Writing Wednesdays

Writing Wednesdays

“Keep Working”

By Steven Pressfield | Published: November 29, 2017


[I’m gonna interrupt this series on Villains for a quick “Bulletin from the Trenches.”]


When I first came out to Hollywood from New York and I was scuffling around desperately for employment, I wound up doing a couple of small writing jobs for the director Ernie Pintoff. Ernie was a seasoned pro (he had actually won an Oscar for a short subject, titled The Critic). My frantic state was very clear to Ernie and, one day after we had finished work, he drew up and gave me a look that told me he was about to impart some serious wisdom.

Ernie Pintoff

Ernie Pintoff

Ernie said he knew that at my stage of the game, most of the gigs I could attract would be pretty low-ball, non-remunerative, and even in some cases a little dubious ethically. But, he said,


          “Keep working.”


What Ernie meant was don’t turn your nose up at paying (and even non-paying) assignments. “Yeah, a lot of ’em are gonna be pretty lousy and you’re gonna be saying to yourself, ‘This is really for the birds.’ But keep working. You never know who you’ll meet on a job, what contacts you’ll make, what opportunities may present themselves. Stay in the action. Keep perfecting your craft. You’re acquiring experience. You’re learning all the time, even if you don’t think you are.”

I’m taking Ernie’s advice right now, and it’s saving my life.

My “Trenches” book is done. Shawn loves it. I love it. It’s out there now, looking for a publisher.

Now the waiting begins.

Now Resistance appears, big-time.

Now the temptation arises to hold your breath and attach yourself emotionally to an outcome.

That attitude is bad news.

Bad luck.

Bad karma.


            “Keep working.”


If you’re reading this, I know you know what I’m talking about. We’ve all been in this place, some of us multiple-multiple times. It never gets any easier. The mind never gets any stronger.

Dark thoughts obtrude.

Distraction looms.

I repeat to myself all the psych-up mantras I know so well. But they still ricochet around in my head, seeking purchase and often not finding any.


          “Keep working.”


I’ve started the next book. I don’t know what it is. I don’t know what I’m doing. But I’m doing it every day. I have to.

The Muse tests you and me 24/7. She flies over and peers down on us. What she wants to see is that we are dedicated to the journey, to the process, that we are in it for the long haul and in it for keeps.

What she doesn’t want to see is that we are attached to the real-world outcome of one specific project.

The goddess hates that because it shows that we have misapprehended the nature of her alliance with us and of our apprenticeship in her service.


            “Keep working.”


The pro athlete who gets cut from his team, the ballerina who is let go by her dance company … both must go home and IMMEDIATELY begin training for their next job. The sent-down wide receiver must head over to the local college and recruit one of the young quarterbacks to work with him, alone and at night if necessary, throwing passes on the practice field, letting him run routes, helping him keep his technique sharp. The ballet dancer must sign up for class at once, continue her strength training, keep up her barre work.

For you and me, finishing Book #1 (or #21) means only plunging in immediately on #2 or #22.

We have to.

That’s the law.


            “Keep working.”

Posted in Writing Wednesdays

31 Responses to ““Keep Working””

  1. Mary Doyle
    November 29, 2017 at 5:48 am

    So the finish line doubles as the starting line. You’ve said this to us before, but today’s “keep working” mantra resonates in this post – thank you. I gotta ask though – why aren’t you guys publishing the new book yourselves?

    • Anna
      November 29, 2017 at 6:01 am

      Ha! I didn’t refresh the page before posting my comment… exactly what I was wondering!

  2. Anna
    November 29, 2017 at 5:59 am

    Steven, I’m curious about why you’re looking for a publisher for Trenches – why not Black Irish Books?

    • November 29, 2017 at 9:39 am

      Thanks for asking, you guys. Black Irish is too small, I’m afraid. We don’t have the reach, we can’t get the message out to enough people (remember, of every thousand people who notice the publication of a new book, only a minuscule number actually buy.)

      Black Irish works, we’ve found, for books like “The War of Art,” i.e. books about writing or the inner challenges that face the artist. But we can’t sell fiction. We just don’t have the reach.

      • Anna
        November 29, 2017 at 10:48 am

        That makes sense. Interesting perspective to have, too, as someone considering self-publishing. Thanks for your reply, and best of luck getting a great deal!

      • November 30, 2017 at 1:46 am

        Thanks for the explanation Steve – it was the first thing that crossed my mind. I take it you mean distribution reach for the fiction book. Can’t wait to get my hands on it!

      • Sokratis Laboglou
        November 30, 2017 at 4:04 pm

        Love the fact that you are going to publish a new fiction one!
        I’ve just read “again” 50 pages of the virtues of war …I was too stretched from the end of the month and wanted to feed the hero ,the visionary inside me!

        You definitely have smt to say ..keep on doing it ..you have our support ,our friendship!

        *Next one should be on building on the Enviroment ..for leaders to grow!!

  3. November 29, 2017 at 6:24 am

    I’ve got a photoshoot on Sunday (charity event) and Wednesday (fashion model). When I don’t have a scheduled shoot, when I’ve been unable to schedule a shoot, I work with my 24/7 model Aerin, a full size life-like mannequin. I’m either producing a product or refining techniques. It’s “Graham, Inc.” It’s the War of Art. It’s Nobody Wants to Read Your Sh*t. When you’re serious, the Universe knows. It’s having an effect you might not ever see, but the effects are still real.

    Keep working.

    Thank you, Steven, for all of your inspiration!

  4. November 29, 2017 at 6:55 am
  5. November 29, 2017 at 7:13 am

    So helpful!

  6. G.R.
    November 29, 2017 at 7:16 am

    Why I’m so sad after this post? What was the last illusion I lose today? )))

  7. November 29, 2017 at 7:19 am

    Attachment to an outcome is the bane of our existence, especially if we subscribe to ‘what you believe you can achieve’ and The Secret, etc. Our own ideas of how things should unfold, and how and when, are a prison of sorts. Which, ironically, includes our own ideas of non-attachment. Just keep working is our essential serendipity, our genuine freedom, isn’t it? I can’t WAIT to hold Trenches in my hands!

  8. Bruce Welton
    November 29, 2017 at 8:51 am

    That’s why I am glad to get your email posts. You always push me forward to stay after it, and to not let up. Thanks for the encouragement, and examples from your own trail in life.

  9. Jim Gant
    November 29, 2017 at 9:22 am

    Keep working!!!!

  10. November 29, 2017 at 9:33 am

    Best advice for today or any day!

  11. November 29, 2017 at 9:38 am

    Thanks Steven! Saw a facebook post recently, picture of Dwayne the Rock Johnson, perspiring from lifting weights, with a caption, “Get Back To Work. Your lack of dedication is a slap in the face to everyone who believes in you.”

    • November 29, 2017 at 4:13 pm

      Wonderful quote and example. Thanks!

  12. November 29, 2017 at 9:42 am

    Tough love. Thank you. Looking forward to Trenches.

  13. Dick Yaeger
    November 29, 2017 at 10:17 am

    Geez, Steven! Take a break. Lay on the beach and breathe easy. The Muse won’t desert you; she signed a long-term contract with you long ago. Even Marines take some R&R occasionally.

  14. November 29, 2017 at 11:53 am

    I have taken an email break lately, but saw this come through and was compelled to open. What perfect timing and a simple but powerful mantra. It’s easy to be sidetracked by the end point and miss the actual point and the reason to create – the act of creating itself! Thank you

  15. November 29, 2017 at 4:09 pm

    Yes! The moment I’ve been waiting for!
    Not the “Keep working” part. Knew that was coming.
    The “Shawn loves it. I love it.” part. Festive dancers skipping across stars! This is how it turned out, this journey through the trenches: “Shawn loves it. I love it.” Maybe ewoks/publishers will dance at the end but maybe not. Maybe Luke/Han/Steve will simply ride off into the next galaxy and at some point take another trek through some trenches.
    Here’s what I know: the Muse is smiling
    Here’s what I’m betting: there’s going to be an ewok dance

  16. Julia Murphy
    November 29, 2017 at 7:24 pm

    Thanks, Steve

  17. November 29, 2017 at 8:21 pm

    I needed to read this tonight. Thank you, Robin

  18. November 29, 2017 at 9:53 pm

    Yes, This!

  19. Beth
    November 30, 2017 at 6:53 am

    Your refreshing honesty is one of the most inspiring events of my writing efforts. Most published authors, especially before self publishing really took off, spoke down to us as if from Asgard sipping mead. They seemed to say we drink of that elixir of having been published that separates us from the rest of the mortals … so good luck thinking you’ll ever get on this cloud. But you make it seem like we can achieve success and yet the resistance will always be dogging us. You say the act and not the result puts us on the cloud. I’m already there as much as I will ever be.

    I believe it was Mark Twain who said “Beware of people who belittle your ambitions. Small people always do that. But the truly great make you feel like you can achieve greatness too.“

    Thank you from the bottom of my mortal, unpublished heart.

  20. Joan H. Simon
    November 30, 2017 at 2:50 pm

    Hi Steve,

    Because of this post, just told the person I was texting that I was turning off my cell phone to write.Thanks

  21. Aron
    December 2, 2017 at 9:54 pm

    Keep working. True. But where does the line ends? So one should keep working without experiencing the warmth of family, wonders of nature, taste of art etc and keep working? Where does it start? where does it end?

  22. Hana Wu
    December 3, 2017 at 8:15 pm

    Hi Steven,

    The article is very good and encouraging me to keep writing. As English is my second language, I’ve had a lot of problems with my grammars despite the stories I’ve written had good storylines. I will keep the article in my mind so when I am down, I can keep writing and polishing my writing.

    Again, thank you and I like your book ‘The war of art’.

  23. Christine
    December 3, 2017 at 11:03 pm

    Steve, I read this post right after I read Callie’s latest and commented on it. To me, your post is another way of looking at my take on Callie’s — I may feel demoralized, but I just Keep Working. And Keep Working.

  24. December 6, 2017 at 4:37 pm

    Yes, and after all, why would we want to do anything else? Because it’s in the making of our art that the real joy, fulfillment, sense of inner rightness comes, not in the promoting, not even in the “having written.” Thanks, Steve, for all you do! I just re-read The War of Art for the 3rd time and have been sharing quotes from it on my Facebook page. So good.

  25. December 27, 2017 at 7:51 am

    Every star burns as bright as it can until it is no more. Keep burning brilliantly we never know who, or when will see our light.