Writing Wednesdays

Writing Wednesdays

What’s Your Culture?

By Steven Pressfield | Published: March 29, 2017

 

One of our earlier posts in this series on the Professional Mindset was called “You, Inc.” It observed that many Hollywood screenwriters (including me) find it useful to incorporate themselves.

Steve Jobs established the culture at Apple

Steve Jobs established the culture at Apple

These writers don’t perform their labors as themselves but as “loan-outs” from their one-man or one-woman corporations. Their contracts are “f/s/o”—for services of—themselves.

I’m a big fan of this way of operating. Not so much for the financial or legal benefits, which really aren’t particularly significant, but for the mindset this style of working promotes.

If you and I are a corporation, we’ve gotta get our act together.

Amateur hour is over for us.

We’re competing now (in our minds at least) against Google and Apple and Twentieth-Century Fox.

We’ve got to be as focused and as organized as they are. We need a vision for our enterprise. We need discipline, we need dedication, we need tenacity.

In other words we need a culture.

Apple has a culture. Steve Jobs inculcated it.

The New England Patriots have a culture. It came from Bill Bellichick and Robert Kraft and Tom Brady.

What’s your culture?

Twyla Tharp’s got one. We know it from her book, The Creative Habit. We know that she gets up at five-thirty in the morning, catches a cab outside her Manhattan home, and heads to the Pumping Iron Gym on East 91st Street, where she stretches and works out for two hours. After that she heads to her dance studio, where she works all day on whatever show or piece of choreography she has been inspired with for that season.

That’s Twyla Tharp’s culture.

I don’t know what Stephen King’s culture is, but I know he works every day including Christmas and his birthday.

A few years ago the L.A. Times interviewed a sample of movie writers, asking them about their work habits and routines. The one thing I remember from the article is that three of the writers said they worked in their cars—and one said he worked while the car was moving.

I applaud the guy.

He’s got a culture.

A culture does a number of things for you and me.

First, it establishes a level of effort.

How hard do we imagine Steve Jobs worked?

A culture establishes a standard of quality below which we within the culture will not let ourselves fall.

What level does Toni Morrison operate at?

A culture lays out standards of ethics.

What level of chicanery will Seth Godin tolerate?

But most of all a culture gives us a vision for the future.

When a new coach is hired for an athletic team or a new CEO comes on board at a company, his or her first and most primary objective is to establish a winning mindset.

She banishes laziness and tentativeness. She elevates the level of commitment. She gets her players to buy in to a vision whose object is to produce victory (or success), if not immediately then over time.

A culture establishes a style—a way of working that most expresses our natural bent and gives us the best chance to be who we are and to produce the stuff that is most uniquely our own. At IBM in the fifties that meant white shirts and black ties. At Facebook today it’s T-shirts and sneakers (at least I think it is; I’ve never been inside Facebook).

What’s Rihanna’s style?

What’s yours?

I have my own personal culture. Some people think it’s a little crazy. I do myself sometimes. But I’ve evolved it over the years (or maybe I should say it has evolved me). It works. It works for me.

The difference between an amateur and a professional is an amateur has an amateur culture and a professional has a professional culture.

What’s yours?

Posted in Writing Wednesdays

14 Responses to “What’s Your Culture?”

  1. Nik
    March 29, 2017 at 5:40 am

    My “culture” is saving the ideas that don’t seem to have an immediate place and putting them in files I can mine for ideas later.

    If I like an idea so much that it makes me think, “Man, I’d like to read that story/watch a TV show about that/watch a movie about that,” then it goes in. If a scene “looks” awesome visually, the way I imagine it in my head, it goes in — owing a debt to the late, great Iain M. Banks, whose books were always filled with insane set pieces.

    There are two ways I do this: 1) On my iPhone, in the “notes” app. 2) Text files that grow into documents brimming with ideas.

    For example, the other day I was reading about the concept of “the uploaded astronaut” — the idea that the human race could explore the galaxy using AI proxies that are functional copies of human minds. That would solve major issues with figuring out life support for extended interstellar voyages, and it would also render moot the problem of traveling at relativistic speeds, experiencing significant time dilation, and returning to an Earth where everyone the astronaut knows is dead.

    Instead, what if you could send a functional proxy of yourself to Proxima Centauri and, when it returns 15 years later, absorb an eiditic that syncs the proxy’s experiences with your own mind?

    How bizarre would that be? Are we even wired to handle something like that? Would we go insane if we tried? Can the brain reconcile two sets of experiences that happen over the same period of time? What would it be like experiencing that sync between your real experiences and the experiences of your AI proxy?

    Those are some good foundations for a science fiction story centered around a human experience, and I’ve been kicking the idea around for a few days now.

    Anyway, in the interest of not droning on too much longer, I find it’s a lot easier to get started on a blank page when you’ve got an entire file full of ideas that you know will spark your own enthusiasm, because you’ve been the idea curator.

    Cheers.

    • Bernadette
      March 31, 2017 at 4:07 pm

      Steven Pressfield, I just wanted to say thank you for nailing it. Thank you for clearly delineating the road blocks and the distractions. Thank you also for using the female form and saying “She” when you refer to the artist occasionally. The War of Art has helped me so much and I am very grateful. Im half way through ‘Turning Pro’. -Im rising at 4:10 am to work on my canvases or the drawing and keeping the faith. May the Gods be with you.
      Thank you
      Bernadette

  2. March 29, 2017 at 6:39 am

    Professional.

    I’m a fashion photographer, working to go pro. I also work full time as an engineer. For my photography I have scheduled hours I work each week covering specific tasks, such as shooting a photo project, post processing photo projects, project planning, and scouting for models. I also have my daily ritual to get started. When I get up, I put on my Apple Watch to begin my base exercise regimen for the day.

    I was at a bit of a crossroads over the past few days, having discovered something I thought would help me move forward. One path that branched off had a higher chance of yielding results, albeit more on the amateur side. The other path, the one I’ve been following, has absolutely no guarantee of yielding anything, but it is definitely on the professional side. If I branch off, it’s over. There is no fashion photography for me, nothing serious anyway. If I keep to my path, I have a chance to go pro. I know how it can look, I know something about what I must do to get there, and I know it’s the way to guarantee the chance. There’s no guarantee of outcome, but I’m good with that.

    Thank you, Steven. In addition to being golden advice, it was perfectly timed for me.

    Best,

    Graham

  3. March 29, 2017 at 7:32 am

    Aha!!! Thank you for this question Steve!
    A great way to look for an answer and become self accountable! :-)

    For the last 17 years, I stopped doodling on napkins or lined paper. I sketch only on white paper, with a dark pen, to make sure that what i create is easily scannable and applied. I have my own “Style guides” of images, illustrations, icons, self-portraits, abstracts, backgrounds, categorized by topic (in multiple folders), divided into two styles: vector and non vector.
    So all my visual accidental or on purpose “pieces” are stored and ready to be used.
    When I have to create a visual piece, I always start there. #legacy!

    When it comes to my writing, which came much, much later, I use, like Nik, Notes, for ideas on the go (and i am everyday putting something in there), as well as having Scrivener files, according to theme or purpose. “Newsletters”, “Stories”, “My book” and so on.

    All in all, I harvest everything that comes out of me, no matter how small. If i recognize a spark it it, I tack it.
    That makes me stay on creative mode, which I love and keeps me in my element. It also reminds me of my dedication, and that “there will always be more from where that came from”. And of course, the knowing that I can expand the use of it…

    Sometimes, I do look at some of these things and I think to myself: “oh, you were so cute to save these thoughts, plans, outlines and so on.” Well, sometimes i am less cute, and go ahead and trash them.. 😉

    I believe that all in all, I create on purpose. For the sake of zen creating, I dance, with no trace collected, but my joy…:-)

    • Nik
      April 6, 2017 at 12:33 pm

      Don’t be so quick to trash that stuff! I’ve found that something that seems like a terrible idea if I’m in a certain mood might seem like the greatest idea in the world if I come back to it later.

      And sometimes I’ve deleted stuff and then wished I didn’t. Of course, some (a lot?) of my ideas are crap, but with 32gb and 64gb iPhones, a Notes file is a drop in the bucket.

  4. March 29, 2017 at 7:37 am

    Maybe this has something to do about nothing; but for some reason was the first thought that came to my mind for an answer “what is your culture”. It is this gangaji quote: “You have no choice about being the truth of who you are. You are already that. Where you do have a choice is in the willingness to investigate who that is.”

  5. March 29, 2017 at 8:52 am

    Dear Steven,
    As usual, you’ve hit me in the chin. Culture. This is a big question. I believe culture is the aggregation of embodied values. As you’ve written in War of Art and others, Resistance is always trying to poison our values at the roots. Going Pro provides fertilizer, soil, water, and appropriate sun to the vulnerable values we want to aspire to integrate.

    So far, each good value that has found solid roots has come with pain. I’m still not there. My seedlings of ‘me at my best’ (contributing, gracious, tenacious, focused, embracing the suck, patience, forgiveness, etc) were weak seedlings when I planted them. The habits you discuss in this blog build-up the anti-bodies to fight. I am beginning to see that pain & struggle bolstered by aspiring ideals is the fertilizer.

    All that said, I guess my culture is to never quit. I may have to take a hiatus, but I will always be back in the arena. It is the only place in which I can truly breathe.
    bsn

    • Fleurette M Van Gulden
      March 29, 2017 at 9:32 am

      My aspirations to seriously write was postponed when my living situation and employment got shelved. I never stopped journaling my ideas nor prose.

      My hold was deliberate because I knew I wasn’t positioned to maintain the discipline, habits nor timetable. Eventually my hunger called, I dashed the excuses, saw I had more time than most. It was now or never.

      I write midnight to ten. Coffee break listening to my emails, blogs and catch-up with networking . Sleep by noon. Dine by six. Read in between a favorite broadcast series. Two hours nap to midnight…writing starts all over again.

      • March 29, 2017 at 1:23 pm

        Fluerette,
        …”I write midnight to ten. Coffee break listening to my emails, blogs and catch-up with networking . Sleep by noon. Dine by six. Read in between a favorite broadcast series. Two hours nap to midnight…writing starts all over again.”

        Rinse & Repeat. That is an admirable culture.

        An interesting thought exercise: Break down all these cultures to their constituent values/beliefs/ethos. Even as an ‘intuitive’ by MBPI, I like to see the math. It provides an option to exercise/train each component separately or do a compound lift to exercise a few at a time.
        Thank you for your candid response.
        bsn

    • March 29, 2017 at 11:02 am

      “…aggregarion of embodied values…” That’s great, Brian!

      • March 29, 2017 at 1:24 pm

        Thank you Mia. Everything is contagious.
        bsn

  6. March 29, 2017 at 12:21 pm

    My culture is simply enjoying the tasks of reading and writing. I understand fully that writing is more of a passion than a hobby or even a job. A hobby is something you engage in periodically for the pure enjoyment of it. A job is something you may not necessarily enjoy, but that you absolutely have to do. For me writing is both. I have yet to make any money off my fiction writing, but that won’t stop me from pursuing the craft. Equally important, though, is that I have something to say about this world and my place in it. While I may not be recognized for it now, there’s a chance I’ll achieve some level of notoriety in the far future; long after I’m gone. And that’s the purest definition of success.

  7. March 29, 2017 at 8:09 pm

    Fabulous perspective! This can apply to any entrepreneur- not just screenwriters. I especially liked the “You,Inc” post!

  8. March 30, 2017 at 4:24 pm

    Is it a culture, or a personal set of values, a philosophy?