Steven Pressfield

Write What You Don’t Know

By Steven Pressfield | 36 Comments

  The classic axiom cited to young writers starting out is Write what you know. Makes sense, right? If you’ve just returned from sailing alone around the world, write that story. If you’re a surgeon, a single mom, an opioid survivor … write about that. Write what you know. My theory is a little different. Like the other principles in this series, it’s counter-intuitive. It doesn’t seem to make sense. But, as we’ve seen, sometimes sense is nonsense. Logic and rationality rarely jibe with the unknowable intangibles of creativity. My mantra for myself is Write what you don’t know. When…

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A “Save the Cat” Moment

By Steven Pressfield | 15 Comments

  If you’ve read many of these posts, you know that I’m a big fan of screenwriting guru Blake Snyder and his book on the film writer’s craft, Save the Cat. Here is Blake defining this principle: Save the Cat is the screenwriting rule that says: “The hero has to do something when we meet him so that we like him and want him to win.” Does this mean that every movie we see has to have some scene in it where the hero gives a buck to a blind man in order to get us onboard? Well no, because…

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Pick the Idea That’s Craziest

By Steven Pressfield | 34 Comments

  Sometimes you and I as writers will see a whole menu of ideas before us. One will seem surefire commercial. Another will seem risky but fun. A third might seem totally off the wall. Which one should we pick? Before I give you my own idiosyncratic answer (which you’ve probably guessed already), let me cite two instances from my own career. The idea for The Legend of Bagger Vance came to me just as my screenwriting career, which I had dedicated ten years of my life to, was about to catch fire. The idea came as a book, not…

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Start Before You’re Ready

By Steven Pressfield | 10 Comments

We feel a book inside us. It’s there. We see the characters, we feel the structure, we sense the contours. We just need another week/month/semester to get our heads in the right place to begin … Start before you’re ready. Forget that week. Strike that month. Start now. Don’t wait till your ducks are in a row. Dive in now. Why does this seemingly irrational principle work? Because the sphere of invention operates by different (and higher) laws than that of normal, conventional enterprises. The Muse works by her timetable, not ours. When the train leaves the station, you and…

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The First Page

By Steven Pressfield | 7 Comments

There’s a terrific book that I often recommend to young writers—The First Five Pages by Noah Lukeman. Mr. Lukeman is a long-time agent, editor, and publisher. The thrust of his counsel is this: Most agents and editors make up their minds about submissions within the first five pages. If they spot a single amateur mistake (excess adjectives, “your” instead of “you’re,” “it’s” instead of “its”), your manuscript goes straight into the trash. Grind on those first five pages, says Mr. Lukeman. Make certain they are flawless. I would go further. The make-or-break page, to my mind, is Page One. Even…

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Write It Like a Movie

By Steven Pressfield | 16 Comments

  The men were silent and they did not move often. And the women came out of the houses to stand beside the men—to feel whether this time the men would break … The children stood nearby, drawing figures in the dust with bare toes … Horses came to the watering troughs and nuzzled the water to clear the surface dust. After a while the faces of the watching men lost their bemused perplexity and became hard and angry and resistant. Then the women knew that they were safe and that there was no break.   Feel the power in…

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Little Joe

By Steven Pressfield | 2 Comments

  [Resuming our deep dive into the structure, characters, and theme of the classic 1953 Western, Shane.]   The character of Little Joe or Joey (Brandon deWilde) is worth examining in some detail because he serves so many purposes in the story yet, if you think about it, the core of the drama doesn’t need him at all. The movie is really about the gunfighter Shane (Alan Ladd) and the dynamics between him and Joe Starett (Van Heflin), him and Joe’s wife Marian (Jean Arthur), him and the cattle baron Rufe Ryker (Emile Meyer), and him and the gunslinger Wilson…

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Villain = Resistance

By Steven Pressfield | 37 Comments

  [St. Patrick’s is a special day here at Black Irish Books. So to celebrate, we’re giving special pricing on Black Irish JABS. From now through Sunday, you can get a book every month from me with a $50 discount. Click here to get going: [And now to today’s post … ]   Every villain is a metaphor for Resistance. I know this sounds all-inclusive to the point of outrageousness, but it’s true. In Jewish mysticism, the negative force (translated by my friend Rabbi Mordechai Finley as “a turning toward evil”) that equates to Resistance is called the “yetzer hara.”…

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Unseen Forces

By Steven Pressfield | 20 Comments

  The tragedies that have come down to us from the ancient Athenian stage often feature as prominent players gods and demi-gods … and such unseen forces as Fate and Destiny. Prophecies are a frequent device, as they are in the Bible. Even in real-life, oracles such as Apollo’s at Delphi made pronouncements that the Greeks took with deadly seriousness—and many in fact proved true.   The wooden wall alone shall preserve you.   Either Sparta will fall or she will lose a king.   In other words, the Greeks believed (and the Book of Ecclesiastes concurs) that man was…

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The Understory

By Steven Pressfield | 10 Comments

  Editors call it “narrative drive.” Writers want it. Readers need it. How do you get it? One way is by skillful use of an Understory. One of my favorite scenes in movies of the past few years is the Frozen Park Bench scene in the first of the Jason Bourne movies—The Bourne Identity. To refresh your memory:   It’s early in the story. We’ve met Jason Bourne (Matt Damon) and learned that he is a young man who has lost his memory. He doesn’t know who he is. He’s an American on his own in Europe, specifically Zurich (where…

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