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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.
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ADDITIONAL READING » ALEXANDER THE GREAT

Alexander the Great

Alexander the Great

Campaigns of Alexander, The

by Arrian

This is the Penguin paperback, translated by Aubrey de Selincourt, with an intro by J.R. Hamilton, one of the best Alexander scholars. It’s the most readable and really gives you a sense of what all the fuss is about.

Anabasis of Alexander

by Arrian

Same book as The Campaigns of Alexander, different title, from the Loeb Classical Library (in two volumes), translated by another top scholar, P.A. Brunt. Not as contemporary a read as de Selincourt’s but very much the real deal.

Alexander the Great and the Logistics of the Macedonian Army

by Engels, Donald

Military men say that amateurs talk tactics, professionals talk logistics. If so, this book is pure pro. Engels explores such questions as, “How many mules can carry how many pounds for how many miles at what speed before they completely crap out?” I love this stuff.

Generalship of Alexander the Great, The

by Fuller, J.F.C.

Shrewd insights into how Alexander fought and how his principles fit into the broader picture of warfare over the centuries. By one of the greatest military historians of our time or any other.

Genius of Alexander the Great, The

by Hammond, N.G.L.

I just like Hammond’s re-imagining of Alexander. His speculations ring true to me.

Alexander the Great

by Hammond, N.G.L.

I just like Hammond’s re-imagining of Alexander. His speculations ring true to me.

Life of Alexander the Great, The

by Plutarch

Under thirty pages, but crammed with anecdotes and insights, from a far greater writer than Arrian or Curtius. But skewed, too, in its own way. Great stuff.

History of Alexander

by Quintus Curtius (Loeb Library, translated by J.C. Rolfe)

Along with the Alexander sections of Diodorus Siculus’ Library of History, this is the other main ancient source. Interesting how the same incidents are narrated from wholly different points of view, new material added, crucial stuff left out. You can see why it’s so hard to get a handle on the real Alexander.

Nature of Alexander, The

by Renault, Mary

Without The Persian Boy and Fire From Heaven, I wouldn’t be writing at all. These novels of Alexander inspired me years ago when I first read them—and they still read great today. Mary Renault also wrote an interesting non-fiction book, The Nature of Alexander.

Fire from Heaven

by Renault, Mary

Without The Persian Boy and Fire From Heaven, I wouldn’t be writing at all. These novels of Alexander inspired me years ago when I first read them—and they still read great today. Mary Renault also wrote an interesting non-fiction book, The Nature of Alexander.

Persian Boy, The

by Renault, Mary

Without The Persian Boy and Fire From Heaven, I wouldn’t be writing at all. These novels of Alexander inspired me years ago when I first read them—and they still read great today. Mary Renault also wrote an interesting non-fiction book, The Nature of Alexander.

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