Tuesday, September 15, 2009


Recently here I posted about how much I enjoyed reading the book "The War of Art" by Steven Pressfield.  It's a cool read about working through resistance and procrastination when it comes to writing or starting any project (that small business, a new workout, the latest diet, etc).  "The War of Art" offered me some practical tools on how to push through those obstacles that can slow, and even kill, my creative ideas.  

How many unfinished manuscripts do you have in your desk or stored on your computer?  We've all been there.  So I was curious about Steven's creative process.  (He's also the author of "The Legend of Bagger Vance" and numerous other novels.)  I asked him three questions and he was kind enough to take time from his day to answer them.  Bloggers, pay attention and feel free to take notes... there will be a short quiz  on Friday.

JANET:  I liked how Robert McKee said you'll pass up on a golf invite because you're too busy "working".  Obviously, Robert knows you're a professional writer and also a paid writer. How do you advise the unpublished/unproduced/unpaid writer to find that same focus and commitment when family and friends (or perhaps even a spouse) don't consider unpaid writing "real work"?  

STEVEN:   The hardcore answer would be "Get new friends and get a new spouse."  The more realistic answer is to solidify the commitment internally and forgive the spouse and friends' understandable doubt.  It's an odd fact but true that no one resists our growth more than the people closest to us, who fear (unconsciously usually) that we will move away from them if we grow and change.  They are dealing (again unconsciously) with their own Resistance, so that our hard work becomes a silent reproach to them.  There is no substitute here for will power and true, hardball commitment.  Nobody said it was easy.

JANET:  What is your revision process like on a book?  Do you go from Chapter One right through to the end for each rewrite or polish?  And how many passes do you usually make before sending it out to your agent or publisher?

STEVEN:    I revise in a kind of scattershot way.  Sometimes I'll work on a particular section, maybe near the end of the book, then go back to the start and revise there for a while.  Whatever feels right.  I usually do 12 or 13 drafts before sending it in.  These days, I've found, editors don't have time to do the old-time work that 
Malcolm Cowley and the legendary editors did.  Pretty much the writer herself has to self-edit.  So I do a lot of passes.  As soon as it stops being fun, I turn it in.

JANET:   How do you celebrate upon finishing a project?  Do you have any set ritual and is it when your last draft is done or when the book is actually published?

STEVEN:   This is a really good question, Janet.  I find that one of the great perilous moments is right after a project is completed.  Post-partum depression can get to you if you're not careful and really screw you up.  Here's what I do: the instant I'm done with one project, I start another.  The next day.  In fact usually I've already started.  I'll keep working on the new one without a break (and without any celebration of completing the prior one) until I feel I've got a beachhead.  Know what I mean?  Like I've got my troops ashore and plenty of ammo and a few tanks and guns to back me up.  The main thing is having MOMENTUM on the new project.  Then and only then will I let myself celebrate completing the old.  I'm not much of a celebrator, I must confess.  Did you ever see the movie "Das Boot" about a German U-boat in WWII?  The captain's praise for his men (who had gone through hell) was, "Okay, men, half a warm beer for each of you!"  

Well, there you have it, folks.  Bottom line -- writing is friggin' hard work.  It's not for the faint of heart.  But with a set schedule and focus (and less golf) we can all make our dreams a reality.  Dig out that unfinished manuscript, blow the dust off, or jump start whatever it is you've been putting off for too long.   Write on.

Until next time.


Barbara Forte Abate said...

Wowsie wow, Janet! Brief interview, but power packed. So glad Steven took the time to answer your questions because his responses are fantastic and I find them intensely valuable. So many times when we're deep into a project and the world is swirling by around us, a writer can end up feeling like one very solitary man on an island. Hearing on a personal level from such a hugely successful writer that it's pretty much the same deal for all of us - despite whatever level we've reached in the writing game is hugely appreciated.

Lisa Rothstein said...

Janet, wish it were longer, but I am greedy! Pressfield is a genius at getting to the heart of the Resistance issue, and your questions were great.

Janet Lawler said...

Davincigal, thanks for commenting. Steven's book is a great tool to use and to reference often. We need to know how prolific and successful artists (and pros) get their work done. It's an important example to follow.

Thanks for checking in and writing here. Best with your projects!