Writing Wednesdays

Writing Wednesdays

Do It Anyway

By Steven Pressfield | Published: May 26, 2010

This is an important post. I say that because this piece addresses (after procrastination, which is the #1 champ), the single greatest excuse/reason/cop-out that prevents aspiring writers, artists and entrepreneurs from taking action to pursue their dreams.

That excuse is, “First I have to _____________.”

“___________” can be anything from “finish my research” to “pay the rent” to “get rid of my slacker boyfriend.” I’m not saying such excuses can’t be real or serious. “Stop drinking,” “get out of rehab,” “recover from suicide attempt.” They can be absolutely valid and true. But they’re still Resistance. They’re still bullshit.
Here’s the counter-mantra: “Do it anyway.”

Am I being overly hard-core to assert this? No. I’m being kind.

The surest antidote to the state of misery and paralysis that we find ourselves in when we’re under the spell of “First I have to _________” is to sit down and do our work anyway.

Tales from the trenches

This past year hasn’t been the worst of my life—but it’s right up there. I’ll skip the personal details because of the pain it might cause to people dear to me, but suffice it to say that my head, my heart and my butt have been swimming for their lives this past year. My artistic self-confidence, which has been bedrock for me for years, took a major hit about six months ago. I’m still not out of the woods. At the same time, outside commitments (most of which, to be honest, are voluntary and positive), family emergencies and other imperatives have whacked the hell out of my working time.

But here’s the weird part: my work has never been better. I’ve got three projects going, and they’re all hitting on eight cylinders.  Yeah, it’s slow. Yes, it’s hard. But the stuff is good.

It’s saving my life. Certainly it has preserved my sanity.

In other words . . .

In other words: Do it anyway.

We don’t have to do anything else first. We don’t need to cure our neuroses, conquer our fears, overcome our bad habits. We don’t have to be sane; we don’t have to be solvent. We can be totally screwed up. None of these real-world troubles has anything to do with our creative selves.

The part of our psyches that we write from, or paint from, or conceive new entrepreneurial or philanthropic ventures from . . . that part exists in a wholly different dimension from the part of us that is mucking up our personal lives. There’s no connection. The twain don’t meet.  No matter how balled-up we may be in our outer world, our internal fortress of solitude remains waterproof, soundproof, bulletproof.

A bank account in the Caymans

Songs and software concepts, new plays and novels and business ventures . . . they all derive from some mysterious source that isn’t us. And they have their own trajectories and power sources, independent of us. War and Peace and Beethoven’s Sixth, in my view, had their genesis on another sphere and kept germinating under their own power, despite Tolstoy’s troubles with his thirteen kids and Ludwig van’s loss of hearing.

The process, as I see it, is kind of like a womb with the baby growing inside—or like the “cloud” where we save our computer files. It’s safe. It’s in the Cayman’s somewhere.

We’re insulting this mysterious process (and ourselves) when we say we’ll get to work, “but first we have to _________.” And we’re cutting ourselves off from our own deepest sources of creativity.

Stay alert. Any time you catch yourself saying, “First I have to ______________,” know that that statement is 100-proof, Prime Resistance. No matter how real the reason or how plausible the excuse, it’s still bogus.

Save yourself the torture. Turn to the work. Do it anyway.

Posted in Writing Wednesdays

51 Responses to “Do It Anyway”

  1. May 26, 2010 at 2:10 am

    Thank you Steven. As happens so often, you put things into words in a way that very few people can.

  2. May 26, 2010 at 3:15 am

    Super cool, Steven!;-)
    I have been “reading you” for quite a while,but today I simply have to leave a comment.

    I am totally with you on “do it anyway” and when I look back at past 10 months of my life, I can say that only “do it anyway” attitude allowed me to accomplish things which I would not even dreamed off, during my “good” times. When you jump into “shipping your art” in full speed, you simply don’t have time to spare on mourning about personal dramas and tough times and then you realize how blessed you are despite all downturns along the way.

    cheers from Slovakia,
    i.

  3. May 26, 2010 at 5:58 am

    Your previous post about the marathon really hit home with me. I have now been on my treadmill everyday for the past 13 days just doing it – small-scale, don’t have to run a marathon but have to lose weight and take control. When I start my walk, I have a print-out of last week’s post in my hands. I read it every day and use it to keep myself wanting to do it. It’s working a charm. My new mantra is : “magic produced by effort sustained over time”. “Do it anyway” seems like a perfect mate and an ideal fall-back should I wake up one of these days trying to convince myself that I haven’t got the time, inclination, etc to step onto the treadmill. I’m in full-blown war against my Resistance/Terminator and a huge part of this is down to you sharing your insights through this blog and you book. Thanks Steven!! Keep it up from Belgium!

  4. May 26, 2010 at 6:35 am

    Love this and couldn’t agree more!

    I can so relate, as I had one of those years too. ;) After a beautiful day in August on the Danube, a bike wreck led me to surgery in a foreign land and a paralyzed right dominant arm.

    10 months later and I’m still healing, but what is so funny about it is that soon after I did it, I got a call out-of-the blue for a profile in the New York Times and then literary agents talked me into writing a book about our family world tour.

    Timing in life can be hysterical, although breaking a humerus is not humorous. ;) The most simple things like eating, putting on clothes, showering or brushing my teeth became huge chores and the pain kept me from sleeping for many months, yet we continued on with our world tour. I hear your, “Yeah, it’s slow. Yes, it’s hard. ”

    I never imagined I’d be writing a book, let alone doing it with one left hand. Yet, by being willing to some how “do it any way” so much has been learned and gained in the process…for everyone in our family.

    “Opportunities to find deeper powers within ourselves come when life seems most challenging.”-Joseph Campbell

    Yes, indeed, do it anyway & do it now! Thank you for the soulful reminder.

    • May 26, 2010 at 8:20 am

      This is a wonderful post, and soultravelers3 a wonderful response post. I’ve been following you on twitter, and had no idea. Sometimes cutting through the muck and making it simple- also makes it a little easier.

  5. May 26, 2010 at 7:27 am

    What a great post. Thank you. For obvious reasons, I feel like expressing sympathy for the hard time you’ve been enduring, but for equally obvious reasons, I’m tripped up in that by the very point you’re making here. I am indeed sorry that life has been so rough, but then again — and as you indicate — it’s circumstances like these that underscore and highlight the truth of that impregnable inner source of creativity.

    Regarding the “do it anyway” approach, I have two thoughts: 1) Yes. 2) But only when it’s time. I agree wholeheartedly that the “But first…” mentality is always and invariably a cop-out born of resistance. But in my own life as a writer and musician, I’ve become progressively more sensitive over the years to the fairly galactic importance of recognizing and honoring the very real silences that come up, when I simply have to quit working and sink into what can feel like mute impotence. Sometimes these have even been occasioned by serious life-level crap like the stuff you’re talking about. It’s a precariously thin dividing line between resistance and active waiting on the muse.

  6. May 26, 2010 at 7:39 am

    WOW. What a powerful post. I recently heard someone say Procrastination is caused by doubt. That statement and this one have got me spinning, rethinking and … getting to work. Thanks for sharing a really powerful idea.

  7. May 26, 2010 at 7:42 am

    Your book, The War Of Art, has been the best book I have ever read. It has kept me working. Just the other day I thought to myself “Oh, I have to drive to this store and pick up this stuff so I can experiment with it to see if it will work”, after I got back home and saw I had completely wasted my time, it hit me….resistance! Have a big project so I watching hard for it to show again. I especially treasure my copy of your book because you took the time to sign it.
    Thank you for your writing.

  8. Ken
    May 26, 2010 at 8:25 am

    This reminds me of Art Williams’ Just Do It speech from 1977.

    • Tricia
      May 26, 2010 at 8:39 am

      Hate to be the voice of dissent but this is what I think: There are times to do and times to be in life. Perhaps a golfing metaphor would have been more appropriate than the running one presented last week … feel the force don’t force the feel (in order to find the right/appropriate flow, etc) (ie., effort alone does not a golf swing make). In other words, in my experience, it is the right combination of effort and effortlessness that brings about the appropriate process, applied to any endeavour.

      Willing oneself “to do”, like running a marathon is along the lines of the Great American Dream, and often becomes a focus on the outcome at any expense. Very enticing to the ego, until the injuries take hold. This from one who once was a serious runner, but now listens to her body and runs now only when the force takes hold. To do otherwise would be to put a serious strain on the body especially during times of stress.

      Finally, I would add, sometimes it is simply to love another that is most important in life, and that comes ultimately from a core of being not doing. But writing will always be there at the side for me, even when the going gets tough.

      • May 26, 2010 at 9:41 am

        Well said, Tricia. Need I say that I agree? (See my comment above.) But I also take to heart what Steven said in this post.

  9. May 26, 2010 at 10:38 am

    Thanks Steven.

    It’s good to hear you have trounced through your dark times with the help of your work. I know that someday I will go through some incredibly trying times as my father is now almost 80.

    “Just do it!” helps us drop our excuses on get on with moving ahead.

  10. May 26, 2010 at 3:40 pm

    I love all of your posts, but I think this is your most powerful to date. You are amazing. And I agree that art comes from another place. That’s why it’s important to stay humble and always give thanks to that “cloud” place. I never feel my work comes from me but simply though me because I sat my butt down and was there to catch the words when they came.

    Heartfelt thanks, Steven, for another inspirational post.

  11. May 27, 2010 at 6:14 am

    What a great reminder, Steven! Especially the part about ‘insulting this mysterious process (and ourselves) when we say we’ll get to work, “but first we have to _________.”’ One of the biggest foibles in humankind is the inability or unwillingness to step aside and allow.

    I’m so sorry to hear you’ve had your own doubts this past year. During that time I discovered your book The War of Art. Its message is rock solid, no doubt there. Hang in and keep writing! We cherish your wisdom. Thank you!

  12. Annette Mencke
    May 27, 2010 at 6:17 am

    Love it! You are so right. Big Smile from me cause the busier I get somehow I am able to sharpen my focus. If I have time on the hands I probably drink more cups of tea and if I have to get on with it I am in “tunnel vision mode”.

  13. Joe Fusco
    May 27, 2010 at 6:42 am

    Ouch.

  14. May 27, 2010 at 8:08 am

    Incredible post. Thanks for this. I needed it!

  15. PL
    May 27, 2010 at 8:14 am

    Hello !

    I’d like to thank you for your posts and ask you to forgive me for the possible errors the next few lines may contain. I’m French and subject to errors in Shakespeare language (among other things).

    I have only discovered your blog a few weeks ago, when you spoke about Robert E. Howard. Your post was linked on thecimmerian.com or maybe in a french forum about this author. I read the post, liked it and added your RSS to my to-read list. And every wednesday, I try to find some time to read your weekly post.

    I try, at my very humble level, to write down some little things. I have so many short stories projects I never give the attention I would like them to have from me and many good and bad excuses to delay this work.
    I’m not sure that this work is important, not even sure that somebody would find it interesting, but I guess that I’ll never find out if I don’t follow your excellent advices, in this post to put myself to my desk, and in others to have some notion of what I can put into it and how I should do it.

    Thank you for spending some of your time every week writing this kind of post, and know that it is appreciated by many people (even on the other side of the Atlantic !).

  16. May 27, 2010 at 9:01 am

    Thanks for yet another timely post! It reminds me of of something I heard David Simon at the Chopra Center say – that we’re “human doings” rather than “beings”. That people are verbs, processes. Nature wants to act and that the impulse of consciousness is to manifest. The impulse to action is in our DNA and soul. Feels pretty right on to me….

  17. May 27, 2010 at 9:13 am

    This is bang on. By giving any playtime whatsoever to the ‘first I have to’ demons, we are giving ourselves permission to delay, hedge our bets, stew a little while longer, and generally talk ourselves off of the ledge of doing something that might put us at risk of being laughed at. This is directly at odds with the permission we actually need to give ourselves, which is to get on with it, to try and (possibly) fail – or, just as possibly, ace it.

    If we give ourselves permission to delay, we neither fail nor fly. Which, frankly, is kind of boring.

    By gumbo, I think I’ll go write a post about this… with your permission, of course – or, in any case, with my own.

  18. May 27, 2010 at 9:18 am

    As always S.P. you hit the proverbial nail on the head.

    The part that I found particularly profound was: “We don’t need to cure our neuroses, conquer our fears, overcome our bad habits….”

    I’ve always battled the “I’ll start when things are perfect…” – end up procrastinating for a while until I feel so riddled with guilt – I end up doing it anyway. It’s a constant war with the self.

    Thanks for being a virtual mentor.

    - Todd

  19. May 27, 2010 at 9:22 am

    You’re right, this is an important post. Thanks for kicking my ass into gear.

  20. May 27, 2010 at 10:13 am

    Shun the work and risk offending the Muse,… spurned, She’ll then give those inspirations to someone else. Thanks for the reminder, Steven.

  21. May 27, 2010 at 10:42 am

    I agree, but how do you insulate your “genius” or creative genesis from the torrent of crap we’re surrounded by?

    I get that this is good in theory, but it seems almost implausible to think that it’s possible (natural even?) to fight through and find our best work in the midst of such strident opposition.

  22. May 27, 2010 at 11:46 am

    Your book The War of Art is literally saving my life right now, Steven. I can’t tell you how much it’s helping me. Once when I was in a really dark place I emailed you and you sent me a very compassionate email in response. I’ll never forget that. Well, let me get off here and go back to writing. Thank you, Steven!

  23. May 27, 2010 at 12:47 pm

    Thanks man for the inspiring post. Excuses, excuses. There’s plenty of them and they can be both valid and completely a load of shit. I appreciate the clarity of thought to describe them as both. Time to get to work…

  24. May 27, 2010 at 12:51 pm

    I have to say, for me, absorbing myself in the other world of my writing is a good ‘escape’ from all the other stuff that goes on in my life (other than the procrastination problem). At the moment I am on that finale chapter and you know how scary that is! But, I’m trying to take a deep breath and forge on.

  25. Ines
    May 27, 2010 at 3:23 pm

    Matt & Tricia, this post is for people like me. I need Steve’s help.

    I have been “working” on a theological book for five years, mostly in my head. Generally, I am a pretty-good writer, love to communicate and have lot’s to say. I tried typing out the ideas for this book. But my internal editor, a perfectionist and afraid of failure fat dude, kept my typing to a minimum. I have probably typed the equivalent of two books but deleted most of the words. I am stuck! I want to turn pro. I really do. I need Steve’s help.

    I decided to get a Masters Degree in Theology, thinking that one should not speak on theological matters without proper credentials. This is logical, right? Now my time is taken up reading heavy books, writing academic papers, and attending classes; not to mention life. At 47 a mother of three has lots of “life” going on. When I have a few moments to devote to the book, I wonder if I should even be writing at all. I need Steve’s help.

    There is something from somewhere that is hollering at me to write. I have asked so many questions: why me? what am I supposed to say? who cares anyway? did I hear you right? The answers come back quickly and never change: WRITE! I need Steve’s help.

    I have read The War of Art, Bird by Bird, a Million Miles in a Thousand Years and countless others hoping one of them would kick my butt. Steve is kicking my fat editor’s butt.

    Thank you Steve.

    • Ines
      May 27, 2010 at 3:30 pm

      Important correction: “Steven” not Steve. So sorry.

  26. May 27, 2010 at 4:04 pm

    I love this post! I love it I love it I love it.

  27. May 27, 2010 at 5:12 pm

    This is so inspiring! For three years I published an e-magazine (Multilingual Living Magazine). I couldn’t afford to get it into print but loved the whole process. Finally I hit burn out after my mother died of cancer. The whole thing felt a little meaningless. However, I have always believed that some of us were just meant to write and if it is in our blood, well, try as we might we just can’t get rid of it by not doing it.

    I missed the writing and contact with other multilingual families so much that I finally got my act together to start the website I had wanted to create 5 years before: MultilingualLiving.com. I can’t even describe how wonderful it feels to be writing again and to be connecting with other people in cyberspace. I’m not sure I’ll be able to make it something financially viable (Multilingual Living Magazine was a ton of work and didn’t make enough for me to live off of) but at this point I know that I have to “Do It Anyway” – just as you say.

  28. May 27, 2010 at 7:19 pm

    Chalk up another new reader. Saw this via Twitter, and was blown away. Too. Bloody. Right. I often over-plan and not often enough just duck in and get my hands dirty. Each approach has its time and place, but more and more I’m working on just getting stuck in to something, without trying to think (and overthink) everything first.

  29. Barbara Saunders
    May 27, 2010 at 8:43 pm

    A timely read for me. Just this week I realized that, as isolated as I am at the moment, the only two things I need to stay sane are still available to me: writing and working out.

  30. May 27, 2010 at 10:22 pm

    Brilliant post!! thanks for your honesty and ‘cut to the chase’ style of reminding us all to ‘just do it’

  31. May 27, 2010 at 10:52 pm

    Hey Steven! I’ve been a full time artist for 15 years, and you’re the only one I’ve found who’s been able to pin these concept to the cork, label them and bring them out for show n’ tell. Your writings on the topic helps to gel vague notions and suspicions we’ve always sort of had into tangibles that we can get our heads around and say and say to ourselves “See?! I knew it!”

    I completely agree that (once the wounds close over a little), disaster can bring out the best in our work; in fact, I suspect that it’s one of the ways The Universe tries to compensate us for our losses – however imperfectly.

    Recovery is an active process. It’s something that has to be ‘done’. So go do it…

  32. Nancee McPherson
    May 27, 2010 at 11:46 pm

    Ordered your War of Art this week because 1) it was on Barbara Winter’s short list 2) the title definitely caught my attn and I checked it out on Amazon. Barbara posted this on FB today. Haven’t received the book yet, this post tells me it’s money well spent. Thanks.

  33. May 28, 2010 at 10:14 am

    Thank you Steven. It’s now midday and I do think it’s time for me to start composing. My insides are saying I only have 2 hours until I pick up my daughter and that it’s not enough time. But I’m going to try and do it anyway and see what I come up with. So hard!

  34. Kate Drummond
    May 29, 2010 at 5:57 pm

    Funny, I found this post as a result of this statement…”I’ll get off book for rehearsal, but first I have to check online to see if anything exciting is happening…” … well, it appears you have nailed it yet again, Mr. Pressfield. The resistance that conceals itself so stealthily, and makes us feel that we are actually OVER achieving at times… wow, I can do this AND this and I can even stop this to do this OTHER great thing, making the ego feel very important and the artist left feeling deflated and abandoned. Your book, THE WAR OF ART, is my inspiration. I just recently shipped a copy to a dear artist friend in LA and now you have one more fan ;)

  35. sarah
    May 29, 2010 at 6:07 pm

    Thank you

  36. May 31, 2010 at 8:41 am

    As a nationally licensed United States Soccer Federation (USSF) coach [active 1985 - 2005], I was fond of telling young players, “Excuses are for losers to justify why they are not winners.” Don’t recall where I picked that up, but it is as appropriate to sports as it is to all aspects of life.

  37. May 31, 2010 at 10:47 pm

    So the creative impetus comes from the Cayman islands? lol. I always pictured it as being somewhere in the ether just left of heaven. And that I was a medium with a mysterious open channel to it

  38. June 1, 2010 at 12:47 pm

    This is such a powerful post – and, once again, exactly what I needed to hear right now. Thank you.

    Also, I have to add, thanks for sharing that you have had a tough time this year. It’s funny, I was surprised when you said that – I’d fallen into this mentality that as a successful author you’d somehow broken through into some sort of Problem-Free Zone where you no longer had a care in the world. (I see how ridiculous that is now that I type it, but I’d unintentionally fallen into that assumption.)

    Anyway, thanks for another fantastic post.

  39. Susan White
    June 2, 2010 at 8:47 pm

    Just do it! Nike has been saying it awhile….

  40. June 2, 2010 at 10:44 pm

    But first I have to Stumble a few (which is how I got here), but now I’m going to stop. No, really. I’m going to stop. And go write.

    Now.

    Like, right now.

  41. June 9, 2010 at 10:20 am

    You couldn’t be more correct. During the worst part of my life, which was recent and I’m just starting to come out of, I created my best work and improved many skills. When I reflect on this, all I can do is smile. Things are still hard but I move forward with grace. Thanks for these real words, perfect for this morning.

  42. June 15, 2010 at 7:27 pm

    so true! there’s no such thing as perfect.. just do it!

  43. June 17, 2010 at 9:16 am

    I have always operated under the “Just do it” gun and sometimes it works, sometimes not, but it is always better to try. Thinking that horrific outside pressures creates always good art, I think, might be wrong, but it certainly helps us survive. I happened upon your blog today by chance and look forward to reading more. You are an inspirational writer and I look forward to visiting the rest of your pages…
    Best,
    GiGi

  44. June 18, 2010 at 3:03 pm

    Just to give proper credit, I arrived at your blog via Ed Dale. Now I’m a fan.
    I love the line “Songs…plays…business ventures…they all derive from some mysterious source that isn’t us.” I totally agree with this. One of my favorite examples is the line from Amadeus where Salieri says “It’s like he was taking dictation.”
    There were times in the process of writing my yet-to-be-published book “Heavenly Father’s Day” when I felt guilty that I wasn’t making progress. But I agree with Matt that sometimes there are breaks. From my Christian perspective, it’s a matter of “waiting on the Lord.” I also agree with Matt’s statement that it’s a thin line between resistance and waiting. Recognizing the difference is the real trick.
    After reading your post, I’m thinking I’m probably in the resistance phase. The book is done, but the grunge work of getting to print–the non-creative part–is the proverbial stone hanging around my neck.
    Time to get it together. Thanks for the wake-up call.

  45. July 3, 2010 at 5:02 pm

    Thank you for this great entry on your communicate. I found it through msn.com search engine.I hope other people post and fell to taste. I greet and wish you continued success.

  46. July 20, 2010 at 3:28 pm

    My old mentor used to tell me “work don’t whine!”

    Great post.

    Peace & Prosperity,
    Dallas Cyr

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