Writing Wednesdays

Writing Wednesdays

Can Writing Be Taught?

By Steven Pressfield | Published: April 23, 2014

There was an article on this subject in the New York Times a few weeks back. The question posed was, as I understand it:

James Rhodes and his teacher

If your son or daughter came to you and declared, “I want to be a writer,” what advice would you give him or her on how to pursue this dream?

Would you suggest an academic program, the Times asked. An MFA in Creative Writing? Or would it be more productive for your aspiring artist to enroll in the College of Hard Knocks, out on the street, gaining experience in the real world?

Questions like these make me want to spit nails.

I didn’t play the piano for 10 years. A decade of slow death by greed working in the City, chasing something that never existed in the first place (security, self-worth, Don Draper, albeit a few inches shorter and a few women fewer). And only when the pain of not doing it got greater than the imagined pain of doing it did I somehow find the balls to pursue what I really wanted and had been obsessed by since the age of seven—to be a concert pianist.

This is Englishman James Rhodes, from his brilliant screed in The Guardian UK of April 26, 2013.

Admittedly I went a little extreme—no income for five years, six hours a day of intense practice, monthly four-day long lessons with a brilliant and psychopathic teacher in Verona, a hunger for something that was so necessary it cost me my marriage, nine months in a mental hospital, most of my dignity and about 35lbs in weight. And the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow is not perhaps the Disney ending I’d envisaged as I lay in bed aged 10 listening to Horowitz devouring Rachmaninov at Carnegie Hall.

My life involves endless hours of repetitive and frustrating practising, lonely hotel rooms, dodgy pianos, aggressively bitchy reviews, isolation, confusing airline reward programmes, physiotherapy, stretches of nervous boredom (counting ceiling tiles backstage as the house slowly fills up) punctuated by short moments of extreme pressure (playing 120,000 notes from memory in the right order with the right fingers, the right sound, the right pedalling while chatting about the composers and pieces and knowing there are critics, recording devices, my mum, the ghosts of the past, all there watching), and perhaps most crushingly, the realisation that I will never, ever give the perfect recital. It can only ever, with luck, hard work and a hefty dose of self-forgiveness, be “good enough.”

Yes, it’s true that any art has principles and techniques, which must be studied and mastered, as James himself testifies that he did here. But what I love about him is the passion and, even more, the madness (note the “nine months in a mental hospital.”)

You have to be crazy to do what James did, or what anybody does to get to the depths you have to get to.

How did Hemingway end his life? Or Hunter Thompson. Jimi Hendrix, Janice Joplin, Philip Seymour Hoffman. And these were geniuses, with deathless works behind them. What wall did they hit? What monster devoured them? Writing, or any art, is not some bloodless craft possessed of an academy that the neophyte can enroll in and trundle, like a sausage, down a processing line to emerge at graduation with a credential.

There’s a chapter in C.G. Jung‘s Memories, Dreams, Reflections titled “Confrontation With the Unconscious.” When I first read those words I felt the temperature of my blood nosedive to zero. They scared the crap out of me because I knew that’s what I had signed up for.

In my blackest hours I was over the edge, way over, and all I was trying to do was write my way back. I was looking for a word or a combination of words, a color, a chord, a sequence of digits that would somehow, for  one moment, stop the pain. I was trying to name the pain, to take away its power over me.

This is what the battle with Resistance is really about. It’s not just getting up early or meeting your weekly quota of pages. It’s about descending into that private hell that belongs to you and you alone and confronting the beast that lives there, whatever it is. That’s why desire is everything, because only desire will make you go there. Shame won’t work; greed, lust, avarice, the pursuit of fame or money won’t work. Suffering works. Grief works. Heartbreak works. Fear of death works. Hate works.

I love an artist like James Rhodes who is willing to jump off the face of the earth. When you’re working at that level, reviews don’t count and advances don’t count. Praise in meaningless and so is damnation. And you don’t have to be superman to do it. You can be a single Mom on Arthur Avenue in the Bronx. You can be a physics teacher in Topeka who writes each morning on a laptop in the front seat of his Dodge Ram pickup for forty-five minutes before school starts.

And yet. The indescribable reward of taking a bunch of ink on paper from the shelf at Chappell of Bond Street. Tubing it home, setting the score, pencil, coffee and ashtray on the piano and emerging a few days, weeks or months later able to perform something that some mad, genius, lunatic of a composer 300 years ago heard in his head while out of his mind with grief or love or syphilis. A piece of music that will always baffle the greatest minds in the world, that simply cannot be made sense of, that is still living and floating in the ether and will do so for yet more centuries to come. That is extraordinary. And I did that. I do it, to my continual astonishment, all the time.

So I’m from the Real World School. But by “real,” I don’t mean material reality. If art comes from pain (and it does), then the artist doesn’t need street-reality, blood-reality, life-reality. He can stay in his room, like Proust, and never come out. The pain that breeds great music or art needs no purchase in the real world. It’s enough just to be born. Just to be human and to really feel it.

Angels don’t produce art. Neither do beasts.

We do.

You and I do, in response to the pain of being human—without a credential and without the approval of anybody.

Posted in Writing Wednesdays

50 Responses to “Can Writing Be Taught?”

  1. April 23, 2014 at 2:09 am

    Steve,
    Thank you for the very much.

  2. Maura Bosch
    April 23, 2014 at 4:34 am

    I am a composer. What I know to be true about music, I believe, applies to the other arts. Daily I return to composing music in order to experience the joy of finding a melody, a chord, a phrase, that nobody on this planet has ever heard before. It doesn’t happen every day. Often I wait weeks to find this new sound. But when this happens I am amazed, just as I was when I composed my first piece of music forty years ago.

    I love this piece by James Rhodes (and I love his playing!) and I also love Steve’s weekly reminders that art comes from this struggle and pain.

    • April 23, 2014 at 6:18 am

      “nobody on this planet has ever heard before”

      This is why I write. This is why I keep doing this. Nobody – on ANY planet – has read what I will be writing today any time before I write it.

      With that in your veins, you don’t need drugs.

      Alicia

      • April 23, 2014 at 6:39 am

        Steve, Maura and Alicia,

        Yes, it is those times when an image (or song, or story) comes together after weeks of work that make it all worth it. I have to admit that when my unconscious comes knocking at my door I sometimes wish it would go away and leave me alone, but the incredible joys of the resolution have kept me at it for decades and made me devote my life to my art.

  3. April 23, 2014 at 4:35 am

    Outstanding and insightful as always.

    Thanks.

  4. Mary Doyle
    April 23, 2014 at 6:36 am

    We are all “writing our way back” from something that we must not only face but stare down – MFA or no MFA – thanks for another outstanding post Steve.

  5. April 23, 2014 at 6:37 am

    “trundle, like a sausage, down a processing line” is the best combination of words I’ve encountered in a year.

    • April 23, 2014 at 11:13 am

      I thought the exact same thing, Joel. Love that phrase!

    • Jide
      April 23, 2014 at 11:47 am

      The phrase made me chuckled. Always on point, Steve

  6. Redheadboss
    April 23, 2014 at 6:43 am

    I look forward to these insights it makes me feel normal.

  7. Barry
    April 23, 2014 at 6:43 am

    Thank you, thank you, thank you… for shining a light on this for those of us, like me, who never really understood why we HAVE TO DO THE WORK that we keep doing.

    “In my blackest hours I was over the edge, way over, and all I was trying to do was write my way back.”

    In my darkest hours I’ve thought how much better my family would be with the insurance money, and not me, if I wasn’t around anymore. But something, some greater force has made me keep at it.

    DOING THE WORK IS THE ONLY WAY THROUGH! And THE RESISTANCE is vicious beast always at the ready to devour you.

    Thank you, thank you, thank you!

  8. Kate
    April 23, 2014 at 6:49 am

    Phooey.

    Why are there no women in your short list of geniuses? Virginia Wolff may fit your criteria.

    Yet Shakespeare did not jump off a cliff. Nabokov? Dickens? Austen? Perhaps some artists must obsess, or go nuts, what have you. Not all, nor do I find it particularly admirable or interesting. I tend to write poetry from a deeper, more feeling state, but writing long fiction often means variability: dull days, gorgeous passages, followed by mulling. I cannot and do not wish to be suffering every damn moment. Sometimes my characters do hilarious, unexpected things, the lovely old dears, and make me laugh.

    You will write better fiction, in the long haul, if you are at peace. Suffering has its place and builds empathy. But there is no need to wallow.

    • Alexis Kelley
      April 23, 2014 at 12:23 pm

      “How did Hemingway end his life? Or Hunter Thompson. Jimi Hendrix, Janice Joplin, Philip Seymour Hoffman.”

      Phooey. indeed. Thank you, Kate.

      Hemingway ended his life because he suffered from bi-polar disorder and alcoholism. Looking at his family tree, there are many to be found there who struggled with this debilitating mental illness, an illness that often ends in suicide. The others mentioned here all suffered from addiction to alcohol and/or drugs, often coping mechanisms for serious mental and emotional disorders.

      “… a study conducted at the University of Iowa Writers’ Workshop found startlingly high rates of affective disorders among the writers who participated—a 43 percent rate of bipolar disorder (compared with 10 percent in their control group) and a 37 percent rate of depressive disorders (17 percent in the control).”

      Full article here:
      http://litreactor.com/columns/do-you-have-to-suffer-for-your-art-or-can-happy-writers-be-successful

      While I like this blog and find much that is helpful here, it always astounds me that in 2014 not more is understood about the correlation between mental illness, alcohol and drug addiction, and art. As if all the world’s problems can be solved by a TED Talk, we are told that everything ailing us can be excised by making a decision. It’s not that simple.

      Perhaps writing or playing the piano are the coping mechanisms to assuage the pain of mental illness, but to believe that suffering is a necessary component, misses the larger picture. Yes, I suffer sometimes. It’s often terribly painful and lonely and the past gets dredged up when I least want to look at it but it’s also glorious and satisfying beyond anything else I have experienced. Here’s how I have done it.

      1. Studying (a lot) and reading (a lot) to learn how to write a sentence.

      2. Knowing as much of the world as I can (I have lived in Liberia, Kenya, Sweden, to name a few places).

      3. Meditating to manage fear and focus.

      4. When depression got the best of me, I got help to understand and deal with it. This is an ongoing endeavor.

      5. I don’t give up.

      It’s an arduous journey, for sure, but there is never one answer and every artist must find her own way to get there.

      • April 24, 2014 at 10:10 am

        I didn’t take away from this that suffering is a component to making art. I took away that a person suffers by NOT making art. The making of art is the antidote to the suffering.

      • Jerry
        April 27, 2014 at 1:42 pm

        Thanks for your insight and comments. Very helpful.

        • Alexis Kelley
          April 28, 2014 at 11:54 am

          I’m so glad, Jerry!

  9. Kent Faver
    April 23, 2014 at 6:55 am

    What will your verse be today? With all due respect to his Ipad commercial, Robin Williams’ original O Me O Life question was more powerful.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vq_XBP3NrBo

  10. April 23, 2014 at 7:02 am

    This one is heavy. And though extremely scary to acknowledge what we will sacrifice to create things that last, it’s inspiring to keep at ‘er.

    Thanks for giving this to us.

  11. April 23, 2014 at 7:10 am

    I totally get this. The closer we get to the core of who we are supposed to be the more terrifying it is. If it isn’t terrifying then we are not near the core, we are near someone else’s core.

    Sometimes I feel like I’m waiting for permission to do what’s real. To my knowledge, Steve, you are the only one out there talking about this.

    -EV

    • April 23, 2014 at 8:33 am

      This post reminds me of the Litany Against Fear from Dune. So many of us have crafted lives to bulwark against an imaginary fear, only to find the lives we crafted are more painful than any of things we feared. I’ve learned it’s okay to fear, just don’t live there.

      Litany Against Fear

      “I must not fear. Fear is the mind-killer. Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration. I will face my fear. I will permit it to pass over me and through me. And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path. Where the fear has gone there will be nothing….only I will remain”

      –Frank Herbert

      • Sonja
        April 23, 2014 at 10:09 am

        Wow. This quote about fear is a keeper. Thank you for sharing.

      • Jerry
        April 27, 2014 at 1:50 pm

        Erika and Michael, thank you both for affirming what I am really coming to see, or more correctly, to finally LET myself see. Fear is an illusion we place before what we most want. I haven’t figured out why I do this yet, but I do. And I’m not alone apparently. So for now all there is to do is to dive in to the burning fire.

    • Twyla
      April 24, 2014 at 12:28 pm

      Erika, I have found that permission only means something when it comes from yourself, and that waiting for that permission can end when you want it to (said from the experience gathered by this late bloomer over 60 years of dealing with this).

      Bonus: life gets deeper, wider, harder and much more beautiful.

  12. Eric
    April 23, 2014 at 7:14 am

    Fuckin wow.

  13. Rebecca Frost
    April 23, 2014 at 7:36 am

    Gratitude.

    I didn’t experience this as wallowing, at all. It’s the lightning bolt of truth telling that provides the necessary contradiction to other, more virulent and false, internalized messages. Thank you, Steven.

  14. York
    April 23, 2014 at 7:53 am

    Steve I have no idea where this amazing knowledge comes from but keep telling it and thank God for it! Thank you for putting a name to the beast.

    The world culturally accepts the product of art but rarely the process, and since the process is so intense and sometimes yields no immediately tangible results it’s not uncommon for artists to go insane in the pursuit of mastery.

  15. Taran B
    April 23, 2014 at 7:57 am

    I mostly skim through blogs. I read only a few, but this one I read. I comment rarely, but I can’t resist commenting on this one: Thanks!

  16. Matthew G.
    April 23, 2014 at 8:12 am

    Greetings Steven,

    What a beautiful piece! I am at that stage of my bowling career where the “darkest hell” is a scary place to be yet I am beginning to see the “light” or as Oprah would say “having an A-HA moment”.

    I am also sitting here pondering how to utilize my voice that God has given me. I have been told over the years to find a career in either radio or television. The “A-HA” moment is happening again.

  17. Pamela Seley
    April 23, 2014 at 8:36 am

    There are no short cuts. It would be nice if there were. I agree, college is for sausage. I discovered the teachers, aka sausage makers with tenure, have petty little minds, wannabee writers, artists themselves, who don’t give a damn about anyone learning anything. If given a chance to ruin a nice batch of sausage, believe me, they would and will.

  18. Sonja
    April 23, 2014 at 10:00 am

    This was deep, and raw and hit a chord.

    Thank you for your continuous output in naming the beast, and putting into words what we go through, as we sit down to work every day…and for the days when we don’t sit at our desks, because that bastard Resistance got the best of us.

  19. April 23, 2014 at 10:12 am

    If someone said they wanted to be a writer to me, I would first ask what kind of a writer? Because many kinds of writing can be taught–in that they can be learned. I, for example, could be taught to write a screenplay. Could I write a good one? Hmmm I’m not sure but I have some ideas in mind that might qualify. However I can’t write one at all right now unless I learn more about that craft.

    Art does need some structure to become media that is shared and enjoyed, and there are useful techniques that can be taught, yes. Painting techniques, dance technique, acting methods, and on. Why not writing?

    Can *great* writing be taught? Well, okay writing can be a lot better when a writer practices, even masters, certain things they might not even know will help their writing unless someone points it out to them.

    I once thought (or did I hear this?), if you want to be a great writer, read great writing. Fine for inspiration, yet it doesn’t really help me understand why/how the writing works so well. I could copy an author’s style to see if my own plots or characters would work that way… but no.

    Artist fight ego battles like everyone. Our own minds want to decide how important or not the writing is. Assigning value if it pays, if it is popular, if it helps people, if it changes something is just as bad as getting caught up in making writing out to be more than elusive and unreachable than it is?

    If someone said to me they wanted to be a writer, maybe I should tell them to write a lot, the more the better, and leave the rest of their learning path up to them. A blog, an academic paper, a patent, a novel, a screenplay, a banner ad, a haiku… whatever. They all don’t just “emerge” without some education along the way. Just because Hendrix was self-taught and couldn’t read doesn’t mean he didn’t learn scales and keys. He did!

    • April 23, 2014 at 10:16 am

      Meant to say Hendrix couldn’t read music, not that he couldn’t read. Self-editing errors abound up there. 😉

  20. April 23, 2014 at 10:25 am

    Indeed very deep article. In spite of sadness and the need of “descending into that private hell” in order to create I found in your writing special kind of wisdom. You made me think about artist’s sufferings from emotional intelligence point of view. Pain entering our souls carries a lot of energy and deepens empathy, also initiates the creative process while searching for forces supressing this state. Pain is useful but only if we analyze and understand our inner demons and are able to come out of this emotions.

    The question was if writing can be taught. My answer is: yes, if someone has a deep desire to do so; and the judgement if that person is a second Hemingway or Marquez should be left for readers.

  21. Kathleen Franks
    April 23, 2014 at 10:58 am

    Thank you. “It’s enough just to be born.”

  22. Spike Wilson
    April 23, 2014 at 11:11 am

    not sure the question was completely answered. Is schooling important for an artist or is it just about having a mentor/teacher…..?

  23. April 23, 2014 at 11:20 am

    “Writing, or any art, is not some bloodless craft possessed of an academy that the neophyte can enroll in and trundle, like a sausage, down a processing line to emerge at graduation with a credential.”

    Best. Sentence. Ever. Wish I would have read it before college.

    • Jerry
      April 27, 2014 at 1:59 pm

      You may not have believed it then.

  24. Sharon
    April 23, 2014 at 12:20 pm

    Dear Steve,
    You teach writing as only a mystic can.

    As a classical violinist of some ongoing success, I understand Mr. Rhodes. I worked at piano as well years ago but ultimately preferred being a symphony performer to being a lone pianist.

    I also differ from Rhodes in that I prefer writing about practicing to actually practicing; I’ve come to understand this isn’t resistance to practicing; it is that I’d rather write than anything. ANYTHING!!

    Even though I suck. I don’t have the inborn “talent” in writing I do for music. Anyone can write – few play violin. Wouldn’t it be of better service to focus on the music guaranteed to make others happy? Plus I earn more money and applause sawing the Beethoven than I ever have scribbling on paper. Writing, I get mostly, “I’ve always meant to write some day when I have time—.” Huh?

    At least as a violinist I’ve been able to back up geniuses like Rhodes as they performed the Rach 2; that’s a rush, let me tell ya!

    Writerly desire causes my suffering. And I happen to be re-reading Memories, Dreams, Reflections in conjunction with Dick Russell’s new bio on Hillman (it’s the Daemon, damn it!).

    Thank you, dear Brother of the pages. Love, Sharon

    p.s. A Marine attended a writing class I taught for two years. He was novelizing his life, working toward facing in writing the incident in Viet Nam that earned him a Purple Heart. He had the talent, the voice, oh the stories! We used to ask him to re-read the one about the fellow VN Marine who bet people he could bite the head off a live rat. The guy got rich!

  25. Sharon
    April 23, 2014 at 12:39 pm

    If we all went out for coffee I would discuss that Hemingway might’ve killed himself due to the shock treatments to his brain; I’d say that J.K. Rowling would’ve been a different writer without her excellent formal education in Greek Classics (she discusses in a Tube talk to Harvard Grads) and her work in Paris with Amnesty Int’l. I’d wonder about the fact that Nelson Mandela was formed by his suffering those 27 years in prison; and St. John of the Cross, the Poet of Spain who wrote “Dark Night of the Soul” and it’s commentary as a result of his imprisonment by his fellow monks who thought him too idealistic. Whatever works! Love, Sharon

  26. April 23, 2014 at 2:37 pm

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  27. Elisabeth
    April 23, 2014 at 3:42 pm

    Thoughtful post, thanks.

  28. Beth
    April 23, 2014 at 6:55 pm

    Today I had ideas and I had time. I opened my word processing program hours ago and have yet to type one word.

    Complete terror.

    But now I know I was playing it safe before. I spent time diving deep into what I’m really trying to say.

    I am not the problem. The problem is the problem.

    ^^trying to believe that

    • Jerry
      April 27, 2014 at 2:13 pm

      Wow!!

      “I am not the problem. The problem is the problem.”

      Amen, what relief. That one gets posted on my list of inspirational quotes.
      How about this (with apologies to some war movie):

      “Damn the Problem, full speed ahead.”

  29. April 23, 2014 at 8:15 pm

    Reading this made my heart pump a little faster with that uncomfortable feeling of edge (and everything that comes up with it).

    Amazing, thanks Steve.

  30. Barry
    April 24, 2014 at 3:36 am

    Just read a LinkeIn article by Betty Liu that talks about Felix Baumgartner, and made me think of this post. Like the concept of “good fear”…

    “What kind of fear? No, not the kind that prevents you from hopping on a motorbike going 100 mph down the speedway, which is likely what Felix does before breakfast every morning. I’m talking about “good fear” — the kind that drives you to do the really hard things because if you didn’t, you couldn’t live with yourself. Like many of us, Felix was fearless and fearful at the same time. At one point, he was so scared about the mission he literally fled the project for several months…”

  31. April 24, 2014 at 4:02 pm

    Sometimes coming late to the conversation – reading the comments to make sure I’m not duplicating anything – has its advantages.

    Every writer/artist squeezes his or her kishkes to get the work done. Some have an easier time of it.

    Stephen King, who should know, wrote that: “The idea that the creative endeavor and mind-altering substances are entwined is one of the great pop-intellectual myths of our time. … Substance abusing writers are just substance abusers — common garden variety drunks and druggies, in other words. Any claims that the drugs and alcohol are necessary to dull a finer sensibility are just the usual self-serving bullshit. I’ve heard alcoholic snowplow drivers make the same claim, that they drink to still the demons.”

    That said, I bet if you asked him he’d still say he squeezes his kishkes when he writes. Even today.

    The hell of getting there, of beginning – and not only is each sentence a beginning, but so is each word (or note) – is a form of Resistance. Austen, Dickens, etc. didn’t fight it with fireworks, but they fought it.

    If we ever did anything that was more than just “good enough” (“just” – would that we achieved that much even half the time) – we’d stop.

    Thanks, as always.

  32. Jerry
    April 27, 2014 at 1:28 pm

    God Damn you Steven! Damn I hate you! I am an old fart who could easily sit in front of the TV for the rest of his life and not worry about the bills. I can’t, there is this idea (actually ideas) for a book (actually books) that I have to write and I am qualified to write and I am readily resourced to write and I spend most of my time not writing. Not writing looks like journaling and reading and deleting junk email, etc.
    The Resistance in me (I have named it Rusty) knows where I have to go to be able to do this thing. I have to go to the place I most fear, the seventh ring of Hell, and write from there. I have done it once and REALLY don’t want to go back there and now I know that everything else I do is a waste of time until I work up the courage to go there again and again. When I am OK writing in that place about that experience, I can write what I need to write which is mostly not about that place or those experiences.
    While I have a lot of formal education and have taught at the college level for decades, none of it had anything to do with this writing. And yet I did learn that what I was taught had very little to do with what I was teaching, I had to wing it. I did learn how to organize, plan, research, and put my ideas into words. Most of those words were about biology and this project is spiritual and somehow means more to me than all of that other stuff.
    I have all these voices in my head t hat constantly tell me that I’m not qualified to do this and that if the Gods smile on me I will just be ridiculed for my ideas, if They don’t I’ll be crucified, literally. Right now that voice is standing in the mouth of a dark cave and taunting me to come get it inside the cave. It’s calling me names to activate my fears (it’s working) and telling me it is holding my inspiration, my muse, captive in the cave and I can’t have it till I come and rescue it.
    At one level I know this is all smoke and mirrors and at another level it is SOOOOO real. These are ancient images, mythical and powerful. Most of the time they work because I let them stay at the border of consciousness. I don’t usually let them come so close to the surface that they GET me.
    I realize that this may not be the best place to dumpy this and you pointed me in this direction and I wanted to there so here it is.
    I also realize that the images are describe are metaphors for “seeing” my fears and I feel that rescuing my inspiration from that cave will, for a time, drive me crazy and still I have to go there. If you were trying to scare me off (and I know you weren’t) it didn’t work. I know even more now where i have to go and why. I know what I will meet there.
    Dp you remember the scene from the second Star Wars movie where Luke is studying with Yoda and is going to go in a cave to find out what made that noise? He picks up his light saber and Yoda says: “You won’t need that.”
    Luke asks: “What will I meet in there.”
    In very-Yoda-fashion, Yoda answer: “Only what you take with you.”
    Luke goes in and battles with Darth Vader and cuts off his head and as the mask disappears he see his own face.
    So I have to go in this cave and confront what I have concocted from myself. Why, I ask, why the hell do I have to go in that cave? Screw you, I’m not going! I love what you save here about the motivation:

    “Shame won’t work; greed, lust, avarice, the pursuit of fame or money won’t work. Suffering works. Grief works. Heartbreak works. Fear of death works. Hate works.”

    You come close to my why but not quite on the point for me. For me it has something to do with wanting to fully sing my song before I die. Not because I am a great singer (believe me I’m not) or because it is a great song (only time will tell and that might not happen till after I’m gone), but DAMN it, I have to sing this song. I REALLY don’t want to die with the last thought of: damn, I wish I would have written those books.
    And I will die. And I don’t know when. So let;s get writing.
    Thanks for the space to get this out. I am not re-reading this because I will probably chicken out and delete it. So here goes, POST!

  33. April 28, 2014 at 11:47 am

    “In my blackest hours I was over the edge, way over, and all I was trying to do was write my way back.”

    Yes, yes, yes.

    Thank you for this.

  34. AZ
    April 29, 2014 at 11:59 am

    What I know is that an MFA program should be about discovery. It’s too simplistic to beg the idea that one cannot be taught to write. It’s uncharitable to think a person should feel inauthentic for having a desire to “learn” in an institution surrounded by the support of peers and mentors. Rather, the question is how to best direct this writer to a place that encourages wonder–and even a scientific inquiry of the process of writing.

    Didn’t Leonardo DaVinci get downright mechanical in drawing the human body? Didn’t he have to dissect and study cadavers before filling his notebooks with sketches of bones and muscles and organs?

    I attended an MFA program, where I fell in love with poetry for the first time. Our “professor of poetry” would lay out a Donne or a Keats on the table. He knew the best places to make the cuts and to peel back the skin to show the wonder within. And us silly students would lean over in awe. Then we would start filling our notebooks with the raw meat of life.

  35. Deborah
    May 3, 2014 at 9:55 pm

    Amen Steven Pressfield. I love your books and your words and I needed to read this at 12:53am EST on another Saturday night filled with my personal hell of comparisons and feeling not good enough. So what. I just have to go out and do it. I have to go make my film.