The Wilderness Passage is Enacted in a Benighted State

We on our wilderness passage are blind. We’re acting out. We’re clueless.

I know I was.

I had no idea I was even in the wilderness, let alone that it was a passage. All I knew was that I was on a train and, no matter what I tried or how hard I tried it, I couldn’t get off.

This is as it should be.

“Now the word of the Lord came unto Jonah, saying, ‘Arise, go to Nineveh, and cry against it. But Jonah rose up to flee from the presence of the Lord … “

Consider the parameters of a Wilderness Passage.

The reason it starts for you and me is because we, in our ignorance, have pushed ourselves so far away from where we should be that the rubber band has snapped. Our own “life” (very definitely in quotation marks) has ejected us. We have blown up our marriage, lost our job, gotten sent to jail. Our own life has cast us out into the void.

By definition we are clueless.

By definition we are in denial.

If we weren’t in denial of who we really are, we wouldn’t have been kicked out into the wilderness in the first place.

In a way, this blog post and everything else I or anyone else mighty seek to communicate on this subject is wasted breath. The man or woman in the midst of their passage can’t hear us. 

Again, this is as it should be.

The mouse in the maze has no choice but to bang head-first into all the walls. That’s how she learns.

And yet, as we said a few posts ago, we are not alone in this labyrinth. A goddess is with us. My old friend John McCown had a great metaphor for this. He said the goddess taps us first with a feather. When that doesn’t work, she swats us with a nerf bat. Then her bare hand, pow, across the face. 

When that still makes no dent, she gets out the two-by-four and plants it full-force right between our eyes.

We wake up face-down in the gutter with an empty bottle of Jack Daniels beside us. “Oh? Really? I guess I DO have a drinking problem.”

In other words, the state of benightedness in which we pass through the wilderness is our own doing. Like Jonah in the Bible, we are in deliberate flight from that person, that calling, that gift that we know is us, is our truest and best self. We’re in flight for the same reason everyone is. Because it’s freakin’ SCARY to live out that person/life/gift!

Our passage through the wilderness will continue in blindness until we come face-to-face with something (whatever that Something may be) that is even scarier than being or becoming who were were meant to be—and who we have been all along.

P.S. My story of my own passage through the wilderness—GOVT CHEESE: A Memoir—became available for preorder on 12/6. Pub date: 12/30. Signed first edition hardbacks can be pre-ordered at


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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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. Mark Walker on December 14, 2022 at 2:17 am


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      • Nona on January 2, 2023 at 3:36 am

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  2. Lucien Zell on December 14, 2022 at 2:46 am

    The heart breaks to get bigger . . . is one of the main themes of my novel THE RABBI OF AUSCHWITZ. Love that Steven asserts the necessity of getting truly lost to be truly found. Those of us who live at the edge know that’s where the views are.

    I also appreciate his reiteration of the thought that the Goddess/Muse wishes to guide us. The ancients knew: “Fate guides the willing—drags the willing.” How many times my own life has proved that. Here’s another adjacent thought: When the muse comes, she will find me working. I believe that the Muse wants to see us working (even working AGAINST Her) because that’s tangible proof that we are going to be receptive when she actually arrives.

    Because, after all, the violence inherent in the Goddess/Muse’s churning heart may very well NEED to burst out and use that two-by-four . . . seeing as it’s the only tool strong enough to break the steel blindfold off our fate-forged faces.

  3. Brad Graft on December 14, 2022 at 3:16 am

    One key line: “This is as it should be.”

    I believe Steve’s new book will help thousands. Just as the “War of Art” did. As folks read of Steve trials in his personal “wilderness” years back, they will be heartened as they slog through their own, knowing they will get to the other side better for the experience.

  4. Tony White on December 14, 2022 at 3:24 am

    Is there any advice we can give to young person who is about to go on their hero’s journey — and knows it? Or who is in the middle of their hero’s journey? Should they try to talk themselves out of it? Dive deeper into it? Enjoy it?

  5. Michel DuBil on December 14, 2022 at 4:47 am

    “Then I am a Jedi,” he said.
    “First you must face Vader,” replied the Master.

  6. G Star on December 14, 2022 at 5:10 am

    “And who we have been all along.” The woman I see has always been in me. Patiently and sometimes impatiently watching me wander and drift, walk, skip, dance and run through the wilderness. We like the woods, sometimes we hold hands and sing! Thank you for writing outside. I am grateful to read it.

  7. Somtochukwu on December 14, 2022 at 5:57 am

    Thank you for the post.

    I’m sorry, but is it not obvious who the being we are running away from is? IT IS GOD! The same person Jonah was running from and couldn’t find a cover to hide himself? The one who allowed him a moment of mental reset in the belly of the whale?

    The wilderness creates/makes us if we answer the call on our lives from birth – to become the people the creator had in His mind when He created us.

    A choice really. Accept or refuse, all on you.

    • Cathy obrien on December 14, 2022 at 6:01 am

      Its dark here.

  8. Maureen Anderson on December 14, 2022 at 6:33 am

    Finding something scarier than living our destiny is critical. Dying with regret for not doing it? Bingo. Except I never really understood it until I started watching someone do exactly that. Is there anything more heartbreaking?

    A couple of days ago I stumbled on a reference to a decision I’d made 1/31/22 to spend ten hours a week on the one thing that matters. I didn’t do it once! Not cool. Not with everything I’m supposedly learning here. I woke up the next morning from a dream about a great big chicken, which is me. How can I have devoured practically everything Steve’s taught us about resistance — and lose almost a year to fear? Now I keep ten pieces of elbow macaroni in a bowl, and transfer one piece to a different bowl as I rack up those hours. I’m determined to have more progress to report here a year from now. Working crowds out the fear, I’ve already noticed, and is its own reward. It’s the only time I feel like a good kid, really. So 2023 is shaping up to be the year of peace — we shall see — and I hope the same is true for all the friends I’m making here!

    • Brian Nelson on December 14, 2022 at 7:50 am

      “Working crowds out the fear., I’ve already noticed, and is its own reward.”

      This is something I’ve been wrestling with in my own mind just recently. I’ve been trying to understand why, when I witness vulnerability it opens my heart–but when I see ‘willful weakness’, I feel contempt.

      This is self-revulsion turned outward of course. The contempt is for myself when I am acting cowardly.

      But why? To be fearful is to be completely self-absorbed. Me, my, I, myself..whoa is me…

      The material world is so convincing, so real. Hunger is real. Pain is real. Or so we think. The pain, the really deepest pain, is from hiding from our inner gold.

      I doubt any self-respecting ingot of ore looks forward to smelting. Yeah, sure, burn most of me away in a fiery pit! Looking forward to it. Can’t wait.

      The ore is incapable of seeing the gold within, as are most of us.

      When we instead look up, look to others, become focused on our purpose–the fear vaporizes just like you said. It crowds it out. Hard to feel upset when filled with gratitude or joy. Same principle applies.

      AND–it has been my experience as well–that the work then becomes its own reward. That is what Krishna meant (IMHO) when he says, “…but you have a right to your labor.”

      Looking forward to a future macaroni report.

      • Nom de Plume on December 14, 2022 at 8:51 am

        Maureen, “Working crowds out the fear” is perfect. So true and so succinct!

        Brain, another dross reference? Are you taking up metallurgy? (The metaphor is spot on.)

        This topic is another example of the different streams merging. Jordan Peterson said that we can use fear to overcome fear. (Paraphrasing of course:) There is a dragon standing between you and the mountain you want to climb? Well, what are the costs of not reaching the mountaintop? Pain, regret, an unfulfilled life? Be afraid of that and use it as fuel: let it become a bigger, meaner dragon chasing you from behind, and you’ll be able to shout “Outta my way, Shorty” and charge up the mountain.

        • Brian Nelson on December 14, 2022 at 9:19 am

          You’re right–that smelting metaphor has gripped my attention as of late. I think of it often when I’m doing something difficult that must be done…which is essentially everything that is not wasting away in front of a screen pining for my next dopamine hit…

          JBP frequently talks about those parts of us that must be burned away to become our best selves.

          Have you listened to his Biblical lectures? I have re-listened to all 14 episodes 4+ times, fascinating. I re-listen as often as I re-listen/read Pressfield’s ‘Turning Pro series’.

          • Nom de Plume on December 14, 2022 at 4:17 pm

            I haven’t listened to his bible series, but with that recommendation I will.

            And cheers for dopamine hits — in moderation.


    • Kate Stanton on December 14, 2022 at 8:21 am

      An inspiring post today, Maureen!! Your previous fear has turned into precious FUEL for the new year. You’ve got pasta to cook up and peace to bask in. Yes, Steve. It’s the WORK. Must get back to it myself…

      Merry Christmas and Happy New Year <3!!

    • Gerry Lantz on December 14, 2022 at 8:50 am

      Working crowds out the fear–bravo, well-said. And even better when lived!

      • Maureen Anderson on December 14, 2022 at 10:03 am

        Thanks for the love, everyone! Though now I’m worried I accidentally borrowed that line from someone else. Oh, well. At least I pulled it out at the right time.

        As for a “future macaroni report,” I’ve already made a note to weigh in this time next year with that. Anyone want to join me?

        Happy Holidays, and thanks for being part of the reason I’m looking forward to the new year 🙂

        • Brian Nelson on December 14, 2022 at 10:46 am

          I’ve been a part of a few ‘men’s run groups’ over the years. When an email/text group would go out, “Gents, gonna hit Solo Point tmrw @ 0600…” the most common response from others has been simply “In.”

          So, in that light, “In”. 10 hours a week. Documented. I’m in.

          • Maureen Anderson on December 14, 2022 at 11:15 am

            Won’t it be great to not only see who we are a year from now, but feel so much better in the meantime for the reaching?

          • Nom de Plume on December 14, 2022 at 4:18 pm


    • Lin Keeling on December 14, 2022 at 10:07 pm

      ‘In’ Maureen. Love the macaroni bowls idea!

  9. Ed Hinman on December 14, 2022 at 6:55 am

    Self Awareness is key. Thanks Steve for another great post!

  10. Jesse on December 14, 2022 at 7:28 am

    Oh that two by four… I had a good laugh at the hard truth of that. Thank you Mr. Pressfield.

  11. Jo on December 14, 2022 at 8:44 am

    I can relate. Thanks Steven, for posting regularly.

  12. dea tennacour on December 14, 2022 at 9:17 am

    As always you light the path and keep the travelers moving, with faith, forward one footstep at a time. Emerging from the wilderness a bit disheveled is Way better than the alternative, and I will be forever grateful for you and your platform for seeing me through. All best always….Dea

  13. Word Woman on December 14, 2022 at 9:37 am

    A battered copy of The War of Art has sat on my nightstand for the past twenty plus years while I tried (and repeatedly failed) to finish a novel that I began in 1992. The only advise I feel entitled to offer others is the observation that the task gets incrementally harder if we allow regret and self loathing to take up residence in our mind. The goddess never forsakes us even when we lose faith in ourselves. Write on no matter what….

    • Lin Keeling on December 14, 2022 at 10:09 pm

      You only fail when you stop. Each day brings a new opportunity to start again. A lesson I have learned the hard way; if you don’t do the work, it hounds you until you take it up again. Or you get hit by another 2×4.

  14. Tolis Alexopoulos on December 14, 2022 at 11:26 am

    Thank you dear Steve,

    In the night the knight of our soul may wander aimlessly.

    In the night he may see not the dragon nor the golden treasure.

    But if he holds his spear long enough, he may understand that darkness is all.

    It is the dragon.

    Only the mask of solid purpose may identify it.

    The road extends before our eyes.

  15. Brian Nelson on December 14, 2022 at 12:10 pm

    So…had to look up the word ‘benighted’. I have misunderstood this word my entire life. I think I always thought it was spelled ‘be-knighted’–like something good.

    Here’s my dictionary app definition: 1. intellectually or morally ignorant; unenlightened. 2. overtaken by darkness or night.

    Steve’s entire theme of ‘the wilderness’ became even clearer with this one word.

    Intellectually or morally ignorant. That is so close to home it burns.

    I have been seduced, my entire life, by the allure of the material world, material success, competing with the Joneses–while nonetheless experiencing true joy, connection, peace, gratitude while doing something hard, miserable, usually in the shitty weather—usually with others (sports, military, large civic efforts) still my mind has pulled me back to this lie about materialism.

    Steve writes his non-fiction pointed to the creatives, but I’m beginning to believe he is writing to everyone. We are all creatives–but the vast majority of us are easily put to sleep by Huxley’s Soma (iPhone, video games, 24-hour news, porn, cheap carbs) this venture into the wilderness is the passage for all of us.

    Our rationality, which we hold so dear in the West, actually handicaps us to truth. I’ve come to believe I need to feel my way to truth, and most of those feelings/senses are synonymous with pain. Pain seems to be the only instructor from whom I actually learn.

    Intellectually or morally ignorant. Wow.

    • Jackie on December 14, 2022 at 1:27 pm

      Excellent post today. A lot going on right now, but had to weigh in.” My brother and I had a discussion about materialism. He said that whoever said “money can’t buy happiness is wrong. You aren’t happy if you’re worried about paying a heating bill, etc.” He couldn’t understand that I might be able to find happiness in the most dire of circumstances. Indeed, I have. We agree to disagree. Maureen, I just bought a two pound box of macaroni. I’m in. Great week and happy, merry everything to all.

      • Maureen Anderson on December 14, 2022 at 2:13 pm

        I’m smiling so big I’m almost worried I’ll break my face, Jackie! I’ll never look at my humble pasta noodles the same way again. Every time I anticipate moving one from the “to do” bowl to the “have done” bowl I’ll get a little hit of happiness just from what’s going on here today. Thanks!

  16. Gene C on December 14, 2022 at 1:46 pm

    Today’s postings reminded me of the pit I hit the bottom of 20 years ago. I crashed and burned and at the very apex of horror, made the sudden vow I would become a better person from it. Had no idea how and the roiling abyss continued stabbing at my gut for several years. I paid a terrible price. Today, facing everything I did, I’m know I’m a better human being. Which reminded of Eudora Welty; when someone asked her how to become a better writer:

    :”Be a better person.”

    Being better, choosing to really examine ourselves, opens the internal closets and corners where we hide and casts light so we can share more of our selves in our work, fuse truth into our words.

  17. Joe Jansen on December 14, 2022 at 6:58 pm

    Hey! It’s still Wednesday, is it? [Checks his watch.] 2130 ET. Great! I made it in under the wire. Y’all have the wilderness discussion nailed down, so I’m going to make a lane change with my comments. Many of you probably know of Tim Ferriss: books include The Four Hour Work Week, Tools of Titans, Tribe of Mentors (that last one features a section with Steve). Tim is a fascinating guy who has interesting guests on his podcast. His most recent guest is Steve:

    I’m listening now (2145 ET, presently), and will add comments here. Kinda like live-tweeting it.

    First comment: at about 00:16:30 in the conversation, Tim and Steve talk about “choosing names” for fictional characters. This made me think about what Elmore Leonard had to say on the topic of the character’s name (and whether the character can talk). Here, Elmore is writing in the voice of one of his characters, who is describing HIS perspective on how Elmore handled it:

    “What he does, he makes us do all the work, the people in the books. Puts us in scenes and says go ahead and do something. No, first he thinks up names. Takes forever to think up names like Bob and Jack. Jackie for a woman, a female lead. Or Frank. Years ago anyone named Frank in one of his books was a bad guy. So then he used Frank as the name of a good guy one time and this Frank wouldn’t talk, refused to come out and become the the kind of person Elmore wanted. So he changed his name to Jack after thinking of names for another few weeks, and it felt so good he couldn’t shut the guy up, I mean this Jack, not Elmore.”

  18. Elizabeth C. Page on December 15, 2022 at 5:49 am
    Grief is like that. Being run over by a steam roller.
    And like Wiley E Coyote, I’ll pop back up to be rolled over again.
    This too is a passage–mine.
    My husband of 37 years came close to losing his life this week.
    His passage is clear. He’s been pouring light vs. scotch over the last nine years.
    “Some people change when they see the light. Others change when they feel the heat.”
    Now, I’m en route to meet who I’ve long been but forgotten.

    Thanks for posting.

    @ Maureen, I”m in .

    • Joe on December 17, 2022 at 4:58 am

      Hope he’s doing okay, Elizabeth.

      Resonates: ““Some people change when they see the light. Others change when they feel the heat.”

      In AA, they call that “high bottom” and “low bottom.”

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  20. Maureen Anderson on December 15, 2022 at 7:35 am

    “Maureen, I’m in” is my new favorite phrase. And macaroni is my new favorite word!

  21. Frank Gugino on December 16, 2022 at 1:29 pm

    “When looking back at your life, you will see that the moments which seemed to be great failures followed by wreckage were the incidents that shaped the life you have now. You’ll see that this is really true. Nothing can happen to you that is not positive. Even though it looks and feels at the moment like a negative crisis, it is not. The crisis throws you back, and when you are required to exhibit strength, it comes.” Joseph Campbell
    from A Joseph Campbell Companion

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