By Steven Pressfield
Published: August 27, 2014
This blog can get kinda hardcore at times, I know. The posts can seem relentlessly insistent on hard work, self-discipline, and so forth.
Today let’s talk about the other side.
Let’s talk about when the writing day is over.
I’m a big believer in “the office is closed.” What I mean is that, when the day’s work is done, I turn the switch off completely. I close the factory door and get the hell out of Dodge.
This is not laziness or exasperation or fatigue. It’s a conscious, goal-oriented decision based upon a very specific conception of reality.
In this conception there exist two levels upon which we work. In the first level we operate consciously and with deliberate intent. We apply will. We invoke talent. We labor.
On the second level, we don’t do a damn thing. We consign the endeavor to our unconscious (or to the Muse, if you prefer.) We very deliberately hand off our enterprise to these invisible mysterious forces.
Let the goddess take over. She wants to. It’s her job. And she’s a lot smarter than we are.
That’s what I mean by “the office is closed.”
The best thing you and I can do at the end of the writing day is to stash our work gloves in our locker, hang our leather apron on a hook, and head for the workshop door. If we’ve truly put in our hours today, we know it. We have done enough. It won’t help to keep at it like a dog worrying a bone.
I forgot who said this (I think it was John Steinbeck in Journal of a Novel):
Let the well fill up again overnight.
That’s it exactly. Someone asked Steinbeck on another occasion if he ever stretched himself at the end of a working day. He replied with an emphatic no. The phrase he used was that to keep working when you were tired was “the falsest kind of economy.” You might eke out an extra paragraph or two tonight, but you’ll pay tomorrow.
Here’s how I judge it in my own day. I work till I start making mistakes. When I find myself misspelling words and generating typos, I take that as a sign. That’s the factory whistle. The shift is over. Grab your lunch pail and hang up your boots.
Let’s get the f*%k outa here.
Posted in Writing Wednesdays
In January of 1966, when I was on the bus leaving Parris Island as a freshly-minted Marine, I looked back and thought there was at least one good thing about this departure. "No matter what happens to me for the rest of my life, no one can ever send me back to this freakin' place again."
Over forty years later, to my surprise and gratification, I'm far more closely bound to the young men of the Marine Corps and to all other dirt-eating, ground-pounding outfits than I could ever have imagined as I left Parris Island that first time. Gates of Fire is one reason. Dog-eared paperbacks of this tale of the ancient Spartans have circulated throughout platoons of U.S. troops in Iraq and Afghanistan since the first days of the invasions. E-mails come in by hundreds. Gates of Fire is on the Commandant of the Marine Corps' Reading list. It is taught at West Point and Annapolis and at the Marine Corps Basic School at Quantico; and Tides of War is on the curriculum of the Naval War College. In 2009, I launched the blog "It's the Tribes, Stupid" (which evolved into "Agora"), to help gain awareness of issues related to tribalism and the tribal mind-set in Afghanistan—with the goal of helping the Marines and soldiers on the ground better understand the different people they were facing in Afghanistan.
My father was in the Navy, and I was born in Port of Spain, Trinidad, in 1943. I graduated from Duke University in 1965. Since then, I've worked as an advertising copywriter, schoolteacher, tractor-trailer driver, bartender, oilfield roustabout and attendant in a mental hospital. I've picked fruit in Washington state, written screenplays in Tinseltown, and was homeless, living out of the back of my car with my typewriter. My struggles to earn a living as a writer (it took seventeen years to get the first paycheck) are detailed in The War of Art.
With the publication of The Legend of Bagger Vance in 1995, I became a writer of books once and for all. From there followed the historical novels Gates of Fire, Tides of War, Virtues of War, The Afghan Campaign and Killing Rommel.
My writing philosophy is a kind of warrior code—internal rather than external—in which the enemy is identified as those forms of self-sabotage that I call "Resistance" with a capital R (in The War of Art). The technique for combating these foes can be described as "turning pro."
I believe in previous lives and the Muse—and that books and music exist before they are written and that they are propelled into material being by their own imperative to be born, via the offices of those willing servants of discipline, imagination and inspiration, whom we call artists. My conception of the artist's role is a combination of reverence for the unknowable nature of "where it all comes from" and a no-nonsense, blue-collar demystification of the process by which this mystery is approached. In other words, a paradox.
There's a recurring character in my books, named Telamon, a mercenary of ancient days. Telamon doesn't say much. He rarely gets hurt or wounded. And he never seems to age. His view of the profession of arms is a lot like my conception of art and the artist:
"It is one thing to study war, and another to live the warrior's life."