Writing Wednesdays

Writing Wednesdays

Why, #3

By Steven Pressfield | Published: July 23, 2014

In many ways this blog is me talking to myself. What makes the thing work, if indeed it does, is that there are a lot of people like me and they are dealing with the same issues I’m dealing with. So talking to myself in this public forum is, in its way, a meditation for those individuals as well.

Polaris, aka the "North Star"

So I don’t ask myself, “What do I imagine others want to read in this space?” I ask, “What do I want? What issues are bothering me? What questions am I exploring?”

Why write a book?

Why make a movie?

For myself, I set aside such answers as “To make money,” “to achieve success,” “to deliver a message,” “to change the world.”

I don’t believe in any of those. In my view they’re either unattainable or, if attained, do not produce happiness or peace of mind.

How about “to have fun?” “To produce beauty?” “To tell the truth?” “To serve the Muse?”

Now, for me at least, we’re getting closer.

I was visiting an old friend last week, a man I’ve known since sixth grade who from modest beginnings has gone on to great worldly success and who has remained a good guy throughout. We had a couple of drinks and we started reflecting on our lives. We were asking each other if we had any regrets about the paths we had chosen. If we had the chance to do it over, would we have followed different courses?

My friend and I both had the same answer. It’s a little tricky to articulate, so bear with me here if I stumble and bumble a bit:

My friend said, “If you took a prototypical middle-class American guy and put him in my shoes as he was graduating from high school, I might say, ‘Yeah, that theoretical fellow might have regrets over the way my/his life worked out.’ He could say, maybe, that I/he should’ve gone to medical school or I/he shouldn’t have gotten in trouble back in a certain decade. And I/he would be right.

“But that kind of thinking doesn’t apply to ‘me.’ Do you understand, Steve? There was a ‘me’ that didn’t have free rein. That ‘me’ had no choice. I was driven to do certain things, to make certain choices. Why? Was my motivation neurotic? Was I driven by unconscious forces? Yes. For sure.

“But above and beyond those influences, my life had a Pole Star. It really did. I couldn’t articulate this concept then and I can’t really do it now, but I felt that star’s pull and I followed it. Polaris, the North Star. Something ‘celestial,’ in the sense that it was fixed from birth, or even before birth.”

“You mean like ‘destiny?’”

“I know it sounds grandiose and narcissistic, even crazy. But yes. Yes.”

I agreed with my friend. I feel the same force in my life.

“I look back and I see moment after moment when I could have gotten off the train. When good sense and every other factor was screaming at me to get off. But I always stayed on.”

What does it mean to “serve the Muse?” Or to follow any calling or any dream?

It means, first, that there are forces in this earthly sphere that are greater and wiser than we are, forces that are unknown and probably unknowable to us but that exert a powerful and even irresistible gravitational pull upon us.

My friend’s North Star.

My Muse.

If you’re reading this blog, you have one. That’s why you’re reading this, whether you know it or not.

Because this blog supports that view of life. Every post reinforces it.

It’s a pretty far-out view of life, if you think about it. It certainly doesn’t align with the everyday, U.S. Prime, mainstream view.

What about these gravitational forces? Are they ‘good?’ Where do they come from? How do we sense them? What faculties do we employ to tune in to their messages?

Should we follow them? What if they’re telegrams from the devil? How do our individual destinies (if there is such a thing) play into the wider movie? Are we ‘helping’ the world if we follow our North Star? Or are we just deluding ourselves with some pretense of ‘meaning,’ when in fact there is none?

When I think thoughts about stuff like this, which is borderline grandiosity, I try to ask myself, “Am I full of shit? Am I manufacturing (and believing) self-serving fantasies?”

I believe (I could be wrong) that there is a higher dimension and that it permeates every cell of our lives the way radio waves and wi-fi frequencies inhabit the room I’m in and the space you’re in.

I’m not sure what that higher dimension’s agenda is. I hope it’s ‘good.’ It feels ‘good’ to me. It feels ‘good’ because it’s so hard to hear, so hard to tune into, and so hard to follow.

I’m a servant of that dimension. That’s how I see my life. I’m a student. I’m an acolyte.

The form my matriculation takes is writing. I don’t know why I write. I don’t know why I pick the subjects I pick. And I certainly don’t know how stories come to me, or characters or scenes or points of view. It’s only afterward, once they’ve been brought into physical existence on the page, that I can sit down and try to analyze them.

The professional skills of an artist—the left brain stuff, the management of emotions and expectations, the knowledge and craft of overcoming Resistance—are the offering I make to the Muse, to the Mystery. They’re my proof to her that I’m her servant, that she can entrust me with her gifts.

The self-surrender is the yang to this yin. The opening of oneself to the pull of that Pole Star.

As I’m writing this sentence, I’m following that gravitational draw. I’m very consciously and very deliberately NOT censoring or second-guessing it.

Is that an answer to the question, “Why am I writing this blog? Why are you reading it?”

May be. In asking myself these questions and publishing them in this public forum, I’m hoping a) to fortify and enlighten myself in this mysterious journey, and b) to tell you that you’re not alone, that your questions (which I can’t help but believe are just like mine) are not silly or fatuous or unworthy, and that at least one other person on this planet—i.e., me—is just as crazy as you are.

Posted in Writing Wednesdays

41 Responses to “Why, #3”

  1. July 23, 2014 at 6:19 am

    One thing I love about life is that there are no easy answers to the big questions. But maybe that’s our purpose here — to grapple with those questions. Like you, I stay open to the possibility that my conclusions will be completely full of shit. Thanks for the post. Stay crazy. If you go sane, I’m outa here.

  2. July 23, 2014 at 6:34 am

    You hit me in the heart spot — again. No easy answers but one heckava journey. Keep sharing in public. Love the sanity of the craziness you all bring to this table.

  3. July 23, 2014 at 6:40 am

    WOW!WOW!WOW! OH! how I needed to read a blog such as this one today. So many times when I am criticized and blamed I answer with “it is not my doing.” There is this force I feel within that gives me “no choice.” Finally have STOPPED trying to explain.

  4. July 23, 2014 at 6:45 am

    Good Morning Mr. Steve,

    Yes, I am crazy too.

    I write to create beauty and tell the truth. If my writing makes money, perhaps my typist will buy me more litter boxes, or a new bed.

    Money is not why I write. I must follow my muse. Sometimes my muse is taking a nap in a sunbeam, and then I join her there.

    Every Wednesday I wait by the computer excited to read your blog post. Thank you Mr. Steve.

    All my best,
    xo
    Love Mr. Pooh

  5. Tammy N
    July 23, 2014 at 6:45 am

    So enlightening. Love every word, Steven! Especially about how it feels good because it’s so hard to hear, tune-in and follow ❤️ In our crazy, fast paced, over stimulated world; turning it all off and being in the moment, turning inward to focus on that inner voice/energy feels so authentic to me. And if we are all tuned into it – then we are a part of something grand!

  6. Mary Doyle
    July 23, 2014 at 6:49 am

    Beautiful post Steve – stay crazy and I’ll keep coming back!

  7. July 23, 2014 at 6:50 am

    Steve,
    These are my favorite days on this blog. Brene Brown talks about vulnerability (I generally opt for ‘exposed’, a bit more masculine word in my opinion) as the key to authenticity, happiness, damn-even leadership.

    These two Israeli brothers–Ori & Rom Brofman–tear down the components of what they call ‘quick-set intimacy’, how you just ‘Click’ (name of one of their books) with some people immediately. Component number 1? Vulnerability.

    You let us in. You show us that we’re not alone, not crazy, and that even people who have ‘made it, big time’ continue to struggle.

    In many freaking ways, it is sad. Like, “Damn Bro, you mean I’ll never get there?” I have always thought that someday life would finally be easy. Don’t know why that matters, other than I’ve had this mistaken idea that leisure & pleasure where somehow ideals to achieve in this life. I drank too much of our culture, it drowned out my own inner voice.

    “No son, there is no there there,” you answer in these pages. I think I may be beginning to understand. Ironically, I also think I’m cool with it.

    I wrote a bit about boundaries the other day–this has been a recurring thought in my head the past few months.

    I have a congenital, hard-wired distaste for: the status quo, others’ rules, authority (heighth of irony is I’m a career Soldier), traditional views or courses of action. I cannot help it. I rail against them.

    I have spent a great deal of my life throwing myself against these rules–with predictable results.

    My mistake? I misled myself into thinking that since I hated all these rules (am I an anarchist? No, but more of a Libertarian–less is better, man should be free), then I don’t need any rules.

    This is what I’ve finally, finally figured out–and I wonder if it is similar for others here: Man needs rules in order to slowly shorten the gap/delta between the monkey self (who I am without rules, untrustworthy, indolent, angry, selfish, childish, boorish, completely controlled by emotions & physical cues of the body) and my higher order self–my ideal.

    My problem is that the only rules I will follow are my own. Once in place (and again, I’m just beginning to figure out what particular, nuanced rules apply to this unique guy of particular genetic structure, experience, and chemical reactions) then I can begin to move somewhat clearly towards that self–and in turn, actually serve my unique purpose, offer whatever little light my efforts may provide.

    Is this an inner voice? A North Star? A Muse? I don’t know. I don’t know why I cannot be like the other kids. My peers will discuss the merits of new pencil-sharpening tools & methods, and inside I’m screaming “F-Bomb the damn pencil, man! WE NEED A SHARPIE!”

    I also think you and your friend have had lonelier moments than most–as probably many on this blog. Is that also part of the territory of listening to the Muse? Probably.

    But here, here is a community. The self-selected/ing tribe. The tribe of individuals.
    bsn

    • July 23, 2014 at 7:02 am

      I hear what you’re saying, Brian, and so beautifully well. Thank you.

      • July 23, 2014 at 7:12 am

        Thanks Beth. Sometimes I cannot understand anything unless I say it out loud, or write it for others to read. A component of extroversion I guess, I only truly see it after I’ve said it.

        I appreciate the note, cuz, well–it is kinda lonely & scary to say stuff out loud as well!

        I think that this forum is a safe place for people to share, and that is damn important. When the world wants to sharpen pencils–it feels crazy to know that we need Sharpies.
        bsn

  8. July 23, 2014 at 6:50 am

    To me, this North Star you speak of is not “good” or “bad”, but a force of nature in all its mystery. It is the same force that makes us like food and sex, the one that makes us survive.

    During the times of my life that I ignored, or tried to ignore, this pull, what I mainly felt was a kind of deadening in all areas of my life. A saying “no”.

    There have been times that I have felt that this North Star was pulling me and I didn’t really want to go because I didn’t want to jump in and experience all the excitement and risk and discipline and sacrifice. All the mess. I especially feared jumping into my unconscious mind.

    But it has sustained me in a way that nothing else could. Is this a “higher purpose”? I don’t know.

  9. July 23, 2014 at 6:53 am

    You said it yourself, it’s about “self-surrender” which for creators means “following the Muse.”

    It’s all intertwined with science and psychology(even though those are only the tip of the iceberg) where they teach us that one of the components of happiness is “perceived progress.” We can only feel complete when we feel we’re making progress towards a chosen destiny, and the destiny we choose depends on the tools we were given.

    Another component of happiness is “interconnectedness.” And for writers/creators our work, once published, allows us to feel connected AND to measure our progress towards that destiny we’ve chosen.

    Great job with this series of posts, keep ‘em coming!

    • Bob Dabalina
      August 6, 2014 at 9:59 am

      This is great stuff …

      “one of the components of happiness is “perceived progress.” We can only feel complete when we feel we’re making progress towards a chosen destiny, and the destiny we choose depends on the tools we were given.

      Another component of happiness is “interconnectedness.” And for writers/creators our work, once published, allows us to feel connected AND to measure our progress towards that destiny we’ve chosen.”

  10. Currer Bell
    July 23, 2014 at 6:54 am

    I read your blog because your words keep me company on this very lonely journey. Your words provide comfort and solace on the days when the bill collectors start calling first thing in the morning. Your words keep pushing me forward.

  11. July 23, 2014 at 6:59 am

    Thanks for letting me – and the rest of us – eavesdrop on the conversation. You talking to yourself. I talk to myself all the time. Often it’s the best conversation I have all day.

    Hillel the Elder said: If I am for myself alone, what am I? If I am not for myself, who will be for me? If not now, when? (It sounds better in the Hebrew.) In a way that sums up, I think, the strain between the self and the cosmic, the private and public, dimensions of our lives. We are drawn and guided along a path. We don’t make or choose the path, but how we walk it, is our choice.

  12. Ursula
    July 23, 2014 at 7:02 am

    Dissolving into to tears reading this is a good thing. Steve, this shit is hard and every once in a while it’s good to know you’re not alone. Once again, you hit it on the head. Thank you.

  13. Thomas
    July 23, 2014 at 7:04 am

    The inner guidance system is the current
    of life we flow with – or struggle against.

    The struggle continues for as long as we
    believe in our being a separate self and
    only a separate self. This the disconnect
    and is truly our Dukkha.

  14. July 23, 2014 at 7:05 am

    Thank you, Steven. I love your posts, and don’t feel so alone.

  15. July 23, 2014 at 7:07 am

    Some people, fortunately, have the strength to march off alone. Be they writers, scientists, or entrepreneurs, is society not better off for their ability to do so?

    • July 23, 2014 at 7:17 am

      I think we are, Andrew!

  16. July 23, 2014 at 7:13 am

    Thank you, Steve, for airing your bewilderment. How often I have attempted to ‘put aside’ that pulling force that demands I do more, better, etc. and simply stick to the chores of life, only to be hauled back into myself like a dog on a leash to do what? To create? Well, hell, yes!

  17. July 23, 2014 at 7:15 am

    Steven,

    Thank you for letting us in to your heart and mind and soul.

    I am honored and gratified to hear and see myself in your words.

    I write to hear myself, actually to listen to myself. I write to discover my inner landscapes of meaning, hopes, and desires. And I write to share my gift with others.

    Who am I to be offering my gifts? Are my gifts even desired?

    I am a human being who wants to add to the love, beauty and fun in the word.

    Whether or not people want my gifts, ah, time and my persistence will tell.

    You inspire me Steven, and so do the comments or my cohorts here to step into sharing more of my thoughts with the world via my ruminations. Stay tuned…

  18. July 23, 2014 at 7:21 am

    Nodding my head. Just nodding my head.

  19. July 23, 2014 at 8:08 am

    Thank you, Steve. I so needed to hear your words today. I write because I have to — it’s as much a part of me as breathing.

  20. Lucy
    July 23, 2014 at 9:26 am

    Oh damn. I wanted to quit writing and now you’ve reminded me. Thanks a lot! xoxox.

  21. BING
    July 23, 2014 at 9:34 am

    “Find something that will touch us, move us, improve us or change us. Then ship”.
    _ Seth Godin

    I follow the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.

    Shalom -
    Bing

  22. July 23, 2014 at 9:54 am

    “If you’re reading this blog, you have one. That’s why you’re reading this, whether you know it or not.”

    Thanks Steven. I’m just starting to follow my pole star. It’s a trip.

  23. July 23, 2014 at 9:56 am

    I do not think that energy can be wasted. Every time I think I’ve spent energy on a lesser moment is an illusion. There are no lesser moments. Every moment is, I believe, incredibly valuable and dear to us individually and collectively. We can’t lose, and we can’t give anything away if we’re connected. It’s only the illusory appreciation of time that makes it appear so. Thanks Steve. Your insights carry so much energy and it’s a wonderful, specific energy that can immediately be put to use.

  24. barry
    July 23, 2014 at 10:12 am

    It’s so nice to have other crazy folks to connect with here. There is such a deep resonance, which also is unexplainable. Or maybe not.

    We know the heart is very resonant, maybe the soul and it’s connection to the Muse, to the North Star, to our individual Higher Purpose is also resonant on a level that is not bound to time or space. It feels to me like each one of us has our own electromagnetic signature, our own type of spiritual DNA, that connects to the Muse, or doesn’t. The disconnect is the Resistance. The lack of flow…

    If you were censoring yourself, or second-guessing it and sculpting it for us, my guess is that many of us would not resonate and would not be here. Others would for other reasons.

    What’s interesting for me is that I’ve realized that is only part of the reason I am drawn to be here and read this… The other, which I’ve just accepted, is that the Muse, the North Star, my Higher Purpose that has been reaching out to me trying to get me to write. To be a writer. Guiding me here as a way to wake me up to that part of my essence, and to get to work on it.

  25. July 23, 2014 at 10:45 am

    “I believe (I could be wrong) that there is a higher dimension and that it permeates every cell of our lives the way radio waves and wi-fi frequencies inhabit the room I’m in and the space you’re in… The self-surrender is the … opening of oneself to the pull of that Pole Star.”

    This is more than a “belief.” It’s more than blind faith. It’s something we experience. The word “surrender” is used often by the mystical, the religious, and artists, to describe this fact of our lives.

    It does not matter if it is of a higher dimension, or if it’s right brain exerting influence over left, or each of us sipping from the “collective subconscious.” It is real because on a regular basis, it is something we experience, we feel, we know, and it directs our actions. We know the difference when we are responding to it from just throwing shit at the wall.

    We also know it’s real because our surrender has an impact on the “rational world” of books, publishing, galleries, bank accounts, bad reviews and family. Other people respond to it. Other people react to its intervention.

  26. Walter Trauth
    July 23, 2014 at 11:08 am

    Steve, excellent stuff, great value, as always. Thanks. And I think you broke the code on podcasting by dividing the long ones into short, serialized, more frequent presentations. I have been singing praises of your “short casts” to others, including the illustrious T. Ferriss and the “Write Publish Repeat” boys. I stopped listening to other podcasts a while back. Too long, too slow, too much like broadcast TV. But I still look forward to yours. “Brevity is the soul of wit”.
    I would have made this post shorter, but I didn’t have the time. Thank you.

  27. Jasvir Singh Samrai
    July 23, 2014 at 11:23 am

    Many years ago I had the great opportunity to be supported by someone who believed I could write something good at a young age. However I made one mistake I told my loved ones about my endeavor. And because of their perceptions of life they ridiculed and shunned it. I made the mistake of believing them. What I have learnt for myself is that the idea, the truth of who you are still wants to express itself no matter the passage of time. Either you give birth to the gift ‘the pole star’ or it bothers you until the day you die. Expression of the gift is the respect shown to the unknown. Thank you for your site.

  28. July 23, 2014 at 11:58 am

    Thanks for the great post, Steve! You rock! God’s blessings on you for helping us all recognize and fight Resistance and follow our dreams and reason for being. Your fellow in craziness, Anne Marie :)

  29. Mike Edwardson
    July 23, 2014 at 1:44 pm

    There’s an excellent quote that I came across the other day and want to share:

    “Every word you write is a blow that smites the devil”

    St. Bernard of Clairvaux wrote that in the 12th century. Resistance, and the mindset required to beat it, never changes.

    • July 23, 2014 at 3:26 pm

      Gotta say, some amazing Comments to this post. Makes me proud of this little community that has found itself (and each other) in this space. Thanks, everybody, for writing in and for writing such great stuff.

  30. Carol
    July 23, 2014 at 4:00 pm

    As a half-Jewish, half-Christian kid, I was periodically thumped with the Bible and one of the phrases that landed right between the eyes was “In the beginning was the word, and the word was with God, and the word was God.” It didn’t make much sense at the time, but it seemed important.
    Years later, I had a strange dream. I was liquid, transparent, a drop of consciousness in an ocean of love. Other drops would morph into me and I into them and we were blissfully one. Then I sensed something, really more like a flash of something, that would pass through me and instantly swirl away. I felt a nudge of desire to follow it, to know something, and that was, abruptly, that. The ocean spat me out.
    I awoke to the perspective that our souls are here because God wanted to finish a thought and that it’s through establishing boundaries that we give what’s inside of them meaning. Choosing and expressing and choosing again until we are the simplest, purest expression of ourselves.
    Maybe the essence of a musician is a chord, maybe painters are essentially colors and maybe writers are essentially words. If that’s true, then perhaps all the words in all the stories an author composes are attempts to find the right one. The “in the beginning was the word, word.” Inadvertantly, worlds are created.

  31. July 23, 2014 at 4:50 pm

    Steve, I like this point you made.

    “So I don’t ask myself, “What do I imagine others want to read in this space?” I ask, “What do I want? What issues are bothering me? What questions am I exploring?””

    I think in writing or any art it is so easy to get caught up in trying to figure out what others want that we kind of get lost in forest.

    I know when I focus on trying to discover what unlocks the beauty of life for myself and then share it it resonates with so much more authenticity. And I enjoy the process of discovery that produces it.

    Thanks for the post. It was encouraging.

  32. Christine
    July 23, 2014 at 6:58 pm

    I’m in tears.
    I have asked myself so many times, “Who am I to write for an audience?”
    So I haven’t.
    I’m in tears.
    Thank you Steve. Truly thank you for “sharing with group”.

    Though I still ask myself the same question.

  33. Maura Bosch
    July 24, 2014 at 8:11 am

    I can only say wow! I finished my essay this morning after reading this! Thank you!!!

  34. July 27, 2014 at 11:37 am

    I’m always a bit late to the party and this one is no exception.

    First, thank you Steven Pressfield, for sharing your thoughts. I don’t give a rip about what you think we want to hear; I want to hear what you’re thinking, how you got there, and where you’re going. I love that you think out loud for us and give us some insight into your process… perhaps in this way each can find his/her own way. I certainly know I want that.

    After spending my life on a profession that I fell into, I find myself approaching a crossroads. I will soon need to make a decision between my well-paying career and something more artistic, but likely far less paying. I’m not sure I care whether I even get paid or not for looking for my Muse.

    I will soon be relieved of the last of my responsibilities and I know I can live on little. I should be afraid of the uncertainty, but I am not. In fact, I find it mildly exciting to think I am about to disengage from everything in my past and set out on a new course for an unknown destination.

    I hope to be doing what I should have done decades ago. Thanks so much for writing your thoughts, once again. They provide reinforcement to look inside, really deep, in search of that part of me that has been dormant for so many decades.

  35. Ana
    August 1, 2014 at 7:26 am

    Thank You!!!!

  36. wjwhite
    August 6, 2014 at 8:19 am

    I discovered your blog earlier this year and it has become a treasured part of my creative life. The posts encourage and challenge me; move me forward. I’m generally shy about commenting on such forums, but I feel it’s important to add my voice to the others and say “thank you” for this resource. The content, and most recently the “Why” series, has been humbly and gratefully received. I’m an editor/writer living among the corn and soy fields of Ohio following after my own obscure Pole Star. This website is a valuable companion on the hunt.