Pride and Prejudice - The STORY GRID edition - Annotated by SHAWN COYNE

Writing Wednesdays

Writing Wednesdays

Clueless Asks

By Steven Pressfield
Published: May 24, 2017

 

I turn down all clueless asks.

Alicia Silverstone in "Clueless:"

Alicia Silverstone in “Clueless:”

What exactly is a clueless ask?

  1. Anyone who sends me their manuscript unsolicited.
  2. Anyone who asks me to meet them for lunch.
  3. Anyone who sends me an e-mail headed “Hi” or “Hello there” (or with no salutation at all.)
  4. Anyone who asks me how to get an agent.
  5. Anyone who asks me to introduce them to my agent.

These are not malicious asks.

The writers who send them are nice people, motivated by good intentions.

They’re just clueless.

They have committed one of two misdemeanors (or both).

First, they have demonstrated that they have no respect for my timeā€”and no concept of the value of what they’re asking me for.

Do I have two hours to meet somebody for lunch? In the middle of the working day? Why? To shoot the shit about scene construction and character development?

Or maybe the asker “admires my work” and would like to “pick my brain.”

Really?

Send me a check for $10,000 and when it clears I still won’t meet you for lunch.

Or maybe the asker wants me to blurb their new book.

Why would I do that?

Do I know them? Did we go to school together? Did we serve in the same battalion? Am I married to their sister?

The real ask in these cases is “Can I have your reputation?” In other words, “Will you give me, for free, the single most valuable commodity you own, that you’ve worked your entire life to acquire?”

The second crime these clueless askers commit is they have not done their due diligence.

Don’t ask a writer how to get an agent. Find out yourself. There are ten thousand sources online and a hundred books in the Writing section of a book store.

Don’t send a writer an e-mail with an attachment that contains your novel. What if I’m writing my own novel on that same subject? When mine comes out, you’ll sue me for plagiarism and tell the judge, “See, I sent him my book. He ripped me off!”

My lawyer won’t let me read anything that comes in unsolicited, for just this reason.

Do your research.

Learn good manners.

Find out how the business works.

My book Gates of Fire gets assigned sometimes to high school English classes. I get asks from kids to explain the theme, the structure, and the relationship of Character X to Character Y. You can see that the student (one wrote, “Please respond. Money is no object.”) has simply typed the teacher’s assignment verbatim into the e-mail.

These, I suppose, are not technically clueless asks.

They’re more like, “Hey, Stupid, lemme see if I can take advantage of you” asks.

 


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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.

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