By Steven Pressfield | Published: March 5, 2014
Herewith, ten idiosyncratic observations on the subject of generating ideas.
Sorting potatoes in Idaho
1. Ideas seem to come by themselves, unbidden.
In certain careers that I’ve spent time in—advertising and the movie business, for example—I’ve labored under conditions where you have to produce on demand. It’s hard. It’s do-able, but it’s never really worked for me. I can’t press. It’s hard for me to grind ‘em out.
2. Ideas seem to come in off-moments.
They appear when the brain is turned off. For me that’s when I’m half asleep, pre-dawn or tossing in the middle of the night; when I’m in the shower or shaving, or driving on the freeway.
3. Ideas don’t arrive with noisy fanfare.
Even the giant ideas, like those for books that will take three years to write, appear as part of a stream of other thoughts, many of which are mundane. The blockbuster idea is just one notion out of 150, or 1050, that you have through the day. “Gee, I need to pick up my dry cleaning.” Then, “Let’s write Moby Dick.”
4. Ideas are coming in all day.
I was on a farm in Idaho once, in a gigantic underground bunker where potatoes were being sorted on an assembly line. Farm kids stood by a conveyor belt, under the lights, while thousands of potatoes tumbled past every hour. That’s what ideas feel like to me. They’re always there. The trick is training yourself to notice.
5. Good ideas have a feel to them.
The kids in Idaho were sorting the potatoes. Their job was to pick out the good ones. It was amazing to watch their hands fly. They kicked the bad ones out and guided the good ones through.
A good idea has a feel to it like a potato. You can tell a winner. A big idea feels meaty and russet. You can sense it.
6. Resistance appears .0001 of a second after a good idea.
Resistance wants you to dismiss that good idea. The voice in your head will say: “That idea? Worthless. I’ve seen that one a million times.”
Suppose you do notice the idea. Resistance will try to make you forget it. “Ooh, you’re right, that is a good one. No need to make a note though. I’m sure you’ll remember it.” (more…)
By Steven Pressfield | Published: February 26, 2014
Did you ever see the movie Adaptation, written by Charlie Kaufman, directed by Spike Jonze, and starring Nicolas Cage, Meryl Streep, and Chris Cooper? If there has ever been a truer or more devastating depiction of the writer’s self-induced hell (including those by Proust or Stephen King), I haven’t seen it.
The real Robert McKee
In the film there is a fourth vivid character, that of “Robert McKee,” the screenwriting guru, played with scenery-chewing gusto by the brilliant Brian Cox. Of course there really is a Robert McKee (full disclosure: he’s a dear friend) and he really is the teacher-of-writing-and-story par excellence.
Consider this post as a shameless plug for Mr. McKee and his four-day intensive seminars. If you haven’t taken one already, I’m going to try to sell you on doing so—and if you’ve attended before, to consider doing it again.
I’ve taken Bob’s course three times–once in the 80s when I first arrived in Tinseltown, once in the early 2000s when I was losing my way a little in the fiction biz, and again two years ago just for the fun of it. Here’s a look at what the seminar feels like. I say of McKee that he is not just the best teacher of writing I’ve ever seen, but the best teacher of anything.
If you are serious about pursuing a career in any kind of storytelling, you MUST expose yourself to this experience.
When people write to me with story problems or Where Do I Start problems or just Writer Stuck In Purgatory problems, I say the same thing: “Take McKee’s course.”
Story is an indispensable resource for any artist. It’s a Ph.D. in four days.
Bob’s four-day intensive seminars, Story and Genre, come to New York and Los Angeles in the next few weeks. The L.A. Story class is March 6-9. Details for both here. In recent years McKee has been taking his workshops more and more overseas, to Beijing and Rio and all kinds of far-flung places. So when he does touch down in the States you gotta be alert and jump on the opportunity to see him.
Also if you sign up using WarOfArt (typed just like that, in the box on the registration page that asks if you have a discount code), you’ll get at the seminar a free signed and numbered special edition hardback of The War of Art. Not the paperback but the silver-cover hardback. You can sell it on eBay and defray part of the tuition.
Now, here’s the true gen on McKee’s seminar:
1. It’s great.
Without a doubt McKee’s story class is the best in the world, and McKee is the best in the world. He has created a place at the top of the mountain and there’s nobody up there but him.
2. It’s expensive.
Your bank account will definitely take a hit. But this is your art, your career, your life.
3. It’s intensive.
Navy SEALs have wept at the end of a four-day McKee Intensive. They have begged to go back to Hell Week. (I’m exaggerating slightly). McKee socks it to you all day for four days in a row. Have somebody standing by to drive you home at the end. You’ll be exhausted. (more…)
By Steven Pressfield | Published: February 19, 2014
The first one took about two years full-time. I started when I was twenty-four and gave up when I was twenty-six. The price of that one was my bank account, my sanity, my marriage.
Number Three. Still not ready for Prime Time.
The next one, six years later, took about eighteen months full-time. That one I actually finished. Couldn’t find a publisher for it either.
The third one, three years after that, took about two and a half years and brought me to the point where I was seriously considering hanging myself. The only reason I didn’t was I couldn’t find a hook strong enough to hold me. That manuscript didn’t find a publisher either.
Was I discouraged? F*#k, yeah.
At that point I packed up and moved from New York to L.A., where I spent the next five years writing nine screenplays on spec (about six months each, working real jobs at the same time). None of these found a buyer either.
Yes, in many ways those years were as hard as they sound.
But at the same time I was getting better. (more…)