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Writing Wednesdays

Writing Wednesdays

Beautiful Losers

By Steven Pressfield
Published: October 7, 2015

People write me letters sometimes. Wannabe musicians, aspiring novelists; I’m sure you know what I’m talking about.

Andy Warhol and friends at Max's Kansas City

Andy Warhol and friends at Max’s Kansas City

These letters purport to be seeking counsel. The writer details his or her struggles with deciding which creative field to pursue, their frustrations with their own indecisiveness, with getting their art going, etc. Then they ask for advice.

Now, there’s a good way to ask for advice. The good way is when the person is earnest, sincere; he or she can, in truth, profit from a boost of encouragement or an impartial reality check. That’s the good kind of advice-asking.

But that’s not what these other letter writers want.

I can’t tell you how dispiriting it is to receive such missives. They reek of mental weakness, shallow superiority, and an impenetrable mantle of self-delusion and self-indulgence. Worse, they’re “hooks.” Meaning their aim is to steal a piece of the recipient’s soul.

For years I took these cries for aid seriously. I’d ask myself, How can I help? What wisdom can I impart? The poor letter-writer seems to be suffering so.

Then one day I realized, These characters aren’t really looking for help. They love the state they’re in. They’re wallowing blissfully.

They are Beautiful Losers.
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Posted in Writing Wednesdays


Additional Reading: On Writing

Bambi versus Godzilla: On the Nature, Purpose and Practice of the Movie Business

by Mamet, David

Technically this isn’t a book about writing. It’s about Tinseltown and David Mamet’s love-hate relationship with it. But, along with Mamet’s witty and cantankerous evisceration of show biz, Bambi vs. Godzilla delivers masterly and extremely useful insights on getting movies made, surviving criticism, paying the rent and in general surviving Hollywood while retaining some scrap of sanity and integrity. Mamet is not just any writer. When he takes on a subject, you get it in context succeeding context—commercial, aesthetic, moral, ethical, legal, Talmudic, Tantric and Vedic. It’s like reading Thucydides if he’d loaded his stuff into a ’65 Mustang and split for the Coast.

Ernest Hemingway on Writing

by Phillips, Larry W.

Papa never actually sat down and wrote a book about writing. Rather, editor Larry Phillips has compiled 140 pages of hard-core Hemingwayisms from the author’s books, stories, and letters. Great material, particularly the fragments of correspondence to Scott Fitzgerald.

First Five Pages, The

by Lukeman, Noah

As an agent and editor, Noah Lukeman read thousands of manuscripts from aspiring writers. He got to where he could tell in the first five pages if a submission was worth his time. In this gem of a book, he tells you the most common mistakes writers make—and how to eradicate them from your manuscript.

How To Be Inspired

by Williams, Nick

A no-nonsense how-to manual and psych-yourself-up kit, for those of us who sometimes need a swift kick in the butt to get us going.

Journal of a Novel

by Steinbeck, John

When he was writing East of Eden, Steinbeck kept a journal—just a few pages each morning, which he’d scribble as a kind of warm-up before turning to the actual manuscript. Fascinating insights into the writer’s life, inside and outside the covers of a book.

Robert McKee’s Story Seminar

by McKee, Robert

I always say that McKee is not only the best teacher of writing I’ve ever seen, but the best teacher of anything. I’ve taken this three-day intensive course twice—and I’ll take it again. Yes, McKee has been spoofed (in the movie Adaptation) and lionized (in a New Yorker profile.) But that’s because he’s the best. Full disclosure: McKee and I are friends. McKee wrote the foreword for The War of Art. McKee teaches this class in cities all over the U.S. and Europe, even as far away as Israel and Singapore.


by McKee, Robert

This is the book that goes with Robert McKee’s Story Seminar. Terrific for writers in all media, but take the “live” McKee first. You’ll get more out of the book if you’ve heard the man deliver his stuff in-person.

Three Uses of the Knife

by Mamet, David

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