The War of Art Mini-Course, Part 4

Shawn Coyne: Hello and welcome to Part Four of The War of Art Mini-Course. My name is Shawn Coyne and I am the publisher of The War of Art by Steven Pressfield. Okay, so now we’ve got our mindset. We’re going to “turn pro.” We’re going to put aside all of our amateur ways and really take the professional point of view. What does that mean really, like practically? What role does craft play in the creative life? How important is storytelling really? Are there central principles of the craft to grab onto and keep us treading water when Resistance doubles down on our efforts?

Let’s bring in Steve and see. This is Part Four of The War of Art Mini-Course. This is called “tricks of the trade” … “the hero’s journey.” Okay. Steve, so in the, in the last episode we were talking about turning pro and one of the things that you mentioned that really appealed to me was when you were talking about the characteristics of a professional versus an amateur, you mentioned that professionals really concentrate and work and are constantly trying to better their craft, which is the exact opposite of what amateurs do, who think that there’s going to be some magical moment when something comes to them from the ether and they’ll create a work of art and you know, overnight they’ll write a great screenplay that will win an Academy award. So my question for you is, if you had to cite one principle of storytelling, because I truly believe that everything—sales, marketing, entrepreneurship, business leaders, politics—it all goes to storytelling and the craft of storytelling and if you were to outline one principle of storytelling that relates to Resistance, what would that be?

Steven Pressfield: That’s another great question, but I’ll give you two. Let me just start with one kind of basic principle, that . . . This is sort of the ground rule for any creative field of any content. It’s the single most important and powerful truth I think that you have to grasp. And the truth is, and this is it: Nobody wants to read your shit. What I mean by that— actually wrote a book . . .

Shawn Coyne: Yeah.

Steven Pressfield: Put shit with an asterisk in there instead of the “i” is that, well, just let’s say you wrote a short story and just try to give it to your mom or you’re trying to give it to your brother or whatever. Right? Or if somebody gives it to you as a last thing he wanted to do is read it, right? I mean, I to read this thing? I mean the market resists. Everybody is swamped with clutter and business and so forth . . . Where I learned this was on the first day of my first job as an advertising copywriter in New York. And you learn right away because you’re writing ads, nobody wants to read your ad. Nobody wants to see a commercial. They want to click right through it on the remote as fast as they can, turn the page da da da da da da da. So what’s the takeaway?  What’s the bottom line from this?

It’s that you have to work. You have to be a pro. You have to come up with whatever it is you’re trying to say. You have to say it in such a new and inventive and sexy or whatever, scary, thrilling, interesting, such a compelling way that people would be crazy NOT to read it—and that’s what art, that’s what the tradecraft is all about. Recognizing that, you know, when we’re students, we turn in papers and our teachers have to read it. So we think, oh, everybody’s gonna read what we wrote . . . uh-uh. . . Everybody hates what you write sight unseen. They don’t want to read it. So you’ve got to come up with something super, super great and make people read it. That’s principle number one.

Shawn Coyne: So what’s the second one? You said you had two.

Steven Pressfield: This is a big one where you were asking me, is there a principle embodies storytelling and Resistance at the same time? And the principle—or this is another thing, every storyteller has to know kind of a basic thing—there are many, many, many principles here, but here’s one: It’s the “hero’s journey.”

I’ll have to . . . I’m sure a lot of our readers know exactly what I’m talking about, but let me give you a quick description of what the hero’s journey is. The hero’s journey is a template for a story. If you saw the first Star Wars, that is the hero’s journey in a nutshell. In it Luke Skywalker starts out on on a planet that’s the farthest from the center of the galaxy and he winds up becoming a Jedi knight hero. The hero’s journey comes from Joseph Campbell and from C.G. Jung, the great psychologist.  It’s the Ur story of the human race. It’s built into our brains. We’re born with this story inside our, inside our head. If we’re going to be storytellers, we have to know what this story is, and because every story . . . Every story, we’re going to tell is this.

Now let me give you some of the stages of the hero’s journey. I’ll sort of a lay this out and compare this in your mind to Star Wars or to The Wizard of Oz or to The Martian or any story that you’re thinking of. Moby Dick . . . Go right down the line. In the hero’s journey, the hero starts out in the Ordinary World. Various things . . . Various things happen, and then the hero receives “the Call.” In Luke Skywalker’s case, it’s when R2D2 shows up and says, you know, “Help me, Obi-Wan Kenobi.” It’s Princess Leia. “You’re my only hope.” And then the next beat in the hero’s journey is the hero rejects the call and this is Resistance. This is our real, real life Resistance. Then the next beat is the hero meets a mentor and the mentor gives the hero the courage to accept the Call. In this . . . In Star Wars, it’s Obi-Wan Kenobi tells Luke your father was a Jedi knight . . . dump ba da bump ba da bump. At that point, the hero accepts the call and now we’re into what in any story would be Act Two.

The hero now enters the Inverted World, the world is going to take him to his, to his conclusion. I’ll abbreviate all this stuff. Through the middle of the hero meets fascinating characters, confronts enemies, undergoes an initiation, has allies and friends, encounters kind of spirit creatures. And then the hero gets to his goal, gets what . . . he confronts the villain, gets what he needs, and then he has to get back home.

That’s Act Three, “hero pursued by villain.” Finally, the final beat of hero’s journey as the hero returns home, but changed.  Returns . . . Odysseus returns to Ithaca, Dorothy returns home to Kansas … but they’re changed and they bring a gift with them for the people. Now I’ve just put this up against any story that you’ve ever read and this is . . . The hero’s journey applies. Rocky, Catcher in the Rye, To Kill a Mockingbird. The story of Jesus is the hero’s journey par excellence. So what is my point here? I’m not even sure . . .

Shawn Coyne: Well, I think this relates to Resistance and the Resistance felt by artists and entrepreneurs and anybody who’s out . . . Anybody, who’s out, anybody who is out to create something new, because creating something new requires a change. And so I, I think what you’re talking about is that the artist herself undergoes a similar sort of journey as they’re creating their work. So the more familiar they are with this Ur story, the more familiar and the more ready they will be to face the difficulties raised by Resistance in their actual creative act. So it’s almost this really kind of interesting meta, you know, element to becoming a creative person is understanding the hero’s journey in a way that brings you some comfort when you face those hurdles in your own work.

Steven Pressfield: See, this is why you’re a great editor, Shawn. This is what editors do. They come in and they explain to the writer exactly what the writer was trying to say, but this is exactly right. In the hero’s journey, when the hero receives the Call, the call to adventure, that’s the same thing as you and I as artists and entrepreneurs when we have an idea—or we’re going to write Moby Dick, okay? Then immediately after that and the hero’s journey, and again, this is why it’s universal because everybody experiences this immediately after his “ejection of the Call.” And that is Resistance. Hero goes, “Oh my God, I can become a Jedi knight, how am I going to do this?” And he chickens out. And so then it takes the mentor, which again is the professional—that’s the professional mindset—that clicks in our head and says, “You know what, you’re a talented guy.  You can become a Jedi knight. Enlist yourself in the initiation and you will become a Jedi knight.” And throughout the second act, throughout the whole long story, whether it’s Odysseus or Jesus or whatever it is, whoever the hero is—Gilgamesh, Beowulf, or whatever it is—they, there are, they confront moments of increasing Resistance all the way through, whether it’s from enemies or from internal sabotage. So the hero’s journey, as you say, Shawn, encourages us when we know it. We’re the hero and we have to overcome these, these facets of Resistance to get home again, like Dorothy and like Odysseus and like Luke Skywalker.

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