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Writing Wednesdays

Writing Wednesdays

Files I Work With

By Steven Pressfield
Published: April 22, 2015

A week from now is the official launch of Shawn’s terrific and much-anticipated new book, The Story Grid. I’m gonna use today’s post to describe one way that I employ Shawn’s principles when I work.

"Wanna know what happens to nosy people? Huh? Huh? They lose their noses."

Right now I’m on the sixth draft of a fiction project. (In other words, NOT the first draft, which goes by completely different rules.) When I start to work each morning I open onscreen five files:

1. The actual draft I’m working on.

2. A file I call Scene By Scene.

3. Culls (meaning everything I’ve cut).

4. A file I call MissingMissingMissing.

5. Conventions of the Genre.

I’ll go into these files in detail in subsequent posts, but let’s talk about #5 now because it comes straight out of The Story Grid.

One of Shawn’s inviolable principles (with which I agree completely) is

The Writer Must Know the Genre She’s Working In—and Must Adhere to its Conventions.

Okay. What does that mean for me as I’m working? The genre I’m working in is the Detective Story. So …

In File #5 above, I have written out my own version of the conventions of a detective story. (I’ll include this document at the end of this post, but don’t quote me on it; it’s just my own demented version.)

I’ll keep this file top-of-mind throughout the drafting process. I’ll refer to it all the time. I’ll tweak it. I’ll add stuff as I think of it, etc.

How did I arrive at this list of conventions? As far as I know, there’s no reference work. So I just looked at a bunch of detective stories (Chinatown, The Big Lebowski, Blade Runner, The Maltese Falcon) and made my own list.

Shawn goes into great detail about genre in The Story Grid. He believes it’s so important that he named his own management company Genre Management. He talks about internal genres and external genres, all kinds of deep stuff.

It’s key to keep in mind, I’ve found, that you and I in our stories are probably working simultaneously in multiple genres. We’ve probably got a Love Story mixed in with our Historical Fiction or Sci-Fi, possibly a Coming Of Age Story, and so forth. We’re gonna have to keep track of all of ‘em, but for now let’s stick with only the Detective Story as an example.

How do I use this list of conventions?

I make it my bible.

For example, in every detective story there’s at least one scene—i.e., a convention—where the private eye (even if he’s “the Dude” in The Big Lebowski) gets the crap beaten out of him by the Bad Guys. Think Jake Gittes getting his nose sliced open in Chinatown, then nearly having his back broken by the farmers in the orange grove, or Harrison Ford getting hammered by replicant Brion Jones in Blade Runner, not to mention the pasting he receives from other replicants Rutger Hauer and even Daryl Hannah.
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WAR STORIES

War Stories

Over thirty-plus years of reading and researching, I've compiled a wild and crazy library in my head. In this series, I want to share some of it--the arcane, the obscure, the occult. It'll be eclectic. The posts will bounce all over the place. I plan to feature stuff from Hemingway to Homer, from von Manstein to Moshe Dayan. Posts will come from movies and plays, myths and legends, from journalism and personal correspondence and combat reports. Not all of it will be "war stuff." But it will all deal with issues of honor and virtue and courage in the face of adversity. A lot of it will be real literature. All of it, I hope, will be inspiring.

I also want to invite everyone to chip in with their own stories. Write me at steve {at} stevenpressfield {dot} com. Suggest passages—1000 words or less—from favorite books. Or send in something you've written yourself. Tell us about a patrol in Kunar province, or a letter your Dad sent to you from Pleiku in 1969. If it's great, we'll run it.

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DO THE WORK WEDNESDAYS

Do The Work Wednesdays

For a few weeks during April and May of 2011, I took a break from "Writing Wednesdays" and wrote "Do The Work Wednesdays" to accompany the launch of Do The Work.

THE WARRIOR ETHOS

What It Takes

"The Spartans do not ask how many are the enemy, but where are they?"
Plutarch, Sayings of the Spartans

These posts are intended for our men and women in uniform, but I hope that artists, entrepreneurs and other warriors in other walks of life will find them useful as well. The series examines the evolution of the warrior code of honor and "mental toughness." It goes back to the ancient Spartans and Athenians, to Caesar's Romans, Alexander's Macedonians and the Persians of Cyrus the Great (not excluding the Garden of Eden and the primitive hunting band). Sources include Herodotus, Thucydides, Plutarch, Xenophon, Vegetius, Arrian and Curtius--and on down to Gen. George Patton, Field Marshal Erwin Rommel, and Israeli Minister of Defense, Moshe Dayan.

RSS SUBSCRIBE to "The Warrior Ethos."

WHAT IT TAKES

What It Takes

"What It Takes" is a journal of the campaign to make The Profession a New York Times hardcover fiction bestseller. You'll be in on the meetings, the marketing and publicity, what works and doesn't work—everything. Expect a play-by-play as the campaign unfolds.

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WRITING WEDNESDAYS

Writing Wednesdays

I wrote The War of Art primarily for writers (its original title was The Writer's Life), but since it was published in 2002, I've received hundreds of e-mails from business entrepreneurs, actors, dancers, painters, photographers, filmmakers, military service members and others, telling me how the book seemed to have been written specifically for them—and how much it has helped their creative and entrepreneurial endeavors. Sometimes the e-mails are short, a sentence or two of thanks. Other times they've been sagas, life-stories packed with more drama and heartbreak than a soap opera. I know exactly what these correspondents are talking about. Resistance kicks everybody's ass—and the desperate desire to defeat it is equally as universal. Writing Wednesdays is an ongoing, blog-version of The War of Art. It's the chapters I would have written if I'd kept on writing the book. Then there's the added dimension of the comments from readers. I always scroll down and take a look. Some of the insights are better than the post itself. "Why didn't I think of that?"

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THE CREATIVE PROCESS

The Creative Process

I always want to know more about the people behind the work I admire. How do they do it? What does the process feel like from inside their heads? Wouldn't it have been amazing to sit with Hemingway, the way he sat with Scott Fitzgerald and Gertrude Stein and others, to discuss writing? The Creative Process is a Q&A with a wide range of creative people—from writers to business entrepreneurs and beyond—probing how they do that thing they do.

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Killing Rommel
Last of the Amazons
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