David Baldacci is the mega-million bestselling author of Absolute Power, The 6:20 Man, Simply Lies, and many more. Here is his All Is Lost Moment and Epiphanal Moment (my interpretation, not his) derived extremely loosely from his MasterClass on Mystery and Thriller Writing (which I highly recommend.)
Mr. Baldacci was a successful lawyer, but his dream was to be a writer of fiction. The short version is after many tries and near-misses, he arrived at one final disappointment that convinced him his dream was never going to come true. In other words, an All Is Lost Moment.
For days, David Baldacci struggled with despair. Was he doomed forever to be a lawyer and nothing more? Then he had an epiphany.
He decided not to fight what he considered the verdict of the marketplace. Heartbreaking as it was, he yielded to what the Big Publishing Suits told him.
But, he said to himself, “I don’t care.”
“Okay,” David Baldacci declared to himself, “I might never see a novel of mine in print. Hollywood may never make a movie based on one of my yarns. But that will not stop me. I’m a writer,” he said, “and I’m going to keep writing. I don’t care if Random House or Simon & Schuster never publish my stuff. Life is unbearable for me if I can’t write. So I’m going to keep writing, success or no”
Why is this a Badge+Gun moment?
Remember, in the classic Cop Story idiom, when your boss takes your shield and your Smith & Wesson, he is yanking your mainstream credibility. You no longer have the full force (or any force at all) of the law behind you. But he, your supervising honcho, cannot take your moral credibility. Only you control that.
In The French Connection or The Silence of the Lambs or any of a thousand other Good Guys versus Bad Guys epics, the shorn detective keeps on going. He or she stays on the case, even at peril to his or her own freedom or worse.
That’s what David Baldacci did.
He dismissed what he believed at the time to be the verdict of the mainstream marketplace. He decided to pursue the case on his own.
There’s a happy ending to this story. David Baldacci kept writing. And it turned out that his All Is Lost Moment was a false alarm. He was a good writer. Readers did clamor for his books. He did realize his dream.
But the critical moment, for his own soul (and for the goddess), was when he turned in his badge and his gun and kept on writing anyway.
Thank You, I needed this!
I am not a writer but sure am a fan of Mr. Pressfields writing! This Badge + Gun n particular is VERY close to my heart & gave me a real boost that I will remember. VERY MUCH APPRECIATED ♥️♥️♥️
This resonates on many levels. Becoming a writer was the first domino to fall in my loyalty to conventional wisdom and my commitment to what seems “realistic”. Why do we wait for permission to be who we are? SMH. Thanks for the inspiration!
Mr. Baldacci did it his way. Happiness and success.
I turned in my badge and gun last week. My life. My control. Happiness. Who cares about success on someone else’s terms.
On the topic of “what does a writer do after rejection,” I thought of this letter from Norman Maclean to an editor at Knopf. I can’t say I have all the facts straight, but my understanding is that Knopf initially accepted Maclean’s manuscript for A River Runs Through It and then rejected it. It was eventually published by University of Chicago Press in 1976… and ended up being nominated for a Pulitzer.
Knopf editor Charles Elliot (perhaps unaware of his company’s previous history with Maclean?) reached out to Maclean in 1981, inquiring whether Maclean had any works in progress that Knopf might consider.
This was Maclean’s response:
Dear Mr. Elliott:
I have discovered that I have been writing you under false pretenses, although stealing from myself more than from you. I have stolen from myself the opportunity of seeing the dream of every rejected author come true.
The dream of every rejected author must be to see, like sugar plums dancing in his head, please-can’t-we-see-your-next-manuscript letters standing in piles on his desk, all coming from publishing companies that rejected his previous manuscript, especially from the more pompous of the fatted cows grazing contentedly in the publishing field. I am sure that, under the influence of those dreams, some of the finest fuck-you prose in the English language has been composed but, alas, never published. And to think that the rare moment in history came to me when I could in actuality have written the prose masterpiece for all rejected authors – and I didn’t even see that history had swung wide its doors to me.
You must have known that Alfred A. Knopf turned down my first collection of stories after playing games with it, or at least the game of cat’s-paw, now rolling it over and saying they were going to publish it and then rolling it on its back when the president of the company announced it wouldn’t sell. So I can’t understand how you could ask if I’d submit my second manuscript to Alfred A. Knopf, unless you don’t know my race of people. And I can’t understand how it didn’t register on me – ‘Alfred A. Knopf’ is clear enough on your stationery.
But, although I let the big moment elude me, it has given rise to little pleasures. For instance, whenever I receive a statement of the sales of ‘A River Runs Through It’ from the University of Chicago Press, I see that someone has written across the bottom of it, ‘Hurrah for Alfred A. Knopf.’ However, having let the great moment slip by unrecognized and unadorned, I can now only weakly say this: if the situation ever arose when Alfred A. Knopf was the only publishing house remaining in the world and I was the sole remaining author, that would mark the end of the world of books.
Wow… that’s quite the elaborate kiss off.
And coincidence, this was the next thing I looked at during my morning scroll (should be “morning stroll”). Talk about carrying on after an all-is-lost moment. Just wow.
That’s heartbreaking! This is the depth of love people dream of and a test of it that no one should have to face.
I feel this tragedy as if it was my own. I whispered in my husbands ear, as he was passing on to his lighter body, after soo much pain and struggle, that I would find him again. And I will. Love can never be underestimated.
Oh god, it bothers me so much that I made the comment I did, or any of them really. This is, in fact, a truly tragic story that hurts. I honestly wish I could delete every last thing I wrote today, but alas, no way to edit them into oblivion. Sorry.
Honesty can leave a person feeling vulnerable, Kathy. I appreciate you sharing what you’re honestly feeling. You’re safe.
I’ve been thinking of this since I saw it, Kathy, and when I saw Joe’s response I felt bad I hadn’t weighed in earlier. Because I’m conflicted every time I show up here…
It’s tempting to want to share everything in this space because it’s so nurturing!
Your writing Wednesday,s and insights you share are a delightful source of inspiration. And the usually come in the precise moment. I follow your work but what marvels me more is you desire to help others to fulfill their dreams thru it. For me that is the true heroe’s journey. Taking the time to give wihile being succesful. Thank you very much! I liike to share with you a short film preview regarding violence against women. An “opera prima” made possible with a little help of my friends. 🙂 Here is the trailer link: https://youtube/XlLnDVtWsHE
What a priceless nugget. I love Mr. Maclean’s stories. I will treasure this one too. Thank you for sharing.
Your writing Wednesday’s and the wonderful insights you share on them are a delightful source of inspiration for me and others. They, as other say, come in the precise moment.
I follow your work but what marvels me even more than your accomplishments is you desire to help others to fulfill their dreams. For me, that is the true heroe’s journey. Taking the time to give while being succesful. Thank you very much for doing that.
I like to share with you a short film preview regarding violence against women. An “opera prima” of my making that was made possible with a little help of my friends.
Instagram y Facebook @fundaciontimeart
I think at some point, to preserve sanity, a writer– or artist or musician or what have you– needs to come to this conclusion. Most of us will not see a fat publishing contract or retire on our writing. That doesn’t mean the writing doesn’t need to be done. It doesn’t make the stories burn any less within us.
I did a beta read for a traditionally published book (The Woman in the White Kimono) and the publishing house slashed it to ribbons to make it more commercially viable. The author was held hostage by the carrot of fame. That is when I decided my novel was better off without a gun and a badge and I published it through a small publishing house. It’s in print, I can hold it in my hands, it’s at the local library, and I pick up my royalty check from the book store tomorrow. If I’m lucky, I can get myself lunch with the funds. Maybe one day my traditionally published short stories will catch someone’s attention and I can upgrade to a fancier meal ticket. For now, I’m content with a gas station sandwich and a coffee. My book exists. I don’t need no stinkin’ badge.
I’m with you C.M. A little story to share.
I have two cousins, brothers, who are highly successful by the day’s standards. Dave was associated with some fortune list or whatever. Our family doesn’t measure success by lists but in the answer to this question: Are you an asshole? No is the only correct answer to be considered a success.
By his brother Don’s estimation, Dave met the criteria. (Dave was active in his community, a caring, giving man.) We were reminded of true success as Don gave his brother’s eulogy focused on Dave’s kindness and participation in society and not on his job and money.
Don offered me this advice: Screw the patriarchy. Do it your way. Though this thought stewed for awhile within, it took Steve’s gun and badge push to do just that. Congratulations on your success C.M.
Thank you for the compliment and for sharing your story.
Nolite te bastardes carborundorum
I love how your family measures success, Jackie!
Thanks Maureen. We hold ourselves to high standards.
David said, “Life is unbearable for me if I can’t write, so I’m going to keep writing success or no.” I am 85 yrs old and I’m 100% all in. I am very excited about total transformation, I am an artist and love to write. I am working on my second art book. I am reading two books at the moment which I am enjoying, “Choose To Win” by Tom Ziglar and “being black” by Angel Kyodo Williams and of course I keep reading Steve. My point is I must keep putting this stuff inside me. Love to you all.
Thank you. With this in mind, I will begin my writing practice tonight.
Then the publisher of, I believe, Warner (now Hachette) took the ms of ABSOLUTE POWER with him on a cross-country flight, read it the whole way, got off, went straight to a payphone to call his agent and offered him $2M.
Another fascinating aspect of ABSOLUTE POWER: It’s told in the first person by the boyfriend of the niece of the burglar played by Clint Eastwood in the movie. He’s entirely removed from the film, which focuses entirely on the burglar.
Ohhh… I LOVE all that you wrote, Mr Pressville and all the comments after. Thank you all for your generosity.
Very interesting. Just yesterday I heard an excerpt with David Baldacci on Sirius XM Radio doing his Masterclass.
What I did not know was his ‘all is lost’ moment. Very inspiring. Thank you for this.
Seems that : when you drop what “ other” says ( and the need for their approval to give you an identity ) then you not only move forward but you discover a blast of new creativity and inspiration. Why? Because our own self estimation is what usually holds us back!
Thanks Steve for what you share!! It takes me out of my “ others say” every time !
The day I typed “The End” on draft 1 of my first book was my badge and gun moment. It’s like the circus elephant tethered to the ground by a rope and stake realizing if it just yanks its foot up hard enough, it’s free. Years of conditioning to scrape and bow to the gatekeepers gone in an instant. I wish everybody this moment.
this is the 1st time i write here, although i have been a spectator for a while.
I always feel invigorated after i read through these. Not to mention your books.
So THANK YOU, 1st of all !
I too have been struggling with writing fiction (on&off) for several years. I’m 41.
You, more or less end-up being my mentor. After reading and listening to you, i come back to my stories.
(Sometimes i even listen to you just to recover my spark, in order to get back to writing. )
I don’t usually feel many doubts when it comes to knowing Storytelling is my vocation. And, after i read “The War of Art”, i no longer needed to make myself believe writing is my ‘thing’.
But i am going through a “Turning Pro” phase, yet again _ being able to keep it together, and return to the page everyday.
In this case, Baldacci had his lawyer gig going, while he was struggling with the fiction writing. (i am assuming)
You had the truck-driving gig, farm work..and others..
I believe that is vital, not only as experience for one’s writing endeavors, but also, naturally, for keeping bread on the table, while one writes.
I am currently ‘’between jobs’’ as they say.. I often struggle to hold a job.
I reckon i need permission from myself, to think of me as a writer, and keep at it for a year or two, full time.
Have you got any input on that ?
There’s a line in the movie Robots that feels like it was written especially for me: “When you pick a lost cause, you really commit.”
It’s a family favorite, because my daughter’s seen me fail much more often than succeed. She’s also seen me loving every minute of the actual work, though, and credits her spirit to watching me live.
Kind of makes me reconsider what “fail” means!
Maureen, your daughter has an excellent role model.
I decided a couple years ago to stop selling my art, even prints of my art. That has set me free. If people like it, or not, it’s nothing to me.
I’m creating for the purity of art.
Taking away a price tag or accolades, has stopped tainting my vision about who I am and why I’m meant to do art, any art. If I write a poem, story or song; if I sculpt something with passion that even scares people, because they are not in tune with their own sexuality, or whatever; if I paint a woman, feeling her angst or power, none of it is attached to anyone but me. Their opinions are irritating, but not as fatal, as they have felt in the past.
I withdrew, because yes, there are monsters in the closet and overhead and I have chosen to mute their obnoxious voices.
I’m sorry there are people who choose to dampen creativities voice, but I won’t let them in deep enough to manipulate what comes out of me. Yes, I feel belligerent and angry about it all. How dare anyone manipulate anyone? I simply can’t have that smudging things. How does one grow as a creative whilst waiting for a paycheck for it? Being practical, my muscles, in my past, might have been for sale to make money in other ways, but no longer is my heart. Not anymore.
I love this story. I can relate wholeheartedly. Writing is a way of expressing myself and without it, I feel like a boat without a sail lost in a giant sea. It gives my life purpose and meaning. And I will not let anyone tell me that I can or cannot write. I will continue to write. I won’t think about the outcome; only the process.
Thank you so much dear Steve,
I almost enjoy the impressive force of the Resistance these months as you already know. You wouldn’t believe how hard it strikes, not even you (I know you would, just bringing up the emotion). It is emperor Palpatin in his spaceship as he tells Luke to go to the ship’s window and watch his alliance’s fleet getting destroyed. It is the stewart of Minas Tirith when he gets himself behind the embrasures only to watch the enemy’s army, which is greater than every man would ever have seen, marching towards his idle city.
Strangely, in my case it takes a form that is so difficult to inspire (Palpatin, the army of Mordor etc. at least inspire the men of Good for what they are, but what inspiration can things like job, being good, organizing, ballancing, having to do things, meet co-workers and communicate and negotiating etc. bring? Ah, I sometimes envy those people with great, dark enemies. Our enemies are powerful emperors too, but perfectly dressed in sheeps’ clothes so we can’t even feel the opposition that would bring forth the Hero within us. That could be another trick of Resistance -the perfect Sheeps’ clothes).
But there it is. The soul is waiting for it’s moment to come back. And it also seeks out to absorb all of Resistance’s doings although it’s not sure how to do it. The way I try to do that is to live the shadows’ experiences to the fullest, so as to gain experience. That experience may be of value when it is only energy after a while, without the apparels of the really un-interesting things here. I also try to remember the basic self development principles to help me in these confusing times.
Only to make this example concrete, I write what I did today: in the morning, work (teaching). Then a phone call to those important people who support me. Then tending a family for about 4-5 hours. Then my office manager asked me to find some ideas for the meeting they’ll have tomorrow, to see if there are some good ones to suggest to the minister -so I started digging out. Then some important things to do for another person. Then it will be too late (about 23:30) because tomorrow I must wake up early and if I don’t sleep for about 7 hours minimal I will be vulnerable to sickness etc. On my notebook, there are also other things awaiting for my attention like our inheritance on this new land and the roads that have opened ahead and my new strategy plans. I will even have to look for a home now. I can’t even open Iliad or Odyssey to read! Every day is similar, and new responsibilities -quite charming and challenging- arise.
But the inner soul tells me that maybe, just maybe, all these are wood for the fire of the self. Just maybe. And I don’t choose all these randomly, I can see the book getting done in the future. Resistance vs Assistance every moment.
I am in a badge and gun moment of my writing. Reading this was inspiring.
Thank you, Steven.
Interesting. Last night was my last night at my “Day Job”. Now it’s just the Studio full time. Can’t wait.
Handed in the Badge and Gun last night. Your message today was very apropos.
Where in the structure of the story does the Badge & Gun work the best?
Great timing! I started out writing, published a few books as Indie and with small publishers but kept saying music was my first love. So I started pursuing my real dream – music. But just today,I thought to myself how tired I am of putting myself out there awaiting the Magic approval of others. Submitting, promoting, hoping for streams, likes, shares, sales, etc. I was going to stop doing all that. I don’t want to do anything that requires that. But I can’t stop making music So I will put it out there because music wants to be heard just as books want to be read. But I’m handing in my gun/badge of approval/getting noticed and creating my music my way in defiance of any response. Ha!
As always a post filled with important insight. You are right. This is what it takes to move on.
Try to kick the door down and keep going…Gotta keep going….
I have just emerged from a bewildering three days of negative self-talk (and not writing at all) at a time when I am days away from publishing a book of poetry– written while struggling with the edits to my novel –and I am not a poet nor a huge poetry fan, but there we are. Again I’ve found the voice of solidarity here and watched shame and doubt be shoved to the far corner, which is their rightful place. Thank you!!
Thank you, Steven.
I have spent thousands on writing courses and coaching and met many rejections.
Once on a whim, I submitted a short story about my time as a peacekeeper in the former Yugoslavia in 1993. Pure whim. The story, Peacekeeper’s Coffee beat out 5,000 other entries for a place in Chicken Soup for the Canadian Soul. I was paid and later read my story on national radio. I re-wrote it and gave it to a fund raising project and later had it mentioned on a national television station. Since then I have written 9 books. Rich yet? Nope. Pissed off? Nope? Going to keep writing? Oh yeah.
Thank You for Writing Wednesdays. Your writing is so great and I am waiting for next Wednesday. Geometry Dash Unblocked
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