            Thanks for the link to Alan, Joe. Excellent three minutes or so. Only God knows where I’ll end up when I dance. But isn’t that part of the point, not knowing, but doing it anyway?



      • Brian Nelson on May 4, 2022 at 7:05 am

        Joe,
        Glad your back with your usual comments that invariably have me looking something else up, and going down other rabbit holes I would have never known existed.

        I’ve been on a tear of Bryce Courtenay books–‘Power of One’ is akin to SP’s ‘Legend of Bagger Vance’…first breakout novel. It’s great.

        ‘Four Fires’ is what I’m listening to right now, which explains how eucalyptus require fire to propagate. Historical-ish fiction. If you haven’t read him, I encourage it.
        bsn

        • Joe on May 4, 2022 at 7:16 am

          B! Four Fires sounds good. I like this idea of fire being necessary for renewal and growth. This was something I’d written after a 50-mile backpack in NW Montana (along the Continental Divide Trail in the Bob Marshall Wilderness):

          *****
          The trail crossed into terrain burned by the 2007 Ahorn Fire. As we lost the shade, we pulled on hats and sunglasses. At first look, one might say this land was a boneyard, the skeleton of a forest. Blowdowns and standing trunks, some still with blistered bark hanging on after the 52,000-acre fire raged here more than a decade ago.

          I would overhear a hiker say, “I hated going through that burn area. Hated it.” I looked around and failed to understand the thinking. The trail here was bordered with pink fireweed that’s often first to recolonize the ground after a burn. The spiky scarlet of Indian paintbrush splashed among chest-high lodgepole saplings with their needles a verdant green.

          Lodgepoles are pyrophiles: they love fire. Their cones, tightly sealed with resin, will open and release their seeds only when fire has melted that resin. Viktor Frankl wrote, “What is to give light must endure burning.” Is that part of what’s drawn us to this wilderness in the Rockies? Are we also pyrophiles, seeking the heat of our effort to melt what is binding us and release something new?

          Though the ground was ancient, all the life upon it was new. We were among infants that would grow to shade the bones of their charred ancestors, long after we’d passed through on our short journeys. There was nothing here to hate.

    • Maureen Anderson on May 4, 2022 at 11:05 am

      Here’s my favorite, Joe…

      “There are moments on the brink, when you can give yourself to a lover, or not; give in to self-doubt, uncertainty, and admonishment, or not; dive into a different culture, or not; set sail for the unknown, or not; walk out onto a stage, or not. A moment only a few seconds long, when your future hangs in the balance, poised above a chasm. It is a crossroads. Resist then, and there is no returning to the known world. If you turn back, there is only what might have been. Above that invisible crossroads are inscribed the words: Give up your will, all who travel here.”

      ~ Diane Ackerman, Deep Play

      • Kati on May 4, 2022 at 11:14 am

        That was a wonderful quote, Maureen. Thank you for sharing <3

      • Jie on May 4, 2022 at 5:52 pm

        This is a good one, Maureen!

    • Gerry Lantz on May 4, 2022 at 11:40 am

      Nice stuff Joe! Excessive attachment–even to the point of doing nothing–kills our sense of adventure and the new thrills that await us. Trapped myself right now–where’s the frozen water?! Time to leap in!

    • Johanne on May 5, 2022 at 7:53 am

      Luv these quotes! Thanks Joe 😊

    • Aracely on May 5, 2022 at 7:06 pm

      Great quotes Joe! Thanks for sharing.

  3. Peter Brockwell on May 4, 2022 at 7:27 am

    Wow, great comments guys. From the sublime to the ridiculous and back again.

    The only thing I can add is that Oliver Burkeman in his book ‘4000 Weeks – Time Management for Mortals’ explains that the difficulty we experience with seizing our time for meaningful creative activity, Resistance I guess, occurs because we are force to confront our finitude. Which is a great work, his not mine.

    I think this and Steve’s known-to-unknown transit must be different sides of the same coin.

    Other takeaways today:
    Brian’s ‘banana hammocks’.
    Joe: ‘We were among infants that would grow to shade the bones of their charred ancestors, long after we’d passed through on our short journeys.’

    Cheers guys,
    Peter

    • Joe on May 4, 2022 at 5:54 pm

      Thumbs-up, Peter!

  4. Kate Stanton on May 4, 2022 at 8:49 am

    Haha “budgy smugglers”! This made me smile.
    I wonder if the phones and other devices that exhaust our brains and creativity can be set aside as the ice cold water forces ALL the oxygen away from the extremities and to the brain! Wim-Hof style. Needed this plunge into the unknown today! Let’s do it.

  5. Mia Sherwood Landau on May 4, 2022 at 10:02 am

    I do not have ice cube trays or an auto ice maker in my fridge. That’s how much I don’t like ice. This post was scary, Steven. Almost as scary as my big, bad, Resistance.

  6. Jurgen+Strack on May 4, 2022 at 10:47 am

    “Fear (of the unknown) cannot be overcome!” It’s true.

    Of course, sometimes it’s even worse to know what to expect.

    x

  7. Bing on May 4, 2022 at 10:57 am

    I have to push back on this one. When one moves into the unknown time is involved. One is moving into uncharted territory. One is starting a new journey and has maybe only a precious hint that is calling him/her. A tiny little fire under my ass that is calling me to make a bigger fire. I could go on.
    To run on the ice and jump in the ice water to me is a stunt, a trick, unless it took hours of training. Just say’in.
    Thanks!

    • Gerry Lantz on May 4, 2022 at 11:43 am

      Yes, Bing you are right. Getting in a step at time might be preferred. Or, harder. Jump in or step by step, I need to move forward. Thanks for a reasonable perspective.

  8. Baruch Goodman on May 4, 2022 at 11:37 am

    “. . . we have literally flung our goose-bumped, Speedo-clad flesh into the Unknown.”

    “Literally”? Ouch!

  9. Logan D. on May 4, 2022 at 11:39 am

    I am a 71 year old woman building my dream vacation house from scratch. Talk about scary – in this economy. My contractor tells me it is impossible to tell from one month to the next if the current sky high costs are going to go up or down. When I see how far we are over the original budget set two years ago I get scared.
    But when other people ask; are you going to wait for prices to go down, my answer is NO. Not at my age, not when nobody knows if they will go down or continue to go up.
    I am also writing a novel, and I see a lot of similarities with building a house. You start with an idea of what it will look like when it’s done, but there are many, many decisions to make in order to get there. So you fiddle with your plans. Get rid of this so you can afford that. Ask for help, do more research. Rewrite what you’ve already written.
    Keep moving forward.

    • Alethia Christina Phillips on May 4, 2022 at 1:32 pm

      That’s a great comparison! I am in that “industry” for my regular job that pays my bills. It’s more unpredictable than it’s ever been. I’m sure you feel like you can’t predict anything but neither can anyone else. In this economy, no on has the magical (correct) answer.

      Just like writing.

  10. Marvin Ginsberg on May 4, 2022 at 11:56 am

    How do you move your will?

  11. Jibran Waleed on May 4, 2022 at 12:01 pm

    That’s really inspiring.

  12. Alethia Christina Phillips on May 4, 2022 at 12:33 pm

    Needed all this today… Sitting here staring at my Scrivener screen and drinking a bad bottle of wine (by noon) listening to Cream and thinking yesterday’s work isn’t bad….

    One of those above is B.S. and it’s not the wine.

    Let’s keep writing.

  13. Dea on May 4, 2022 at 12:41 pm

    “Because when we commit, we’re moving from the Known to the Unknown.” What I am coming to love about this unknown terrain Is actually the facing of the fears: not in the moments they’re looming of course…but by standing Spartan firm in the belief of the larger (yet still specific) Self and discovery and expression, they start to fizzle out!. And most of them when actually faced, are found to be a bit like the Wizard of Oz looming large but really being this scared human behind a curtain trying to pull scary tricks all the time. And the space that opens up in this territory is I’m finding, full of wonderful surprises and doors opening that I never would have come upon otherwise. Oh! this as a path is incomparable to any constricted, safe, predictable, boring, old self-preservation-system way. To authentic unraveling and the vast Ocean of energy and possibility beckoning our trust.

    • Alethia Christina Phillips on May 4, 2022 at 1:30 pm

      Boom!! Needed!

  14. Regina on May 4, 2022 at 8:15 pm

    You forgot the part, “Now write until you are in Tahiti!” Ha! It’s gonna sook. Got it. Keep moving.

  15. Alice on May 5, 2022 at 8:52 am

    “Without faith in your ability to grow, you become risk-averse. For people caught in a fixed mindset, failure damages the sense of self.”

    Janzer, Anne. The Writer’s Process: Getting Your Brain in Gear (p. 63). Cuesta Park Consulting. Kindle Edition.

  16. Tolis Alexopoulos on May 6, 2022 at 2:26 am

    Thank you so much dear Steve,

    Fear is huge indeed, especially when the creation as an idea is enormously important and takes years and years until it is complete. But we must find all ways to keep holding on that goal, to never let go until it is materialized. A beautiful quote I found these days at the instagram is: “chase ultimate, not ordinary goals, for even if you fail at an ultimate, you will be a loser far higher than someone who succeeded at an ordinary goal”.

    These days I will enjoy all the comments that our friends made here, too.

  17. Gwen on May 6, 2022 at 6:05 am

    I continue to suffer the slings and arrows of a harsh edit as I make my way through the scenes I rushed to get to my beloved confrontation. I am no longer young which surprises me when I look in the mirror and see a mature woman – one who should smile as she moves non-arthritic fingers across a keyboard. Thanks to these releases – I am getting smarter – certainly older.

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  19. tommchris7 on July 1, 2022 at 8:02 pm

    It is well known that the greatest problems, both personal and professional, are often rooted in a lack of knowledge or understanding of the situation. That may sound obvious, but it is often easier to acknowledge this truth than it is to actually achieve results. 1v1 lol

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