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Writing Wednesdays

Writing Wednesdays

427 Minus 1 = Zero

By Steven Pressfield | Published: March 15, 2017

 

My first agent was a gentleman named Barthold Fles. He was seventy years old. When I fictionalized him in The Knowledge, I made him ninety-six. But he was really seventy.

427 is everything

427 is everything

I was twenty-nine at the time, so Bart had me by forty-one years. He was Swiss. He had represented Bertolt Brecht and even Carl Jung. He had seen and done everything.

One day Bart said to me, “How much is 427 minus one?”

I gave the obvious answer: 426.

 

“No,” said Bart. “It’s zero.”

 

He was speaking about pages in a novel.

If the full book is 427 and you’ve written 426, you haven’t got 426/427ths.

You’ve got nothing.

The work isn’t ready to be shipped till it’s 427.

I’m working on a new piece of fiction right now and I’m smack up against the finish line. It’s the eighth draft actually, but that’s the big one on this project. When I get this one done, I can say I’m over the hump.

Resistance, of course, is monumental.

So I’m thinking about Bart.

I quit 99.9% of the way through the first novel I tried to write, when I was twenty-four. Everything in my life imploded after that. It took me years to recover.

Like I said, I’m thinking about Bart.

Resistance ratchets itself to fever pitch as we approach the finish of any project. Only one response is possible. We have to assume the full Professional Mindset. Dig deep. Whatever it takes. We have to summon our resources of will and determination and push through.

No matter what, we MUST finish.

When I was interviewing Israeli fighter pilots for The Lion’s Gate, they told me of a concept they called “operational finality.”

The phrase in Hebrew is Dvekut BaMesima.

Mesima is “mission.”

Dvekut means “glued to.”

You and I may not be diving into a swarm of surface-to-air missiles or a barrage of anti-aircraft fire. But we still have to finish page 427. We have to put our bombs on target.

If you’re having trouble crossing that finish line, here are two pieces of good news:

One, you’re not alone. Everybody faces massive Resistance toward the end. It’s the nature of the beast. Like “hitting the wall” in a marathon, that moment of horror always rears its ugly head.

Two, if you can beat that monster one time (I can attest to this absolutely), it will never have the same power over you.

It’ll have power, yeah. But not at the same level.

Beat it once and you can beat it after that every time.

426 = zero.

427 is everything.

 

(more…)

Posted in Writing Wednesdays
19 Comments

What It Takes

What It Takes

Nonfiction Stories

By Shawn Coyne | Published: March 10, 2017

The late Don Hewitt was a master nonfiction story editor

The late Don Hewitt was a master nonfiction story editor.

 My next series of posts will concern the relationship between storytelling and nonfiction. In order to boil down my nonfiction editorial philosophy into a digestible 10,000 word-ish series for the www.sp.com crowd, I’ll be adapting voluminous material that I’ve previously released at www.storygrid.com

Bottom line is that you die-hard fans may discover material that I’ve written and published before. My intention is not to pass off old writing as original and new, rather to reuse sturdy prose that I stand by in my efforts to streamline my nonfiction editorial philosophy. So let’s get started.

The title of this post is an oxymoron right?

Nonfiction is supposed to be factual and “real,” while Stories are made up of flights of fancy, decidedly unreal. That’s what I was told in the classroom when I was just a wee boy and even later on in college.

It wasn’t until I was in my 30s, with years in book publishing’s trenches on my curriculum vitae, that I realized that those lessons were absolutely ridiculous.

(more…)

Posted in What It Takes
6 Comments

Writing Wednesdays

Writing Wednesdays

“So long, David … “

By Steven Pressfield | Published: March 8, 2017

 

We lost a valued member of our online community this past week—David Y.B. Kaufmann of New Orleans and Houston passed away after a two-year battle with cancer. If you’ve read the Comments section of this blog, you know David. His contributions were always keen and insightful, and pretty funny too. He was also a damn good writer. His series, The Scotch & Herring Mysteries, was original, smart, and one-of-a-kind. He leaves seven children, his wife Nechama, and a round of grandchildren on the way. We send our deepest condolences to all the Kaufmann family. We’re all one good guy poorer today.

In honor of David, whose mind had a definite metaphysical bent, let’s point today’s post on the Professional Mindset in a mystical direction.

We’ve said so far in this series that the writer, if she aims to be a professional, must think of herself as an entrepreneur.

She can’t look to anyone else to support her financially, emotionally, or creatively. She and she alone must take responsibility for her enterprise as an artist. She will manage her time and her emotions. She will generate her ideas. She will hold herself accountable.

Patti and Bob back in the day (actually '75, when they first met)

Patti and Bob back in the day (actually ’75, when they first met)

She will be as mentally tough as the most self-reliant entrepreneurs and as organized and orderly as Google or Apple or General Dynamics.

We also borrowed a concept from Dan Sullivan of Strategic Coach—his idea of “Unique Ability.” In writing terms, Unique Ability meant, we said, that voice, style, point of view, and storytelling gift that was ours alone, that no one else on the planet could duplicate.

All well and good.

But now, knowing all this and having successfully internalized it, we find ourselves drifting into terra incognita. We approach the threshold of the mystery.

The question becomes, “What is our unique ability? How do we find it? And what does it mean once we do find it?”

Here’s what I believe:

The source of our voice as writers (our unique ability) lies beyond our conscious mind.

You don’t know yours, and I don’t know mine.

But it knows us.

It knows us better than we know ourselves.

Our life’s work is to find it, to open the channel to this mysterious dimension. We teach ourselves to shuttle from the conscious to the unconscious, from the knowable to the unknowable, from the material to the divine.

Did Bob Dylan, when he was playing folk songs at the Bitter End in Greenwich Village in 1961, know that he would one day “go electric?”

Did he know he would have a “Christian phase?”

Did he reckon that he would pass from writing

 

How many ears must one man have

Before he can hear people cry

 

to

 

I used to care but

things have changed.

 

Did he possess the slightest clue that he would one day have not one hit album but two in a row, singing American standards?

I don’t think he knew any of it.

I don’t believe any of us do.

People say that writing is a form of self-expression. I don’t believe it. Writing is a form a self-discovery.

I don’t think any of us have any idea at all what we’re doing.

Our Muse leads us.

What you and I are doing as artists is apprenticing ourselves to a part of our psyche whose contents we can never know and whose purpose we can never divine, a sector of our consciousness that knows us intimately, that carries our daimon and our voice, but that only reveals itself to us in snatches, speaking, like dreams, in symbols and riddles.

But wait, you say. How does all this mumbo-jumbo jibe with the idea of the entrepreneurial ethic, of the Professional Mindset?

Entrepreneurs have muses too. Steve Jobs did. Elon Musk. Sergey Brin.

They are being led, just like you and me, from project to project, from inspiration to inspiration.

The Professional Mindset does not lose its utility when you and I enter the Extraordinary World. It changes, that’s all.

Instead of focusing on time management, say, or acquiring the art of saying no, the Professional Mindset shifts gears and tunes in, with a patient and keenly attentive ear, to the Cosmic Radio Station.

Part of the Professional Mindset releases all inhibition, so that it can receive whatever assignment its muse presents to it next. While part of it remains grounded in Realityville, reminding itself, “Damn, this is great sh*t! I better get it down in my notebook before I forget it!”

So long, David. Thanks for being part of our gang and our metaphysical quest. We will not forget you.

(more…)

Posted in Writing Wednesdays
27 Comments
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