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Writing Wednesdays

Writing Wednesdays

An Ask Too Far

By Steven Pressfield | Published: April 15, 2015

[The blog is hors de combat this week, as we prep for the launch of Shawn's wonderful new book, THE STORY GRID, coming in a couple of weeks. Here's one of my fave posts from a couple of years ago:]

In the past year or so I’ve become aware of the verb “ask” used as a noun. I simultaneously like it and am appalled by it.

An “ask” is a request for an action or a favor. I was reporting the contents of a long e-mail to a friend; she interrupted: “What’s the ask?” Meaning, “What does the e-mail writer want?”

“Ask” originated, I suspect, in the publicity biz. The difference between advertising and publicity is you pay for advertising but you try to get publicity for free. Hence “ask.” Schmooze schmooze schmooze ask.

Many moons ago I worked at Ted Bates Advertising in New York. One of Bates’ rules of copywriting was, “Always end with a call to action.” That’s the ask. “Buy now.” “Call this number.” “Log in to win.”

There are legitimate asks and not-so-legitimate asks. Have you read Josh Olson’s immortal “I Will Not Read Your F*%king Script!” That’s about an illegitimate ask.

I get a lot of asks. Write a blurb for my book. Write a foreword. Hype my stuff on your blog. Here’s where I come out on asks:

1. If it comes from a real friend or a legitimate colleague, I do it.

2. If it comes from someone who seems like a decent person (or virtually anyone in the serving military), I do it. The good news here is that quite a few real friends have entered my life this way. You can tell a good ask from a bad ask.

3. Everyone else, I pass.

There’s an ethic to the blogging world. It goes something like this. “For every ‘ask,’ you must first produce twenty ‘gives.’” (Some would say a hundred.) A give is the opposite of an ask. I suspect that the heavy give-to-ask ratio is because what I might call a give (say, this post), you might consider a waste of time, a pain in the ass, spam.

I take my own asks very seriously, in the sense that I cringe when I do them and I try to balance them by as many gives as possible. Recently when The Profession was published, I did a bunch of asks. Buy this book. Tell your friends. I hate doing that. The way I justify it to myself is by saying that a person who reads an ask from me on this blog at least had to voluntarily come to the blog in the first place. Still, asks suck.

There are outbound asks and inbound asks. The trick with inbound asks is learning to say no. For most of us, this is not easy. I’ve been trying for years and still don’t say no half as often as I should.

My problem is I like to think of myself as a nice guy. This is not good. I’m working on getting over that. There are people out there who are what I would call social sociopaths. They’re not actual murderers or criminals; they won’t hurt you. But, for whatever reasons of character or upbringing, they are utterly without empathy. They have no sense of the value of another person’s time or hard-won skill or hard-earned reputation. If you’ve got it and they can use it, they want it. They want it now. They want it free. And they want it again and again. (more…)

Posted in Writing Wednesdays

Writing Wednesdays

Writing Wednesdays

When Truth Doesn’t Work

By Steven Pressfield | Published: April 8, 2015

I’ve been working on a project that has a strong autobiographical component. One thing I’ve discovered is that you can’t tell the literal truth. The truth doesn’t work.

Instead I’ve had to fictionalize wildly. And the weird part is, the more extravagantly I fictionalize, the more like the truth it sounds. (more…)

Posted in Writing Wednesdays

Writing Wednesdays

Writing Wednesdays

Love in the Time of Resistance

By Steven Pressfield | Published: April 1, 2015

There’s a certain kind of relationship that often seeks out and torments writers and artists. Maybe you’ve had one. Maybe you’ve had more than one.

Paul Newman as Cool Hand Luke

In this type of love, one of the partners has become aware of her Resistance and is taking active, courageous steps to counter it. She’s writing her novel, she’s initiating her startup, she’s turning her life in a positive direction.

Her lover admires and respects this. He’s drawn to her by her drive and her commitment. She has an energy. Good vibes radiate from her. It’s fun and exciting to be around her.

Her lover wants to be like her. He’s hoping some of her power and dedication will rub off on him. At the very least, he thinks, he’ll learn something just from watching her.

The problem is there’s a snake in the garden—an evil third party in addition to the two innocent principals.

This third party is invisible, implacable, insidious, and indefatigable.

Its name starts with an R.

Resistance is so diabolical that it can and will take over the lover’s personality as completely as if it were a brain-eating zombie or a space-pod from Invasion of the Body Snatchers. Despite himself, the lover becomes a mouthpiece for his beloved’s Resistance. He gives voice to precisely the negative self-talk and self-sabotage that the partner would be fighting on her own, even if she had no lover.

How does Resistance do this? I don’t know. But I’ve seen it too many times to doubt its power. Resistance enters the lover’s psyche and, with infallible and unerring accuracy, begins dispensing its poison. “You’re not good enough, who do you think you are daring to follow your dream, you’re too old, too young, too fat, too skinny, too gay, too straight.”

In other words, the lover is trying to sabotage his beloved. Though he was drawn to her precisely for her energy, her work ethic, her self-discipline, he now commences a campaign to destroy these very qualities.

Why does the lover participate in this body-snatching act? Is he cruel? Is he demented?


Posted in Writing Wednesdays
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