The Muse tests us

The goddess tests you and me 24/7. She flies over and peers down on us. What she wants to see is that we are dedicated to the journey, to the process, that we are in it for the long haul and for keeps.

The Muse knows if we’ve been naughty or nice

What she doesn’t want to see is that we are attached to the real-world outcome of one specific project.

The Muse hates that because it shows that we have misapprehended the nature of her alliance with us and of our apprenticeship in her service.

 “Keep working.”

The pro athlete who gets cut from his team, the ballerina who is let go by her dance company… both must go home and immediately begin training for their next job, even if they doubt they will ever find one. 

The sent-down wide receiver must head over to the local college and recruit one of the young quarterbacks to work with him, alone and at night if necessary, throwing passes on the practice field, letting him run routes, helping him keep his technique sharp. The ballet dancer must sign up for class at once, continue her strength training, keep up her barre work.

For you and me, finishing Book #1 (or #21) means only plunging in immediately on #2 or #22.

We have to.

That’s the goddess’ law.

 “Keep working.”

Posted in

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

39 Comments

  1. Joe Jansen on June 1, 2022 at 3:26 am

    I read something last month that talked about how nothing is static — everything is in motion. Reality viewed as “processes” more than “things.” Digging around to find my source (which I suspected might have been something Alan Watts said), I came across this quote from him, which serves as well as anything:

    “Advice? I don’t have advice. Stop aspiring and start writing. If you’re writing, you’re a writer. Write like you’re a goddamn death row inmate and the governor is out of the country and there’s no chance for a pardon. Write like you’re clinging to the edge of a cliff, white knuckles, on your last breath, and you’ve got just one last thing to say, like you’re a bird flying over us and you can see everything, and please, for God’s sake, tell us something that will save us from ourselves. Take a deep breath and tell us your deepest, darkest secret, so we can wipe our brow and know that we’re not alone. Write like you have a message from the king. Or don’t.”

    • Joe on June 1, 2022 at 3:49 am

      Okay… love it. I went to sit for morning meditation (listening to Sam Harris’s “Waking Up” app). He leads with: “Okay, just sit comfortably. Recognize that everything you notice is appearing as a pattern of energy.”

      When we’re talking about the Muse wanting “to see that we are dedicated to the journey, to the process,” maybe it’s not just about the “process of hauling your ass out of the rack, process of sharpening your pencil, process of putting words down on the page.” Maybe she wants you to see that you are the process.

      https://dynamic.wakingup.com/daily/SHDC2BA83CA7

      • Kate Stanton on June 1, 2022 at 7:49 am

        “Keep working”
        But, Steve! My ego is a little girl stomping her foot right now. She wants immediate gratification. She wants hand outs. She wants instant recognition. That wounded little girl shouts so loudly sometimes. She wants order and control.

        Joe, your meditation may be the Rx I need for a tough lesson in letting GO! I will be clicking on the link during my lunch break!

        I fall down 7 times, get up 8…and so on.

        Thank you Steve. Thank you friends.

        • Joe on June 1, 2022 at 3:46 pm

          I really like Sam’s guided meditations, Kate. Pop back in and let us know how you liked it.

    • Brian Nelson on June 1, 2022 at 10:16 am

      Joe,
      Loved this comment. Need to read more of Alan Watts. I was thinking on my run this morning about why it is that we need to ‘come together’ and accomplish hard things. Why in the world would people pay money to show up and run 26.2 miles with 30,000 of their ‘not-so best friends’? Why do a Spartan Race. Why enlist in the Army. Why subject oneself to double-days in triple-digit weather? Why wear scratchy wool uniforms and march with others to play music?

      My take. We need to be reminded of who we are. What is inside of us. It is challenging to see it in ourselves, but when we are surrounded by others modeling this courageous, selfless, strenuous approach to life–well, then we might get a glimpse of what is inside of ourselves. We have a model on how to live. We are surrounded by individuals confronting their own heroic journey.

      We model that behavior. We want to be worthy of their respect…so we don’t quit. It is infinitely easier to quit on oneself than to quit on another person…

      We are also communicating, implicitly by our actions, that we are trustworthy. We are capable of confronting the world. Then we actually feel safe. Why? Because we are connecting with trustworthy people who have demonstrated they are up to the task of life. The existential terror of existence is abated, even if only for a moment, because we are no longer alone. We are connected with the best humanity has to offer–and that is simply courageous men and women confronting the world.

      Like Steve says in “Turning Pro”, and frequently in this blog–I NEED YOU to produce your art, whatever that may be. It is oxygen to my cynical, frightened, lonely self who is certain something lurks under the bed. It gives me the courage to take the flashlight and investigate the big scary myself. We are no longer alone.

      It is likely why I continue to show up here each Wednesday. I need to be reminded of who all of you are. Here it is in writing. My preferred domain is on the stairs, on the track, on the field, outside the wire…but it is all the same. We are stripping ourselves to our skivvies. Naked before the Gods. Now that is some hardcore rocket fuel for me. That is what I get out of Alan’s quote above.
      bsn

      • Joe on June 1, 2022 at 3:50 pm

        Good thoughts, B. Another from Alan Watts that syncs with what you’re saying (“We need to be reminded of who we are”):

        “You are an aperture through which the universe is looking at and exploring itself.”

      • Tolis Alexopoulos on June 1, 2022 at 10:01 pm

        Thank you Brian! Yes, the struggle of all those people is to have some kind of purpose in Life. A life with purpose is So beautiful. I can sense an “under the bed” fear accompanying that struggle of every wo(man), I may be wrong, but that may be more than normal -even necessary in this small life!

    • Maureen Anderson on June 2, 2022 at 7:23 pm

      This quote will haunt me forever, Joe. I hope!

      Thanks!!

  2. Yvonne on June 1, 2022 at 4:58 am

    “…both must go home and immediately begin training for their next job, even if they doubt they will ever find one.” I love this. Such an act of faith to pick yourself up and dust yourself off when you don’t hit the intended goal or when you fail, but it’s also a test of the Muse’s to see just how committed we are to keep going in spite of falling short, I think. In any any event, as you said, no matter what, keep working and don’t put any attachments to the outcome. Great advice, and a great reminder. Thanks, Steve!

  3. Anonymous on June 1, 2022 at 7:05 am

    Oh man have I been guilty of “misapprehending the nature of her alliance” with me over the last year or so. Only recently getting back on track with the deal she and I struck … that pages are not necessarily on the way to becoming books, they’re just pages, and as Virginia Woolf said “whether they matter for ages or only for hours, nobody can say.”

  4. Callie B. Elwayns on June 1, 2022 at 8:52 am

    This is so timely! Thank you for the reminder – expressing our art for the sake of it and letting go agendas. Sometimes – many times – I forget this. I disconnect from
    the muse and instead become transactional. Then … the gift loses its colour, its texture and its deeper meaning. It all becomes driving and forcing. Doing the work from a position of disconnect – or – doing the work from the longing and the gift of the muse. One has panic and one has a deep luxurious breath. Either way, I have to do the work! I might as well let the muse dance me through it. Thank you for this reminder Steven. I’m so grateful for your wisdom and generosity.

  5. Melissa AC Sheperd on June 1, 2022 at 8:59 am

    (She) “flies over and pees down on us….” what… oh. PEERS. ….peers down on us.
    Damn dyslexia!
    But sometimes it does feel like she’s peeing down on me.

    • Brian Nelson on June 1, 2022 at 9:53 am

      Melissa,
      That was the best thing to read all week! Caught me totally by surprise, and I laughed out loud.
      bsn

  6. Peter Gardner Sutton on June 1, 2022 at 9:01 am

    Geez, I wish I had something deep to add but in the interests of whatever honesty I have left I have to shamefacedly admit that I’m hopelessly a shallow sinner. God forgive me!!

    • Brendan Drury on June 2, 2022 at 1:13 pm

      Is Telamon’s appearance first seen in ‘The Virtues of War?’

  7. Joan on June 1, 2022 at 9:08 am

    I’m beginning to trust this other part of me a little more. I always trusted the “other one” so very much. She was capable. She got things done. She was… invincible, it so I thought.
    Thank you ever so much for the encouragement.

  8. Joan on June 1, 2022 at 9:09 am

    *or so I thought. 🙂

  9. Kati Reijonen on June 1, 2022 at 9:41 am

    Okay – here´s a basic question for you from your sad Finnish friends: why should we keep writing? Why not gardening or baking or – I don´t know – whatevering? Writing is an industry of fierce competition and poor income. It’s hard!!!! It is impossible not to compare oneself with other, more successful writers. Ego is all over the place.

    That said, I started a secret blog (in English) that no one but me reads. It´s fun! And very productive as I seem to get great insights when I write to myself. The text is raw and genuine. It is also a good way to practice my English.

    • Jackie on June 1, 2022 at 10:24 am

      Yea, go Kati! Kati, I ask myself the same question EVERYDAY, “Why writing?” The muse does not guarantee a payday. You presented the answer, “It’s fun.” Harder than hell, but so satisfying and a million other feelings that I don’t get from gardening or baking or even from a long, hard hike in the mountains. (The hike was close though.) Thanks Steve and all for the words of encouragement. Joe, loved the quote, thanks.

    • Joe on June 1, 2022 at 3:54 pm

      Kati, I like the aphorism that we’ve heard before: “You have the right to your labors, but not to the fruits of your labors” (was that the Bhagavad Gita?). When you say “no one but me reads… it’s fun,” it makes me think that you’ve got a handle on it. (Gladly, on the quote, Jackie.)

    • Mary Frances Connelly on June 3, 2022 at 1:28 pm

      Kati, Your English is excellent! I’d love to read your secret blog. From a Philly Irish girl

  10. Gigi Blackshear on June 1, 2022 at 10:10 am

    Damn! I hate you! Steve, you have been kicking me in the butt for years. I reread The War of Art (again)! Listened to Turning Pro on Audible (again) and am knee-deep in The Artists Journey as we speak (again). I am writing already! Writing and praying that this bloodletting will end. Three books in and hating and loving every goddamn minute of it. The Muse just sits there and smirks, while Resistance is throwing a Maelstrom and sucking all of the air out of the room. Break over, pen in hand, head down let the bloodletting begin (again). Love always <3
    ~Gigi

  11. Tolis Alexopoulos on June 1, 2022 at 10:48 am

    Thank you dear Steve and Joe, Kate and all people. I wonder who the Muse is.

    Is she a companion?

    A light that can guide us showing the way to the elysian fields?

    Us in an aspiring form?

    A Mother? A Lover? A Goddess?

    Creative logic and the law of causality?

    I can’t see. I can only hope.

    I keep working though, finding ways to regain my discipline when I lose it. Maybe one day I’ll see her in her true form. Or maybe not. I could be tempted to ask her to give me help, but it just doesn’t sound right. I think Resistance will answer my cry, disguised as The Lady, The Muse.

    • Jackie on June 1, 2022 at 2:47 pm

      Keep moving Tolis. The muse visited me while driving today. No rhyme or reason other than I’m beginning a new project where my thoughts are at this time. Not much on paper yet. I don’t question her, but thank her for the visit. Stay open.

      • Tolis Alexopoulos on June 1, 2022 at 9:51 pm

        This was a so lucky moment for you, Jackie! I consider the phase that you’re in as the most beautiful and enlightened throughout the whole journey of a project. Don’t leave not one detail to chance now!

    • Joe on June 1, 2022 at 3:58 pm

      Tolis, I wonder if the Muse isn’t some aspect of ourselves (as is Resistance). In that we’re all reflections of one unitary thing. A singularity. Again, that second Alan Watts quote above: “You are an aperture through which the universe is looking at and exploring itself.”

      • Tolis Alexopoulos on June 1, 2022 at 10:07 pm

        Thank you Joe! I often make thoughts about this singularity. Lately, on the fact that although we are all different selves, from another point we are just one thing, that Life thing, and we are all just it -being a human or a creature. We (not even We, maybe It!) just use… different points of view. So Magical!

  12. Jürgen Strack on June 1, 2022 at 12:03 pm

    Tolis – maybe it’s more like the law of favourability? In other words, beginner’s luck 🍀 :). It’s from The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho I’m reading (to help my writing) right now. It says ‘when you want something, the universe conspires to help you achieve it’.
    BW

    • Tolis Alexopoulos on June 1, 2022 at 10:15 pm

      Thank you Jurgen! You reminded me of a thought, I think it was from a famous Samurai: that when we will finally go through all life/expertise full circle, then we will be once again as amateurs like in those first days, full of excitement and wonder. Then the beginners luck may be so much greater! On the meanwhile, having worked for some time on that project, it all seems in vain and non-exciting now. Who said that Steven King said that writing is like fitting pipes or driving a truck. So courage out there, one day it may seem so dull and mechanical before we reach a new level! But I don’t know yet, haven’t reached the very end.

  13. Skip Raschke on June 1, 2022 at 12:04 pm

    Yes the Muse tests us–every damn day!

    TY, Steve, as those of us who once more go into the breach (every damn day) get your point !

    sr

  14. Peter INot on June 1, 2022 at 10:25 pm

    Do you feel the Muse or only imagine?
    How is your relationship?
    Do you communicate with her?
    It should be opposite gender for individuals?
    Can it be child, parent, flower, animal or mountain?
    Is she your friend? Best friend?
    Do you ask her for help every day, minute?
    Do you thank her everyday or for every minute, hour of your work?
    Do you have balanced asking & thanking?
    How do you feel her on golf place?
    Do you swing or putt with her?
    Thanks for answers.

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