Steven Pressfield Online

What It Takes

What It Takes

Too Old For Heroes

By Shawn Coyne
Published: February 27, 2015

[Join www.storygrid.com to read more of Shawn’s Stuff]

Like you, every Wednesday morning, with my first cup of coffee in hand, I sit down and read Steve’s WRITING WEDNESDAY posts.

Preeminent listener, E E Cummings..."nobody, not even the rain, has such small hands"

His recent series on “killer scenes” and the ways in which he constructs his work have been off the charts for me.  Here’s what I love about them:

  • They’re personal…Steve does not pretend to be speaking from Mount Olympus.  He’s just giving us the straight dope about how he keeps his writing engines primed and working at peak efficiency. I was reminded of the importance of these idiosyncratic methodologies we all develop from Jeremy Anderberg’s Twitter post that linked to Hemingway’s interview in the Paris Review.  If Papa was timid talking about his process, fearful that to talk about it is to dissipate its magic, you know this stuff ain’t for the faint hearted.
  • They’re Meta-entertaining.  I love reading about how people create things.  What went through their minds.  How they solve problems.  It’s the classic “origin story” Subgenre of the Performance Genre.  Which as you know has the core value of Honor/Shame.  The trick is to honor your process, not to degrade or cheese it up for profit.  You’ve got to be truthful. And yes, as Steve proves over and over again, you can write about writing with honor.
  • They’re Inspiring.  I’m an editor/Right Brain kind of writer.  What that means is that I want to create a lot of little boxes or units of story, fill them up, polish them and then link them all together.  I start from the structural point of view.  That’s what makes me comfortable.

Reading about how Steve does it from the Left Side of the brain takes away a lot of the terror I’ve associated with the Muse.  I’m the kind of person who thinks the Muse has no interest in me.  I’m a blue-collar worker just banging out the word count and then getting out the sander after I’ve got some knotty pine to smooth.

It’s obvious that Steve does not do anything of the sort that I do.  He does not construct his stories so much as he tunes in and listens to his inner word whisperer.  He then pulls out the meaning of the messages that come to him from the great unknown.

Of course he’s a pro, though.  He wears the same blue-collar I do.

He knows all of the stuff I know (more even) so he organizes the messages in a general/global structure that aligns perfectly with Story nerd systems like mine.  He knows he needs inciting incidents, progressive complications, crises, climaxes and resolutions in every scene he writes etc., but instead of working to fill up boxes, he thinks about the whole trunk first.

I find his technique terrifying.

If I can’t label something and put it inside a methodology, I just as soon toss it in the trash can.  But after having read Steve’s Killer Scenes series, I feel better.  I’m more open to the quantum soup.  I’m not so quick to toss out a phrase that somehow jumps into my brain.  Now I’m putting them in little folders to marinate.

Which brings me to the title of this post…TOO OLD FOR HEROES.
More >>

Posted in What It Takes
11 Comments

The Warrior Ethos

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

The Warrior Ethos was written for our men and women in uniform, but its utility, I hope, will not be limited to the sphere of literal armed conflict. We all fight wars--in our work, within our families, and abroad in the wider world. Each of us struggles every day to define and defend our sense of purpose and integrity, to justify our existence on the planet and to understand, if only within our own hearts, who we are and what we believe in.

We are all warriors. Do we fight by a code? If so, what is it? What is the Warrior Ethos? How do we (and how can we) use it and be true to it in our internal and external lives?

From the Introduction by Steven Pressfield.

[The following is from chapter 12 of The Warrior Ethos:]

12. HOW THE SPARTANS BECAME THE SPARTANS

All warrior cultures start with a great man.

In ancient Sparta, that man was Lycurgus. He took the city from a normal society to a warrior culture.

So that no man would have grounds to feel superior to another, Lycurgus divided the country into 9000 equal plots of land. To each family he gave one plot. Further, he decreed that the men no longer be called "citizens," but "peers" or "equals."

So that no man might compete with another or put on airs over wealth, Lycurgus outlawed money. A coin sufficient to purchase a loaf of bread was made of iron, the size of a man's head and weighing over thirty pounds. So ridiculous was such coinage that men no longer coveted wealth but pursued virtue instead.

Lycurgus outlawed all occupations except warrior. He decreed that no name could be inscribed on a tombstone except that of a woman who died in childbirth or a man killed on the battlefield. A Spartan entered the army at eighteen and remained in service till he was sixty; he regarded all other occupations as unfitting for a man.

Once a Spartan was visiting Athens. His Athenian host threw a banquet in his honor. Wishing to show off for his guest, the Athenian indicated several illustrious personages around the table. "That man there is the greatest sculptor in Greece," he declared, "and that gentleman yonder is its finest architect." The Spartan indicated a servant from his own entourage. "Yes," he said, "and that man there makes a very tasty bowl of soup."

The Athenians, of course, were outstanding warriors in their own right. The great playwright Aeschylus, composing his own epitaph, mentioned nothing of his ninety plays or of any other civilian accomplishment.

Here lies Aeschylus the Athenian. Of his courage at the battle of Marathon, the long- haired Persian could speak much.

Lycurgus decreed that no man under thirty could eat dinner at home with his family. Instead, he instituted "common messes" of fourteen or fifteen men who were part of the same platoon or military unit. Above the threshold of each mess was a sign that said:

Out this door, nothing.

The point of the common mess was to bind the men together as friends. "Even horses and dogs who are fed together," observed Xenophon, "form bonds and become attached to one another."

The payoff came, of course, on the battlefield.

Here's how Spartans got married. Lycurgus wanted to encourage passion, because he felt that a child—a boy— conceived in heat would make a better warrior. So a young Spartan husband could not live with his bride (he spent all day training and slept in the common mess). If the young couple were to consummate their love, the husband had to sneak away from his messmates, then slip back before his absence was discovered.

It was not uncommon for a young husband to be married for four or five years and never see his bride in daylight, except during public events and religious festivals.

Sign up for first look access.

Enter your email to get free access to every new thing I do.

No spam, I promise!

Gates of Fire
The War of Art
Turning Pro
The Profession
The Warrior Ethos
Do The Work
Tides of War
The Afghan Campaign
The Virtues of War
Killing Rommel
Last of the Amazons
The Legend of Bagger Vance
Additional Reading
Video Blog