Writing Wednesdays

Writing Wednesdays

My First Three Novels

By Steven Pressfield | Published: February 19, 2014

The first one took about two years full-time. I started when I was twenty-four and gave up when I was twenty-six. The price of that one was my bank account, my sanity, my marriage.

#3

Number Three. Still not ready for Prime Time.

The next one, six years later, took about eighteen months full-time. That one I actually finished. Couldn’t find a publisher for it either.

The third one, three years after that, took about two and a half years and brought me to the point where I was seriously considering hanging myself. The only reason I didn’t was I couldn’t find a hook strong enough to hold me. That manuscript didn’t find a publisher either.

Was I discouraged? F*#k, yeah.

At that point I packed up and moved from New York to L.A., where I spent the next five years writing nine screenplays on spec (about six months each, working real jobs at the same time). None of these found a buyer either.

Yes, in many ways those years were as hard as they sound.

But at the same time I was getting better. I was learning my craft. I had learned how to write a sentence, and I had figured out how to write the sentence after that. I was not making money (at least not in the field I wanted to) but I had become a thoroughgoing pro in the sense that I could start a long-form project and I could finish it. That had not been the case in the beginning. I had learned how to sit down. I had learned how to stay sitting down. I had learned how to deliver, even if I was delivering to nobody but myself.

Had I found my voice? No. Did I have a name for Resistance? No. Was I a good writer? No. Did I have any realistic confidence that I would one day succeed? No.

But I had reached the point where I no longer gave a shit. The fact that I had no money was not going to make me quit. I didn’t have a family, I didn’t have a home, I didn’t have a future I could count on. None of those was going to make me quit either.

By that point I didn’t even have a dream. That was a good thing. I had given up on the fantasy that there was a brass ring, or a movie deal, or a rave review that was somehow going to change my life. I had found what I did, which was to sit at a keyboard beating my brains out, day after day, no matter what.

Have you written one book and can’t find a publisher? Are you discouraged? Have you started three businesses, four, seven, ten—and they’ve all failed? Are you discouraged?

Nobody said this racket was easy. But that’s true of everything, isn’t it? Raising a child. Keeping a marriage together. Reinventing yourself when everything you went to school for falls apart.

My hat’s off to everyone who starts out with a dream and launches herself, in the face of adversity, into bringing that dream into reality.

I can’t prove it but I’ll bet that 99.99% of the men and women who read this blog fit into that category—and the other 00.01% do too but they just haven’t figured it out yet.

It’s mid-February now, the time when diets crash and gym memberships fade away. It gets easy, amid the snow and cold, to lose focus and start asking those questions that Resistance loves to hear rattling around in our heads.

Hang in there. I will if you will.

You might not realize it, but you’re getting better. Trust me. I know.

Posted in Writing Wednesdays

50 Responses to “My First Three Novels”

  1. Basilis
    February 19, 2014 at 3:46 am

    It’s like fighting in the trenches of a first world war battle…

    • February 19, 2014 at 8:59 am

      Thanks for the inspiration and vote of confidence.

  2. York
    February 19, 2014 at 3:54 am

    I can’t explain how inspiring it is to read this.
    Especially when this is exactly what’s happening around Mid-February.

    Thanks!!!

    York

  3. February 19, 2014 at 4:18 am

    In my own experience, I’ve found that the part where you give up on the fantasy without giving up on the dream is the hardest part. It’s the realization that, (as you said, Steve) there is no brass ring, no single sale, no review, no lightning bolt from heaven that’s going to change anything overnight. There is just doing the work. I’m neck deep in that battle at the moment–but I’ll hang in there if you will.

    Thanks for another great post, Steve!

  4. Mary Doyle
    February 19, 2014 at 4:34 am

    How is it that you keep doing this again and again – sending the exact message I need to hear when I most need to hear it? Thank you Steve – this post is being printed to hang above my writing table. I will hang in there no matter what!

  5. February 19, 2014 at 6:03 am

    Love

  6. February 19, 2014 at 6:11 am

    Your work is beautiful. Thank you very much.

  7. February 19, 2014 at 6:14 am

    At this stage, the rewards are so intangible, and so real.

  8. Currer Bell
    February 19, 2014 at 6:19 am

    Can’t tell you how much this was the right message at the right time.

    Thank you for this post. Thank you for being the light at the end of a very dark tunnel. You inspire us all.

    Fantasy vs dream. I like that distinction.

  9. February 19, 2014 at 6:27 am

    Steve, you are reading my mind.

  10. February 19, 2014 at 6:33 am

    Thank you. I needed to hear this today.

  11. February 19, 2014 at 6:34 am

    The PERFECT read for a gloomy morning when the words just aren’t coming. Thanks as always, Steve.

  12. February 19, 2014 at 6:35 am

    Giving up the fantasy . . . you should write a whole book on that subject, Steve. As we grow older, slowly our delusions shatter and are replaced by a sort of compromise that says: “I will let you live (dream) as long as you keep helping me grow.”

    I read your books on the days when I feel like finding a strong hook. They are a comfort. Thank you so much for keeping on even when riches and fame didn’t come.

  13. Twyla
    February 19, 2014 at 6:36 am

    Actually I hope you hang in there whether we do or not.
    I will, whether everyone else quits or not.
    Being able to say that and mean it shows me how far
    I have come since sitting down to write a story for the
    worst reason possible: revenge. Eight years have passed,
    I will finish it this year and it took me those eight years to
    grow up enough to write the story because it’s a story I’ve always
    wanted to read.

  14. February 19, 2014 at 6:39 am

    Yes – reinvention! I’ve done that so many times, I’ve lost count. I had to abandon my dream of being a veterinarian mid-way through college because my numbers disability (and, frankly, my lack of study skills) flunked my science courses (I was fantastic on concepts and how things worked, but to actually calculate how many whats ended up where – not so much). I became a programmer and systems analyst instead, but quit that when I discovered I like helping people more than machines. I’ve had a number of businesses fail over the years. And, I keep going, reinventing myself along the way.
    So, Steven, I think the term you could write about next is Perseverance: the anti-Resistance. It’s like Resistance, but in the other direction. It’s what keeps us banging our head against the walls and the keyboards; and it’s what picks us up when yet another whack knocks us down. Resistance says “Oh, you’ve failed again; your family needs you; you’ll never get ahead.” Perseverance says “Thank you for sharing. Okay, enough wallowing – get up! Let’s go!”

  15. February 19, 2014 at 7:23 am

    “But I had reached the point where I no longer gave a shit. The fact that I had no money was not going to make me quit. I didn’t have a family, I didn’t have a home, I didn’t have a future I could count on. None of those was going to make me quit either.”
    You could, maybe you did, look at those things as an advantage. Fewer responsibilities.

    Larry Smith talks about using ones family as an excuse not to ‘do it’ in a TED talk.
    If you haven’t seen it, may I share: http://www.ted.com/talks/larry_smith_why_you_will_fail_to_have_a_great_career.html

    It seems the fear of to try as hard as it is necessary to achieve and then fail at it something is a huge barrier to transcend. Transcend, what a great word.
    What did Bukowski say? “Don’t try”. There’s a taoist term – Wu wei – or “effortless doing”.
    Being somewhat adverse to stress, I like the idea.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wu_wei

    • February 20, 2014 at 7:56 am

      Thank you for the link to the Larry Smith video John. Sometimes we all need some tough love. I know I do. Often.

  16. February 19, 2014 at 7:27 am

    Reinventing yourself when everything you went to school for falls apart.

    Ohhhhh yeah.

  17. February 19, 2014 at 7:27 am

    Dear Steven,
    I love reading your Wednesdays! I’m a painter,
    Writer who in very inspired by your words today.
    I’ve forwarded your blog to a friend.
    He’s a very successful…. Award winner of giant
    Feature films and their sequels.
    Disappointment in the Hollywood machine he
    Sits and waits for inspiration.
    Steven, uou are reminding all if us, at every
    Level of writing to carry on…. Never give up.
    Resistance is part of the process- the truest gift!
    For two months he’s been in ‘the dark.’
    From his mammoth lakes loft to his Monteceito
    Seascape desk he sits… Back at his beginning
    Staring into an abyss of doubt, worry-wonder.
    He’s reading these posts and will know “he is
    NOT alone.
    Thank you Steve,
    Warmly, rebecca

  18. Barbara
    February 19, 2014 at 7:58 am

    I love you, Steven! Thanks so much for writing and writing and writing and thinking of us all.

  19. Catherine
    February 19, 2014 at 8:10 am

    I’m the mother and full-time carer of a terminally ill disabled daughter. So yes, life at the moment is tough. For me, it’s not the writing that drives me insane. It’s life that’s driving me insane. It’s the writing that holds me together. Thank you for all your posts.

  20. February 19, 2014 at 8:13 am

    So, take that Resistance! Great stuff, Steve. Appreciate you!

  21. Barry
    February 19, 2014 at 8:17 am

    So much gratitude for this. For me, my craft is entrepreneurship. Yet so much is the exact same. The Resistance must be some larger archetype out there, and the more you, Steven, shine a light on it, the more I can see reflections, and that is helpful in so many ways!

    Two of the things that really jumped out for me on this one <> and <>
    Once I personally moved through those two points, an acceptance also came with it. An acceptance that something has been trying to be borne through me for 25 years, even though I’m not quite sure what it is. And I have stick to it this time and bring a voice to it, because for me bringing a voice to it, I’m realizing, also feels like bringing a voice to my soul.

    Thank you!

  22. Barry
    February 19, 2014 at 8:23 am

    quotes above that didn’t come through were…
    “But I had reached the point where I no longer gave a shit.”
    and
    “By that point I didn’t even have a dream.”

  23. February 19, 2014 at 8:40 am

    Wow.

    What an inspirational piece. Keep moving. Keep moving. Keep moving.

    Thank you!

  24. February 19, 2014 at 8:51 am

    My friend says being in business for yourself means going to bed every night scared. But I found a silver lining. I no longer fall asleep depressed, worrying I’m wasting my life on a boring story.

    Thanks for keeping us inspired, Steve!

  25. February 19, 2014 at 9:21 am

    Thank you Mr. Pressfield! You are a blessing.

  26. Kate
    February 19, 2014 at 9:24 am

    Steven,

    You have to live forever —
    or at least promise me that you will live longer than I do, pretty please!

  27. Marcy McKay
    February 19, 2014 at 9:31 am

    Thanks for giving me strength for continuing to find an agent for novel #4, while I start novel #5. Persevere, baby!

  28. February 19, 2014 at 9:42 am

    Thanks for the encouragement … it is what I needed to keep going forward and keep on writing and start that book of mine anew!

    Its all worth it … every last sentence!

  29. February 19, 2014 at 10:45 am

    A-freakin’-men!

  30. February 19, 2014 at 11:06 am

    Thank you so much for being so open and honest about your journey. It’s refuels my persistence tank, and makes me feel that giving up inside is ok. I’m an actress and decided to stop pursing it for the next 6 weeks to focus on something I believe will be more financially fruitful. I hope to have a fresh perspective on my dreams in that time too.

    I’m grateful for you Mr. Pressfield.

  31. February 19, 2014 at 11:40 am

    From your pen to my email to my heart, and I hope into God’s ear. I will most likely die doing this thing called writing and creating, but I can not live any other way. I thank my lucky stars that I have a loving partner who quietly and without much fanfare supports my creative life. And I am grateful for the courage and strength you have shown sharing your truth…it holds me like the gentle wind does underneath a falling leaf.

  32. February 19, 2014 at 12:00 pm

    Thanks so much for the encouragement! I have been feeling more Resistance but still beating it and on track which is a marvel.

    TTFN, God bless, Anne Marie :)

  33. February 19, 2014 at 1:22 pm

    Cheers Mate :)

  34. Sue Brown
    February 19, 2014 at 2:09 pm

    Thanks for the encouragement – you’re right about February! :)

  35. Martha
    February 19, 2014 at 3:12 pm

    Here’s to being your own gatekeeper! That’s being a pro. “Do the work” and don’t give a shit what the ubiquitous they say. Keep preachin’ it Brother Steve. Hallelujah. Yeah that’s right – Jesus didn’t give a shit what “they” thought either and look at the ruckus he’s caused in literature and books.

    Thanks for your openness, Steve. Keep channeling truth. You’re good at it.

  36. gee ess
    February 19, 2014 at 6:49 pm

    Had I found my voice? No. Did I have a name for Resistance? No.

    Iirc War of Art hinted at how you identified and named Resistance, but afaik you’ve never shared the details. Here’s hoping you do so, unless you view them as a private matter.

  37. February 20, 2014 at 2:59 am

    Exactly what I needed to hear. Plus a little extra motivation and inspiration. Thank you

  38. February 20, 2014 at 3:42 am

    I heard (in a Rick Jarow talk) that the Lakota Indians have a philosophy of making peace before making war. It means ‘to make peace with yourself and your intentions’ – to make peace with the outcome.

    Reading your story about making peace with yourself before making war helps me make peace with myself.

    Kill the Dream. Do the Work.

  39. February 20, 2014 at 5:37 am

    You know what troubles me about your tale? I don’t weigh very much. I think just about any hook would hold me.
    Fortunately, I can’t afford a hook; so back to work.
    ( ;

  40. beth
    February 20, 2014 at 6:13 am

    Yesterday and the day before at the easel were like beating my head bloody against a brick wall. Will I ever, ever, ever get it? Why can’t I just paint the way I see the images in my mind? I needed this encouragement. Thank you for taking the time to write for us.

  41. Michael Cantone
    February 20, 2014 at 11:54 am

    Resistance: going to the office in the basement to write without a shower to let your wife have her space on her day off thinking it is what she wants then she nearly has a nervous breakdown because she felt abandoned. This led to three days of wonder instead of writing.

  42. February 20, 2014 at 1:40 pm

    I must admit, I admire your perseverance. I’ve been writing a lot throughout my life, but nothing more than classroom essays and journaling. I’m really just beginning a “focused” writing journey. My biggest resistance is getting the job done. I can get a writing project started (mostly articles for my website) and on a good roll, then something happens, within 24 hours, and I lose the momentum. Your words are very encouraging. I don’t give up, I do get a little frustrated with myself (I know that’s fear based emotions.) But I do, every day come back to the computer and to my notebooks and I write. I love writing.

  43. February 20, 2014 at 4:35 pm

    Steve

    why don’t you publish your first three novels now in their present state as e-books, PDF … whatever, so that your readers can be the judge of whether they are good enough or not?! Charge a few dollars a piece with the caveat that they are samples of your first work. Give the money to charity. Use them as examples of what early work looks like. Show how far you have come. Beats them collecting dust, changes your story, shows that you have the courage to be vulnerable just as you are getting on a roll. What say you Sean and callie???

  44. February 21, 2014 at 2:18 pm

    My first book sold 5 copies in the first 6 months it was out, I didn’t even dream of trying to get a publisher. Instead I worked on finding my voice, building my platform, over the next three years both of my books sold over 80,000 copies. The publishers came to me and the rest is history. Steven is right, focus on your voice and build your platform!

  45. February 22, 2014 at 12:58 pm

    THANK YOU…for your generosity, honesty, courage…and just plain straight-forward posts. I love your offerings.

    Especially — “My hat’s off to everyone who starts out with a dream and launches herself, in the face of adversity, into bringing that dream into reality.”

    You, Steven Pressfield, are a Sacred Warrior.

  46. February 23, 2014 at 1:45 pm

    naturally such as your web-site and you should check the punctuation in a few of the articles you write. Most of them are filled with punctuational problems and i also to find the idea very difficult to tell the reality having said that Let me absolutely revisit once more.

  47. Jeremy
    February 24, 2014 at 4:01 pm

    Thank you Mr. Pressfield, this is exactly what I needed to hear, like synchronicity from the Muse! I’m gonna sit at this desk this week until this damn story is finished — I really enjoyed The War of Art, Gates of Fire, and I am in the middle of Bagger Vance; love it so far.

  48. February 28, 2014 at 8:00 am

    Been there, done that. Still there, still doing that.

    The Eternal Struggle is who we are.