Writing Wednesdays

Writing Wednesdays

Publication Day

By Steven Pressfield | Published: June 15, 2011

I have a recurring dream. In the dream I’m invited to climb into the back seat of a limo that’s about to drive off to someplace fabulous (sometimes the dream is about a fancy home or a fantastic restaurant). The dream always ends badly. It’s trying to tell me something.

Publication day—which was yesterday for The Profession—is like getting into the back seat of that dream limo. Publication day gets our hopes up. We’re human. We’re prey to the folly of anticipating rave reviews; we’re itching to check sales on Amazon. I’ve been up and down with these expectations through ten books and a bunch of movies and I can tell you one thing: of the two possible outcomes—a flop or a hit—both are delusions.

Here is my rule for publication day:

1. When Book C hits the chains, I want to have finished Book D and be deeply immersed in Book E.

Am I kidding myself? Yeah. It’s like trying to ignore the puff adder that’s slithering up your trouser leg. But the exercise is healthy. It’s good karma.

Krishna instructed Arjuna: “We have a right to our labor, but not to the fruits of our labor.” What did he mean by that? He meant that the process is its own reward. The only real reward.

Enjoy the success, I tell myself. You’ve earned it. And I have. But don’t take it personally. Hemingway said if you believe the reviews when they tell you you’re good, then you have to believe them when they tell you you’re bad. So don’t even read ’em.

For me, by the time a book is done—that is, once it’s been through thirteen or fourteen drafts, copy-edited, fact-checked, printed and published—I have a pretty good idea how good or bad it is. I don’t need a critic to tell me (unless she’s really smart and I can learn something from her insights). Otherwise only two questions matter, and no one can answer them but me:

1. Did you stay true to your vision?

2. Did you give this book everything you’ve got?

Hockey players and prize fighters know what I’m talking about. Did we win? That’s not the question. Did we leave everything on the ice or in the ring? That’s what counts.

If we did, we can sleep tonight.

I read a story about Cole Porter when he was writing songs for the movies. Sometimes the producers would shoot him down. He’d play them his newest tune and they’d reject it. They’d kick him out of the office.  I loved his reaction:

“I got a million of ’em.”

Cole Porter was a pro. He knew he didn’t have one song, or ten songs, or a hundred and ten songs. He had a million of ’em.

In other words, this wasn’t his job, this was his career. He was in it for the long haul, come rain or come shine (wait, that was Harold Arlen and Johnny Mercer). He was in it for the process, not the product.

There’s a story about Jed Harris, the great Broadway producer of the ’20s, ’30s and ’40s. A young journalist was interviewing him and asked, in awe of the producer’s many successes, “Mr. Harris, how do you explain the flops?” Jed Harris laughed. “That ain’t the question,” he said. “The question is how do you explain the hits?”

Where is the joy in writing for me? It’s not in the praise; it’s not in a paycheck. It’s in the work itself. The sweat of it and the grind of it and the happy moments when it gets rolling all by itself. Krishna said that’s all we have a right to, and he hit the nail on the head. The joy is private and silent.

So I want to be working on the next book (or the next after the next) when this one comes out. I want to be a moving target for that sneaky, ego-driven part of myself that pins its “hopes” on a ride in a glossy limo. That Cadillac is going nowhere. The action is here on the sidewalk, where we are right now.

Posted in Writing Wednesdays

20 Responses to “Publication Day”

  1. June 15, 2011 at 4:14 am

    Thanks again Steven for sharing your thought processes with us. It gives me encouragement that someone I consider a “pro” still wrestles with these questions.

    Best wishes, have a good steak and a drink tonight, and enjoy this as much as you can… and I’m already looking forward to book D… and E.

  2. Michael Kelberer
    June 15, 2011 at 7:04 am

    It’s the key to serenity found in so many spiritual disciplines. You’ve connected the writer and the addict – in the 12 Step programs we learn that we’re only responsible for the effort. God, the Muse, our Higher Power, the Universe is responsible for the outcomes. Nothing good comes of our trying to do God’s job.

    • June 21, 2011 at 9:48 am

      SOOOO love these sentiments, Michael. Pure Truth.

  3. June 15, 2011 at 8:22 am

    First, congrats on the publication of the book, Steve!

    Second, the sanity of your approach is always an incredible comfort and curative. Thanks for sharing this stuff with us.

  4. June 15, 2011 at 8:52 am

    A great attitude Steven, and great advice for all creators. When I was younger and people told me “the reward is the process,” my first impulse was to say, “Screw you! Gimme some reward too for all this friggin’ hard work!” Sometimes I got “rewarded” and sometimes I didn’t … but even when I was, it really didn’t feel like it was enough. And I felt discouraged and wondered, “Why bother?”

    And then a funny thing happened — I realized that reward or not, I still wanted to create the work. And suddenly it hit me: “Oh, they were right: the process IS the reward.”

    Since accepting & embracing that, I enjoy creativity so much more and feel like I honor it more too.

    But you should know something… your process rewarded _me_, as I was totally immersed in the world of your characters and their stories in THE PROFESSION and encourage all others to reap the rewards of your process too!

    HAPPY PUBLICATION DAY!!

  5. June 15, 2011 at 9:45 am

    Steven, congrats on shipping! And thanks for this post–the deals and releases and reviews are events worth noting, but those aren’t possible without the work, and that is there for us every day.

  6. June 15, 2011 at 10:18 am

    Congrats! Here’s to an excellent bit of work! *clink*

  7. June 15, 2011 at 10:29 am

    Happiness is a process: Overcoming barriers to achieve known goals. Being an author involves 2 processes:
    1. Writing the best stuff you possibly can (which you talk about here).
    2. Publishing/marketing or however you get your work being read.

    Nice. Gives us 2 ways to be happy.

    Now all of us need to go write something great.

  8. June 15, 2011 at 11:01 am

    Congrats on the book, I read it last week (thoughts on my blog) and it is fantastic.

  9. June 15, 2011 at 2:06 pm

    After pulling out “Do The Work” for the second reading I thought, “When am I going to do the Work?”

    I bought, “The Profession” yesterday before its release. I like it so far but when will I “Do The Work?”

    You are my inspiration just waiting for it to kick in.

  10. June 15, 2011 at 6:08 pm

    You are so right about that Cadillac going nowhere. I’ve been a graphic designer, illustrator, photographer for over thirty years. I get up in the morning and work. No schedules, tricks, timers, not even clients much of the time, just the dogs who need to pee every three hours.
    When working alone, raising the bar is where I need to kick, scream, and haul ass. Then I disappear and the work flows through me.
    I know instantly when I am hauling another formula. Breaking stuff is part of the work.
    A million songs didn’t impress Mr Porter, I’m sure. Because he knew how many were the same easy song, and how many were the toughest of nuts that were going to take hours and sweat to crack and emerge as effortless.
    Your posts are excellent. Thank you!

  11. June 15, 2011 at 7:07 pm

    I read this post this morning and thought about it so much I had to come back and comment.

    God, I needed to hear it today. I love your rule. And I love your clever adages. So many good quotes I don’t know where to start!

    Thank you for doing what you do, Steven. Pouring out your grit and fire and wisdom on writers like me. I feel so blessed when I read your work.

  12. June 16, 2011 at 12:30 am

    Wonderful and so true in life also. I should stop asking ‘am I a succes?’ and start asking ‘am I being true to myself?’ and ‘am I giving it all I’ve got?’
    The first should be inconsequential, and I know the answer to the other two, right now, are ‘no’.

  13. June 16, 2011 at 1:29 am

    Thank you – once again you’ve rebooted me. Last week I ‘finished’ my current novel, finally, finally finished it, for the fourth time, or was it fifth, sixth or seventh? Anyway, definitely fourth this year. And then a great friend and mentor who speaks the truth read the first 30 pages and said I’d lost my way. I rewrote the opening immediately and without doubt it improved a hundredfold. Since then, however, I’ve been frozen and stroking the black dog. This morning I started contemplating writer’s suicide (aka ‘giving up’) which I’ve never done before in 40 years of writing. I can’t get any joy from the process if it’s endless. But your amazing post has started me up again and I can hear the motor beginning to whirr. A couple of weeks ago I was benefiting from reading Doing the Work but for some reason I stopped reading and now have stopped doing. Time to start something new, I think. Thank you SO MUCH. Love and blessings for the Profession.

    • June 17, 2011 at 12:01 pm

      Linda, I know that tune very well. It doesn’t get easier, does it? That’s one of the great things about this little community we have here online. At least we hear each other bitch and moan and know we’re not the only ones. Keep up the great work!

  14. June 16, 2011 at 12:05 pm

    Thanks for this post. I needed to read it today.

    Also, “Do the Work” inspired me to write my first book and release it on Amazon/Kindle. Thanks for getting me through the belly of the beast.

  15. CCH
    June 24, 2011 at 4:20 pm

    Enjoy the journey, indeed! Now to remember that on a daily basis…gold.

  16. July 14, 2011 at 11:10 am

    Steven, While on vacation after giving it all writing a textbook on America in the 1980s I chanced upon your Gates of Fire left behind like a talisman at a bed and breakfast in Kauai your advice about publication day was exactly what I needed to read thank you!

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