The following excerpts on the artist’s battlefied are from The War of Art by Steven Pressfield, who wrote Gates of Fire (NYTimes Bestseller) and The Legend of Bagger Vance (NYTimes Bestseller).
(The bold on text is my own. )
Someone once asked Somerset Maugham if he wrote on a schedule or only when struck by inspiration. “I write only when inspiration strikes,” he replied. “Fortunately it strikes every morning at nine o’clock sharp.”
That’s a pro.
[…] Maugham reckoned…that by performaing the mundane physical act of sitting down, starting to work, he set in motion a mysterious but infallible sequence of events that would produce inspiration, as surely as if the [muse] had synchronized her watch with his.
Ibid. p 64
We’re All Pros Already
All of us are pros in one area: our jobs.
We get a paycheck. We work for money. We are professionals.
Now: Are there principles we can take from what we’re already successfully doing in our workaday life and apply to our artistic aspirations? What exactly are the qualities that define us as professionals?
1. We show up every day. We might do it only because we have to, to keep from getting fired. But we do it. We show up every day.
2. We show up no matter what. In sickness and in health…we stagger in to the factory. We might do it only so as not to let down our co-workers, or for other, less noble reasons. But we do it. We show up no matter what.
3. We stay on the job all day. Our minds may wander, but our bodies remain at the wheel. We pick up the phone when it rings, we assist the customer when he seeks our help. We don’t go home till the whistle blows.
4. We are committed over the long haul. Next year we may go to another job, another company, another country. But we’ll still be working. Until we hit the lottery, we are part of the labor force.
5. The stakes for us are high and real. This is about survival, feeding our families, educating our children. It’s about eating.
6. We accept remuneration for our labor. We’re not here for fun. We work for money.
7. We do not overidentify with our jobs. We may take pride in our work, we may stay late and come in on weekends, but we recognize that we are not our job descriptions. The amateur, on the other hand, overidentifies with his avocation, his artistic aspiration. He defines himself by it. He is a musician, a painter, a playwright. Resistance [,the force which dissuades the artistic aspirant,] loves this. Resistance knows that the amateur composer will never write his symphony because he is overly invested in its success and overterrified of its failure. The amateur takes it so seriously it paralyzes him.
8. We master the technique of our jobs.
9. We have a sense of humor about our jobs.
10. We receive praise or blame in the real world.
Now consider the amateur: the aspiring painter, the wannabe playwright. How does he pursue his calling?
One, he doesn’t show up every day. Two, he doesn’t show up no matter what. Three, he doesn’t stay on the job all day. He is not committed over the long haul; the stakes for him are illusory and fake. He does not get money. And he overidentifies with his art. He does not have a sense of humor about failure. You don’t hear him bitching, “This fucking trilogy is killing me!” Instead, he doesn’t write his trilogy at all.
The amateur has not mastered the techniques of his art. Nor does he expose himself to judgment in the real world. If we show our poem to our friend and our friend says, “It’s wonderful, I love it,” that’s not real-world feedback, that’s our friend being nice to us. Nothing is as empowering as real-world validation, even if it’s for failure.
The first professional writing job I ever had, after seventeen years of trying, was on a movie called King Kong Lives. I and my partner-at-the-time, Ron Shusett ( a brilliant writer and producer who also did Alien and Total Recall) hammered out the screenplay for Dino DeLaurentiis. We loved it; we were sure we had a hit. Even after we’d seen the finished hilm, we were certain it was a blockbuster. We invited everyone we knew to the premiere, even rented out the joint next door for a post-triumph blowout. Get there early, we warned our friends, the place’ll be mobbed.
Nobody showed. There was only one guy in line besides our guests and he was muttering something about spare change. In the theater, our friends endured the movie in mute stupefaction. When the lights came up, they fled like cockroaches into the night.
Next day came the review in Variety: “…Ronald Shusett and Steven Pressfield; we hope these are not their real names, for their parents’ sake.” When the first week’s grosses came in, the flick barely registered. Still I clung to hope. Maybe it’s only tanking in urban areas, maybe it’s playing better in the burbs. I motored to an Edge city multiplex. A youth manned the popcorn booth. “How’s King Kong Lives?” I asked. He flashed thumbs-down. “Miss it, man. It sucks.”
I was crushed. Here I was, forty-two years old, divorced, childless, having given up all normal human pursuits to chase the dream of being a writer; now I’ve finally got my name on a big-time Hollywood production starring Linda Hamilton, and what happens? I’m a loser, a phony; my life is worthless, and so am I
My friend Tony Keppelman snapped me out of it by asking if I was gonna quit. Hell, no! “Then be happy. You’re where you wanted to be, aren’t you? So you’re taking a few blows. That’s the price for being in the arena and not on the sidelines. Stop complaining and be grateful.”
That was when I realized I had become a pro. I had not yet had a success. But I had had a real failure.
Ibid. pg 69–71
The Magic of Making a Start
Concerning all acts of initiative (and creation) there is one elementary truth, the ignorance of which kills countless ideas and splendid plans: that the moment one definitely commits oneself, then providence moves too. All sorts of things occur to help one that would not otherwise have occurred. A whole stream of events issues from the decision, raising in one’s favour all manner of unforeseen incidents and meetings and material assistance which no man would have dreamed would come his way. I have learned a deep respect for one of Goethe’s couplets: “Whatever you can do, or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius, magic , and power in it. Begin it now.”
W.H. Murray, The Scottish Himalayan Expedition (as quoted in The War of Art by Steven Pressfield, p 122)
The Artist’s Life
Are you a born writer? Were you put on earth to be a painter, a scientist, an apostle of peace? In the end the question can only be answered by action.
Do it or don’t do it.
It may help to think of it this way. If you were meant to cure cancer or write a symphony or crack cold fusion and you don’t do it, you not only hurt yourself, even destroy yourself. You hurt your children. You hurt me. You hurt the planet.
[…]Creative work is not a selfish act or a bid for attention on the part of the actor. It’s a gift to the world and every being in it. Don’t cheat us of your contribution. Give us what you’ve got.
Ibid. p 165
The Magic of Keeping Going
When I finish a day’s work, I head up into the hills for a hike. I take a pocket tape recorder because I know that as my surface mind empties with the walk, another part of me will chime in and start talking.
The word “leer” on page 342… it should be “ogle.”
You repeated yourself in Chapter 21. The last sentence is just that one in the middle of Chapter 7.
That’s the kind of stuff that comes. It comes to all of us, every day, every minute. These paragraphs I’m writing now were dictated to me yesterday; they replace a prior, weaker opening to this chapter. I’m unspooling the new improved version now, right off the recorder.
This process of self-revision and self-correction is so common we don’t even notice. But it’s a miracle. And its implications are staggering.
Ibid. p 124
It is one thing to study war and another to live the warrior’s life.
Telamon of Arcadia, mercenary of the fifth century B.C. (as quoted in The War of Art by Steven Pressfield)
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