Geniuses are a dime a dozen. The streets of Manhattan are crawling with MFAs from Columbia and NYU, as are the freeways of LA with grads of the USC School of Cinematic Arts.

 I’ll trade them all for someone who knows how to work.

The original cover of “Do the Work,” published by Seth Godin’s Domino Project

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.

do the work book banner 1

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.

noboybookcover

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

37 Comments

  1. Tolis on August 3, 2022 at 2:13 am

    Thank you for the So Important thought dear Steve. It is a core.

    I am starting a master degree in October probably. It seems controversial for a writer but I do it for distraction. I found the easiest one -academicaly important though. Will keep me working in the eyes of others, but in secret I will be writing.

    Who says MD aren’t goof for us? 😉

    I wish great work to all our friends

    • Tolis on August 3, 2022 at 2:43 am

      *good, not goof 😀

      • Kelly on August 3, 2022 at 5:32 am

        You have good eyes. Ha ha

        • Tolis on August 3, 2022 at 12:26 pm

          Thank you Kelly 😉

    • Lin Keeling on August 3, 2022 at 12:17 pm

      Good luck, Tolis! I went to grad school myself, got a master’s in anthropology–because what can you do with a BA in anthro except to grad school? Learned a lot and after teaching for several years, the main thing I learned was that I didn’t want to do that so went back to my art. Hope you get something out of your studies beyond keeping the Wolves of Judgment at bay. And don’t stop writing no matter how tired you get. I did for a while and nearly lost my mind.

      • Tolis on August 3, 2022 at 12:31 pm

        Lin I’m so happy about you! Leaving the main Road to get to your secret path is a great price to pay. And where there are great prices, there are great revelations -no? Thank you for wishing me luck. Damn, my luck is based on my will every day of every year.

  2. Joe Jansen on August 3, 2022 at 4:01 am

    I’ve got an acquaintance who has an MFA from Iowa. He now works for an auto parts distributor, writing technical manuals and parts catalogs. So there’s surely something else required.

    And here’s a VERY funny Twitter account: @GuyInYourMFA

    This parody account, set up by writer Dana Schwartz around 2014, is in the voice of a pretentious MFA student. It looks like she stopped updating this account around 2019, but you can find some gems:

    “Twitter is a scourge upon writing. Except when I’m using it. My tweets are actually creative non-fiction micro-essays.”

    “Considering getting my doctorate in 18th century literature from Oxford. I don’t know. Maybe I’ll just wait until I’m the author of an acclaimed novel and they invite me to guest-lecture.”

    “I’m sure every girl at this bar wants to hear my incredibly detailed thoughts about Jonathan Franzen.”

  3. Jackie on August 3, 2022 at 4:34 am

    I know a woman whose parents paid for her education in full. The educated woman did nothing with her advantages. She doesn’t hold a job. The educated woman is unhappy and shakes her fist at the world.
    Another woman struggled to educate herself while holding a job. The self-educated woman took nothing for granted. Though she held no degree, her education was hard won by hard work. Hard work wasn’t to be wasted. She toils on to give something back to the world. The self-taught woman, after a shower to wash away the toil, dances and laughs.

    • Joe on August 3, 2022 at 5:22 am

      Poetic!

    • Val on August 3, 2022 at 12:12 pm

      Beautiful!

    • Lin Keeling on August 3, 2022 at 12:27 pm

      “The self-taught woman, after a shower to wash away the toil, dances and laughs.”–love that line! I’m pinning it up on my wall to remember to dance and laugh.

    • Tolis on August 3, 2022 at 12:37 pm

      It’s a so strange world, Jackie! Our infinite creative force being based on our capacity to put that ass on the chair. I mean, it’s so unsuspected.

      • Jackie on August 3, 2022 at 2:10 pm

        True story.

  4. Michael Beverly on August 3, 2022 at 7:45 am

    This is a truism, for sure. One note: talent and genius aren’t the same thing. Talent can be developed more so than genius. As a good example, Theodore John Kaczynski was a freak genius but fortunately untalented as a bomb maker (he failed to take down an airliner whereas many other less intelligent buy harder working terrorists succeeded).

  5. Jill on August 3, 2022 at 8:05 am

    That’s just what the dean said when I went to art school > more or less ^_^

  6. Jeff Lubin on August 3, 2022 at 8:17 am

    The most important thing is finding out what you can do (or learn to do) better than everyone else, finding a plan to be able to work at it for your whole life, and hopefully supporting yourself in doing it. This is the hard part for most of us. Finding that thing is 50% of success. The other 50% is figuring out how to put together the plan.

  7. Brad Graft on August 3, 2022 at 8:39 am

    All present value the hard workers. The underdogs. Hell, outworking the other guy is mostly what I got in the arsenal.
    And “geniuses are a dime a dozen.” But we all know what’s rare as hell: a master, a brilliant person, who also possesses (and retains) a relentless work ethic– and is willing to share her secrets/give back…

    Those are the ones who the serious apprentices latch on to…

    Joe Jansen and I recently chatted on this very topic over a burger a few weeks back… I don’t care if this comes off as blatant-ass bootlicking.. My final words to Joe on topic– “Well, I suppose Steve Pressfield may feel a little uncomfortable being called a ‘guru’, a ‘master’. Ah well, if the shoe fits.”

    • Brian Nelson on August 3, 2022 at 9:06 am

      Brad,
      Very well put. My younger brother—and Joe’s brother as well, fit the cast you describe. Alan, my brother, got a 790 math SAT score, but works harder than he is smart.

      One example: in Modesto, CA every school has a park attached—same block or property. The parks all had teens/young adult ‘parks and rec’ types who organized games, sports, and arts/crafts for the latchkeys who went to the park after practice/school.

      Our P&R guy was named Squaker. Don’t know the story behind that nickname, but as kids we thought it was cool—and Squaker was the absolute coolest dude in the world. He also worked as a playground guide during recess.

      Squaker was totally into arm-wrestling, so of course all the kids got into it as well. There was a big tournament we were all entering.

      Back to Alan. He’s a southpaw, an obvious genetic defect, but arm wrestling is for the normies—right handed folk.

      I remember coming into our bedroom one day (we shared a room most of our young lives) and Alan was doing arm curls with a dumbbell. Alan was in the 3rd grade when he was doing this! I, from a previous post, shared that I preferred to rely on talent most of my life. I was in the 6th grade at the time and thought my little bro had lost his mind.

      Not surprisingly, Alan won his weight class. He is not only my best friend, but the person I admire the most in my life. (Caveat my lovely Bride of 30 years next month—but that’s a different kind of love).
      bsn

      • Lin Keeling on August 3, 2022 at 12:24 pm

        Perfect example of hard work paying off, Brian! Which is what all of us left-handers learn at some point: we’re going to have to work harder in the RH world! Good that your brother learned it so early!

        I had a wonderful teacher in 2nd grade who spent time with me after school for I don’t know how long helping me learn how to write correctly. You know why so many left-handers write with their hand curled around? Because that’s what all the illustrations in penmanship show–the right hand. We were just trying to make our hand go that way. I have a lovely antique hand-forged left-handed bread knife my mom gave me with the serrations on the ‘correct’ side. Paul McCartney turned his guitar around so he could play it. I got tendinitis in high school practicing a very difficult piano passage over and over. Figured out thinking back only this morning (63–slow learner!) that if I’d been right-handed, it might not have been so hard. Medicine bottles, Caps of any kind. You name it, left=handers have to adapt to it. Makes us great at persistence.

        • Jackie on August 3, 2022 at 2:15 pm

          Good for you Lin for going the extra mile. I had a friend who wanted to learn caligraphy. She could find no one to teach her. So she taught herself. My daughter is a lefty. She is persistent.

          • Jackie on August 3, 2022 at 2:15 pm

            The friend was lefty.



    • Jackie on August 3, 2022 at 10:47 am

      Agreed Brad, if the the shoe fits… Steve brings us together, shares what he knows, and holds us accountable to ourselves and each other. Master, guru, all around great guy. Thanks to all. Have a productive week.

      • Brian Nelson on August 3, 2022 at 11:29 am

        Jackie/Brad,
        The impact of a legitimate mentor/guru–who is also authentically open and humble is exceedingly rare…and I think that is why we all gravitate towards SP. I imagine he laughs harder at himself than anyone in a room when sharing war stories–I think that is one measurement of growth/character that is visible when trying to identify the ineffable.
        bsn

  8. Brad Graft on August 3, 2022 at 9:41 am

    Great story, Brian. Thanks for the share… Pretty awesome to have that strong of a relationship with your brother (the “almost-twin bro,” I recall, despite the 3-year age difference).
    And VERY wise/nimble recovery at the end.. 🙂

    • Brian Nelson on August 3, 2022 at 1:34 pm

      NO DOUBT. Try explaining that one on our 30th…
      bsn

  9. Franceen Brodkin on August 3, 2022 at 9:46 am

    “God gives talent. Work transforms talent into genius.” Anna Pavlova

  10. Brian Nelson on August 3, 2022 at 11:25 am

    This seems very similar in theme to last week’s blog about talent. Coolidge’s quote about persistence leaps to mind as well.
    “Nothing In The World Can Take The Place Of Persistence. Talent Will Not; Nothing Is More Common Than Unsuccessful Men With Talent. Genius Will Not; Unrewarded Genius Is Almost A Proverb. Education Will Not; The World Is Full Of Educated Derelicts. Persistence And Determination Alone Are Omnipotent. The Slogan “Press On” Has Solved And Always Will Solve The Problems Of The Human Race.” – Calvin Coolidge

    To echo Jackie above, when I interviewed people in the past, I have always been more interested in how they got their education much more than where or what they studied. It seems to me that is where the true lessons are learned.

    Obviously a projection from my own biography, but I have not encountered many people with illustrious pedigrees who were capable men or women when truly pressed upon. Most have folded like a house of cards. Could be the ‘easy living’ doesn’t prepare people for true difficulties.

    When we deployed, I was the Operations Officer and our XO (chief of staff–kinda my boss–but not rated by him–we were both direct subordinates of the Commander) was an Academy graduate, Ranger and Special Forces tabbed MBA from UW. He was a big shot banker in Seattle. Smart guy–by all outward shiny accouterments.

    He was even the temporary commander when our initial commander was relieved just as we got on the plane. (Interesting note on the timing of the Army. We deployed the very day the Seattle Seahawks made it to the Super Bowl for the first time in 40 years. There is an EAD/LAD(earliest arrival date/latest arrival date) for any units entering the theater. We flew on the EAD–Super Bowl Sunday. We tried EVERYTHING to move it one day right, to no avail. We landed in Turkey around halftime. Those bastards would not let us off the plane to watch the game for 90 minutes while we waited on the tarmac for necessary fueling and crew changes. At the time I wished Ebola on Turkey…

    I like this guy. Like and respect are sometimes not closely correlated. He made O6 before retiring–and yet–when the job REALLY mattered, he was a tool. An algorithm could have done his job. He had absolutely no idea what our capabilities as an organization were, never understood the difference between counter-intelligence and Human Intelligence collection (two different career fields, with completely different missions), nor how we supported the Division. He read Fortune magazine most days. The XO is the beans & bullets guy–so it wasn’t critical that he was hyper competent-but it did mean that I felt the burden of handing his planning as well.

    I was so nervous–that’s bullshit–I was terrified–that I would make a costly mistake as the S3. I had never worked at battalion level prior. I was over my head. The S3 is a significant job. We wrote all the orders, did all the planning for every one of our 25+ teams spread all over the country.

    Long story short, my education I pulled from a Cracker Jacks box, never came into question.

    I learned then that pedigree is total bullshit. It is the work. It is the application of knowledge pressed upon the environment we currently occupy. I learned that lesson in combat, but it has taken a number of years to finally shed the insecurity of an education gained by 1-2 classes at night from schools available on Army posts.

    Now that I’m in my 50s–I think an MFA would be an interesting endeavor–but for the enrichment it would provide me in re-reading classic literature, or learning about the Humanities academically. Maybe I’d learn how to articulate the deep feelings aroused in me by some art–and a greater appreciation for the art I do not understand.

    Dan Pink wrote that MFAs are more important than MBAs to CEOs these days. I think both are likely useless–but I understand his point.

    I actually pity those men and women who come from means, who have been protected too much by their parents. This might be an indictment of a significant majority of the Boomer generation. They never had to grow up. Maybe that is why they grip to power so desperately today. They cannot sit quietly in a room alone because deep down–they know they are frauds.
    bsn

  11. Stephanie Raffelock on August 3, 2022 at 11:46 am

    I don’t have an MFA, but I do have a Bachelors in Writing and Poetics. The greatest gift of that degree is that I learned, if I’m going to write, I have to ritualize it — meaning that the computer goes on at the same time every morning, a cup of strong tea by my side, and I work for two to three hours a day. Sometimes, when I have a deadline, I push to work more, but my daily work is two to three hours.

    I think of myself as a small potatoes writer. I have some readers, but not enough to put me on anyone’s public list. Mostly I write because I have to; because it helps me to make sense of life; because I like to make shit up and take some true delight and creating stories.

    This is the first time I’ve commented on one of your emails. I was always afraid that I possibly wasn’t smart enough to contribute anything of value here, but after reading Put Your Ass, I believe that the best thing that I can contribute is, the understanding that the work affects me on a lot of different levels: yes, it grows me as a better writer, but it also grows me as a better human being, which is why I think I keep doing it.

    Sending good wishes, goodwill, and good writing to all of you . . .

    • Jackie on August 3, 2022 at 12:33 pm

      You are safe here Stephanie. I, too, felt like I brought no value. I hold no degree in anything, but taught myself to paint and am learning to write.(Though I’ve been writing for years, I have much to learn). I do not make my living from writing. I am such small potatoes, I’d have a hard time filling a five pound bag. But like you, I love the work and feel less if I don’t put my ass in a chair to do it. Isn’t making shit up the best?! The result is thirty-five published stories more or about a month’s worth of groceries more than if I had quit. Keep on sister. Appreciate the goodwill and good wishes and wish you the same.

    • Joe on August 4, 2022 at 8:34 pm

      Welcome, Stephanie!

  12. Kate Stanton on August 3, 2022 at 12:18 pm

    I’d also like to add, but it often goes along with good work ethic, is a great attitude! Elon Musk said something similar to Mr. Pressfield. To paraphrase, he said something along the lines that he doesn’t care about the education if the personality isn’t there. Attitude and work ethic is everything.

  13. Brad Graft on August 4, 2022 at 3:58 am

    Welcome aboard, Stephanie. Good wishes and good writing to you, too.

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  15. omwow on August 23, 2022 at 11:55 pm

    Man, that’s good to hear. I often regret not having started to do THE work earlier. I’ve been working since my teenage years, but the thing I haven’t done is consistently work on what I truly care about. I wish I could go back in time and just focus on that. It stings a bit to look at lost opportunities and all that “wasted” time—even though I know it isn’t exactly wasted. Maybe I had to make all those experiences. Yet, I wish I’d be a bit further down this path already.

  16. Duck Life on October 6, 2022 at 7:25 pm

    I appreciate your sharing this thought, Steve. It’s the core.

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