Writing Wednesdays

Writing Wednesdays

The Writer’s Skill

By Steven Pressfield | Published: July 1, 2015

The artist’s world is mental.

Paramahansa Yogananda in the photo that came to be called "God's Boatman."

The sculptor may manipulate clay, the software writer may work with code, but, like the filmmaker and the mystic, their real tools are Shadows and Light.

The sphere of the artist is the mind.

Her currency is imagination.

She asks (how can she not?), “Where do ideas come from?”

Did Rhapsody in Blue come to Gershwin in the shower? Was J.K. Rowling baking a pie when she first imagined Hogwarts? Or was he at the piano and she at the typewriter keyboard?

Like the Zen monk or the meditator, the artist enters a mental space. An empty mental space. He becomes a child. She becomes a vessel.

They tune in to the Cosmic Radio Station and listen to whatever song is being broadcast specifically to them.

What, exactly, is the writer’s skill?

We know what a carpenter does. We can understand the work of a surgeon. But what does an artist do? Of what does her skill consist?

It’s this:

The artist enters the Void and comes back with something.

Her skill is to turn off the self-censor.

Her skill is to jump off the cliff.

Her skill is to believe.

As artists, what are we believing in? We’re believing in a model of the universe (or at least of consciousness within that universe) that is not random, not pointless, not devoid of meaning.

We’re believing in a mental reality that is active, creative, self-organizing, self-perpetuating, infinitely diverse and yet cohesive, governed by laws that are not beyond the grasp and ken of human understanding.

We’re believing that the universe has a gift that it is holding specifically for us (and specifically for us to pass on to others) and that, if we can learn to make ourselves available to it, it will deliver this gift into our hands.

Believe me, this is true.

Posted in Writing Wednesdays

21 Responses to “The Writer’s Skill”

  1. July 1, 2015 at 6:17 am

    This post is bringing me great relief. A couple days ago my husband was tilling our garden with his vintage tractor, outside the window of the room where I was writing. I didn’t even hear it. Not at all. And it’s LOUD… When he asked how the garden looked, and I stared at him like an idiot, he shook his head, saying, “How could you not hear me, I was right outside the window!” Since then I’ve been wondering if I’m losing my mind. But, no. I’m a normal writer inhabiting The Void. What a relief!

  2. July 1, 2015 at 6:38 am

    “We’re believing that the universe has a gift that it is holding specifically for us (and specifically for us to pass on to others) and that, if we can learn to make ourselves available to it, it will deliver this gift into our hands” reminded me of William Shakespear’s quote” “The meaning of life is to find your gift. The purpose of life is to give it away.”

    Also the photo of Paramhansa Yogananda reminded me of his book THE AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF A YOGI. One of the “turn down of the corner” I did. Page 431 says: (From Chapter 44 WITH MAHATMA GANDHI AT WARDHA): “Consulting history, one may reasonably state that the problems of mankind have not been solved by the use of brute force. World War I produced a world-chilling snowball of war karma that swelled into World War II. Only the warmth of brotherhood can melt the present colossal snowball of war karma which may otherwise grow into World War III”

  3. July 1, 2015 at 6:39 am

    Sometimes It is just one CD that helps me arrive at that space, but most often it takes a lot of chaos. I put on a DVD and a CD, at the same time, to stop the outside and inner voices. Shut up I say, and this is one way of making “them”. Almost always though, I finally get upset with the chaos and turn it all off. It is then that I arrive to feel those touches needed that cause my art to breathe.

    Like Rumi said,

    ‘Let the beauty we love be what we do. There are hundreds of ways to kneel and kiss the ground.’

  4. July 1, 2015 at 6:51 am

    Dear Steven,

    You have a gift. And when I say gift, I mean a skill I’m sure you worked your ass off to develop.

    The gift is this. To take the ineffable and explain it so clearly that it resonates deeply and at once — a gift of rendering a complex idea with such simplicity that it seems like a lovely found object discovered by happy accident.

    Thanks for today’s post. Just what I needed.

    Jack

  5. July 1, 2015 at 7:10 am

    And that’s why, Mr.Pressfield, I am your student.

  6. July 1, 2015 at 7:17 am

    There’s not one of these posts that don’t leave me feeling uplifted. Good stuff.

  7. July 1, 2015 at 7:25 am

    Steven,
    I am a “long-time listener, first-time caller.” 😉

    I just wanted to thank you for this beautiful post. It’s short and sweet, and gets right to the heart of the matter. I’ve got some challenges going on in my life right now, and just yesterday I said to my beau, “I feel like I’m standing at the edge of a precipice, and the Universe is just behind me, hands on my back, gently nudging me forward, encouraging me to leap, trying to let me know that I have wings.”

    I am holding on to my belief in a version of the Universe that is much as you describe – active, creative, cohesive, and certainly not without meaning or purpose. I am still (and always will be) finding my way, but your words give me some comfort, and a little courage. So, thank you.

  8. BarbaraNH
    July 1, 2015 at 7:36 am

    Yes, all the above!! Thanks so much, Steve, for your continued and uplifting reminders!

  9. Mary Doyle
    July 1, 2015 at 7:44 am

    I can only echo what others have already said here today – thanks for the important and uplifting reminder! This is why I show up here every week.

  10. Jackie
    July 1, 2015 at 8:04 am

    Wow -this gave me chills (the good kind. :)) This is my first response, however am a huge fan Steven, and your words/style are so inspiring – I have read War of Art many times and should probably do so every single day. Currently I feel like I am on the verge of God-knows-what and this post has helped me go from uggghhhhh… to ahhhhhh for the moment at least. Thank you so much.

  11. July 1, 2015 at 8:18 am

    I have been thinking about writing and the truths/non truths of it.

    This is off the subject of good writing, but, besides the techniques and rules around it, there is the question of validity. What is wrong with eggs? Besides giving chickens a dreadful life, the egg has been “redeemed”. It is a cheap and wonderful source of protein. Free range chickens lay eggs with a thicker shell. Very telling. I have a new plan, “chickens in the back yards of all!”.

  12. July 1, 2015 at 9:05 am

    Amen! You give words to the ineffable, heart to the downhearted, spirit to the lost, vision to the blind, hope to the hopeless, which is to say you speak the Truth. Thank you. Each of your posts seems to be a lesson. Is there another way to study with you? I want to dig deeper in myself to write more of the truth, push away obstacles and resistance. I am publishing my first non-fiction book in the Fall and of course am full of fears. You are my rod, you comfort me! Hope that isn’t sacrilegious to say!

  13. July 1, 2015 at 11:07 am

    There is great fun in looking at the fork in the road and going straight. It is also scary as hell. That is why we pay people to do it, love to watch them, love to emulate them. Fun post.

  14. July 1, 2015 at 11:45 am

    What Dora Sislian Themelis said! This was a beautiful post. Love the picture. Thank you for the inspiration and the fresh wind to our sails! God bless. :)

  15. Alec Graf
    July 1, 2015 at 12:10 pm

    So true. As the great yogi himself said, “Thou art I, I am Thou,
    Knowing, Knower, Known, as One!” Each of us, the Infinite knowing itself.

  16. July 1, 2015 at 5:08 pm

    Wonderfully articulated. This too me is exactly the place where skill, discipline, and inspiration intersect. We must cultivate our understanding of the craft and discipline of writing so that we are able to channel what is given to us, and we also need to develop an ever more open, less controlling posture towards our own inner voice. The balance of those two demands produces deep art.

    I had been getting a little carried away in editing and outlining today, so I very much needed this reminder to step back from all my planning and just listen for a while. Thank you!

  17. Jeffrey L. Taylor
    July 1, 2015 at 6:15 pm

    Reminds me of Joseph Campbell’s writings about the hero’s journey. Not all heroes are sword swinging musclemen. Thank you.

  18. July 2, 2015 at 1:32 pm

    So GLAD to see I’m not the only one who feels this way about you, Mr. Pressfield. Devoted fan, humble student.

  19. Tine
    July 2, 2015 at 7:29 pm

    Beautifully put, Steve, thank you!

  20. Todd Cattell
    July 5, 2015 at 4:19 pm

    As always, brilliantly and precisely put Steven. I refer to it simply as channeling the chi.

  21. July 19, 2015 at 11:31 am

    Yup.