Steven Pressfield on The Artist’s Journey, the Wisdom of Little Successes, Shadow Careers, and Overcoming Resistance (#501) | The Tim Ferriss Show

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Key Takeaways

  • Writing is a transaction you make with the reader
    • He is giving you a very valuable commodity, his time and attention
    • You’ve got to give something valuable back
    • “You can’t just put some crap out there and expect that they’re obligated to read it or watch it, because they won’t watch it.” Steven Pressfield
  • The hero’s journey of our lives takes us to find out who we really are and what is our calling
    • We shed all conditioning from parents and culture
    • The Artist’s journey entails finding out the gifts you have to offer to the World and sharing them
  • Little Successes Approach
    • From the moment you wake up, to the moment you sit down to write, produce as many little successes as you can to create momentum
      • Examples are: going to the gym, brushing your teeth, etc…
    • You build up little successes so that when you start your work, you’re able to immediately get into the flow
  • As artists, we are trying to get beyond the ego
    • But as we start shifting from our ego to our Self, the ego feels threatened
    • It creates Resistance to take us away from our Self
  • The Shadow Career
    • When we are afraid to pursue what we really want to do, we’ll pursue something adjacent to it
    • “Are you living the drugs-and-booze half of the musician’s life, without actually writing the music?” Steven Pressfield
    • Steven advises doing some introspection work to figure out what your real dream is
      • Then you can use your rational mind, to figure out what’s the best way to go about it

Key Books Mentioned

Intro

The Struggles Before Success

  • It took Steven 28 years from the time he quit his day job to start writing, to when he published a book
    • Steven was 53 when his first novel, The Legend of Bagger Vance, was published
    • Before that, he wrote three novels that never got published
      • Each of them took him about two years of full-time work
  • Supporting himself as an aspiring writer, Steven had a wide variety of jobs including:
    • Trailer driver
    • Cab driver
    • Schoolteacher
  • After being fired from a delivery job, full of shame, he moved to a halfway house
    • There he saw that the misfits weren’t crazy
    • “They were actually the smart people who had seen through the bullshit and because of that, they couldn’t function in the world” Steven Pressfield
  • Working in advertising and as a screenwriter improved his writing significantly

Lessons from Working in Advertising

  • Steven hates seeing advertising but he learned a lot working in the industry
  • One of the most important lessons he learned there is that “Nobody Wants to Read Your Sh*t”, which prompted him to write the book
  • Readers and viewers have lots of resistance towards advertisements
    • “Whatever you’re going to put on that page or on the TV screen, it’s got to be so good and so compelling and so interesting that people will have no choice but to watch it” Steven Pressfield
  •  You have to learn to put yourself into the reader’s shoes and ask yourself
    • What would be interesting to them?
    • What would catch their interest?
    • What would hold their interest?” 
  • Writing is a transaction you make with the reader
    • He is giving you a very valuable commodity, his time and attention
    • You’ve got to give something valuable back
    • “You can’t just put some crap out there and expect that they’re obligated to read it or watch it, because they won’t watch it.” Steven Pressfield
  • Writing for advertising is extremely concise
    • Steven learned how to say things in 25 words that before he used to take 250 words

The Hero’s Journey and The Artist’s Journey

  • The hero’s journey of our lives takes us to find out who we really are and what is our calling
    • We shed all conditioning from parents and culture
    • The journey ends with the hero coming home
  • The Artist’s journey entails finding out the gifts you have to offer to the World and sharing them
  • Richard Rohr, a writer and thinker that Steven admires, creates a similar distinction in life

Building Momentum and Routines

  • Little Successes Approach
    • From the moment you wake up, to the moment you sit down to write, produce as many little successes as you can to create momentum
      • Examples are: going to the gym, brushing your teeth, etc…
    • You build up little successes so that when you start your work, you’re able to immediately get into the flow
    • You build up confidence and get ready to overcome the resistance that will come when you sit down to write
      • Professional sports players do the same on game days
    • Steven borrowed this from his friend Randall Wallace, who wrote Braveheart
  • Other writers use a brute-force approach who just sit down and don’t let themselves get up until they’ve written a certain amount
  • Each person will have their own unique approach that works best for them
    • Twyla Tharp in The Creative Habit describes her routines for writing
    • Some people find it helpful going to a hotel room or different environment

Ego, Self, and Resistance

  • The ego is our sense of “I”, our rational mind
  • The Self (as Jung called it) is a broader concept including our unconscious and collective unconscious
    • That’s where our inspiration and intuition come from
    • Jung thought it was our connection to the divine
  • As artists, we are trying to get beyond the ego
    • But as we start shifting from our ego to our Self, the ego feels threatened
    • It creates Resistance to take us away from our Self
    • It is a way we sabotage ourselves
  • In Jewish mysticism, there’s a similar concept to Resistance called Yetzer Hara
    • It is translated as a “turning toward evil”
    • It is a force in us trying to prevent us from reaching a higher level

The Shadow Career

  • Sometimes the Ego drives us to pursue a shadow career
    • When we are afraid to pursue what we really want to do, we’ll pursue something adjacent to it
    • Example of people who want to be in entertainment becoming entertainment lawyers
      • They are afraid to run the risk of pursuing their calling
      • These arrears sometimes still have risks but don’t have any of the potentials of the real career
  • Steven wrote a short blog post on this topic
    • “The shadow career is a metaphor for our real career. Its shape is similar, its contours feel tantalizingly the same. But a shadow career entails no real risk” Steven Pressfield
    • “Are you living the drugs-and-booze half of the musician’s life, without actually writing the music?” Steven Pressfield
    • “Are you working in a support capacity for an innovator because you’re afraid to risk being an innovator yourself?” Steven Pressfield
  • Steven advises doing some introspection work to figure out what your real dream is
    • Then you can use your rational mind, to figure out what’s the best way to go about it
    • Be aware of your self-sabotaging tendencies, know that Resistance will try to talk you out of it
  • Tim recommends a Stoic exercise called fear-setting
    • “We suffer more often in imagination than in reality” Seneca

Serving the Muse

  • “I believe that books or songs or businesses exist in the realm of potential before they exist in the real world. I believe that as a writer, I am a servant of the muse” Steven Pressfield
  • “Writing, particularly fiction, is like a dream in that you enter another dimension of reality when you’re sitting down to write and you don’t know what’s going to come” Steven Pressfield

Why Friends and Family Won’t Read Your Stuff

  • You shouldn’t get demoralized if your friends and family don’t read your writing
    • Both Tim and Steven experienced this
  • When you start writing people who love you fear that you’re changing
    • They’re afraid of losing you
    • Unconsciously, they want you to stay the way you are
    • It’s a dark side of love

Life Is Long

  • On a billboard seen by billions of people, Steven would write: Life is Long
    • Be patient and loving with yourself
    • Don’t beat up yourself if you still haven’t found your calling 
    • “You’re on a journey whether you realize it or not; we all are. There’s no way not to be. And things will reveal themselves as they go, but don’t beat yourself up too much” Steven Pressfield

Advice to Start Writing Fiction

  • Go Big
    • As an aspiring writer don’t start small; the Muse doesn’t like that
  • Do it only for yourself
    • Do not censor yourself when thinking about the audience
    • Always take the brave choice
  • Monitor yourself as you’re writing
    • If it’s your calling, it should start to feel good

The Editor’s Mindset

  • Steven highly recommends The Story Grid: What Good Editors Know by Shawn Coyne
    • It’s a great book to help integrate the editor’s mindset into your writing
  • The editor makes sure that the story has a clear theme and genre
  • For each genre, there are certain elements that must be there
    • In a love story, there must be a rival
  • As an editor you can ask yourself:
    • What’s missing?
    • What have I done wrong?
    • What conventions have I violated?
    • Do I have a good reason for violating them?

Additional Notes

  • “You do not have to be good, you do not have to walk on your knees for a hundred miles through the desert repenting, you only have to let the soft animal of your body love what it loves.” first lines of Wild Geese by Mary Oliver
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Notes By Giorgio Parlato

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