Steven Pressfield - The Artist’s Journey, Wisdom In Little Successes, & More | The Tim Ferriss Show | Transcription
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I've found that true for myself, which is usually produced in our bodies from sun exposure. So, adding a vitamin D supplement to your daily routine is a great option for additional immune support. Support your immunity, gut health, and energy by visiting athleticgreens.com/tim. You'll receive up to a year's supply of vitamin D and five free travel packs with your subscription. Again, that's athleticgreens.com/tim. Optimal minimal. Make this a altitude I can run flat out for a half mile before my hands start shaking. Can I answer your personal question? Now, what is your favorite part of my life? What if I give you the ultimate? I'm a cybernetic organism living tissue over a metal headless color. Me, Tim, Paris, Show. Hello, boys and girls, ladies and germs. This is Tim Ferriss. Welcome to another episode of the Tim Ferriss Show, where it is my job each and every episode to interview world-class performers, to try to tease out the habits, routines, frameworks, favorite books, and so on. Favorite cereals, maybe. Who knows that you can apply to your own life. My guest today is Steven Pressfield. I have wanted to have Steven on this podcast for a very long time. You can find him on Twitter @s Pressfield. Steven is a former Marine and graduate of Duke University. He became an overnight success as a writer after 30 years of abject failure. Those are his words, not mine. So we'll dig into that. Identifying the omnipresence, if I'm pronouncing that correctly, of resistance, the interior force of self-sabotage he described in the War of Art, one of the best book titles of all time, has saved his own artistic life and helped many others struggling to find their creative calling. Pressfield's novels of the ancient world, including the nonfiction, The Warrior Ethos, are required reading at West Point, Annapolis, and in the Marine Corps. He lives in Los Angeles. His newest book is A Man at Arms and Epic Saga about a reluctant hero of the Roman Empire and The Rise of a New Faith. You can find him online. Steven with a v, Steven Pressfield.com on Twitter @s Pressfield and Instagram. Steven underscore Pressfield. Steven, welcome to the show. It's great to be here, Tim. I've been wanted to have a conversation with you as well. So I'm excited about this too. It's great. And we are going to run out of time well before we run out of content. I think in part because I have all these notes in front of me. I have all these questions. And then there is, I'd say at least 51% of me that just wants to turn this into a selfish opportunity to have therapy from you. So we'll see what blend of all of those elements. We'll see what I was hoping for the same thing. Oh, wonderful. Okay. So from you, me, well, you know, we can we can turn this into a mutual therapy session in that case. All right.
Steven'S Life Journey And Transition Into Writing
During tough times, Steven lived behind a house for $15 a month and befriended a backwoods cat. How did this cat become his role model, and what circumstances led to their friendship? (07:27)
So let's let's go back in time for those who don't have much context on your life. And perhaps a good entry point is a prompt that you provided. And that is ask me about my house for $15 a month and the backwoods cat I made friends with. So that's where I'm going to start. Please tell me about this house at $15 a month and the backwoods cat. I went when you talked about 30 years of abject failure. That's that's really true. I mean, from the time that I originally tried to start writing quit a job like you did and and actually had a book published was about, you know, about 28 years 30 years something like that. And at one point, I was I was driving trucks, tractor trailers in North Carolina and had just come out of living in a halfway house that was which was, you know, when people are released from mental hospitals, not me, but everybody else was there. And I finally found I found this house out in the country for 15 bucks a month that had no doors, no electricity, no kitchen, no toilets, nothing. I just basically lived in my van, which I parked on the dirt road there. And I used to cook. There was no way to cook. So I used to have a little fire and make a little fire out in the back behind this little house. And it was right up at, you know, in North Carolina, there's a lot of pine woods. And this was right in the middle of the pine woods around Raleigh. And there used to be this feral cat, this wild cat that lived in the woods behind me. And when I would come out and cook, and I'd be sitting on the backstoop and the wood started like maybe only five feet from the house, this cat would sort of materialize. He was an old battle scarred Tomcat, you know, and he would sit there across from me while I would make, you know, hot dogs or whatever I was doing. And I could never feed him. He would never take anything from me. You know, I think it was sort of like, he didn't want to be a pet, you know, and he would sit there. This is all, this is all true to him. I'm not making this up. I believe you. He would sit there across from me, just kind of eyeballing me. And there was no doubt which one of us was the superior being, you know, and no doubt which one of us had his shit together. The other one didn't. And he would look at me like he was trying to decide whether or not to kick my ass or not, you know, and but I felt that this cat was a great omen. I felt that in some way, you know, why does a cat materialize like, why does anything happen like that? You know, like in the Native American tradition, when an animal is kind of a spirit animal or something. Right. And so I've, I took a lot of courage from that cat appearing. I sort of felt like in some way, my energy had sort of drawn him out of the woods because he kept coming back. I mean, this wasn't a one time thing. And so anyway, that's, that's a, that's for a little, I don't know if that's context, Tim. Well, it's quite a while ago, but it was that was sort of at the heart of my darkest hours. Well, it provides a bunch of fertile ground for exploration. Before we leave the cat though, what meaning did you take from that? What affected that have on you? And then we're going to come back to the halfway house because you mentioned everyone else was there after being released from a mental hospital or something along this line. So I want to know how you ended up there. But first, what meaning did you imbue this cat with after these repeated visits? Well, I, I feel like the cat was a little bit of a role model for me, that it was, it was a cat that was obviously completely self-sufficient. You know, lived in the woods, didn't require anybody to feed him, wouldn't let anybody feed him was, you know, a totally autonomous individual. And I thought to myself, kind of, first of all, why did anything come out of the woods? But if this is what came out of woods, that it was such a positive kind of person, you know? And so I thought if, if this cat has come here, maybe he's come here to kind of encourage me and tell me that Steve, you can do that too. You know, you can be like me too. You can be autonomous. You can be self-sufficient. You can take care of yourself. You know, it makes me think a bit of the poem "Wild Geese" by Mary Oliver, that the first few lines are, I'm not familiar with that. Tell me. I'll tell you the first, the first few lines are you do not have to be good. You do not have to walk on your knees for a hundred miles through the desert repenting. You only have to let the soft animal of your body love what it loves. That's the beginning. And I think about that quite a bit and contact with nature and man's tendency. And what I mean by that is mankind's tendency. Men and women both to view themselves as apart from nature as opposed to a part of nature. And the halfway house. So let's connect the dots from the beginning to the Tomcat at the end of that first response. How did you end up there? And what was your say at the time that you were there? I don't know. We're getting into some deep stuff really early here. I know it's a first date and everything. But skip the play a bit if that's okay. Well, I was in North Carolina at the time. I had married a gal from North Carolina. We'd been, you know, married for like five or six years at that time. And we were at the state where we were desperately trying to, you know, we were coming apart at the seams and we were desperately trying to hang on together. And we had come back from North Carolina and we were living with our mother out in the woods in a farmhouse that also rented for about 20 bucks a month. And I had this job delivering industrial food. I drove a little truck and I would deliver things like Salisbury Steaks and frozen crinkle cut french fries to little restaurants and stuff like that. And without going into a long story, I got fired from that job. And in a state of great shame, I was just like totally ashamed in front of my wife, in front of her mother. And I just sort of, I just couldn't stay there anymore. I couldn't, you know, I couldn't stay with them. So I kind of, I moved into town trying to find a job desperately. And the only place I could find was this sort of boarding house that this is in Durham, North Carolina. That was also a halfway house for, you know, where the government, the state government would pay for people who had been released from mental institutions and were on their way back into the real world. And so I found a room in the basement there. And that was how I came to that, that halfway house. Well, and I have a theory about halfway houses and about the people who are in there.
Steven’s theory about halfway houses and the people you’ll find there (which for a time included him). (14:21)
If I do want to hear this, Jim? I do. Because I've been in a bunch of other kind of situations like that. And you think you would think that people were really struggling mentally. But in fact, the people in this halfway house, we used to hang out in the kitchen and talk all night long, were among the smartest people that I ever met. And the funniest and most interesting. And what I concluded from hanging out with them and from others in a similar situation was that they weren't crazy at all. That they were actually the smart people who had sort of seen through the bullshit. And because of that, they couldn't function in the world. They couldn't hold a job, you know, because they just couldn't take the bullshit, you know. And that was how they kind of wound up in institutions, because the greater society thought, well, these people are absolute rejects, they can't fit in. But in fact, to my mind, they were actually the people that really saw through everything. So in a way, I felt kind of bad when I had to leave this house, because I like the people so much. But also speaks, it seems to not say it isn't worth it, but some of the possible risks of seeing through the thin veneer, that is what we consider civilization. Yeah. Yeah. And just a dangerous thing. Just how slippery it can be to sort of realize how arbitrary so many of these social constructs are. You have just an incredible resume. I mean, it reads like, I don't want to say here is journey, because we'll probably come to that and clarify that a bit later.
From a resume more eclectic than most, what job stands out as being especially formative for Steven’s eventual pivot to writer? (15:55)
But you have an eclectic, to put it mildly, collection of professions. You have tracked a trailer driver, cab driver, school teacher, you picked fruit as a migrant laborer. And the list goes on. Of all of those, does one stand out as having been especially formative for who you then later became as a writer, as a creative driving track of trailers was probably the most formative thing for me in that sense. In the sense that, once you're out on the road delivering a load, you're completely on your own. And if anything goes wrong, I mean, obviously you could call for help if you're really desperate. But pretty much you've got to get it together one way or another. And other people are depending on you. Whatever that load is, you've got to deliver it. The shipper wants it, the people it's being shipped to one, and there's really sort of no mercy. You know, you have to be professional, you have to do it. And at the time that I was doing this job, I was really dealing with my own tendency to sabotage myself. I mean, I was like a self-destruction machine, you know, where I would just screw up constantly. And I had to be constantly monitoring myself that I wouldn't act out in some crazy way and destroy everything that I was trying to do, which was just to survive. So first of all, the help from the people that I worked with, from the other drivers, from the dispatcher, who was kind of a mentor to me, a guy named Hugh Rebs, who really saved my life in a lot of ways. And also just the need to deliver, to really actually deliver the goods and the self imposed pressure of that, that really helped me. And yeah, there were a bunch of instances when I found myself really up against it and having to get it together completely on my own. And when I thought I never could, and each time that I was able to do that, it reinforced that. And kind of like the cat that came out of the woods, I sort of felt like I was being a little bit of my own role model and that there was hope that I could get it together one way or another. At that time, in that period, you mentioned the self-sabotage, and I'll give you two questions, and you can take a stab at either of both.
Common examples of Steven’s self-sabotage in the working world, and how a caring mentor helped him up and shook him out of this destructive pattern. (18:18)
What was the particular form or most common form of self-sabotage? If you could give an example, I'd just describe that because there are so many different types. And then also, he reaves as a mentor. What type of mentor was he? What did you clean or learn from him? I'll give you a specific. When I was driving the little trucks and delivering institutional food to these little restaurants like Cottle houses and stuff like that, the way I got fired was it was early in the morning, I had just finished delivering to a restaurant. I hadn't had breakfast and I was coming back out through the warehouse section at the back of the restaurant and they had a whole bunch of rows of little cans of fruit juice, pineapple juice and stuff like that. And so I just reached out and I grabbed the one for myself and the boss caught me and I'm put a bump, but I'm fired. And I really feel like me doing that was an act of self-destruction that I had and I'm absolutely uncertain of it. I just sort of knew why do you do something like that? So that was kind of the sort of thing that I would do kind of over and over. And driving trucks, I could tell a bunch of stories, but one of them was where I dropped the trailer one time delivering a meeting. I pulled the tractor out from under the trailer in this warehouse parking lot right in front of about 500 people and just dropped this entire trailer, nose down onto the thing and was just a complete fiasco. So that was the kind of thing that I would do where I would just be careless. You know, you know you need to like if you're an airline pilot and you're doing your checklist, you know, you have to before you take off, you got to hit check the flaps in the engine and blah, blah, blah, whatever it is, I would do something in me that would make me forget to check the one most important thing that I had to do. And as soon as it went wrong, I knew it. You know, it wasn't like, oh, what a surprise. It was like, oh, shit, I've done it again, you know. And getting back to your two reams who was a dispatcher, who was my mentor in this thing, he, after I got fired, I'm really excited. I don't know. I guess this is interesting. I don't know. I find it interesting. After I got fired for stealing that can of pineapple juice, I was in a state of utter shame. I didn't even tell my wife or her mother. I just, and I had already applied for, I'd gone to a truck driving school and I'd applied to like 50 different companies throughout North Carolina and couldn't get on anywhere. And I was just leaving town in my 65 Chevy van heading for the oil fields in Louisiana where I'd worked once before and where I knew you, I could at least get a job. All you need was a pulse and then take you out. And so on my way out of town, in like the dead of winter, worst possible rainy North Carolina stuff, I stopped at this one trucking company that I had already applied to a couple of times. They rejected me. And Hugh Reeves was the dispatcher. And he was a former Marine and he knew that I had been a Marine. And I just stopped just for the hell of it. I thought this is where, you know, things didn't happen. He hired me. So that kind of saved my life right there. But throughout the whole, my struggles to learn the business and stuff like that, there was, I'll tell you, there was one moment where he kind of sat me down. And I had kept screwing up like I said, and he sat me down alone in his office and he said, you know, son, and I was like, I don't know what 25 years younger than him. He said, I don't know what's going on in your head, son. I don't know what journey you're playing out here. I don't know what your issues are. I don't know what you're trying to solve in your own inner mind. But this company is a business. We're in business to make money. You are a driver. You represent this company. When I give you a load to take somewhere, you better fucking deliver that load, you know? And so that was a great thing for me, you know, to, you know, it was like a slap in the face. Because in my mind, I definitely was kind of on this odyssey. I was living on an inner world. I don't know what it was. And he was absolutely right. This is a business. You know, this is for real. I have a real job. People are depending on me. I have to, I have to, and that really helped to sort of think of myself as much as I could as a professional and not somebody on some crazy adventure. I can definitely see how that ties into a lot that came later. That's a great story. Yeah. That's a great story. Let's flash forward. We're going to bounce around quite a bit. And in doing so, I want to maybe first bring up just a common belief or sentiment that I hear a lot, which is like, you're going to do your best work in your 20s.
After 30 years of what Steven calls “abject failure,” Steven published his first novel when he was in his early 50s. Where did he pick up his wordsmithing skills, and how did make the transition from blue-collar truck driver to successful novelist? (23:11)
It's like a professional sport. You do A, B, and C, and you've kind of reached escape velocity or not by the time you're 30, 35, whatever the number might be. But it tends to be around there. Your first novel, you mentioned in some comments a few minutes ago, and I mentioned it, the bio 30 years of abject failure. Okay. So your first novel published after around 30 years of effort, the legend of bag of pants, how old were you when that was published? I think that was 53. All right. Maybe 54. Okay. So now a lot happened up to that point, obviously, in your life. You had a lot of experiences where I want to go next is to ask how you developed your facility with words, because you are a very good writer. The jobs we've mentioned so far seem to have nothing to do with words, you have an incredible vocabulary. How did this happen? I'll accept it. Thank you for saying that to them. I said it had a face value. But he's do the whole time that I wasn't only doing blue collar jobs. I worked in advertising like in New York three or four times, and I also had about a 10 year career as a screenwriter in in Los Angeles where I am now. And so through that time, you're trying to learn what what a writer is and what writing is. And also, of course, I was writing novels through that time. I wrote three of them that never got published. And each one took about two years full time. What drove you to do that if I could just pause there for a second? Sure. Most people don't write periods. So what was driving you or compelling you or inspiring you to do that? I don't know. Why does anybody write or why does anybody paint or anything? It sort of originally started for me. It was not a dream. I had as a kid. I didn't like Jack Carr, the thriller writer, the former Navy Seal. He always wanted to be a thriller writer from the time he was like six years old. But not me. It never occurred to me. My first job was in advertising in New York. And I had a boss named Ed Hannibal who wrote a novel, quit, wrote a novel. And it was a huge success overnight. And I sort of thought, well, shit, why don't I do that too? Seems like an easy gig. Let's try it. Nothing to write. I mean, he's in that office. I'm in this office. Why can't I do it? So that sort of at least started this kind of dream for me. And then once I had failed at it, really badly, I thought I was even more motivated to do it. I've got to like, somehow I've got to write my way out of this thing. One way or another. So that was how it initially started to, in terms of just the intention to do it, to finally make it work. I want to allow people to peek behind the scenes here for a second just to see sort of how the sausage is made with this podcast.
What did Steven pick up from his time as a copywriter in the world of advertising? (26:25)
And I'm looking in front of me at a whole raft of papers. But one of them contains prompts and exploratory bullets. And I always ask guests if they would like to provide any prompts that might lead to interesting or fun stories, fertile ground, as I like to say, for exploration. And you learn a lot about guests looking at the bullets they provide or the lack of bullets they provide. And your bullets are fantastic. And this will be tied into what we're talking about in just a second. But so for instance, ask me about the house for $15 a month in the backward cat I made friends with. Another one, which we're not going to get into right now, but we might come back to, might come back to. Ask me about the time when I was driving trucks, when they told me, quote, whatever you do, don't in all caps go past that last right turn. End quote. Now, to me, then speaking of course, I did go past that last thing. Of course you did that. Now, as someone who has read, I want to say was John Caples and all these books on copywriting, I can see very clearly, and I say this as a compliment, the influence of your time as a copywriter working at agencies. It's so obvious to me because it's you can't not ask. I mean, it is very well crafted in that sense. Could you speak to your learnings in the world of advertising? What did you gain from working as a copywriter? Whether at, I think Benton and Bowles, is that one of the names? Yeah, that was one of the places. Yeah. Yeah. And I do think in many ways, I learned tremendous amount in advertising. I mean, I hate advertising. I hate it when it's on the screen. I hate watching TV commercials. I hate the whole concept of it. But I've met a lot of great people there and I learned a lot. And one of the things, one of the books that I've written about writing, as you know, is called, "Nobody wants to read your shit." Yeah, please. For those people who don't know it, this is just a spectacular piece if you could describe it. Yeah. And this is to me like the number one lesson that any writer or artist should know before they know anything else. And you learn this in advertising because as you're trying to write an ad or a TV commercial, one thing you have to always keep in mind is that nobody wants to see it. In fact, they hate it. Site unseen, they hate it. If it's a TV commercial, they've got the remote in their hand and I'm going to click right through it as fast as I can. Or if it's an ad that's in a newspaper or magazine, they're going to turn the page as fast as I can because they hate it. They don't want you to sell them preparation, age or anything like that. So the lesson for that as a writer, knowing that you're facing that with so much resistance from the reader, is that whatever you're going to put on the page or on the TV screen, it's got to be so good and so compelling and so interesting that people will have no choice but to watch you. And so it makes you work really, really hard and also makes you really project yourself into the mind of the viewer or the reader in an empathetic way, in a really good way and try to say what would be interesting to them, what would catch their interest and what would hold their interest. And you realize too that writing and reading is a transaction that the reader or the viewer is giving you a very valuable commodity which is their time and their attention and you've got to give them something. You can't just put some crap out there and expect that they're obligated to read it or watch it because they won't watch it. So that was a great lesson for me that applied and writing novels or movies or anything at all that you're going to do, a restaurant, if you're going to open a restaurant, nobody wants to come in there and buy your greasy cheeseburgers. You've got to come up with something that makes them say, "I've got to go in there." And that's where the work comes in and that's where the creativity comes in. And another side bar to that Tim of what you learn in advertising is a 30-second commercial cannot have more than 60 words in it. Two words per second because an announcer or people speaking, actor speaking, can't deliver it. It becomes so fast that you can't hear it. So there's pressure on you every time you write a piece of copy, like I would bring a piece of copy into my boss, whoever he was or she was, and they would say, "Get out of here. This is way too long. Go back to your cubicle and cut it down." And I'd spend like hours cutting it down and bring it back and then they'd say, "Cut it down again." And so that was a wonderful skill to learn to find that you can say maybe in 25 words what you had said in 250 words before. So you're right, Tim. You're right on target that there was a lot of lessons that came out of that experience of writing ads. I mentioned in passing, and I'm by no means an expert here, but mentioned in passing, "Heroes journey" in reference to your life in a sense.
How does the hero’s journey, as coined by Joseph Campbell, differ from what Steven considers to be the artist’s journey? (31:39)
But my understanding is that you consider the hero's journey, as perhaps we know it in the Joseph Campbell sense, different from the artist's journey. Could you please elaborate on that? I definitely feel this time that you and I are talking about now when I was driving trucks and doing things like that and being kind of lost and in the wilderness as my quote-unquote "heroes journey." I mean, I think we all have many heroes journeys, but we probably have one sort of overarching one. And to me, the hero's journey of our lives takes us from believing that we are what our parents told us we are or what society told us we are or what we imbibed from the culture, shedding that and finally finding out who we really are. And that's sort of the moment the hero's journey always ends in Joseph Campbell terms with the hero coming home, right? Like Odysseus coming back to Ithaca. And at that point, hopefully we've kind of found who we are and what our calling is. And for me, that was a long journey. But at that point, a new stage of our life takes over. Like I'll say for me, it was when I finally got a novel published, "The Legend of Bag of Ants." So that took me like 28 years of quote-unquote "heroes journey." And in my view, this is me thinking about this later. I had no concept at the time. At that point, I said to myself, "I'm a writer. I'm a real writer. I can do it. I've paid my dues." And then the next question became, "Okay, now what am I going to write about? What is my gift? If I'm here to bring kind of a gift to the people as the hero's journey template says, my question to myself is, "What is that gift?" So for the rest of my life, I feel at that point, I got on my artist's journey. And now, I'm a writer. I'm going to write one thing. I'm going to write another. I'm going to write another. And the question I'm asking myself is, "What is book one? What is book two? What is book three? What is my gift? What am I here to give?" And I'll blather on for a bit here, Tim, if you don't mind. I love your blathering. If you've ever heard of Richard Roor who wrote "Falling Upward," I think it is. He's a Franciscan monk and a very deep thinker. And he kind of divides life into two halves, first half and second half. And the first half of your life, he says, is when you are sort of finding your identity and kind of establishing your presence on the planet. You know, like maybe you're a mom. And you say, "Okay, I'm a mom. I'm that." Or, "I'm a lawyer. I bought a house. I have a wife. I have children." You're sort of in his words, Richard Roor's words, R-O-H-R. If you want to look it up, I highly recommend anything by him. You're creating the vessel that is your life. And then in the second half of your life, you're filling that vessel. So you sort of ask yourself, "Okay, now I can do it. I've got a house. I've whatever. I have a profession. What am I going to do with this? Am I just going to be another crappy person that's continuing the societal garbage that we have? Or am I going to try to find my gift that's unique to me and bring it forth to the world and try to help one way or another?" So that to me is the hero's journey comes first. And when the hero's journey is over, our artist journey begins. I would define art as the broadest possible terms. Anything that is a gift to the wider world. Just a quick thanks to one of our sponsors and we'll be right back to the show. This episode is brought to you by LinkedIn Sales Navigator. LinkedIn Sales Navigator is the best version of LinkedIn for sales professionals. Get ready to exceed your 2021 sales goal with the help of LinkedIn Sales Navigator. That's what it's built for. The best salespeople know that closing deals is about understanding your customers' needs and building relationships. It's time to reimagine in-person selling and cold calling for the digital world. Nowhere is this more true in post-COVID. So tap into the power of LinkedIn's 700 million plus member network. LinkedIn Sales Navigator gives you 20 monthly in-mail messages, lead recommendations, unlimited searches, actionable insights in news, and access to free courses on LinkedIn learning. Target the right prospects and decision makers, unlocking 15% more pipeline from sourced opportunities, a 17% lift when saving leads on sales navigator, and 42% larger deal sizes. As the world adapts to new working habits, sellers must also shift tactics to stay ahead. LinkedIn Sales Navigator is here to help sales professionals do exactly that. So start your 60-day free trial. That's a two-month free trial of LinkedIn Sales Navigator today by going to linkedin.com/navigator. That's linkedin.com/navigator and a V-I-G-A-T-O-R to start your 60-day free trial of LinkedIn Sales Navigator. One more time, linkedin.com/navigator. Part of the hero's journey, as I understand it, and please correct me if I'm getting this wrong, is what is sometimes referred to as refusal of the call.
During his own hero’s journey, what did Steven’s refusal of the call look like compared to that of other notable figures from ancient and modern mythology? (37:16)
When Luke Skywalker is just bitching and whining and doesn't want to go see Yoda, etc. He's just being a pain in the ass to Obi-Wan Kenobi. Everyone should rewatch Star Wars if you don't remember this part. Or this section. Was there that element in your hero's journey getting to the point of having created the vessel? Was there a refusal of the call? Did that play any role? Absolutely. I think it does in everybody's life. In the hero's journey, as Joseph Campbell lays it out, there's a bunch of stages. The hero's journey usually starts in what Joseph Campbell would call the ordinary world. It's just you're living your regular life, but something is wrong. In the case of Luke Skywalker, he's on Uncle Owen and Aunt Varoos evaporate a farm on Tatooine, I guess, is the planet. He's just... This is his ordinary life. He's stuck. In fact, I think there's somebody asked him at some point, "Where are you?" He says, "If there's a spot that's the farthest point away from the bright center of the universe, that's where I am." That's the next day. This is very early in the hero's journey. Then the next stage is the call. Something happens that tends to pull you out of this ordinary world. Like in the Wizard of Oz, it's Dorothy gets swept up in the tornado. In Star Wars, Luke Skywalker finds R2-D2 and he unplugs the little hologram that says, "Princess Leia, help me Obi-Wan, Kenobi, or my only hope." That's the call. Suddenly he realizes, "Uh-oh, I've got to do something here." Then what follows immediately after that, in Joseph Campbell's paradigm, is the refusal of the call. For Luke, he goes, "No, I can't leave. I've got responsibilities." The Aunt Varoos and Uncle Owen, blah, blah, blah. That seems to be across the board. If you remember, the first Rocky, the movie, when Rocky, when Apollo Creed, or the promoter calls Rocky into his office and says, "I'm going to give you a shot to fight the champ." Rocky's first reaction is, "No, I can't do it. You're crazy. This is a joke. I can't do it." Or if we want to go back to another one, when Odysseus is being summoned to go fight in the Trojan War, his first reaction is, "No, no, no. I don't want to do it." If you remember the myth, he pretends to be crazy and he goes out in the sowing his fields with salt. The messenger who was sent to summon him takes his baby, the young telemicus, Odysseus's baby, and puts him in a furrow in the path of the plow. When Odysseus comes to the baby, he veers around it. He's not going to run over his baby. The messenger says, "Ah, you're faking. You're really not crazy. Get on the boat. We're going to the Trojan War." That's the refusal of the call. For me, it was the first novel that I tried to write which I had no business doing. I got two minutes from the end and I just blew it up and blew my whole life up. That was my refusal. I refused to go into this unknown world. - How did you blow it up? Do you mean that you just stopped? - I'm not going to tell you it actually details, but I did something that made my wife hate me and kick me out. - I got it. - That's what I acted out as they would say in psychological terms. In other words, another form of self-destruction.
How did Steven go from a refusal of the call that ended in an act of self-destruction and an unfinished novel to becoming a prolific writer? (41:07)
Those are my demons forever. - They may be your demons forever, but perhaps you're getting or have become better at dancing with them instead of struggling against them. It seems like, at least referring to your mentors and lessons learned, that in some respect, and please correct me, disabuse me of this so it's not true. But that you've been able to at least strike a deal with these demons because you went from being unable to finish a novel to producing many works. What is that deal or how has that come to be the case? - Let me just talk about a novel for a second. - Please. - After the first one that I wrote that I couldn't finish and then I went on these various spiraling down the rattles type of things, I finally got it together. I saved some money. I saved $2,700 working in advertising in New York. I moved out to a little town in Northern California and determined to write a novel and finish it. I rented this little house and I was just by myself. Through that whole time, again, I was aware every second of my tendency to sabotage myself. I just said to myself, "I'm going to finish this son of a bitch or I'm going to kill myself." When I finally did, and I write about this in the war of art, when I finally did finish it, and I've typed those words, "the end," I felt like my DNA changed. I will say that as an encouragement to anybody that's listening, that's struggling with the same stuff, once I was able to finish that thing, that novel, I've never had any trouble finishing anything ever again. - That's interesting. - But it was just sheer willpower driven on by shame I think shame is a great thing, but I just couldn't stand myself if I failed yet again. I just had to keep going, keep going, keep going. - It seems like it's possible, and I'm speculating here, but when you finish that novel and you had the end, because confidence is just not something you can fake, right? In the respect that your true self knows whether you've earned your heart's unearned, when you typed the end, the story of I always self-sabotage, now had a counter example. That statement was no longer always true. - I never thought about it that way, Tim, but I think you're absolutely right. Yeah, a counter example. - With the Legend of Bagger Vance, so finishing a novel is one thing, getting a novel published is quite another endeavor in many respects.
Finishing a first novel is a major feat, but getting it published is another thing altogether. How did he make it happen? Like most modern literary adventures, there’s a detour through Hollywood. (43:52)
So 30 year overnight success, what happened? Did you end up drawing straws and you became the bridge partner of a book agent? What actually happened that allowed this publication, publishing your first book? - Like I said, I wound up writing three novels that never got published. When I finished the third one, that was another kind of an all-is-loss moment, a suicide moment for me, because I couldn't get any, even my friends wouldn't read it. I knew that I just didn't have the wherewithal to do this again, to save up money, to work for two years. I just didn't have the wherewithal. So I decided, or it sort of came to me as a flash, that I would go to Hollywood. I thought, let me write a screenplay. Let me try Hollywood. If I failed as a novelist, let me go fail as a screenwriter. So I did go out to Los Angeles and after about four or five years, I did have an agent. I kept writing screenplays that also didn't sell. And finally, I got kind of teamed up with an established writer, a guy named Ron Schusette, who did the first alien among other things, and who was like a really a real brand name and a real, you know, a guy that really could get worked. - How did you get teamed up with him? I'm sorry to keep interrupting, but like, like alien turned into an iconic film. I mean, created a great franchise. - Great film. - How did you get teamed up with him? - I had an agent, a wonderful agent named Mike Warner, who tragically died at a young age, but and you know, he had other clients and Ron was one of his other clients. And Ron usually worked with a partner. And at that time, because he was more, Ron was more of a producer writer than a writer writer. - What is a producer writer? - A writer writer is the guy that actually sits down at the page, the typewriter, and actually writes the scenes and so on and so forth. A producer writer, somebody who is great at coming up with the ideas, the big ideas, and also sort of shepherding a story through from start to finish, and also as a producer in the sense of being able to get financing and - Right. - and take the meetings and make a deal. So whereas Ron was not the kind of writer that could actually sit down and write the screenplay, you know, but he could say, you know, I would sit there and come up with like 30 ideas. What if we do this? What if we do that? What if we do that? And he would say 29 of them suck. Do this one. - He's the guy who would say, it's Jaws in Space, Act 1, 2, 3. Here's the deck. He could line up all of the ducks that wrote to get the financing. - For instance, the great scene in Alien, where the thing bursts out of John Hurt's chest, you know, that scene? That is Ron's scene. You know, that was his idea. - Which is burned into everyone's mind who has ever seen one of the Alien's movies. - So you can't say just because maybe he didn't actually physically write it at the typewriter, that was his, you know, so it's a very creative thing to be a producer. - So he usually works with a partner. He's more of a producer writer instead of the writer writer. You have the same agent, please continue. - So the agent said, Mike said, "So let me team you guys up and you'll be a team." So that, from my point of view, I now became like an apprentice. I was like the junior partner of this team. And when we go to meetings in Hollywood, nobody wanted me. They wanted Ron. He was the brand. And I was just, you know, I was the guy that actually sat at the keyboard. So in any event, for maybe 10 years or so, I did have a career as a screenwriter. So that was gaining credibility for me. And also, I was learning what a story is, you know, by, you know, the process that you go through. And then at one point, I just had this idea for the Legend of a Bag or Vance. And I had it as a book, not as a movie. And so when I told that to my agent then at the time, he basically fired me. You know, he basically said my story broke up. - My story isn't that I fired him, but his story is that he fired me. But basically, he was absolutely right because what he said to me was, "I've spent the last five years trying to get your career going. And we're now just about to get going. And you're telling me you're going to write some stupid golf novel that nobody's going to buy and nobody's going to read. It's going to take you a year to write it. And by that time, everybody will have forgotten who you are here in the business in Hollywood. And I'm back to square one and I've spent a lot of time working with you. So get out of here. So but in any event, that was how an actual novel that I wrote actually got published. So it was sort of a smooth transition. And when you know the actual passage there, it didn't just come out of nowhere. - So if you broke up with this agent or he broke up with you, you go off to write this thing. The agent has these doubts and believes that you're going to sort of sink into a blivion and become irrelevant, right? You're just going to be completely forgotten. You march off to pursue this dream and this project from there, not to be the dead horse about this. But like, how does it then find a home with a publisher? - You know, it was like a joke that I was an overnight success after 30 years. And I think sometimes your bad luck builds up to such an extent that it turns into good luck. The law of abacus starts to work for you, right? And what happened was to try to get a literary agent, right, which I did have. I had a Hollywood agent. So I went to my lawyer. I had an entertainment lawyer named Larry Rose. And he sent me to an agent named Jody Hachis in New York who worked for Sterling Lord, who's a big literary agent, who is still my agent and just turned 100 years old. Wow. By the way, and so almost overnight, that manuscript just found a buyer, bum, bum, bum, it found a buyer, found a movie buyer, found everything right away. So I think it was just the law of abacus finally evened out a little bit. - That's just incredible. What a story.
How Steven’s morning routine gives him the momentum to write with what his friend Randy calls a “little successes” approach. (50:33)
So I'd like to ask you about momentum in your life. And I'm asking, this is where I might segue at least indirectly into some therapy for myself. So I am looking at an interview you've done. And it's discussing the little successes approach. And I'm just going to read a first paragraph, then you can tell me if things have changed. But the first paragraph, and this is your response to a question. I think this is on writingroutines.com. I'm at the gym at 530 every morning, but it takes me until around 1130 to actually sit down and start work. I used to be able to put in four hours, but these days, two and a half is my outer limit. I close the office then. I never work later or at night. And then you talk about your friend Randy. Could you speak to the little successes approach and what this schedule represents? Randy is Randall Wallace who wrote Braveheart and has directed a bunch of movies as well. And he's a good friend of mine out here. And he has a theory that he calls little successes. And he means that from the moment he gets out of bed, and I believe this too exactly, he's looking to build up. He's looking ahead to the moment when he actually sits down and has to write whatever time that may be for him, 9 o'clock, 10 o'clock, whatever. And he's trying to produce a series of little successes between now and then to generate momentum. And he counts like brushing his teeth as a little success. And I do too. And one of the reasons I like to go to the gym early or do something physical early is because I'm trying to build up little successes. So that by the time I get to sit down at the page, I feel like I've got some momentum going. I've done this, I've done that, I've done, I took it out the garbage, you know, fed the birds. And I've got a little momentum going because I think it's very important. I mean, even if you think about, let's say a basketball player, think about Kobe Bryant or Michael Jordan or anybody, Steph Curry or whatever, going to a game tonight. You know, they're at the at the stadium like three and a half hours early. And even before then, they've been at the gym, or they've been getting a massage or they've out mentally, they're preparing themselves. And they go through, you know, they do their, if you watch Steph Curry do his routine, if you know, it's like, I don't know what it's amazing what he does. You know, rubber bands between his knees that straight strengthen his knees and he does, you know, 100 shots from, you know, but beyond the arc. And he's trying to build up little successes so that when the game starts, he's in the flow immediately and he's at the highest possible level. That's the theory anyway. What does your preferred exercise routine? Do you have any favorite exercises or workouts?
What does Steven’s exercise routine look like? (53:22)
I'm in the now in the COVID thing where I'm doing it out on my deck. But for up until the COVID thing, I train with a wonderful trainer named T.R. Goodman at a place called Pro Camp, Gold's Jim and Venice. And he has a, you know, a whole thing that he does with us who train with him. He's who trained in a group of two or three guys. And it's basically just, just really straight, basic weight training, you know, squats and curls and stuff like that, you know, legs on one day, you know, this just very basic stuff. That's a very iconic location as far as Jim's go. Yeah. It's now it's all in a tent in the parking line. Right. So it's changed a bit during pandemic times. So the little successes approach makes sense to me and really appeals to me.
Development Of Steven'S Own Creative Process
The writing process that works well for Joyce Carol Oates probably wouldn’t work at all for Steven. How should someone think about developing a routine for their own creative process? (54:15)
And there's so much variation, of course, when you talk to writers about process, right? So I recently interviewed Joyce Carol Oates and I've, when I was an undergrad, took a just a wonderful seminar with John McPhee. And both of them seem to basically sit down, chain themselves to a desk and write for eight hours. And their feeling is you can't wait for mood, you can't wait for the muse to strike. You really just need to start writing. And that will produce the conditions for writing. I have sometimes had the experience of that working, but perhaps it's just a weakness of character. I often break. I also just break. I'm just like, God, this is fucking terrible. And I stop. And then you have maybe a contrast, and I'm not saying this is all or nothing one approach to the other, but folks like PJ Novak, who people might recognize who spends quite a lot of time getting himself into a good mood. So you might take a few hours to get himself into the proper mood to write. And he's prolific and very successful. And then there's this little success, this approach. I suppose the question piggyback off of this is, how should someone think about developing a routine for their own writing process or creative process? Let's stick with writing just because it's what we're talking about, even though I think the discussion extends to many other areas, how should somebody think about figuring it out? Because even for me personally, I have, well, we'll talk about this afterwards, but I've been having quite a lot of challenges writing in the past few years. And so I've tried to reach into the grab bag of different routines. And I found it challenging because so many of them are diametrically opposed or seem to be. Yeah. How would you talk someone through finding something that works for them or making sense of conflicting advice? The one thing I would say is that it seems to me that every writer or artist has a unique way of doing it. And I don't think there's any kind of one-size fits all type of thing. Like there was an article in the LA Times a few years ago where they interviewed screenwriters and they were asked, you know, what was their routine? They interviewed like five writers and three of them wrote in their cars. And this is true. And one of them wrote in the car when it was moving. I don't know how they did this, but it just goes to show you that whatever works works, you know, like Joyce Carol Oates or John McPhee doing eight hours, that is beyond my comprehension. It's just, I mean, that's like Alex Honald and Free Solo, but for the writing world, I can't process that. But I do agree with them that, you know, there's a famous quote that I quoted in the War of Art and now I'm blanking on who it was, the famous writer who they asked him, do you write on a schedule or only when inspiration strikes you? Oh, Somerset Momm. And he said, I write only when inspiration strikes me. He says, fortunately it strikes me every morning at 9.30 sharp. So he was a believer in routine, right? And another person is a wonderful book by Twyla Tharp. I'm sure you're aware of this, Tim, called the creative habit. And she kind of describes her habits. And she's kind of like me. She goes to the gym at the crack of dawn. Every day she catches a cab at exactly the same time, goes to the exact same place. And she's trying to build up those little successes for when she gets to the studio and actually has to work. But to go a little deeper than that, you know, in my book, The War of Art, I talked about the concept of resistance with a capital R, which is again, that force of self-sabotage is a big theme in my life. That will try to stop you as a writer or an artist or anybody from achieving your best work, from following your call. And we'll try to distract you, undermine yourself confidence, make you procrastinate, make you quit, make you give into fear. Or on the other hand, make you such a perfectionist that you spend all day on one paragraph and you accomplish nothing. And the whole thing of little successes, the concept of little successes or a routine is to help you overcome that resistance, to help anybody go, that's the wall that you know you're going to hit, you know. And so you're mentally preparing yourself for that moment when you sit down and that negative force hits you, that you've got enough momentum and enough self-confidence or your friend who gets himself in a good mood. You're in enough of a good place. You've got enough good karma and good juju going for you that you can get through that wall of resistance and then just get into a rhythm and get into the flow and then just keep it going. That's the whole sort of concept behind little successes or a routine or habits. And I'm a big believer in habits. Me too. When I have been, I suppose, what we might call successful in writing, just getting anything consistently on pages, it's been with some form of scaffolding in the form of routine. And one that actually worked for me, I hadn't thought about this, to finish at least one book, maybe two was copying what I believe it was Maya Angelou, maybe, who would rent a hotel room to work out of to put herself in a different environment that was dedicated to writing. And when I was living in San Francisco, I remember Hotel Vitali was this hotel right on the Embarcadero and I would rent a room when I got really stuck to put myself in a different environment. And for whatever reason, I mean, let's... I'm sure it's placebo effect because how could it not be, right? It's got to be harnessing the mind and kind of pulling a IKEA to move on your own psyche. That really, really helped. You've mentioned the number of books.
Recommended books on the writing process — including one that integrates the editor’s mindset to keep things on track. (01:00:43)
So the war of art, I think everyone should read certainly. Then Twyla Tharp's a creative habit. I've also read, you mentioned Stephen King's On Writing, Ernest Hemingway On Writing, Larry Phillips and Henry Miller On Writing, Henry Miller, those are just incredible. One that I'm not familiar with, I would love to hear you just expand on for a second. And the line here that I'm reading is for integrating the editor's mindset into the writing process. The best book is The Story Grid by Sean Coyne. I think it is C-O-Y-N-E. What does that mean? The editor's mindset into the writing process. Before I say to that, I want to say that your idea of checking into a hotel room, I think is a great idea. And that's something that might be unique to you, Tim. That might be a trick that works for you. It's safer than driving a car in writing. But it is kind of an IKEA, it's a way of tricking yourself to somehow, I can't work there, but I can work here. If it works, it works. But the story grid, Sean Coyne is actually was my first editor. He was the editor who bought Gates and Fire. Oh, no kidding. And we are amazing. We're really good friends and we're partners in a little publishing company that we have called Black Irish Books. So I know Sean very well. And Sean is a Harvard guy and he has evolved this concept of editing that he calls The Story Grid. And it's incredibly deep. If you and I were looking at this, it was like Einstein. You know, I can't even begin to grasp what it is, but he really has a whole concept from A to Z of what a story is, what a scene is, and so on and so forth that he calls The Story Grid. And he actually, I highly recommend his website, www.storygrid.com. If you want to be an editor, if you want to be a writer, he teaches this whole concept. And it's great. But getting back to integrating the editor's mindset to the writer's mindset, a lot of times I've found me as a writer, I will just sort of spew stuff out in a novel, let's say. I'll just be consumed with a story and I'll just take it from A to Z without even thinking about it. And then I have to bring it to Sean. And he kind of tells me what the story is about, which I never had any clue what the theme is, and also will help to shape it into an actual story that really works. And a lot of the editor's mindset has to do with the hero's journey and that whole concept of Act 1, Act 2, Act 3, refusal of the call that we were talking about earlier. And Sean has another company of his own that he calls Genre Management. And he's a big believer in Genre, in the sense that a thriller has certain obligatory scenes and conventions. And a love story has certain obligatory scenes and conventions. A Western has certain. And you have to know them. And that's what an editor does. For instance, if you're going to have a love story, there always has to be a rival. That's a big thing. Think of any story and love story in the world. And there's also almost always has to be the lovers part in the middle or towards the end. And then they come back together at the end, or they fail to come back together at the end. And that's kind of what an editor brings to a writer's huge pile of papers that you bring and dump on the editor's desk is he or she is kind of aware of the various structures that actually work and the kind of the principles of storytelling. And when you violated them, an editor can bring you back from that. Or when you have left certain things out that need to be in there, an editor will say, "You know, you need to do this." And so if you can educate yourself as a writer in that editor's way of thinking, you can sort of become your own editor in a sense. And it really helps you. I mean, I do maybe 15 drafts of a book. And you know, seventh, eighth, ninth, I'm really thinking like an editor. I'm looking at this and saying, "What's missing? What have I done wrong? What conventions have I violated? And if I have violated them, do I have a good reason for it?" So I'm not sure that's an answer to him, but that's... That is an answer. I highly recommend anything to do with Sean Cohen and Story Do.
Steven’s advice for overcoming “Resistance with a capital R” when we feel like anything we create today will never match (let alone exceed) what we created yesterday. (01:05:24)
So I have this newsletter called "Five Bullet Friday." It's five short bullets of things that I've found interesting or helpful or novel throughout each week. And I had the experience... I'm a subscriber, by the way. Oh, wonderful. I appreciate that. Yeah, I know all about it. I love doing it. And it serves as a diary of sorts for me. And I had the experience in the last week of one of those bullets expanding dramatically and ultimately becoming close to a 10-page blog post, which if people want to check out, it's related to conservation and ethical choices in the world of psychedelic compounds. They can find it at Timn.blog. But the point that I want to make or the contrast maybe is I wrote this piece. I was very happy to have finally written this piece, even though I'm catching heat from certain factions within the psychedelic communities for it, because it's been a very long time since I've written a blog post, a long-form blog post. And that having been said, I was interviewed yesterday by a friend of mine, Harley of Shopify fame. And he read a passage from the "For Our Work Week" in the course of that interview, because he's read the book, he's very kind. He wanted to use it as a launching pad for discussion. And he read a few paragraphs for the "For Our Work Week." And here's what you can probably guess. Here's what I thought to myself, "God damn, I have done nothing but become worse at writing since I was 29. What in, for fuck's sake, what am I doing with my life?" And I became hyper-self-critical. I was like, "Man, look at how many M-dashes I have in this long-form blog post I just put up. What kind of crutch is this? I'm using M-dashes like they're going out of style." And so on and so forth. So this just like litany of abuse, just kind of rolled off the brain while it attacked itself. And this has been a large part of my own resistance, the feeling that my best work is behind me, and I can't replicate it or not replicate it, because I don't want to become an imitation of myself. But that for whatever reason, the pixie dust has been lost or that I've atrophied, I've so let the muscles atrophy that there's just, I'm past the point of no return. Have you ever contended with this? If you haven't, what advice or even if you have, what advice would you give for people who are bumping up against this? Because it's been a real hindrance, I recognize itself in post, but it's been a real hindrance to me actually putting pen to paper, so to speak. Here's my thoughts on the tip. Resistance with a capital R, the force of self-sabotage, is tremendously diabolical and nuanced and protean in that it will and subtle, incredibly subtle. And it will attack us at our weakest point, and it will usually will attack us in an area where there's some truth to what we might fear about ourselves. So I would say for sure, Tim, that thought that you have is bullshit. It's resistance. It's totally resistance. There's nothing wrong with you. You haven't lost any pixie dust. That is pure resistance. It's finding a weak spot in you. It just knows it. It's like the alien knows how to get after you. And so the form it takes for me might be different. The weak spot it might find in me might be different, but I think it's just finding that in you. And I think the only way to deal with it is to just dismiss it. Take my word for it. It's bullshit. There's no grounding in it at all. Just keep doing what you're doing. And I'm sure that I remember I had a friend when I first came out into Los Angeles, a fellow screenwriter, and he got on the phone with me when he was in Testeria because he was sure that he was over the hill. And I asked him, I said, "Tom, how old are you?" He said, "22." And so this is true. So resistance will find that weak spot, a chink in our armor. But don't pay any attention to it, Tim. Dismiss it, it's bullshit. Thank you for that. And I have to follow up by asking what purpose does resistance serve?
Why does Steven believe Resistance with a capital R exists? What purpose could it possibly serve? (01:10:11)
Why does it exist? I try to think of things in evolutionary terms. Maybe this is just some vestigial mutation that is just persisted, but doesn't actually have a utility. But I'd love to hear your thoughts on why it exists. I'm not sure. Seth Godin thinks it's the lizard brain. I'm a big dillow, whatever it is that I never have quite understood. But to me, and I'm going to get a little airy fairy here, a little metaphysical, I think that if we think of our identity, we can say that there's at least two parts of it. One, I would call the ego. And the other, I would call the self with a capital S and the Jungian sense of self. And the ego is a rational mind. It's the part of us that pays taxes and goes down and gets a driver's license and becomes a lawyer or whatever, whatever. And that ego is our eye, the letter I. And we obviously have to have an ego. We have to have that I that we know how to stop it or stop like, don't let's sort of talk. And then there's the other thing that Jung would call the self with a capital S. And that self includes the deep, deep unconscious, the collective unconscious, the hero's journey, the archetypes, all of these things that we're not aware of until Freud finally discovered this, but that are driving us in a good way, many times in a really good way. And also, according to Jung, the self with the capital S, butts up against what they call the divine ground. And I love that. It's what I would say is where inspiration comes from. It really is divinity. It's beyond mortality. It's the muse, it's inspiration. It's anytime you get into the zone, that's where you are, right? As an athlete, as an artist or whatever. So I'm getting back to resistance. Trust me. I can't believe you. What I think is when we as artists or as athletes or as anything, begin to shift our identity from our ego to ourself, when we start trusting in intuition, when we start trusting in our deep dreams, in our deep inspiration from sources that we don't know what it is. Like for me, writing the novels that I wrote that I never thought that just came out of nowhere. It had no made no sense, but are coming from a deeper source. Anyway, when we start to identify with the self and turn over our nexus of control to that, the ego becomes threatened. Because the ego realizes that it's going to lose. The ego strikes back and creates resistance. And its goal is to try to convince us that this other world of inspiration and tuition of the muse or the self is a phony world. It's bullshit. Don't pay attention to it. Stay here with me, Mr. Ego. I'm the ego. That's what it is to me. I just had an email. I got into an email correspondent with a monk from Self-Realization Fellowship, Brother Ki Vashananda. Are you familiar with Self-Realization Fellowship? I'm not. Anyway, it's a wonderful thing. It's Yogan Nha-parama-hansa Yogananda's thing that he started. And he was telling me about the beyond the Bhagavad Gita and the story of Arjuna and Krishna, there's the in this great battle in the Bhagavad Gita is the ego, is a character named Bhishma. And Arjuna finally slays the ego, shooting him with 108 arrows. And he shot so full of arrows that he's on his back, supported by the arrows. And he takes him a month to die. And even as he's dying, Bhishma, he's constantly spouting his bullshit about how he's still in charge, he's still in charge, he's still in charge. And I think that we as artists, our athletes, I think, are trying to get beyond the ego, or Buddhist meditators, or people doing ayahuasca, or whatever, we're trying to get beyond the ego into whatever is next. But the ego doesn't want us to get beyond it. And the ego will hang on and take a month to die. And that's what I think resistance is. It's the ego's way of trying to hang on to control of us. I really like that. And it rings true to me in so many respects. I mean, the ego, if we are not what our ego believes us to be a lawyer, a this, we're not right, someone who does X, someone who always or never does why, then what are we in that uncertainty is very threatening. So it makes a lot of sense that there would be there would be a violent opposition by the ego to I mean, I may be completely wrong, but this is my theory. Yeah, it's certainly helpful to think of it's a useful lens to look at this through. And this may be very related. I would love to hear you define or describe what a what a shadow career is.
What is a shadow career, and what’s Steven’s advice to someone who finds themselves in one (and is willing to acknowledge it)? (01:15:43)
I read a short, relatively short blog post of yours that discussed this. And I think it's I think it's it could be very helpful to explore. I'll give you kind of an example from the movie business. As you know, in the movie business, there are you need a lawyer, there are law firms, entertainment law firms. In fact, rich role, wonderful podcaster and athlete used to be an entertainment lawyer. You did and entertainment lawyers, directors, if you're a director, an actor, writer, you have to have a lawyer because when deals come up, you know, they make the deals for you, right? They get the contract, right? And I have found that when you talk to not all entertainment lawyers, but some entertainment lawyers, secretly they want to be writers, or they want to be directors, or they're there. And what they have done in becoming lawyers, to some extent, is their their law career is like a shadow career. It's like adjacent to what they really want to do. They really want to direct, or they really want to write, but they for whatever reasons, they were afraid to do it. So they thought, well, let me I can go to law school, and that will give me a trade that I can occupation a profession I can count on. And so the law becomes kind of a shadow career for them. There are another instance of that. As a lot of times, people will work as other people's assistants, right? They'll pick up their dry cleaning, they'll do all of that sort of stuff, which can be, and that's a shadow career, which can be, of course, it's also a legitimate thing. It can be an apprenticeship, where you're working for a photographer, or whatever, whatever you're learning. But it also can be because a lot of times, those people who are people's assistants really want to do what their boss is doing, but be a musician, be a rock star, whatever it is. But for whatever reason, they're afraid to, and so they're just they have a they pick a profession that's kind of adjacent to where they want to be, but it's not actually doesn't have the same risk. I want to underscore this for folks, because I think it is exceptionally common. I see the temptation in myself and around me in certain capacities. So it's really worth having on the radar. I think I'm going to read just a little bit of this blog post from 2012, which is on your website, studentpressfield.com. I think this is more from Turning Pro, at least that's the URL. So here we go. Sometimes when we're terrified of embracing our true calling will pursue a shadow calling instead. The shadow career is a metaphor for our real career. Its shape is similar. Its contours feel tantalizingly the same, but a shadow career entails no real risk. If we fail at a shadow career, the consequences are meaningless to us. Are you pursuing a shadow career? Are you getting your PhD in Elizabethan? That's how you say that studies, because you're afraid to write the tragedies and comedies you know you have inside you. Are you living the drug and booze half of the musician's life without actually writing the music? Are you working in a support capacity for an innovator because you're afraid to risk being an innovator yourself? These are really good questions. I think they're really important questions. The drug and booze half example, I think, is also very important because it's possible to grab the romanticized risky portions of a possible real passion and emulate them in a shadow career in a way that actually has quite a lot of downside risk with none of the upside potential. Yeah, true. I mean, I think not to overstated, but sometimes addiction is a shadow career. That you're acting out the wild and crazy lifestyle rather than actually doing the work to be a musician or to be a whatever. What do you say to people who would answer yes in the sense that they are able to be honest with themselves and say, "You're totally right. I am actually doing that." But like you said, this is low risk and the pursuit of what I really want to do doesn't tell risk, and I'm afraid. Well, there's no way around it except to actually do it. If I were advising anybody or advising myself if I were in that tradition, I would say, get into some kind of therapy. Get into something that will help you elevate your consciousness about this, let you explore it, introspection, and at some point it will become pretty clear what your real dream is. Maybe if you're a photographer's assistant, you really say, "Oh, I want to be a cinematographer. I'd love to be Vilmals Zigman. I want to shoot Scorsese's next movie." That's, I'd love to do that. Then it's sort of a matter of, I hate to talk about the ego, but getting back into rationality and saying, "Okay, how do I pursue that? Should I go to school? Should I apprentice myself on a track that will actually take me there? Or should I, you know, whatever, figure out what the actual track is that will get you to that dream?" Then the other thing I'd say is talking to myself again is be very aware of your own tendency to self-sabotage, of resistance, and watch out for any of those mental self-conversations that will try to talk you out of doing it. You know, build up your professional habits and just go for it, you know? Just go for it. I'll add one thing to that, which has been very helpful to me. So I'm saying this to myself also because it's probably time for me to do this again with respect to writing. That is take a look at an exercise. You can find it online called fear setting that I've written quite a bit about. I also did a TED talk related to the subject because it's saved my life in some ways. And it's really just a rephrasing and presenting of an exercise from the Stoics called pre-metatotyomallorum. It's a meditating on the worst case. This is just a practice of actually putting to paper what the worst things are that could happen, how you might mitigate against them, how you could minimize the damage or reverse the damage. And as Seneca the Younger has said, of course not in English, and I'm paraphrasing here, but we suffer more in imagination than in reality. And it's easy to believe or to overestimate the threats that exist from action while underestimating the risks of inaction when they're trapped in your head. But when you put them on paper, it actually loses oftentimes a lot of its force. So I would just recommend people take a look at fear setting with a hyphen in the middle. Let's talk about Amanda Narms.
What compelled Steven to write his latest work of historical fiction, A Man at Arms? For that matter, what compels Steven to write fiction? (01:23:10)
You have your creative how-to books, the warm art, turning pro, do the work, and so on. Then you have your historical fiction, which is just outstanding. Gates of Firetides of War, the Afghan campaign, and now Amanda Narms. Why did you write this new book? How did it come to be? What was the Genesis story? Before we go, let me talk, I'll come back and talk about fear setting. I wanted to say something after that when we're done. There's only been one recurring character in my historical fiction. And he is this sort of gun slinger of the ancient world, Telamon of Arcadia, the one-man killing machine of the ancient world. And he's been in three books of mine. And as a minor character, but I've always been fascinated by this guy, and in fact, a lot of readers have been fascinated by him too. And I've always wanted to write a book only about him. And this is another kind of weird thing to him about the creative process. A lot of times, I will block out a story. And I know exactly what each character represents and who they are and what they're going to do. But this one character, Telamon, the one-man killing machine of the ancient world, came on the page to me fully formed. I didn't plan him. I had no idea where he came from, and he not only was he fully formed, but he had a deep philosophy and a very dark philosophy, a real warrior samurai philosophy. And so I wanted to write this book about him because I'm only about him because I wanted to follow his journey. It's really, he was really sort of in the other stories at the end of his hero's journey. And I was wondering where was he going to go from there? And for like 13 years, I tried to come up with a story that would work. And I just did outline after outline, and I never could find it. And finally, I just had a flash about adding to his world a young, vulnerable girl, a nine-year-old girl, a mute girl. And somehow that sort of cracked the story for me. And so this book came very fast. It's set in first century AD right after the crucifixion in Jerusalem and in the Sinai desert. And I just really, I just wanted, this guy character of Telamon is sort of an alter ego for me. I know on some crazy unconscious level, I'm bound to this character in some way. And his story is my story in some way. Oh, I don't know what it is. And so I wanted, you know, writing, as you know, thickly fiction, it's like a dream in that you enter another dimension of reality when you're sitting down to write. And you don't know what's going to come a lot of times. The work takes on a life of its own, and it'll pull you along. So that was this book for me. I wanted to see where Telamon would go and what his arc would be. And I know I'm going to have to write another one because I haven't got to the end of it yet, but that's where that was the genesis of a man at arms. And when you write a book like this, since I have no experience with this fiction, although I'm endlessly fascinated by it, I think I'm afraid of it, honestly, because I read good fiction and I think to myself, good reason to be afraid of it. Yeah. Lord, I just cannot. I just don't know how humans do this. Do you write a book like this simply because you are a writer and fiction is a way of exploring this alternate reality? Is it because you hope it to impart certain messages or lessons that people will learn from? What are the reasons behind an undertaking? I'm absolutely a believer, as you know, in the muse. I believe in another dimension of reality. I believe that books or songs or businesses exist in the realm of potential before they exist in the real world. And I believe that as a writer, I am a servant of the muse. And I believe this book, a man at arms, existed. It existed in that other dimension. And I was called on to bring it forth in this dimension. So I really don't have a message. I do want to explore certain aspects of the character, but mainly this story just co-resees me. And I felt like I've got to tell this story. I've got to get it. I've got to make it work in a hero's journey terms. And I've got to tell it. In the right way and solve all those problems. But mainly, I just wanted to tell this story. Like a singer would want to sing a certain song or a dancer would want to dance a certain dance. So that was the reason. It's just this story just seized me and came very fast and very easy.
Steven'S Topics Of Interest And Recent Works
What distinguishes the stories that come fast and easy from the hard slogs, and what might I gain from testing the waters of fiction writing? (01:28:13)
What would you say if you have an answer for this distinguishes the books that come fast and easy from those that are more difficult, those that are maybe just a hard slog? It seems the hard ones don't work and the easy ones do. It's almost like if it's hard, maybe it's a reason why it's hard. Why are you pushing a boulder uphill? Which is not to say even the easy ones are hard in the sense that there are a lot of technical problems to solve. Like I just was doing a video on Instagram. I was talking about the original manuscript of Gates of Fire. It was 802 pages long. And the book was finally 384. So I had to cut basically cut it in half. So that was like a technical problem that was hard. But the book itself was easy. The book came with a lot of energy just like I'm in an arms just kind of cane. In fact, I don't even have really a memory of writing it. I know I wrote it last year, but it just came in a real rush. I would love to experience more of that in my writing. Sounds like I just have to get on the playing field a bit more often. Site unseen Tim, we don't know each other. It's the first time we really talk for a long time. And if you'll forgive me for being your psychotherapist dear for a second. Yes, please. I think maybe you should think about writing fiction at some point. I agree with you. I agree with you. I do. I do. I think I am psyching myself out. And I think it would be so freeing for me to do it because my nonfiction books are so carefully meticulously architected. There are no surprises. I mean, there everything is intended to be as clear, which is fine, and prescriptive and represent such a logical sequence in building. I know what you mean. Yeah. For the writer, for me, there's very little element of surprise that harnessing of the muse is minimal, in a sense. It exists with terms of phrase and certain with thoughts about composition. But I appreciate you saying that. I agree. I would like to try some fiction. And you can just write it maybe for a handful of friends. Although let me make one comment actually coming way back to something you said at the very early beginnings of this conversation. When you said you wrote a novel and even your friends wouldn't read it, I wanted to just say that if you write for those people out there who haven't written much, don't be overly offended or demoralized if your friends don't read it because my friends and especially my family, I'm not going to name out names, are the last people who will ever read my stuff, including now. I think it's just kind of like sometimes absolutely true. I couldn't agree more, Tim. And there's a reason for that too. They are the last people who I couldn't get my mother to read anything. It's because they are the people who are close to you, since when you write something or you take a chance, they sense you changing. You're becoming a different person. Their fear is they're going to lose you. And so they want to make you stay the way you are. In a crazy way, it's love. It's out of love. But it's a dark side of love. Let me say a couple of things to you, Tim, for whatever this is worth. Forgive me for being presumptuous. But if you do decide to write fiction, here's what I would suggest. First of all, don't start small. Don't say, "Oh, let me write a short story." Because that's kind of a pussy way of doing it. Do it seriously. And Amuse doesn't like that. She wants you to go big. So go for something big, I would suggest. And also, the way you'll know the idea is that it will be terrifying to you, prospect of exposing yourself to do this. And that's the one you should do. I love that. And I encourage you to do that. Don't piss off the muse with small ambitions. Really? Or maybe not piss off, don't insult the muse. I mean, a four-hour work week was a big idea, a huge idea, you know? And an idea that could have fallen completely on your face. You could have just laughed you out of it. But you did it, you know? And it worked. So I would say, you know, to the same concept only with fiction. Thank you. I'm going to take that to heart.
Fear-setting from an Israeli fighter pilot’s perspective. (01:32:59)
Let me get back for one second to fear-sitting. There's just one thing I wanted to say. Yes, please. To reinforce what you were saying. A few years ago, I wrote a book called The Lionsgate, which was about the 1967 Arab-Israeli War, the Six-Day War. And I went over to Israel and I interviewed a bunch of fighter pilots. And I had never really talked to fighter pilots before. And the thing that is that they have in common, the mindset of a fighter pilot, is exactly what you were saying. Like, before they would go up on a mission, they would sit down. And for hours in solitude, run the mission in their mind, thinking of every possible thing that could go wrong. You know, what if I get a flame out over the Sinai desert? You know? What if my guns don't fire? What if I'm attacked from out of the sun, whatever? And they would sort of, in their mind, play out all of these worst-case scenarios. And when they had played them out and they knew what they were going to do, then they were ready to go. And I thought, that is a great way to think about things. You know, because the last thing you always want to have to have to save something is, oh, I never saw it coming. Right? So I hardly agree with that idea and fear setting, that whole stoic concept. I think it's a great thing. Let's use that as a jumping off point to something I know very little about.
What is the yetzer hara? (01:34:22)
But I've seen it come up in some discussions. And that is the concept of, I'm not going to get the pronunciation here, correct? But Yetser Hara. Is it Yetser Hara? Yetser Hara. What is Yetser Hara? You know, I wish I had my Rabbi Rabbi Mordecai Finley here to explain it to us. But he apparently, it's a phrase from Genesis. And it's translated by Rabbi Finley as a turning toward evil. And he has said to me that this is a concept in copellistic thought and Jewish mysticism. And it's the equivalent of my concept of resistance from the capital R. It's that force that exists in the world to stop us from going to a lower level to a higher level, like in to realizing our calling, to coming into our own. It's that negative force. And in Jewish mysticism, there's a concept that life happens on more than one dimension. And that we live on the material dimension. And above us is a higher dimension. It's called the Neshama. And that is the soul. And the what they talk about the soul is that above every blade of grass is an angel saying, grow, grow. The soul, or what I would say would be the unconscious of the muse, is actively engaged in our life and trying to help us. And we are trying to reach up to the soul. At the same time, the soul is trying to reach down to us and help us. And in between the two, is this force called the Yitzah-rah, this negative force of self-sabotage. And when Rabbi Finley told me that, that that was something that existed in Jewish thought for years and years, I thought, ah, I'm not crazy. Other people have thought about the same thing. And so actually in Genesis, as I understand this right, I may be getting it wrong, but the is the story where God decides to destroy the human race. And he regrets and repents that he made us. And he looks down and he sees what and he sees everywhere, a turning toward evil, meaning this is the Yitzah-rah. And this is when God decides to send the flood, you know, to wipe us out and know us, survive, right? So it's in this kind of spiritual sense, it's almost a flaw in the universe that when God created us, at least according to Kabbalistic thought, he made a mistake. He screwed up. Bugging the software. Yeah, I'm bugging the software. And if you certainly, if you look at the human race, there is a turning toward evil everywhere, right? There's something wrong with us. And I would say it's a lack of connection to the soul. What we were talking about about the self and the ego of resistance and everything. So in any event, that's what that's what the Yitzah-rah is. As I understand it, I may be wrong, but as I understand it in Kabbalistic Jewish mysticism.
How should I best prepare to “go big” as an aspiring fiction writer? (01:37:36)
So I would love to ask just a few more questions. And the first few are going to be related to my homework assignment or recommendation of writing fiction. So you said, go big. And in my mind, I'm thinking that could mean a novel, could mean a screen play. So I'd like you to elaborate on what that means. But also, I know that I have a tendency to read and prepare, perhaps excessively, often as a form of procrastination, right? I can read 10 books before I ever set pen to paper. Since I have no exposure or experience with fiction writing, are there any books I should read or things I should consider before I begin? Or literally, should I just say to myself, I'm going to write a novel. I don't even know how novels are structured, but I'm going to start with page one today. So there's the question of what is big, what does that actually mean to you? And then how much preparation, if any, or education is the right amount before beginning? I think when I say go big, I think that the muse likes it. You know, fortune favors the bold. And I think when we try for something big, we're taking the initiative, and we're kind of invoking a tailwind behind us. Whereas if we kind of timid, and we say, "Oh, well, just let me do this small little thing that I'm going to do." I don't think the muse likes that. And I don't like in advertising, when I was working in advertising, I used to come up with the tiniest ideas. It was really pathetic. And I'd bring them into the boss, and they would like to throw me out. It said, "This is an idea the size of a postage stamp. Get the fuck out of here. Come back with something big." And it was really hard for me to do, you know, because I was afraid of it. So I do think going big helps, invokes the muse in a good way. And sort of as a parallel to that, Tim, I would say, even though eventually you are going to have to learn what the story principles are, I would say just plunge in. And follow, just do something that you love. I mean, I have, it's too bad we're not on video here, because I am behind me, a book by a friend of mine, Mike McClellan, called The Sand Sea. And it's like 780 pages long or something. And Mike is a lawyer. He's a functioning lawyer. He's got a wife and kids, and over like a 13-year period, he would get up at the crack of dawn and go out to his garage where he had an office. And he would put in, he would write 500 words a day. But this book, The Sand Sea, is a huge book. It's like a Tolkien type of book. And, you know, with all kinds of crazy characters from everywhere, and I really applaud that he did it that way. And now he's on to the second book in the trilogy, there's going to be a third one. So for him, going big really worked. And it has worked for me, too. That doesn't mean that necessarily has to be 800 pages long. But just a big idea. And I did, it's kind of a scary idea. You said to yourself, "When I show this to people, they're going to look at me and go, 'What happened to you, Tim? Are you okay? ', you know? That's where what I mean by big. And should I just assume this is never going to be read by anyone? Is that a helpful assumption to make a couple of follow-up questions? Yeah, do it only for yourself. Yeah. Do it only for yourself. And is the, because when I hear stories of someone working on things, say, in the mornings, like the kite runner, right? But I mean, the same, the similar story, I think the author was working in medicine at the time and would wake up super early and worked for a long period of time on this book. And when I think of my first foray into fiction, if I think it's going to be a homework assignment, like a daily homework assignment for years, there is a very large part of me that just does not want to do it. Unless the purpose behind it is therapy or this is going to be cultivating your connection with this other dimension you've described. And that's the purpose of doing this. Do you have any thoughts on those points or concerns? I mean, it may be, Tim, that writing fiction is your calling. I don't know. It could very well be. You could say that nonfiction books and podcasts and stuff like that might be, if you'll forgive me, might be a shadow career for you. I don't know. Yeah. Yeah. Could be. So in that case, the exercise of writing fiction would be like a lifelong calling, a practice from now to the end. And I would think that it's a good idea to hope that it will be successful, that it'll find a market that people will love it. But at the same time, I think it's very important, and I'm talking to myself too, to turn off the self-sensor and not start to think, Oh, shit, are people going to like this? Or is this, have I gone too far in this scene? You know, in other words, trying to second guess the audience, because an audience, if it's out there, it'll find it. It'll find the work. And if it isn't, it won't. But I would say just write to please yourself and always take the brave choice. You know, should I write this scene this way? It's kind of a chicken away. Or should I go really go for it and write it the big way? And I would say always take the brave choice and monitor yourself as you go, because what should happen is once you're into this, you should really start to feel good. You should really feel a tail wind and really feel like, Oh, shit, my feet are on the ground. You know, this, you know, I may be a beginner. I maybe I don't know what I'm doing, but I'm on the right path. And if it doesn't feel like that, then maybe it's not the right idea. Well, I if it's okay with you, I may reach out to you as my. Yeah, please do. Absolutely. As my stabilizing wing at some point. And I. No, I'm serious, Dan. Please do. Thank you. I really appreciate that. Stephen, this has been so much fun. I would love to do another round at some point have another conversation like this. There's there's a bit of me down in the books, whatever. There's no shortage of topics to cover. And maybe after I've actually given this a shot, I think that should be the stakes. That should be the accountability is I can't have you on again until I have actually spent some time on this scary thing called fiction. And well, just a few last questions.
What would Steven’s billboard say? (01:44:25)
And this one doesn't always work out, but I like to ask it. And it's not an easy question necessarily, but if you had a billboard, metaphorically speaking, to get a message or a quote or a question or an image out to billions of people, assuming they would all understand it, what might you put on that billboard? And you know, actually, this was a question in tribe of mentors that actually wrote an answer to it was, but what I said in that in tribe of mentors was I would not put up any billboard at all. And I would tear them all down. But to answer your question a little more seriously, you know, because you're sort of saying, well, what's what would be kind of if you had to say one thing somebody to help them? Exactly. I would say, life is is long. This is what a friend of mine Phil Slott once said to me, said, they always tell you life is short, but actually life is long. And if we find ourselves making mistakes or we haven't yet found our real calling, don't drive yourself crazy with that, you know, there's plenty of time. Everybody thinks they've got, oh, if I don't do it in the next six months, I'm going to kill myself, you know, and I thought that too forever. But look at me, it took me forever to break through into anything that I still feel that I've got a whole other lifetime ahead of me. And you know, you, Tim, you've got like three lifetimes ahead of me. So be patient with yourself. I would say to people, be kind to yourself. You're on a journey, whether you realize it or not, we all are. There's no way not to be. And things will reveal themselves as they go. But don't beat yourself up too much.
Parting thoughts. (01:46:07)
Stephen, this has been so much fun. I really appreciate you taking the time. Yeah, for me, too. And people can find you at Stephen Pressfield again with a V. StephenPressfield.com Twitter @SPressfield Instagram Stephen_Pressfield will link to all of your books, including the newest and one that I'm quite excited about, "A Man at Arms," an epic saga about a reluctant hero, the Roman Empire, and the rise of a new faith checking all the boxes for me. And are there any other comments you'd like to make, any requests of my audience, any parting questions or anything at all that you'd like to add before we bring this conversation to place? No, I think that billboard, that's my billboard. Yeah, that would be the final thing. Other than to say, "Thanks for having me, Tim. It's great talking to you, getting to know you a little bit." And I hope I didn't overstep my bounds in giving unsolicited advice. But I hope what I said helps a little bit. And we'll talk again. I think enough this writing thing doesn't work out for you. Maybe that's your shadow career for becoming a psychoanalyst. Maybe that is what we're calling. And I have found this very helpful personally, and I'm sure it will help many other people out there. So thank you again, Stephen. And to everyone listening, once again, you can find links to everything that we mentioned at Tim.blog/podcast. And until next time, thank you for tuning in. Hey guys, this is Tim again, just a few more things before you take off. Number one, this is "Fi Bullet Friday." Do you want to get a short email from me? Would you enjoy getting a short email from me every Friday that provides a little morsel of fun for the weekend? And "Fi Bullet Friday" is a very short email where I share the coolest things I've found or that I've been pondering over the week. That could include favorite new albums that I've discovered. 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