Writing Wednesdays

Writing Wednesdays

Take What the Defense Will Give You

By Steven Pressfield | Published: December 28, 2011

Everybody loves the vertical game. We all thrill to the deep ball, the long completion, the 55-yard bomb that breaks the game open. (Yes, I’ve been watching a lot of football over the Holidays.)

Jerry Rice. A short completion + a long run-after-catch = a long completion.

The problem is that, a lot of the time, the guys we’re playing against are as good or better than we are. Or they’re lucky, or they’re having a great day, or they’ve just studied our tendencies and know how to counter them. The defense won’t let us throw the deep ball. We’re dying to. We’re on fire to. But the bastards just won’t let us.

That’s when we’re not unwise to rein in our expectations, give up on what we wish we could get and settle for what we can get.

In writing terms (and I know this is true for dance, for painting, for film-making and on and on), there are days—and sometimes weeks—when Resistance is just too strong. For me, there are parts of a book that feel like knots in a plank of wood. They’re bears. They refuse to yield. I can surround them like a besieging army ringing a city—and I still can’t find a weak spot.

On those days, you have to take what the defense will give you.

There’s no shame in being realistic. On the football field, we close that part of the playbook that contains the deep routes and the 55-yard bombs. We turn to that section that has the short slants and the quick passes into the flat.

Remember, no defense can cover everything. If they’re shutting down our vertical game, it means they’re leaving some slack close to the line of scrimmage. Let’s take it.

The important thing is to keep advancing the ball and keep moving the chains. If we can get enough completions by dinking and dunking three yards and four yards, one of those may break out into the secondary; maybe another will blast through all the way.

The other thing I’ve found about those Heavy Resistance days is that, if you can hang in long enough, sometimes the defense will crack. Sometimes late in the fourth quarter, the opponents’ legs will give out. Suddenly you can go long. All at once the deep ball works.

Two key tenets for days when Resistance is really strong:

1. Take what you can get and stay patient.

The defense may crack late in the game.

2. Play for tomorrow.

Face to face with a ferocious defense, the danger is that we will crack. We can’t let that happen. Our role on tough-nut days is to maintain our composure and keep chipping away. We’re pros. We’re not amateurs. We have patience. We can handle adversity. Tomorrow the defense will give us more, and tomorrow we’ll take it.

There’s a third tenet that underlies the first two:

3. We’re in this for the long haul.

Our work is a practice, like one in martial arts or meditation. One bad day is nothing to us. Ten bad days is nothing. The amateur lets himself be discouraged by a tough day or a run of frustration. The pro sees the long term.

In the scheme of a year of work (or ten years, or forty) a day when we can’t gain yardage is just a speed bump. We’ll forget it by breakfast tomorrow and be back ready to hurl our bodies into the fray all over again.

That doesn’t mean quit. It doesn’t mean back off. It means play four quarters. Let the other team be the one to get complacent. Stay patient, keep probing for soft spots.

Take what the defense will give you.

Posted in Writing Wednesdays

22 Responses to “Take What the Defense Will Give You”

  1. December 28, 2011 at 2:09 am

    Thank you Stephen. Another inspirational post.

  2. December 28, 2011 at 5:38 am

    Best lines in the whole piece:

    “A bad day is nothing to us. Ten bad days is nothing.”

    • Blue Hansen
      December 29, 2011 at 3:49 am

      I’m with you. I keyed in on the same thing.

      Thank you Mr. Pressfield, excellent post.

  3. December 28, 2011 at 6:11 am

    I don’t know American Football so most of your metaphor is wasted on me, but not the sentiment. Had my share of speed bumps, in it for the long haul.

    • gs
      December 28, 2011 at 11:31 am

      Ding ding ding we have a winner, congratulations Gerhi! Metaphor!

      Steven has provided a metaphor that holds promise for helping me get through roadblocks in the creative process which had stymied me.

      It’s a flexible metaphor which can be customized by the individual user. The engine of it can be surrounded by exteriors that look drastically different from each other.

      For the time being I interpret it literally. (Of course I’m tempted to quibble and tinker, but if I’m so gee dee smart, why did I grab at War of Art like a lifeline?) I’ll consider customizing based on lessons learned if and when my current project is complete.

  4. December 28, 2011 at 7:24 am

    Excellent! The hubristic over-reach and errors of our enemy Resistance provide us with the energy and material to win.

  5. Sheila O'Shea
    December 28, 2011 at 7:51 am

    Thank you for the timely reminder. I seem to be in one of those phases right now and I have to remember that one hundred words today is worth more than a thousand words tomorrow.

  6. December 28, 2011 at 10:14 am

    “Play for tommorow” Awesome…

  7. December 28, 2011 at 10:37 am

    Thanks – I needed that!

  8. Sonja Eaton
    December 28, 2011 at 11:59 am

    As usual, so helpful. I feel a kindred spirit as I am a writer too. There are days when it feels like I’ve barely moved a millimeter. Thanks for the perspective!

  9. Laura
    December 28, 2011 at 12:00 pm

    The vision of a bunch of massive men in nothing-left-to-the-imagination tights brutalizing each other for momentary possession of an inflated pigskin pouch has never meant quite so much to me as it does in this moment…

    LOL! Thank you, Steven!

  10. December 28, 2011 at 1:52 pm

    Good call with Jerry Rice. Perfect example of someone who stuck it out… and worked his butt off in the process.

  11. Shannon
    December 28, 2011 at 2:27 pm

    Ohhhh how I needed exactly THIS this month!!!!

  12. December 28, 2011 at 5:40 pm

    Ice it up! Tape it up! Suck it up! Shut up! Show up tomorrow!
    Steven, Thank you!

  13. Steven
    December 29, 2011 at 7:37 am

    Kevin Smith has talked about this in his own way lately in his talk-ups especially in relation to Wayne Gretsky. I am not even a WG fan. But I thought it paralleled nicely.

    One was how many more assists on goal (1,963) he had than actual goals (894). I love this that even though WG is considered the “great one” his legacy shows that he assisted on goal more than scored. Never underestimate the power of the assist.

    Two there was a recurrent theme that WG began to no longer “play the puck were it was, but to play the puck were it was going to be”.

  14. December 29, 2011 at 11:35 am

    As usual, your words and thoughts havehit the nail on the head at precisely (avoiding the studio) the right time. Thanks again!
    Nancy

  15. December 29, 2011 at 1:50 pm

    Steven,

    Nice article.

    I just finished reading your book “The War of Art.” It is the best book on motivating authors to write that I have read. On several occasions, after reading a section that was particularly motivating, I laid down the book, went to my computer and started writing.

    I posted a review of your book on my blog.

    Keep up the great work!

  16. December 29, 2011 at 3:34 pm

    Often, the best defense is offense.

  17. December 30, 2011 at 10:32 am

    These posts always inspire me to keep writing. I think that the idea of the defense cracking late in the game is especially true. Some days you slog and slog, hating everything you write, until at last some glimmer of an idea breaks through. The trick is really not to get discouraged if you don’t accomplish as much as you’d like, but being able to appreciate what you did accomplish. Thanks for these articles. I really do appreciate them.

  18. December 30, 2011 at 6:29 pm

    The physicist Niels Bohr once defined an expert as “a person who has made all the mistakes that can be made in a very narrow field.” Bohr’s quip summarizes one of the essential lessons of learning, which is that people learn how to get it right by getting it wrong again and again. Education isn’t magic. Education is the wisdom wrung from failure.

  19. January 2, 2012 at 5:23 pm

    I can remember 1 bad day doesn’t matter, but good to have the reminder that 10 in a row also don’t matter in a long career. Thanks!

  20. Brian Durkin
    January 5, 2012 at 8:01 pm

    Great post Steven. Been with you since a Seal friend offered me “Gates of Fire” years ago when I asked him to explain the mindset behind what he does. Just read “The War of Art” to help me get through the last stages of a tough to crack project.
    The metaphor here is particularly timely with Bowl season wrapping up and the playoffs upon us. I’m trying to take the same approach to writing that Drew Brees takes to playing, work your ass off with a chip on your shoulder.
    Thanks for the blog and I look forward to checking in to read regularly.