Steven Pressfield Online

Writing Wednesdays

Writing Wednesdays

Macro Resistance and Micro Resistance

By Steven Pressfield
Published: September 20, 2017

 

I was having dinner a few nights ago with a young screenwriter and a big-time Hollywood literary agent. The writer was joking that her career had stalled on the “C” list.

A moment from "THEM," 1956. Maybe mutated ants would be better than spiders.

A moment from “THEM,” 1954. Maybe mutated ants would be better than spiders.

“If I had you for a year,” the agent said, “I’d get you high on the ‘A’ list.”

The agent was serious, and a serious discussion followed. Most of the talk centered on the politics of career advancement. When I got home, though, I found my thoughts migrating to the craft aspects.

How would a true, knowledgeable mentor elevate a talented writer’s career? How would he advance it one level or two levels higher? What aspects of craft would he accentuate? What changes would he insist upon?

Step One, I think, would be to really hold the writer’s feet to the fire.

The mentor would make the writer truly accountable to her own talent.

  1. Conception of project.

The young writer comes in with an idea for a movie or a book.

Is the idea good enough?

Is it big enough?

Is it truly original?

Will it attract “A”-level talent? Director? Actors?

The agent/mentor would insist that the writer consider alternatives and variations on the idea. Is Version One the absolute best way to do this? “Okay, the story is about giant spiders invading from Mars. Would crustaceans be better? How about if they came from Venus?”

  1. Execution of story.

In my own days as a screenwriter, my agents (and they were all good) would, with only minor tweaks, pretty much accept the draft I gave them. That was the version they took out and tried to sell.

Looking back, they should have pushed me harder.

I have another friend, a literary agent who runs her own boutique agency, a really good one. She does exactly that with her clients. She sends them back to the drawing board over and over.

Our theoretical mentor should be just as hard on his young, talented writer.

“You’ve told the story as an action adventure from the female scientist’s point of view. Is this the best way? What alternatives have you considered? Why did you reject those?”

  1. Maximization of character drama.

“Have we plumbed the detective’s dilemma deeply enough? He’s in love with the lady scientist but he’s conflicted because he has a pet tarantula at home and he finds himself relating sympathetically to the spiders. How can we deepen this issue and make it play most dramatically in the climax?”

Why, in today’s post, am I asking these questions?

Because they apply 100% to our ongoing (sorry, I can’t stop) series, “Reports from the Trenches.”

In other words, they’re the same questions you and I have to ask ourselves when the first draft of our novel or screenplay goes south.

We need to be our own mentors, our own agents, our own editors.

We have to hold our own feet to the fire.

Have we settled (we must ask ourselves) for the First Level version of our story, of our execution, of our characters? Did we grab the first idea and run with it?

Our mentor/agent/editor would force us to be accountable. He or she would demand that we push on to Level Two and Level Three and beyond.

Which brings me to subject of Resistance.

If I were writing The War of Art again today, I’d add a section on the subject of Micro Resistance.

Macro Resistance is the global kind. It’s the self-sabotage that stops us from doing our work, period.

But many of us have beaten that monster. We can sit down. We can bang out the pages.

But Micro Resistance is sabotaging those pages.

Micro Resistance strikes inside the book or screenplay. We’re working, but we’re not working deeply enough. We’re settling. We’re not pushing the action, we’re not considering enough alternatives, we’re not demanding that scenes and sequences and dramatic relationships extract the last bit of juice from their potential.

Micro Resistance is what’s been kicking my butt on this re-do I’m working on.

Why have I not pushed deeply enough?

Because it’s hard work.

It’s painful.

It’s risky.

I’ve avoided the effort out of fear of failure.

I’ve accepted stuff that a more mentally-tough writer would have rejected.

Resistance, you and I must never forget, is constant and unrelenting.

It fights us in every phrase and every sentence.

It always wants us to settle for the easy, the shallow, the first level.

Do you have that agent, that mentor, that editor who will force you to be true to your talent?

If you do, you’re incredibly lucky.

But you and I need to cultivate that mentor inside our own heads.

We’re the writers. Accountability for our work lies with us.

We have to be that agent/mentor/editor ourselves.

 


More >>

Posted in Writing Wednesdays
24 Comments

What It Takes

What It Takes

The Pool Is 12 Feet Profound

By Callie Oettinger | Published: September 22, 2017

1+3+5+3+7+1+9+23+48+5 will always equal 105.

You can add the middle numbers last or add the second and fifth numbers first, and you’ll come up with the same answer.

However, it’s different with words.

Present the exact same words, in the exact same order, and the exact same format, to different individuals, and you’ll receive a different response every time.

That’s the beauty of words. As individuals, and when combined, words carry the experiences of their readers with them. Each individual will leave with a different interpretation.

Look to Lois Lowry’s introduction to the now-a-major-motion-picture edition of The Giver:

I had always received lots of letters from kids, frequently writing as a class assignment (one began, “This is a Friendly Letter”). Over the years, of course, they have more often become emails. But that didn’t compare to the mail about The Giver: first of all for the volume—the sheer number of them (even now, twenty years later, they still come, sometimes fifty to sixty in a day). But now the letter writers were different. Sure, many of them were still kids. But a startling number were much older. And the content was no longer the school assignment letter, the obligatory “I thought this was a pretty good book.” Instead the letters were passionate (“This book has changed my life”), occasionally angry (“Jesus would be ashamed of you,” one woman wrote), and sometimes startlingly personal.

One couple wrote to me about their autistic, selectively mute teenager, who had recently spoken to them for the first time—about The Giver, urging them to read it. A teacher from South Carolina wrote that the most disruptive, difficult student in her eighth grade class had called her at home on a no-school day and begged her to read him the next chapter over the phone. A night watchman in an oil refinery wrote that he had happened on the book—it was lying on someone’s desk—while making his rounds (“I’m not a reader,” he wrote me, “but man, I’m glad I came to work tonight”). A Trappist monk wrote to me and said he considered the book a sacred text. A man who had, as an adult, fled the cult in which he had been raised, told me that his psychiatrist had recommended The Giver to him. Countless new parents have written to explain why their babies have been named Gabriel. A teacher in rural China sent me a photograph of beaming students holding up their copies of the book. The FBI took an interest in the two-hundred-page vaguely threatening letter sent by a man who insisted he was actually The Giver, and advised me not to go near the city where he lived. A teenage girl wrote that she had been considering suicide until she read The Giver. One young man wrote a proposal of marriage to his girlfriend inside the book and gave it to her (she said yes). But a woman told me in a letter that I was clearly a disturbed person and she hoped I would get some help.

Diverse interpretations arrive with books and films and paintings, because we each take what the artists create and make their works our own.

For me, their works double as keys.
More >>

Posted in What It Takes | 1 Comment
RSS SUBSCRIBE to "What It Takes."

What It Takes

What It Takes

The Six Word GPS

By Shawn Coyne | Published: September 15, 2017

This is the next post in my series about Big Idea Nonfiction…and it’s a good one for fiction writers too.  When we hit a wall in our work (and we will) we need to settle ourselves so that we can outflank Resistance’s insistence that we’re wasting our time…that we’ll never finish…that we’re idiots for trying…  This post from www.storygrid.com a while back is a tool to get you back in the fight to complete your creation.

What actually happens when we take on a project and work it until completion? Is there a universal experience of sorts that anyone who strikes out to solve a problem faces?

I think there is.


More >>

Posted in What It Takes | 5 Comments
RSS SUBSCRIBE to "What It Takes."
The Profession
Do The Work
The Warrior Ethos
Tides of War
The Afghan Campaign
Last of the Amazons
The War of Art
The Virtues of War
Killing Rommel
Gates of Fire
The Legend of Bagger Vance
Additional Reading
Video Blog