Report From the Trenches, #20

A further update from the front …

I reported a few weeks ago about the experience of massive self-doubt on a new fiction piece I’m just starting. This has been superseded in the past week or two by a period that I’m sure we’re all depressingly familiar with:

When you work hard hard hard every day and see absolutely no progress.

I don’t know if there’s even a name for this. The closest I can think of is John Keats’ “negative capability.”

Whatever it is, it’s a trial that definitely separates the pros from the amateurs. Can we take it? Can we keep slogging?

The place I’ve read most about this phenomenon is in accounts of athletes. The pole vaulter who hits height X but just can’t get past it. The miler whose times refuse to get better, no matter how hard she trains, recuperates, etc.

I’ve read about it in football or basketball, like the famous time when Phil Jackson installed the “triangle offense” with Michael Jordan’s Chicago Bulls. The team “buys in.” It works and works … and just keeps losing. They can’t get over the hump no matter how many times the coach implores them to “trust the process.”

In other words, this shit is normal.

It IS the process.

What’s weird for me is that I’ve gone through this fifty times on previous projects, but I always FORGET how hard it was. Looking back, I remember struggling a bit … but not like what I’m going through THIS time.

Bottom line: Resistance takes many pernicious and diabolical forms—and this is one of them.

Are we pros? Can we “play hurt?” Alas, there’s no hack or trick for this (or for any of Resistance’s schemes) except to keep muddling through.

Did you ever see the PBS pic, “The Gathering Storm,” starring Albert Finney and Vanessa Redgrave, about Winston Churchill’s wilderness years in the late ’30s before he was called back to His Majesty’s government as First Lord of the Admiralty?

Albert Finney won an Emmy for his portrayal of Winston Churchill in 2002’s “The Gathering Storm.”

Churchill had a motto during those years (at least in the TV pic) he called “K.B.O.”

Remember our motto: K.B.O. Keep Buggering On!

If it was good enough for Winston, it’s good enough for me.


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


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. Howard B Sweeney on March 20, 2024 at 2:00 am

    What I have found to be helpful and explain to my teams:
    The five stages of most projects – Formulation, Concentration, Low Momentum, High Momentum, and Maintenance:
    Formulation – the fun part at the start, that most of us enjoy
    Concentration – 10 units in and 1 unit out (the grinding it out – the painful part)
    Low Momentum – 1 unit in and 1 unit out
    High Momentum – 1 unit in and 10 units out
    Maintenance – keep it going and maintain High Momentum – if you backtrack and lose momentum, you will likely get to start over at concentration (bummer).
    Please keep the five stages in mind when the going gets tough. It provides perspective on how almost every project goes. This is a natural and expected progression. It is also useful to distinguish what stage any project is in.

    • MICHAEL R LOMBARDI on March 20, 2024 at 2:33 am

      this is outstanding Howard. thanks for sharing.

    • Jeff J on March 20, 2024 at 6:08 am

      Good way to think about it, thanks.

  2. Jonathan Way on March 20, 2024 at 2:08 am

    This is one of your best ‘Writing Wednesday’ reports yett. Thanks, I needed it.

    Jonathan Way: an insecure screenwriter looking to turn pro.

  3. MICHAEL R LOMBARDI on March 20, 2024 at 2:35 am

    Another masterpiece Stephen. So good and in sports we call this developing confidence without evidence. it’s hard, but we cannot lose our confidence in spite of the lack of evidennce, which you have accomplished over your incredible career. The process will reward us. thank you for sharing your wisdom every day…

  4. Big ERN on March 20, 2024 at 2:49 am

    First off I just want to say You’re a Legend! You don’t know how many times you help me get over humps (Cause you don’t know me). But this was exactly what I needed to read this morning. My wife and I started a business selling sports cards. We started out on fire but now it seems no matter how many Ads I write the sales just aren’t coming in. I was getting discouraged last night and was full of self doubt. Then I remembered the part in The Alchemist where I think it was the crystal shop owner that said when you start on your dream the Universe gives you “beginners luck” and you have success right off the bat. Then the Universe makes it suck to test you to see if you really want it. I feel like that’s where I’m at with all the Ads I’m writing and not seeing any results. Then I wake up at 5 am and read that beautifully written Email and then I KNOW that’s where I’m at. Thank you so much Steven for the inspiration and all the entertainment you’ve given me over the years. You’re the GOAT!

    Big ERN

  5. Paul Garrett on March 20, 2024 at 2:49 am

    I once heated a similar quote from Churchill:”When you’re going through hell, keep going.”

    • Randy Gage on March 20, 2024 at 4:40 pm

      “When you have to walk through Hell, might as well strut like you own the goddamned place.” 🤣

  6. Gregory on March 20, 2024 at 3:58 am

    Thanks for coming back to negative capability, Steven. If we can dance with negative capability we can confront and solve many of life’s/the world’s problems.

  7. Jackie on March 20, 2024 at 4:08 am

    Chapter Eighteen, the bane of my existence. Yesterday, I finally typed through it, fist pumped the air, and did a little dance. The husband thought I was crazy, but he kissed me and gave me a hoorah. (And the words,” keep going.”) Wise words heard from several sources.
    Hit a wall at the gym, too. Pulled a muscle and must let it rest. But that doesn’t mean I don’t go and work the other muscles. I’ve had to be creative in my approach to my workout.
    Keep buggering on. It helps to know that others who are more accomplished still face the same shit we do. Love the honesty you share.

  8. Tolis on March 20, 2024 at 4:18 am

    Thank you so much dear Steve.

    I had a paper stuck on my drawer until it was torn apart, it was Martin Luther King’s: If you can’t fly, run. If you can’t run, walk. If you can’t walk, crawl. But whatever you do you’ve got to keep tryin’.

    The metaphor of the Elephant and the Ant words that I wrote about a few weeks earlier may fit here. Suddenly (after the frst blast, where ants are elephantish) we want our work to be something extraordinary and thus the mere words (and paragraphs) following our surface mind -or surface energy or surface flow- seem now like ants, not like elephants, in temrs of power. Why is that? Perhaps because our mind knows more than we do (and it does). It knows deep in that unconscious or wherever else, that the first inspired actions of creating, which were flowing like a river, were the tip of the iceberg. They were as beautiful as when a sea traveler suddenly sees for the first time an iceberg’s tip from the ship! But in a while the traveller -and we as creators- gets really bored of *only* that. He won’t stare at it gloriously forever. So we go to a state, beautifully said by Panoramix from one of the Asterix comics series, if I recall well: “Happy is he, who knows the causes of things” (he probably used an already famous quote then).

    So the tip of the iceberg is gorgeous. When you FIRST see it. Then it becomes a cliche, because it’s beauty is only it’s sight. And then it becomes material nothingness. Then what? Since you’ve seen the tip, you know that the rest of the iceberg is like that too, right? Yes you do. So even when the traveller sees the rest of it, he/she won’t be so impressed! They will be a little, but not as much as when the saw the tip (ah, which brings us to the notion of love at first sight too, I guess it probably has the ending of the iceberg metaphor too).

    So then what?

    Ah, yes, here come the causes. The earth’s ground that holds the pool of the sea. The creatures’ dramas around the iceberg. The weathers and the far-away poles which turned water into ice. The earth turning around. The shimmering light and the possible miniature rainbows that come forth between the semipermeable parts of the iceberg. It’s effect on the ships — look at Titanic for example, how much emotional weight would someone give that certain iceberg? One could even deify it. The circle of earth that impacts the circle of Life. The cold around the iceberg, the hot waters that are attacked by it’s frozen cold etc.

    But all these need so much time. And they’re only the tip of the iceberg. <3

    So maybe that's what happens when we keep sitting on that chair. The storm of causes thunders us with it's gorgeous and not so gorgeous forces as long as we sit there.

  9. Scott Bowlus on March 20, 2024 at 4:36 am

    Great post! The phrase that came to my mind in the recent past is “the Gods Love shitty reps”. I really wasn’t wanting to get in the gym that day and it was indeed mostly “shitty reps”. But half-assed is always better than no-assed. It’s become such a mantra for me that “going to do some shitty reps” is what I say to my wife before I go to the gym or the studio.

    • C.M. O'Slatara on March 20, 2024 at 4:54 am

      YES! Love that analogy. I have written many scenes where I sit and look at it and say to myself, “Well, it’s garbage, but at least I wrote something.”

      • Steven Pressfield on March 20, 2024 at 11:32 am

        I saw a quote once from Frederic Raphael, who co-wrote EYES WIDE SHUT with Stanley Kubrick. “Work is when you have pages at the end of the day that you didn’t have when you started.” Notice he didn’t say GOOD pages. I agree 100%!

  10. Terry Weaver on March 20, 2024 at 4:45 am

    Steve, I’m in the same boat dude. Every day I wake up with fear and doubt about the biggest project I’ve ever taken on. When it gets to be too much, I go for a walk and listen to The War of Art, which confirms we know we are doing what we are supposed to be doing when we fear and doubt it, that damn haunting resistance wants to keep us from our purpose.

    Thanks for that Brother! Keep on!!!

  11. C.M. O'Slatara on March 20, 2024 at 4:50 am

    I am going through this myself at the moment. I’m up and ready, but my novel is just laying there like a teenager doom scrolling social media. They seem to get this way when they are nearing some stage of first draft completion. So, I stopped writing and did scene work, character arcs, structure. I went back to writing– energized. Nothing. The novel wasn’t hungry and didn’t want to come to the table. It’s infuriating. So, I wrote a short story instead. Then I wrote a drabble (a story of exactly 100 words). They both cooperated. I’m convinced it’s not me. Hahaha.
    Today, I will try again with the novel and see what happens. All I can do is keep pestering it.

  12. Jim Woods on March 20, 2024 at 5:07 am

    I’m reminded of a Churchill quote, “if you’re going through hell, keep going.”

    Perhaps there is an innate bias we have as humans where we minimize struggles of the past and maximize the struggles of today. The past gets fuzzy but today’s problems are crystal clear.

  13. NK on March 20, 2024 at 5:41 am

    We would love some reccomended readings from you, Steve, especially fiction. Thank you for doing this 🙂

  14. Fernando Bérdi on March 20, 2024 at 5:49 am

    Excelente. “Continuar bugando”.
    Resiliência X resistência. Se não houvesse resistência, que penso ser natural, orgânica, não seríamos desafiados e cairíamos na acomodação e até na inércia. A resistência é uma m… mas é uma dádiva.

  15. Em McDermott on March 20, 2024 at 6:06 am

    Needed this this morning! I’m an indie author finishing my third novel who isn’t making money at it yet. Will publish again soon and I hit a rough patch of self-doubt and mega Resistance. Even though I’ve taken a lot of action steps to turn pro, the lack of results I’m getting sometimes has me feeling like a total amateur. It’s nice to read that someone so pro and so experienced still experiences this as hard. It’s not just me. Thank you.

  16. Kathy on March 20, 2024 at 6:12 am

    As always, thank you!

  17. Mike Swearingen on March 20, 2024 at 6:13 am

    Wednesday is perfect for these threads. Middle of the week push! Keep Hammering!

  18. Alex T on March 20, 2024 at 7:03 am

    As always, your topic is exactly what I needed makes me think a motto we use in our family “Just keep swimming.” From Dori in Finding Nemo. Yes it’s Disney and not Churchill – but same message! When I get to spots where I am feeling in the spot of work work work but no forward momentum – I often try to do something that I know gives me instant gratification of success – like working in the hard arm or cleaning something out . That gives me the push to get back to the work that is a slower process.

  19. Craig Lueck on March 20, 2024 at 7:33 am

    “Slogging”. I do like that description. Feels mucky. I suppose when I’ve slogged on for a while, if and when I look back at my tracks, I guess I have still made some kind of progress. This creative process is messy business. Then there is that embarrassing sucking sound in my head – “Craig, you suck!”. Maybe it’s just physics playing with me, doing what it does. That slogging resistance, that suction under foot can feel relentless. Fine. Ok then. Feelings are not facts, right? Must keep slogging! Also need to change my boots. Traction is needed. Especially today. Thanks Steven.

  20. Sionnach on March 20, 2024 at 8:25 am

    I can really relate to this post! I also experience this with every book. I just escaped it with my current project. After months of “buggering on”, writing a feeble 300 words a day of dreck, I snapped out of it. I think, for me, it was going back to my outline. Seeing the story as a whole reminded me how much I love this story and why I wanted to write this book. I got excited about it again and started writing my usual 1500 words a day of slightly better dreck.

  21. Mellie Smith on March 20, 2024 at 9:03 am

    When I paint (watercolor) I have two points when I go through the greatest resistance – at the beginning with the big, blank paper staring at me, and sometime in the middle after I’ve done some significant time working on it.

    I reach a point when I simply HATE this stupid painting, it looks like a child’s effort, like I’m painting with mud, like the subject is dead, like I’m having spasms, like … well, you get it.

    I’ve always dealt with both perfectionism and fear of failure with my watercolors by saying, What’s the worst that could happen? I’m using paint and paper and time. What’s cheaper than paint and paper? If this painting never improves, I can tear it up and throw it away. It’s not gold, or mahogany or even fine leather. And no time painting is ever wasted. I’ve learned something – and how can I call it “wasting” time spent doing what I love? 🙂

    So, I reach this critical point when I contemplate the worth of mere paint and paper and time with grace.

    Ha! Not even! I throw my brush down, I slam the top of my color box, I say bad words, I swear I’ll take up water polo instead, I storm out of my studio and go bake something I shouldn’t be eating! And while eating it, I’ll say stupid things about my abilities and how I’m an idiot for thinking I could ever paint in the first place.

    That was more effective when I first started painting, but now my walls are covered with excellent paintings. (So what I tell myself now is that I’m past my prime, I can’t do work like that ANY MORE.)

    I don’t know why I go through this with every good painting, but the interesting thing is that if I DON’T — without fail, that painting is dull and lifeless.

    I use the same Holbein paints, the same Arches paper in all of my paintings – it’s not a mechanical problem. It’s not actually a problem at all – it’s alchemy. This is the necessary process for me to infuse my life into my work. It’s like anodizing metal – you have water, chemical, and metal….and nothing happens. But when you apply electricity, BAM! You’ve got something completely new.

    You’re so right, Steven, about forgetting about the difficulty as soon as it’s past. I think that must be part of the magic because it surprises me every time. And I don’t like it, of course, but it’s a necessary part. Nothing worth doing comes easily. The fact that we’re struggling indicates it’s something worth doing. 🙂

    • Anonymous on March 20, 2024 at 11:27 am

      Mellie, thanks. I’m going to take what you said to heart. I have a 24×36 canvas on the easel. Though I’ve done large canvases in oils, I’ve never attempted anything this large in acrylics. I’m also taking Alex’s “just keep swimming” mantra to heart, too. The painting is an undersea scape, something I’ve never done. The painting scares the hell out of me every time I stand before it. But I lay in color one brush stroke at a time. I just ate a muffin after going to the gym. I haven’t thrown my brush yet. I won’t know if the painting was worth doing unless I finish it. No one knows how much courage it takes to create unless you have made an attempt and saw it through to the end.

  22. Bing Wilson on March 20, 2024 at 9:52 am

    Last night I watched a documentary for the second time on the swimmer Diana Nyad who swam from Cuba to Florida. I believe it took five tries before she finally did it. She would swim within a micro second of her dying from exhaustion. She is without a doubt the strongest toughest woman in the whole wide world. Talk about being a Pro, Lord have mercy!!
    I then easily did my next 1.5 hr art practice of being stuck.

  23. Kathi Carey on March 20, 2024 at 12:58 pm

    I alternatingly hate this and love this. On my last piece, a pilot script, I wrote the first iteration (and rewrote and rewrote it) and thought it was done and then sent it to my trusted mentor for notes. He tore it apart. Shredded it, in fact. What I thought was mostly done was… just a “good idea.” Start again. Page one rewrite. I was, as you intimate, devastated. Ready to give up. Ahh, but I have Steven Pressfield in my corner. Egging me on, week after week in my inbox. So, I started again. And this time it really DID come out so much better. Mentor had a few notes, but mostly questions about future episodes. Which felt more like a win. And the notes were easy. Onward.

  24. Chuck DeBettignies on March 20, 2024 at 1:18 pm

    I know, and the rest of us on the blog here, know this happens to us. It’s so helpful to learn that you struggle with this too Steve.

  25. Peter Brockwell on March 20, 2024 at 2:03 pm

    Keep Buggering On.
    That is just spot on!!

    Thanks so much Steve.

  26. Theresa on March 20, 2024 at 3:38 pm

    The other Churchill quote that I keep close is :

    “Success is going from failure to failure without losing your enthusiasm”

  27. Cordia Pearson on March 20, 2024 at 7:32 pm

    LMAO! Short, defintely not sweet, but oh, so on topic!

    When Steven, who has been through SO many of these rodeos needs to grab his ‘boot straps’, I feel FINE about a week or two of dithering.

    PROCESS. An overblown word for ‘can’t find your a–‘ with both hands.

    Love, Love, LOVE this!

  28. Orion 132 on March 21, 2024 at 3:05 am

    Thank you for sharing your wisdom and providing valuable insights that resonate with readers.

  29. 2bhk flat in Kolkata on March 21, 2024 at 3:23 am

    This report serves as a reminder that creativity is not always a smooth path but rather a series of ups and downs, each contributing to our growth and development as artists.

  30. new housing projects in kolkata on March 21, 2024 at 3:24 am

    As a fellow writer, I resonate deeply with the struggles and victories described here.

  31. Adam Schwartz on March 21, 2024 at 9:40 am

    Actually, it wasn’t a PBS movie, it was an HBO movie.

  32. Bill on March 23, 2024 at 5:07 am

    Steven, you always manage to put your feelings out there in a way that we can relate to them. Because we battle them too. That “invisible wall” is right in front and holding us back, until it finally isn’t. It seems to me that the Inspiration gets us started but we need something more to keep going; somewhere along the way we discover a Motivation strong enough to knock down that invisible wall. Thank you for reminding us what it takes to sustain the effort and let’s K.B.O.

    All the best,

  33. riki krisdianto on March 26, 2024 at 6:18 am
  34. sanhangsale on March 29, 2024 at 2:00 am

    Steven’s ability to articulate his feelings in a relatable manner is truly admirable. Many of us face similar struggles with that “invisible wall” blocking our path, but Steven’s words remind us that we’re not alone in this journey. It’s the combination of inspiration and motivation that propels us forward, helping us overcome obstacles and persevere. His message serves as a powerful reminder of the resilience and determination required to achieve our goals. Thank you, Steven, for your insightful words and encouragement to Keep Believing and Overcoming (K.B.O).

  35. raozat on March 29, 2024 at 2:00 am

    Steven’s ability to express his emotions resonates deeply with many of us who also grapple with similar challenges. His metaphor of the “invisible wall” perfectly captures the obstacles we face in pursuing our goals. Yet, Steven’s message offers hope by emphasizing the importance of finding inner motivation to break through that barrier. It’s a powerful reminder that persistence and determination are key to achieving success. Thank you, Steven, for your inspiring words and for reminding us to persevere.

  36. rankingpark on March 29, 2024 at 2:01 am

    Steven’s words strike a chord with so many of us who understand the struggle of confronting our own barriers. The notion of the “invisible wall” resonates strongly, illustrating the challenges we encounter on our journey. Steven’s message serves as a beacon of encouragement, reminding us that while inspiration may ignite our aspirations, it’s our unwavering motivation that propels us forward. His words are a reminder to stay resilient and continue pushing past obstacles. Thank you, Steven, for your uplifting message and encouragement to persevere.

  37. lisa dawells on April 1, 2024 at 2:29 am

    Bent u op zoek naar een apotheek?

  38. Melissa on April 18, 2024 at 8:00 am

    I know this is a month late. Time is the greatest resource that we use and abuse.
    But, I wanted to reach out and tell you again that you are an inspiration
    and the occasional self-doubt is all right.
    This time of doubt and mal-confidence can be a tool for reset and reassessment.
    I’m a driver, a small job, at a small college.
    More and more, I converse with students approaching the precipice of crisis and self-doubt.
    I tell them that that’s ok. For a moment.
    Assure yourself that right now, you are in the place you are supposed to be doing the thing you are supposed to be doing. If the challenge is or even seems too great, step back, inhale, walk around and maybe you will gain a different focus that could help you.
    Failure is an option.
    Failure is doing. Trying. Working. Succeeding at opening up a new opportunity.
    Sit that self-doubt of yours down on a cushion beside you and ask it, what else could this be. How far can I take this?
    Then, pat it on the head and keep going.
    Even if it turns out you are not in the right lane, you are still on the right track.

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