Writing Wednesdays

Writing Wednesdays

What Paul Learned, Part Two

By Steven Pressfield | Published: May 7, 2014

Continuing from last week’s post: How did my friend Paul change via the process of writing and completing his first novel?

Quentin Tarantino couldn't have done it.

I offer the following thoughts to Paul as well as to our readers, not as “lessons learned” of “the right way” or “the wrong way.” What follows are only observations. They’re subjective. I may be wrong. This is just what I saw, or what I think I saw.

Let’s start with BEFORE:

1) Paul and the External World.

Before the novel, Paul’s sense of well-being and self-satisfaction was tied almost exclusively to externals. He doesn’t have kids, but he does have a very involved core of friends, family, women in his life, a business, clients, etc. How well things were going on these fronts constituted (pretty much) Paul’s gauge of “How am I doing? Am I happy? Is life okay?”

In other words, Paul’s orientation was “normal.”

That was before the novel.

(By the way, this is an exact description of my own life before.)

2) Paul and the Internal World.

When I used to talk with Paul about the Muse, he sorta bought into it, but not really. The concept of a higher plane was something he grasped intellectually and appreciated in his own way. But it had no real existence in his inner world, and no material bearing on his life.

Internally on other fronts, there was lots of anger, frustration, drama. Romantic sturm and drang dominated Paul’s life. In the world of friends and family, there were many trips, parties, weekends hanging out with his peeps, lots of stuff at night out on the town.

3) Paul’s view of himself as a writer.

This was the Big Dream. It constituted a major part of Paul’s self-image and his hopes for the future. But Paul knew he wasn’t really doing it. An invitation to a weekend in Hawaii would come in, and he would say yes. He wouldn’t write. The Fourth of July holiday would pass and Paul would have put nothing on paper.

Inside, though he never said this aloud, I felt the despair and self-loathing building up. Paul wasn’t getting any younger. He had to be asking himself, “Am I just gonna talk about this, or am I ever gonna really do it?”

AFTER:

1) Paul and the External World.

This dimension remains a force, as indeed it should. But it has faded dramatically in importance. The idea of getting wasted and partying all night has lost its appeal utterly. A new immunity has arisen. Paul has turned a page. There’s still abundant action in the social world, but Paul’s sense of self is no longer tied to it and no longer dependent on it.

2) Paul and the Internal World.

All of a sudden, the Muse has popped up. She has taken over.  The goddess has gone from an entity that was largely abstract and theoretical in Paul’s life to a palpable force that is present in every centimeter of his airspace, like radio waves that permeate the unseen dimension and vibrate and hum even within the cells of his body.

Paul believes in the Muse now.

He fears her.

He has learned her rules (mainly by breaking them and experiencing her retribution). He is like a lab rat that’s been given a taste of the 10,000-volt electrified cage floor. He has gotten the Muse’s message, and the message is this:

“Paul, whatever pain you imagine you’re evading at this moment by NOT sitting down and writing … that is NOTHING compared to the torment I’m going to inflict on you tonight and the next day and the day after that for this crime.”

But Paul has also learned to love the goddess.

Have I heard him speak the phrase “better than sex?” Let’s say only that a new source of satisfaction has entered Paul’s life, and that source has eclipsed all that went before it.

Paul’s anger and frustration have not gone away. But they have altered character completely. He is now frustrated by the work—and the learning curve required to get a handle on it. His ambition and aspiration at last have a field that is worthy of them and upon which they can expend their full energies. Despair is gone. Guilt has vanished. Boredom and restlessness have fled.

These afflictions have been replaced with a secret wonder and humility. Like me, Paul is a Muse-driven writer. What I mean by that is that he doesn’t decide with his conscious ego-brain what he is going to write. Instead, his unconscious Quantum-soup brain makes the decision—and then compels him to act upon it.

How did this happen?

It happened when two fictional characters appeared in Paul’s head one day and started speaking lines and acting out scenes. The scenes were so perverse and the dialogue so dark that Paul ran away from them at first. “How could this be coming out of me?”

Then he surrendered. He started putting these guys’ lives onto the page.

What came out had a life of its own. A dark life, yes. An extreme life. But after reading the first few chapters, I gave Paul the two highest compliments I can pay a writer.

One: “You’re a sick man.”

And two: “You need help.”

I’m only half-joking. The point is that Paul is following an inner compulsion. Characters have arisen. They are taking actions. Paul is not fleeing from those characters and that action. They arose from him. He is serving them.

No other writer could have written the pages Paul is writing. Not Hunter S. Thompson, not Charles Bukowski, not Quentin Tarantino. Those pages are coming from Paul’s center. They are his voice.

3) Paul’s view of himself as a writer.

Paul believes now. He is a writer. It doesn’t matter than he hasn’t been published. It doesn’t matter that practically nobody has yet even seen his stuff.

The source of Paul’s sense of worth has shifted from the outside to the inside. I said in last week’s post that it is as if he has a little nuclear generator in his pocket and that nobody knows about it but him.

The Muse is that generator. She has become Paul’s new B.F.F., and the pair of them are cranking out the wattage.

Paul does not see the book he has just finished as a one-and-done. A whole shelf is coming. He’s got Number Two and Number Three lined up already.

That shelf-to-be gives Paul’s days meaning. He’s humble now. He’s patient. He has become an apprentice, but an apprentice who is shooting for the stars.

Rewards, if they come, will come later. Paul is not worrying about that. He has found a source of power that is his alone and that no one else can access. His journey lies before him now, and that has replaced everything that was important in his life before.

Posted in Writing Wednesdays

21 Responses to “What Paul Learned, Part Two”

  1. May 7, 2014 at 6:41 am

    I felt like you had written that about me. Where I’m at right now. Spookiness, my name is Paul.

  2. Mary Doyle
    May 7, 2014 at 6:50 am

    Thanks for this second chapter about Paul (and Bravo to you Paul!). So much of this is true for me as I keep plodding along with this novel, working from the inside out, knowing that I’m doing what I should have been doing all along. The Muse is with me every day – she is the most constant companion as long as I keep showing up.

  3. Donn
    May 7, 2014 at 6:56 am

    It is so important (for me) to not only have these accounts to read, but to know that the struggle is universal, and oh so personal. I don’t know Paul but I know his/our/the Muse. She must have wings. How does she know my little writing studio is in the laundry room? Thanks, Steve and congratulations Paul. I’m in awe (in the laundry room.)

  4. Takis
    May 7, 2014 at 7:02 am

    Needed this confirmation. I feel the same… Thank you.

  5. Redheadboss
    May 7, 2014 at 7:46 am

    Thx… I think my muse is calling my name.

  6. May 7, 2014 at 7:50 am

    Wow. Your post leaves me stunned and speechless. I’ll be going back to reread this one again and again. You’ve offered a perspective and vision that resonates with truth for me, especially the Muse’s message. Had to smile. Thank you Steve, and thank you Paul.

  7. May 7, 2014 at 8:07 am

    Wham-o! Pow! Getting off the floor now, and back in my seat to tap, tap away. Thank you!

  8. May 7, 2014 at 8:53 am

    The question is, will Paul get past the hurdles to come? There are a lot of them. Sending out your work to publishers and having them all unanimously reject it, getting an agent and an offer from an editor only to find they want to buy all of your rights for so ridiculously cheap that to accept would be like giving them years of your life, selling the manuscript but waiting for the check in the mail for years, self-publishing and having zero sales.

    Lather, rinse, repeat.

    This is why we need to treat artwork and artists with respect. Paul opened his veins and bled onto the keyboard for us. He may have done it for himself at first but ultimately, he did it for us. It can only be called a gift because most writers go through so much heart ache, rejection and Time wasting just to give us the benefit of their experiences. This is exactly what a parent feels like with their children. It’s a game of giving and we wait for the day it pays off. It always does. But there were thousands of sleepless nights and fights over the Television, stomach flu episodes that came before it.

    Paul and anyone else writing or creating anything, when the world tries to beat up your baby, keep making more babies.

    • Nik
      May 8, 2014 at 4:01 pm

      Yeah, that’s all you can do, along with forcing yourself to realize rejection isn’t personal.

      I spent a while looking at the website of one of my favorite science fiction authors the other day, and saw that he posted the very first rejection notice he’d received (from Interzone, IIRC). It was a hard-to-read, handwritten postcard with a sort-of pat on the back and a word of encouragement to keep submitting. Seeing that was a good reminder that even this author, whose books I regularly devour, had to go through that stuff when he was starting out.

  9. May 7, 2014 at 9:29 am

    That’s inspirational… I really enjoyed the two compliments, i got a good laugh and a smile from it. I’m radiant to the fact that it’s possible to tap into our own personal nuclear reactor… And to have that help generate the required energy to attack Resistance.
    Grateful for sharing your thoughts.

  10. walter trauth
    May 7, 2014 at 9:46 am

    Beautiful. Thank you.

  11. May 7, 2014 at 9:47 am

    I love hearing about Paul’s transformation. He’s lucky to have you as a mentor. If you ever need to a sassy piece o’ white bread from Texas for a mentee, I’m here.

  12. May 7, 2014 at 9:52 am

    I once heard a radio show host describe how when Dvorak got an idea for a piece of music, he manically started writing…often for days at a time. He feared that if he did not respond immediately to inspiration, God would stop providing it. The host treated this attitude as charmingly naive and superstitious; of course, it isn’t. In mercy and justice, Heaven dispenses her gifts only on those who take them seriously.

    • May 7, 2014 at 2:43 pm

      Never heard that about Dvorak, Kwin. I love it.

  13. Sonja
    May 7, 2014 at 6:55 pm

    “Have I heard him speak the phrase, “better than sex”?
    Lol! The bursts of humor are fun and always sneak up on me.

    This was outstanding and means a lot. Thank you.

  14. May 7, 2014 at 11:13 pm

    Dear Paul,
    Your Writer’s Journey resonates, though your trip is ordained only for you, as is true for each of us.

    I began my current missive with 10 minutes to kill during an oil change; I sat outside because I was coughing from pneumonia and didn’t want to infect those inside.

    This was as I was in the midst of relocating to another state, and had several concerts to play before leaving (violinist in orchestras). I was so sick and busy, I said hell with it I’m still a writer so let’s pass these quiet 10 minutes out here in the cold!

    And there on a scrap of paper with a half-assed pen she walked into my life; a character with a story to tell and a soul to share. We just cannot plan these things beyond being ready to take dictation when Muse comes hither.

    Thanks for the reminders and validation, you sick man!

    Love, Sharon

  15. Nik
    May 8, 2014 at 3:54 pm

    From part one of the Paul posts: “We talked about the “Bad on Tuesday, Great on Thursday” phenomenon: how the same page that you hated forty-eight hours ago suddenly looks amazingly good to you.”

    This. I do this all the time with my music production work. I’ll grind away for a few hours in my DAW (digital audio workstation), recording guitars and pianos and synths, and I’ll get ear fatigue. There’s always a few seconds when I really want to X out of the DAW without saving, but I resist the temptation.

    Then it’s like opening a present days or weeks later when I hear it with fresh ears. I just did this with an old project file I opened…hated it at the time, opened it last night and thought, “This kinda sounds like a Neptunes riff…I can work with this.”

    If ear fatigue exists, then eye fatigue does too. Hell, writing probably involves ear and eye fatigue both…there’s always a rhythm in what we write, an internal pace we hope the reader follows.

    Cheers to your friend Paul, I hope he gets his book published.

  16. Miguel Caculitan
    May 8, 2014 at 8:20 pm

    “His journey lies before him now, and that has replaced everything that was important in his life before.”
    Powerful stuff, Steve. I am awestruck.

  17. May 8, 2014 at 11:52 pm

    This part, in particular, is so very well said in relation to any endeavour … “He is now frustrated by the work—and the learning curve required to get a handle on it. His ambition and aspiration at last have a field that is worthy of them and upon which they can expend their full energies. Despair is gone. Guilt has vanished. Boredom and restlessness have fled.”

  18. May 9, 2014 at 4:34 pm

    What you’re describing is, I think, the journey of life, the discovery of the soul. That’s why, as you’ve said often, that the Muse and Resistance, affect not just the writer, who is but one kind of artist, but the Artist – and that each do us is an artist, or rather, the artis of our lives.

    It has taken me a long time to appreciate the culinary arts, for instance. Thanks to you I have, though I’ll never be a gourmet. But I can now appreciate another’s artistry – and that means a lot.

    I’d only add that I think we take the external to internal journey you describe every time, each time we sit down to do art. It never ends.

  19. May 10, 2014 at 1:16 pm

    I have always been grateful for The War of Art. I am happy to say I never have to read past the introduction because when my ego reads about resistance at this stage in my life, a surrender occurs.
    But.
    But now I am embarking on another writing path, different than in the past and it has me spooked. Too spooked to pick up the book. So I went to Google, of course.
    Glad I read about Paul. The thing about the Muse. For me, she is like an addiction and I want to have a healthier relationship to her this time around. For me writing is like what John Candy said about addiction and relapse. “It’s like having sex with a gorilla. It’s not over until the gorilla says so.”
    I cannot write like that any more.
    I don’t want to be hostage to some hot, fiery genius that visits and wrecks me.
    Is this too much to ask?
    Can balance and writing live in the same boat, like the man and the tiger?