Tag Archives: Steven Pressfield

What I Learned as a Writer from Derek Jeter

As a diehard New York Yankee fan I have reveled in the tributes to Derek Jeter as he wrapped up his amazing career this September. Reflecting on what other have said about Jeter, it struck me that his achievements and approach to the game of baseball contain valuable lessons for writers.

Maintain a consistent level of productivity. Jeter was never the best player in Major League Baseball (MLB). For most of his 20 years in baseball, he was never even the best player on his team. Yet he leaves the game ranked first on the Yankees in hits with 3,465. That’s right. Derek Jeter had more hits than Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Joe DiMaggio or Mickey Mantle, just to name a few Yankee Hall of Famers. He stands sixth all time on the MLB list in hits. How did he do it? He was consistently productive. He had eight seasons with 200 or more hits, the gold standard in baseball. The lesson for writers? Be productive. A writer who at the age of 20 (the age Jeter was when he broke into professional baseball) committed to writing a book a year would have 20 books by the time he reached the age of 40. Sure, the first three or four books might not be good, but over time if the writer developed her craft, she would have a vast library of books to her name.

Develop solid work habits. The corollary to maintaining a consistent level of productivity is work habits. Jeter’s devotion to staying in shape and taking extra batting and fielding practice to stay sharp served him well over the years. Similarly writers must adopt the daily writing habit. As Steven Pressfield wrote in his classic book, Turning Pro, one of the traits of a professional is showing up for work every day. But, the daily writing habit is not enough. Writers must commit to lifelong learning through reading craft of fiction books, reading fiction and nonfiction, attending conferences and engaging with other writers. It’s the only way to get better at writing.

Show respect for the game (craft). This may seem a small point, but when Jeter got the game winning hit in his last Yankee Stadium game, his shirt tail came out as he was mobbed by his teammates. Jeter tucked it back in before doing any television interviews. MLB gave umpires permission to be interviewed about Jeter and a veteran umpire said he knew the kid was squared away as as rookie by the way he wore his uniform. Opposing players said nobody had more respect for the game than Jeter. As writers we must respect the craft. Read great writers. Honor the best practitioners of the craft and learn from their example. Conduct yourself with class on social media. Give back to the profession. Help young writers.

Understand your audience. When addressing Yankee fans in public, Jeter always said he didn’t know why they were thanking him. It was he who should be thanking the fans. He was the most fan-centric athlete around. And we writers must never lose sight of our audience. It’s not other writers; its readers. Don’t write for other writers, Write for the readers.

Is there a person you look up to who has taught you valuable lessons as a writer?

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Book Review: The Authentic Swing, by Steven Pressfield

Don’t be fooled by the slimness of The Authentic Swing: Notes from the Writing of a First Novel, by Steven Pressfield. While it clocks in at just 143 pages, The Authentic Swing packs the power of a 300-yard drive straight down the fairway in golf.

The author of Turning Pro and The War of Art, Pressfield’s books on writing focus not so much on the craft, but on the mindset and habits of the writer. The Authentic Swing tells the story of Pressfield’s hard knocks journey to publishing success. He was writing spec novels when he decided to pen, The Legend of Bagger Vance: A Novel of Golf and the Game of Life. The novel would eventually become a movie.

Pressfield preaches a tough love message in Turning Pro and The War of Art. Writers must overcome Resistance and develop serious working habits to develop into professionals. The Authentic Swing touches on these themes, but is more philosophical. Consisting of short chapters, the book makes interesting parallels between writing and golf. In golf, every golfer has an Authentic Swing.

“To say that there is no such thing as the Authentic Swing is to build upon the concept of not-learned-but-remembered,” Pressfield wrote. Later, he elaborates on the meaning. “What is the struggle? It’s the quest to connect with one’s true ground,. To become who we really are. It’s the search for our true voice.”

The chapters are brief (one or two pages) and easily digestible. For example, in a chapter entitled, Finding the Theme, he quotes Paddy Chayefski: “As soon as I figure out the theme of my play, I type it out in one line and Scotch-tape it to the front of my typewriter. After that, nothing goes into the play that isn’t on-theme.”

The chapter, How Writing Works, consists entirely of this: “The Muse gives you stuff. That’s how writing works.
The writer’s job is to get out of the way.”

In How Writing Works, Part Two, he wrote: “The trick to writing, or to any other creative endeavor, is that once you start, good things happen. You can’t explain it. You don’t know why.”

And then there is this pearl from the chapter, My Philosophy: “The act of writing, or the pursuit of any art, is that adventure by which the Knower injects himself into the Field. You go in not-knowing and you come out knowing.”

This is the kind of book that should be read twice to capture all the useful nuggets.

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Books Read in 2012

Stephen King, in his classic craft of fiction memoir, On Writing, urges all writers to read widely. Writers must take the time to read across all genres to understand and grasp the basics of storytelling and character development. I set a goal to read 25 books a year. This year I read 26 books. I try to read a mix of popular fiction, classics, some nonfiction, and a few craft of fiction books. Sometimes I will choose to read a book to help me with what I am writing at the time. For instance, when I am having trouble exploring complex relationships in my story, I will turn to an author who is adept at doing that.

Here is my list of books read in 2012:

Broken Irish by Edward J. Delaney

The War of Art by Steven Pressfield

Turning Pro by Steven Pressfield

Outlining Your Novel by K.M. Weiland

Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk by Ben Fountain

Telegraph Avenue, by Michael Chabon

The Beginner’s Goodbye by Anne Tyler

Writing 21st Century Fiction: High Impact Techniques for Exceptional Storytelling by Donald Maass

Family Graces by Kathryn Magendie

Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides

The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins

Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins

Canada by Richard Ford

Before I Go to Sleep by S.J. Watson

Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott

The Bone Blade Girl by A.D. Bloom

Generosity: An Enhancement by Richard Powers

The Last Will of Moira Leahy by Therese Walsh

Secret Graces by Kathryn Magendie

The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern

The Virgin Suicides by Jeffrey Eugenides

The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides

To the Lifeboats by Jamie Beckett

Defending Jacob, by William Landay

Writer’s Conference Guide: Getting the Most of Your Time and Money by Bob Mayer and Jennifer Talty

In my next post, I will write about my favorite book of 2012.

 

 

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Book Review: “The War of Art,” by Steven Pressfield

Like the recent related book, Turning Pro, Steven Pressfield’s 2002 classic, The War of Art: Break Through the Blocks and Win Your Inner Creative Battles, is a kick in the butt for writers and other creative types. I read Turning Pro recently and liked its message so much I had to check out The War of Art.

A wordplay on the ancient military treatise, The Art of War, Pressfield’s book likens an individual’s approach to the craft to an inner battle. The enemy is Resistance and two-thirds of the book is devoted to defining Resistance and developing strategies to overcome it. Pressfield writes short, digestible chapters that emphasize his major points. Book One is called Resistance-Defining the Enemy. Pressfield defines Resistance as all of those things that prevent a writer from practicing and honing her craft. Resistance takes many forms–some of which the writer does not recognize–and Pressfield covers them all.

To underscore the insidious nature of Resistance, Pressfield gives it mortal ambitions. “Resistance’s goal is not to wound or disable,” he writes. “Resistance aims to kill. Its target is the epicenter of our being: our genius, our soul, the unique and priceless gift we were put on earth to give and that no one else has but us. When we fight it, we are in a war to the death.”

Book Two is called, Combating Resistance-Turning Pro. This section covers many of the points Pressfield would later expand upon in Turning Pro. A professional is defined by his habits and Pressfield makes an effective analogy to a creative person’s paid job, where the person is expected to show up every day, work all day, master the job, make a commitment over the long haul, and accept remuneration. The short chapters that follow expand on the attributes of the professional: the professional is patient, seeks order, demystifies, acts in the face of fear, accepts no excuses, plays it as it lays, is prepared, dedicates himself to mastering technique, and so on.

In Book Three, Beyond Resistance-The Higher Realm, Pressfield gets mystical. He discusses “the invisible psychic forces that support and sustain us in our journey toward ourselves.” He uses the terms “muses” and “angels” to describe these forces. Whether you buy into this theory depends on your belief system. The most valuable takeaway for me from this section was Pressfield’s discussion of the ego and the self. The ego is concerned with temporal, material things, while the self has a higher purpose.”Dreams come from the Self,” he writes. “Ideas come from the Self. When we meditate, we access the Self. When we fast, when we pray, when we go on a vision quest, it’s the Self we’re seeking…The Self is our deepest being.”

There are scores of useful craft of fiction books. Pressfield’s twin books, The War of Art and Turning Pro won’t teach you how to write a novel, but they will give you something just as valuable—the knowledge of the inner forces that threaten your creativity and the means to fight them by making a commitment to turn pro.

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Book Review: “Turning Pro,” by Steven Pressfield

Steven Pressfield’s new book, Turning Pro, is tough love for fiction writers. Pressfield’s thesis is that what ails some writers is they are living as amateurs. The solution is to turn pro.

“Turning pro is free, but it’s not easy,” Pressfield wrote. There is a lot of hard-earned wisdom in this book, but the nugget that stuck for me was this: “The difference between an amateur and a professional is in their habits. A professional has professional habits.”

Many people who aspire to be a writer or excel in other professions engage in what Pressfield called “shadow careers.” Shadow careers are metaphors for what people want. “Are you getting your Ph.D. in Elizabethan studies because you’re afraid to write the tragedies and comedies you know you have inside you? Are you living the drugs-and-booze half of the musician’s life without actually writing the music?”

The attributes of a shadow life are denial and addiction. Addiction, Pressfield wrote, is “excruciatingly boring. It’s boring because it’s predictable – the lies, the evasions, the transparent self-justifications and self-exonerations.”

Many artists are addicts, but they are just running away from their craft. “We enact the addiction instead of embracing the calling. Why? Because to follow the calling requires work. It’s hard. It hurts.” Amateurs give in to what Pressfield called Resistance. “Resistance hates two qualities above all others: concentration and depth. Why? Because when we work with focus and we work deep, we succeed.”

Resistance, on the other hand, keeps the amateur unfocused. “Have you checked your email in the last half hour?”

Another quality of the amateur is narcissism. “He continuously rates himself in relation to others, becoming self-inflated if his fortunes rise, and desperately anxious if his star should fall.” The amateur lets fear paralyze him, is easily distracted and seeks instant gratification.

Turning pro changes your life. “When we turn pro, we stop running from our fears. We turn around and face them.” The pro structures his hours differently. “We plan our activities in order to accomplish an aim. And we bring our will to bear so that we stick to this resolution.”

One of the most valuable parts of this book is a list from his earlier work, The War of Art, of the qualities of a professional. Among these are:

  1. The professional shows up every day.
  2. The professional stays on the job all day.
  3. The professional is committed over the long haul.
  4. For the professional, the stakes are high and real.
  5. The professional is patient.
  6. The professional seeks order.
  7. The professional demystifies.
  8. The professional acts in the face of fear.
  9. The professional accepts no excuses.
  10. The professional plays it as it lays.
  11. The professional is prepared.

In Turning Pro, Pressfield lists some additional qualities. The professional is courageous, will not be distracted (“The amateur tweets. The pro works.”), is ruthless with himself, has compassion for himself, lives in the present, and defers gratification. And, the professional does not wait for inspiration. “He knows that when the muse sees his butt in the chair, she will deliver.”

The professional does the work for itself and no other reason. “When we do the work for itself alone, our pursuit of a career (or a loving or fame or wealth or notoriety) turns into something else, something loftier and nobler, which may never even have thought about or aspired to at the beginning. It turns into a practice.”

While Turning Pro focuses on the habits of writers, Pressfield also throws in some craft advice. He urges writers to work over their heads, write what they don’t know, and take what the defense gives you. Professionals also know how to play hurt, to keep writing when facing adversity.

On a recent Saturday morning, I slept in. It was a brilliant summer day and I was headed to the beach later. That evening I ran into a published author, who told me he awoke at six o’clock in the morning and wrote for a couple of hours. He was finished writing before I even woke up that morning. That’s what I call a pro.

Do you see yourself as a pro? What habits make you a pro?

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