Writing Wednesdays

Writing Wednesdays

Novels Are Dangerous

By Steven Pressfield | Published: November 4, 2015

 

Writing a novel can test your sanity.

Consider what you’re letting yourself in for. A two- to three-year slog with no external validation or reinforcement, no paycheck, no day-to-day structure except that which you impose yourself. Support from friends and family? Dubious. Future rewards? Highly uncertain. And we’re not even talking about the work.

Walter Pidgeon in "Forbidden Planet"

Walter Pidgeon in “Forbidden Planet”

Will your Significant Other understand? The best advice to the mate of a novelist (or to anyone with aspirations in this direction) is to sit down, pour yourself a stiff drink, and make sure in your heart that this is a starship you’re ready to blast off in.

No one, trust me, can write a novel and not become completely immersed in it. You have to or you can’t keep going.

Think about how crazy that is.

You, the writer, are having conversations all day (and all night) with personalities who don’t exist. Those with whom you spend every working hour, and about whom you care most passionately, possess no corporeal reality. You’re like Walter Pidgeon dueling the Monsters from the Id in Forbidden Planet (Netflix it if you haven’t seen it). You have entered a realm whose depths and dimensions are known to you alone. You can try to explain this to your spouse, yeah, but that glassy, semi-panicky look in his/her eyes is real. He/she has just realized that they’re linked for life with a person they do not know.

One of the weirdest things in the world is to look in the mirror (I mean really look) when you’re in the throes of writing a novel.

You don’t even recognize yourself.

You are dealing with the Muse now. You’re on her turf. She owns you.

It’s a rush. It’s the rush. But it also can scare the hell out of you.

You have ceded your psychic autonomy to forces based in a different dimension of reality. This is the Foreign Legion, baby, and I don’t mean France.

I’m not kidding when I say that your closest, and possibly only confidant has now become your cat, your dog, your goldfish. They don’t get you either, but at least they’re not the mother or father of your children.

Why do so many novelists become drunks or addicts? Why do so many take the gas pipe?

You’re playing with dynamite when you type

CHAPTER ONE.

Posted in Writing Wednesdays

28 Responses to “Novels Are Dangerous”

  1. Ulla Lauridsen
    November 4, 2015 at 2:10 am

    I just stopped drinking, 16 weeks sober today, because alcohol was effectively used by Resistance against me. Now the bastard has other ploys, but I’ll kick his butt before I’m through.

  2. Ulla Lauridsen
    November 4, 2015 at 4:07 am

    But as an addendum to the above: I agree with you completely, that you don’t need ‘healing’ before working. Absolutely not. Play hurt. If anything it will show Resistance that his little ploys are useless and the problems will resolve by itself.

  3. Ulla Lauridsen
    November 4, 2015 at 4:23 am

    Oh, and I’m selling The War of Art to all my recovery buddies :-) It really helps that the e-book is so cheap currently. I find that the character we call ‘addict head’ or ‘the wine witch’ bears a striking resemblance to Resistance, in that she is ‘always lying and always full of shit’.

  4. Mary Doyle
    November 4, 2015 at 4:52 am

    I really needed to hear this today Steven – thanks! (And Ulla, thanks for your comments as well – here’s to 17 weeks!)

  5. Vlad Zachary
    November 4, 2015 at 6:21 am

    Thank you for all your posts Steven.

    I think it’s also a bit like that Oscar Wilde quote – “Give a man a mask and he will show his true face.” I’d say – Let someone enter the unreal world of her novel, and she would feel truly alive. That’s why it is “the rush”. I think that’s why we do what we do. We go inside our fantasy worlds and try to re-create (part of) our authentic selves. We have inside more than what reality has to offer. Or at least we’d like to believe so. :-)

    • Beth
      November 4, 2015 at 6:50 am

      Vlad, beautiful comment. So glad I came to the comment section: “We have more inside than what reality has to offer”. That is probably the closest I’ve come to understanding why I write.

      Lea–CONGRATULATIONS! Savoring the moment with you. I’ll be there in a few months, hitting “send”. Good for you, writing again already.

  6. November 4, 2015 at 6:27 am

    Just sent off the first round of agent queries. Three year of writing, mostly rewriting. It is so odd to be done, for it to be out of my hands. I was a bit disoriented yesterday after pushing send a dozen times. Today, I am getting back to the rough draft that I started in between drafts of the first. Thank God.

  7. Jodhi Nin
    November 4, 2015 at 6:49 am

    Does anyone else feel like charging through a fortified enemy bunker right now? I just need a grenade, a bowie knife, and a scowl, and I’m on it.

    Thank you Lieutenant General Pressfield, Sir.

    It’s a good day to risk it all.

  8. November 4, 2015 at 6:53 am

    I’ve just completed my first novel after almost three years of writing and re-writing. It sucked me in to such an extent that I have RSI in my right hand, my partner was beginning to think he’d lost me, I began to believe the characters were real and I was waking up at 4am with great little ‘tweaks’ to key scenes. It’s now with Beta Readers and I’m disoriented. I don’t know if it’s terrible or quite good. I have no focus whatsoever for anything. I’m just re-emerging into normality. Thank you for your wonderful blog.

  9. November 4, 2015 at 7:12 am

    My books exist because Best Beloved understood what she was getting into from Day 1. Probably Day -365 or earlier.

  10. November 4, 2015 at 7:56 am

    Thanks for the great post. Most days I feel pretty good about myself but there are many days when I question my sanity! It’s wonderful to be in such awesome company with people who recognize the truth and who are willing to talk about it. It’s so refreshing to be able to laugh at oneself!

  11. November 4, 2015 at 7:59 am

    Yet, if you are called, you must answer The Call.

    As Joseph Campbell taught…

    “Refusal of the summons converts the adventure into its negative. Walled in boredom, hard work, or ‘culture,’ the subject loses the power of significant affirmative action and becomes a victim to be saved.”

    Which is worse?

    Testing your sanity with The Call you know you must choose.

    Or refusing The Call and The Muse and shrinking from the adventure that was specifically bestowed upon you?

    • November 4, 2015 at 10:34 pm

      Wow Chris. Answering the Call is exactly what it feels like! I didn’t recognise I was living my own Hero’s Journey.

  12. November 4, 2015 at 8:25 am

    Nine months ago I would not have understood spending time with people that do not physically exist…my characters. Now…I do spend almost every waking moment with them in my mind, thinking about them, envisioning them. Even during sleep they find their way to my REM time. And I love it!

  13. November 4, 2015 at 9:09 am

    This made me laugh. It’s the strangest sensation to go into that “zone,” come out, and then have that moment where you look at the clock, realize an hour passed you by, and NOBODY noticed that life just went whoosh.

  14. November 4, 2015 at 9:27 am

    Yes, yes, yes!! Just read this as a quick break from today’s writing. Love Vlad’s comment: “Let someone enter the unreal world of her novel, and she would feel truly alive.” And Chris’ comment about answering the Call. Not only is my novel a heroine’s journey, but the writing of it is itself such a journey. What has changed in the 5 years I’ve been working on it? Everything. After taking it apart and putting it back together (with help from Coyne’s “Story Grid”), I am writing Scene 5 of 50-some and feeling – yes – truly alive today. Here’s to serving the Muse.

  15. November 4, 2015 at 9:38 am

    I appreciate the depth and honesty of your heartfelt communiques from the realm of the muse, helping us to face fears and the unknown.
    I am about to publish a non- fiction book and seem to have undergone a similar adventure. I felt the Call and had to respond no matter what. It has been more challenging than I could have imagined. Luckily I found a good editor to work with from the beginning.
    Your posts are so supportive of the creative process and I am grateful for them.

  16. Foreigner (From Elea)
    November 4, 2015 at 10:49 am

    We agree with what you are saying here, Steve.

    Just please stay with us and do not let Resistance push you over the edge.

    It’s not just your own battle now.

    We need you too.

  17. November 4, 2015 at 11:23 am

    Reads like a duck – sounds like a duck; BUT is it only with writing a novel that makes it a duck; because, for me, all what Steve has written is LIKE being on MY JOURNEY INTO THE SELF.

  18. June
    November 4, 2015 at 12:58 pm

    Great post!!

  19. Mel Jacob
    November 4, 2015 at 3:07 pm

    Could not have come at a better time Sir Pressfield.

  20. Leigh
    November 4, 2015 at 3:22 pm

    Your comments are well taken, Steven. And I love your ability to be emotional and vulnerable. The plight of the artist, in this case writer, is daunting only in that one must commit from the depth of one’s soul. When you have to do something, you just it. You’re driven. I used to be a pianist and have morphed into writer, and maybe some music to accompany, at some point if I can move the mountain.

    I wasn’t aware there were drama kings in the world until I was turned on to your site. I thought the female gender had the monopoly. :)
    Very comforting–we’re all in it together. Can’t remember who said ” … whatever you can conceive and believe, you can achieve.”
    Perspective is everything.

    Thank you so much for these amazing articles, blogs, Wednesdays, the whole enchilada!

  21. November 4, 2015 at 7:31 pm

    Playing with Dynamite.

    I think the same holds true with nearly any act of creation. While I haven’t yet written anything worth reading–mostly screeds–I have produced a race 5 years in a row.

    Two weeks from race day I was driving North on I-5. The entire world was crashing in. Just lost a major sponsor, the t-shirt vendor said there was a fatal mistake in the artwork, and we only had 25% of expected registrations. It was a train wreck. I had over $15K in other people’s money, and I had promised to deliver.

    I wanted to hurl. My stomach was so tight. I had a headache that a bottle of Advil wouldn’t touch. I had the thought, “What would happen if I quit?”

    Answer: “The 250ish participants would not share the joy, memories, sense of accomplishment, and self-respect they will feel upon completion.”

    In an instant I realized that this was how I served. It is not curing cancer. It is not saving starving people. My effort is designed to deliver a 30-60 minute experience in which people are authentically filled with joy, well-earned self-respect, true connection with others. True joy. True connection. They see themselves and others differently. It matters.

    It is worth my suffering. I realized that I was capable of carrying this particular load. I wasn’t road-raging, I didn’t fight with Kelly, I didn’t cuss out our Tshirt vendor, I (gonna bootleg some Pressfield here) maintained sovereignty over myself. That does not mean I was in my happy place–but I WAS ALIVE!

    If those of us that are capable and willing all opted out…there would be nothing in this world. It would be Ayn Rand’s dystopian “Who is John Galt?”.

    Playing with dynamite is correct–but like Chris mentioned–you have to answer the Call.

    I love Writing Wednesdays. Love it.
    Thank you Stephen.
    bsn

  22. Sonja
    November 4, 2015 at 9:04 pm

    ohh, this is so good!

    Resistance can come at you in so many disgusting, insidious ways. Thank you for this. I needed it, and appreciate you, for revealing and articulating what we are going through but have not been able to express so truthfully or eloquently.

  23. November 5, 2015 at 8:13 am

    A thousand thanks!

  24. November 5, 2015 at 9:07 am

    A bit of a non-sequitur, but maybe important for us here on SPOnline:

    “It’s very exciting but also a very challenging and scary time… Once you get into the meat of the thing you’re starting to say, “Mmm, maybe we should do this with (this) part, or maybe that … isn’t quite right. Or wait, maybe this transition from this … scene in the next one needs tweaking a bit.” I mean, that’s what we do. But the difficult bit in any project like this is getting the first sketches and finding the basic shape of the thing, blocking it out into the grey bits and the white bits…

    ” …It’s because I have profoundly held beliefs and because I am a writer and this is what writers do. You don’t have to buy … but you cannot silence me…”

    Roger Waters in Rolling Stone

  25. Christine
    November 6, 2015 at 9:33 am

    This post gives one more appreciation for the thank-yous in a book dedication.

    It also helps me see that I’d best not start a novel until the kids are grown and the mortgage paid.