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At this altitude, I can run flat out for a half mile before my hands start shaking. Can I ask you a personal question now and see what it's like to be. I'm a cybernetic organism, living organism, and just go to Paris, so. Hello, boys and girls, ladies and germs, this is Tim Ferriss. Welcome to another episode of the Tim Ferriss show, where it is my job each and every episode to interview world class performers, to try to tease out the habits, routines, framework's favorite books and so on.
Favorite cereals, maybe. Who knows that you can apply to your own life? And my guest today is Stephen Pressfield. I have wanted to have Steven on this podcast for a very long time. You can find him on Twitter at Pressfield. Steven is a former Marine and graduate of Duke University. He became an overnight success as a writer after 30 years of abject failure. Those are his words, not mine. So we'll dig into that, identifying the omnipresence, if I'm pronouncing that correctly, of resistance.
The interior force of self sabotage you described in the war of art, one of the best book titles of all time, has saved his own artistic life and helped many others struggling to find their creative calling. Pressfield, the novels of the ancient world, including the non-fiction The Warrior Ethos, are required reading at West Point, Annapolis and in the Marine Corps. He lives in Los Angeles. His newest book is A Man at Arms, An Epic Saga about a reluctant hero of the Roman Empire and the rise of a new faith.
You can find him online, Steven with a V.. Steven Pressfield Dotcom on Twitter at Pressfield and Instagram. Steven Underscore, Pressfield. Steven, welcome to the show. It's great to be here, Tim. I've been wanting to have a conversation with you as well, so I'm excited about this, too. It's great. And we are going to run out of. We're going to run out of time well, before we run out of content. I think in part because I have all these notes in front of me.
I have all these questions. And then there is, I'd say, at least 51 percent of me that just wants to turn this into a selfish opportunity to have therapy from you.
So we'll see what what blend of all of those hours.
We'll see what I was I was hoping for the same thing. Oh, wonderful. OK, so from you. From me.
Well, you know, we can we can turn this into a mutual therapy session in that case. All right. So let's let's go back in time for those who don't have much context on your life. And perhaps a good entry point is a prompt that you provided, and that is ask me about my house for fifteen dollars a month in the backwoods cat I made friends with. So that's where I'm going to start. Please tell me about this house at fifteen dollars a month.
And the backwards cat. I went when you talked about 30 years of abject failure, that's that's really true. I mean, from the time that I originally tried to start writing, quit a job like you did and and actually had a book published was about, you know, about twenty eight years, 30 years, something like that. And at one point I was I was driving trucks, tractor trailers in North Carolina. And I had just come out of living in a halfway house, which was, you know, when people are released from mental hospitals, not me, but everybody else was there.
And I finally found I found this house out in the country for 15 bucks a month that had no doors, no electricity, no kitchen, no toilets, nothing. I just basically lived in my van, which I parked on the dirt road there, and I used to cook. There was no way to cook. So I used to have a little fire and make a little fire out in the back behind this little house. And it was right up in North Carolina, has a lot of Pinewood's, and this was right in the middle of the pine woods around Raleigh.
And there used to be this feral cat, this wild cat that lived in the woods behind me when I would come out and cook and I'd be sitting on the back stoop and the wood started like maybe only five feet from the house, this cat would sort of materialize an battle scarred tomcat, and he would sit there across from me while I would make hot dogs or whatever I was doing. And I could never feed him. He would never take anything from me.
I think it was sort of like he didn't want to be a pet now and he would sit there. This is all this is all true to him. I'm not making this. I believe he would sit there across from me just kind of eyeballing me. And there was no doubt which one of us was the superior being, you know, and no doubt which one of us had his shit together and the other one did.
And and he would look at me like he was trying to decide whether or not to kick my ass or not, you know, and but I felt that this cat was a great omen. I felt that in some way. Why does a cat materialize? Like, why does anything happen like that? You know, like in the Native American tradition when an animal is kind of a spirit animal or something? Right. And so I I took a lot of courage from that cat appearing.
I sort of felt like in some way my energy had sort of drawn him out of the woods because he kept coming back. But this wasn't a one time thing. And so, anyway, that's that's that's a little I don't know if that's context. Well, it's quite a while ago, but it was that was sort of at the heart of my darkest hours.
Well, it provides a bunch of fertile ground for exploration. Before we leave the cat, though, what meaning did you take from that? What what effect did that have on you and then we're going to come back to the halfway house because you mentioned everyone else was there after being released from a mental hospital or something along those lines. I want to know how you ended up there. But first, what meaning did you imbue this cat with after these repeated visits?
Well, I felt like the cat was a little bit of a of a role model for me, that it was it was a cat that was obviously completely self-sufficient, you know, lived in the woods, didn't require anybody to feed them, wouldn't let anybody feed them, was a totally autonomous individual. And I thought to myself, kind of first of all, why did anything come out of the woods? But if this is what came out of the woods that it was such a positive kind of person, you know?
And so I thought if if this cat has come here, maybe he's come here to kind of encourage me and tell me that, Steve, you can do that to you know, you can be like me, too. You can be autonomous, you can be self-sufficient. You can take care of yourself.
You know, it makes me think a bit of the poem Wild Geese by Mary Oliver. The first few lines.
I'm not familiar with that. The first tell me.
I'll tell you the first the first few lines are you do not have to be good. You do not have to walk on your knees for one hundred miles through the desert repenting. You only have to let the soft animal of your body love what it loves. That's the beginning. And I think about that quite a bit. And contact with nature and man's tendency. And what I mean by that is mankind's tendency, men and women both to view themselves as apart from nature as opposed to a part of nature and the halfway house.
So let's connect the dots from the beginning to the Tomcat at the end of that first response. How did you end up there? And what was your belief at the time that you were there? I don't know. We're getting into some deep stuff really earlier.
I know it's a first date and everything, but I'll play a bit, if that's OK.
Well, I was in North Carolina at the time. I married a gal from North Carolina and we've been, you know, married for like five or six years at that time. And we were at the state where we were desperately trying to you know, we were coming apart at the seams and we were desperately trying to hang on together. And we had come back from North Carolina and we're living with her mother out in the woods in a farmhouse that also rented for about 20 bucks a month.
And I had this job delivering industrial food. I drove a little truck and I would deliver things like Salisbury steaks and frozen crinkle cut. French fries to little restaurants and stuff like that, and without going into a long story, I got fired from that job and in a state of great shame, I was just, like, totally ashamed in front of my wife, in front of her mother. And I just sort of I just couldn't stay there anymore.
I couldn't I couldn't stay with them. So I kind of I moved into town trying to find a job desperately. And the only place I could find was just sort of boarding house that this is in Durham, North Carolina. That was also a halfway house for where the government, the state government would pay for people who had been released from mental institutions and were on their way back into the real world. And so I found a room in the basement there, and that was how I came to that that halfway house.
And I have a theory about halfway houses and about the people who are in there, if you want to hear this, Jim, I do, because I've been in a bunch of other kind of situations like that. And you think you would think that people are really struggling mentally. But in fact, the people in this halfway house we used to hang out in the kitchen, talk all night long, were among the smartest people that I ever met and the funniest and the most interesting.
And what I concluded from hanging out with them and from others in a similar situation was that they weren't crazy at all, that they were actually the smart people who had sort of seen through the bullshit. And because of that, they couldn't function in the world. They couldn't hold a job because they just couldn't take the bullshit, you know, and that was how they kind of wound up in institutions because the greater society thought, well, these people are absolute rejects.
They can't fit in. But in fact, to my mind, they were actually the people that really saw through everything. So in a way, I felt kind of bad when I had to leave this house because I like the people so much, but also speaks. It seems to not to say it isn't worth it, but some of the possible risks of seeing through the thin veneer, that is what we consider civilization.
Yeah, yeah. And just it's a dangerous thing, just how slippery it can be to sort of realize how arbitrary so many of these social constructs are.
You you have a just an incredible resume. I mean, it reads like I don't want to say here is dirty because we'll probably come to that and clarify that a bit later. But you have an eclectic, to put it mildly, collection of professions of tractor trailer driver, cab driver, school teacher.
You picked fruit as a migrant laborer in the list goes on of all of those, does one stand out as having been especially formative for who you were then later became as a writer, as a creative driving?
Tractor trailers was probably the most formative thing for me in that sense, in the sense that once you're out on the road delivering a load, you're completely on your own. And if anything goes wrong, I mean, obviously you could call for help if you're really desperate. But pretty much you've got to get it together one way or another. And other people are depending on you, whatever that load is, you've got to deliver. The shipper wants it.
The people, it's being shipped to one. And there's really sort of no mercy. You know, you have to be a professional. You have to do it. At the time that I was doing this job, I was really dealing with my own tendency to sabotage myself. I mean, I was like a self-destruction machine, you know, where I would just screw up constantly. And I had to be constantly monitoring myself that I wouldn't act out in some crazy way and destroy everything that I was trying to do, which was just to survive.
So first of all, the help from the people that I worked with, from the other drivers, from the dispatcher who was kind of a mentor to me, a guy named Hugh Reeves, who really saved my life and a lot of ways and also just the the need to deliver to really actually deliver the goods and the self imposed pressure of that. That really helped me. And there were a bunch of instances when I found myself really up against it and having to get it together completely on my own and when I thought I never could.
And each time that I was able to do that, it reinforced that kind of like the cat that came out of the woods. I sort of felt like I was being a little bit of my own role model and that there was hope that I that I could get it together one way or another at that time.
In that period. You mentioned the self sabotage. And I'll give you two questions and you can take a stab at either both. What was the. Particular form or most common form of self sabotage. If you could give an example or just describe that, because there are so many different types. And then also Hugh Reeves, as a mentor, what type of mentor was he? What did you clean or learn from him? I'll give you a specific.
When I was driving the little trucks and delivering institutional food to these little restaurants like Codal houses and stuff like that, the way I got fired was it was early in the morning. I just finished delivering to to a restaurant. I hadn't had breakfast. I was coming back out through the through the sort of the warehouse section at the back of the restaurant. And they had a whole bunch of rows of little cans of fruit juice, you know, pineapple juice and stuff like that.
And so I just reached out and I grabbed one for myself and the boss caught me and put a bumper, I'm fired. And I really feel like me doing that was an act of self destruction that I had. And I absolutely am certain of it. You know, I just sort of knew why do you do something like that? So that was kind of the sort of thing that I would do kind of over and over and, you know, and driving trucks, I could tell a bunch of stories, but one of them was where I dropped the trailer one time delivering meaning.
I pulled the tractor out from under the trailer in this warehouse parking lot right in front of about 500 people and just drop this entire trailer nose down onto the thing and was just a complete fiasco. So that was the kind of thing that I would do or I would just be careless. You know, you need to like if you're an airline pilot and you're doing your checklist, you have to before you take off, you've got to hit check the flaps in the engine and blah, blah, blah, whatever it is.
I wish there was something in me that would make me forget to check. The one most important thing that I had to do. And as soon as it went wrong, I knew it. It wasn't like, oh, what a surprise. It was like, oh shit, I've done it again.
And getting back to your shoe, Reeves, who is the dispatcher who is my mentor in this thing, he. If I got fired, I'm really confused. I don't know, I guess this is interesting. I don't know.
I find it interesting after I got fired for stealing that can of pineapple juice, I was in a state of utter shame. I didn't even tell my wife or her mother. I just and I I had already applied for I had gone to a truck driving school and I applied to like 50 different companies throughout North Carolina and couldn't get on anywhere. And I was just leaving town in my sixty five Chevy van heading for the oil fields in Louisiana, where I had worked once before and where I knew I can at least get a job.
All you needed was a pulse and take you on and so on. My way out of town in like the dead of winter, worst possible rainy North Carolina, I stopped at this one trucking company that I had already flagged to a couple of times. They rejected me. And Hugh Reeves was the dispatcher and he was a former Marine. And he knew that I had been Marine and I just stopped just for the hell of it. I thought this is where things would have any hired me.
So that kind of saved my life right there.
But throughout the whole my struggles to learn the business and stuff like that, there was I'll tell you, that was one one moment where you kind of sat me down and I kept screwing up, like I said, and he sat me down alone in his office and he said, son. And I was like, I don't know what. Twenty five years younger than him, he said. I don't know what's going on in your head, son. I don't know what journey you're playing out here.
I don't know what your issues are. I don't know what you're trying to solve in your own mind. But this company is a business. We're in business to make money. You are a driver. You represent this company. When I give you a load to take somewhere, you better fucking deliver that load now.
And and so that was a great thing for me to. It's like a slap in the face because in my mind, I definitely was kind of on this odyssey. I was living on the inner world. I don't know what it was. And he was absolutely right. This is a business, you know, this is for real. I have a real job. People are depending on me. I have I have to. And that really helped to sort of.
Think of myself as much as I could as a professional, not somebody on some crazy adventure. I can definitely see how that ties into a lot. That came later. That's a great story. Yeah, that's a great story.
Let's flash forward. We're going to bounce around quite a bit. And in doing so, I want to maybe first bring up just a common belief or sentiment that I hear a lot, which is like you're going to do your best work in your 20s. It's like a professional sport. You do A, B and C and you've kind of reached escape velocity or not by the time you're 30, 35, whatever the number might be. But it tends to be around there.
Your first novel, you mentioned in some comments a few minutes ago and I mentioned the bio, 30 years of abject failure. OK, so your first novel published after around 30 years of effort, The Legend of Bagger Vance. How old were you when that was published?
I think I was fifty three. All right. Maybe fifty four.
OK, so now a lot happened up to that point. Obviously, in your life, you had a lot of experiences. Where I want to go next is. Is to ask how you developed your facility with words because you are a very good writer, the the jobs we've mentioned so far seem to have nothing to do with with words.
I think you have you have an incredible vocabulary. How did this happen, I'll accept. Thank you for saying that at face value, but the whole time that I wasn't only doing blue collar jobs, I worked in advertising, like in New York three or four times. And I also had about a 10 year career as a screenwriter in Los Angeles, where I am now. And so through that time, you're trying to learn what what a writer is or what being or what writing is.
And also, of course, I was I was writing novels through that time. I wrote three of them that never got published. So and each one took about two years full time.
What drove you to do that? If I could just pause there for a second. Sure. Most people don't write, period. So what was driving you or compelling you or inspiring you to do that? You know, I don't know.
Why does anybody write or why does anybody paint or anything? I it's sort of originally started for me. I was not a dream I had as a kid. You know, I didn't know like Jack Carr, the Thriller writer and former Navy SEAL, he always wanted to be a thriller writer from the time he was like six years old. But not not me. It never occurred to me. My first job was in advertising in New York. And I had a boss named Hannibal who wrote a novel, quit, wrote a novel.
And it was a huge success overnight. And I sort of thought, well, shit, why don't I do that?
Seems like a seems like an easy gig. Let's try nothing to write. I mean, he's in that office. I'm in this office. Why can't I do it?
So that's sort of at least started this kind of dream for me, you know? And then once I had failed that it really badly. I thought I was even more motivated to do it right. I've got to like somehow I've got to, you know, write my way out of this thing one way or another. So that was how it initially started, Tim, in terms of just the intention to do it, to finally make it work.
I want to allow people to peek behind the scenes here for a second just to see sort of how the sausage is made with this podcast. And I'm looking in front of me at a whole raft of papers, but one of them contains prompts and exploratory bullets. And I always ask guests if they would like to provide any prompts that might lead to interesting or fun stories, fertile ground, as I like to say, for exploration. And you learn a lot about guest looking at the bullets they provide or the lack of bullets they provide.
And your bullets are fantastic. And this this will be tied into what we're talking about in just a second. But so, for instance. Right, ask me about the house for fifteen dollars a month in the Backwood Cat, I made friends with another one, which we're not going to get into right now, but will probably come back to. We might come back to ask me about the time when I was driving trucks, when they told me, quote, Whatever you do, don't in all caps go past that last return, end quote.
Now to me then speaking.
Of course, I did go past. Of course you did. Now, as someone who has read, I want to say it was John Caples and all these books on copywriting, I can see very clearly, and I say this as a compliment, the influence of your time as a copywriter working at agencies. It's it's so obvious to me because it's you can't not ask. I mean, it is is very well crafted in that sense. Could you speak to your learnings in the world of advertising?
What did you gain from working as a copywriter, whether at I think Benton and Bowles? Is that one of the names?
That was one of the places, yeah. Yeah. And I do think in many ways I learned a tremendous amount in advertising. I mean, I hate advertising. I hate it when it's on the screen. I hate watching TV commercials. I hate the whole concept of it. But I've met a lot of great people there and I learned a lot. And one of the things one of the books that I've written about writing, as you know, is called Nobody Wants to Read Your Shit.
Yeah, please. For those people who don't know it, this is just a spectacular pieces, if you could, and describe it.
And the sort of this is to me like the number one lesson that any writer or artist should know before they know anything else. And you learn this in advertising because as you're as you're trying to write an ad or a TV commercial, one thing you have to always keep in mind is that nobody wants to see it. In fact, they hate it sight unseen. They hate it. If it's a TV commercial, they've got the remote in their hand.
They're going to click right through it as fast as they can, you know, or if it's an ad that's in a newspaper or magazine, they're going to turn the page as fast as they can because they hate it. They don't want you to sell them Preparation H or anything like that.
So the lesson for that as a writer, knowing that. You're facing that so much resistance from them, from the reader, is that 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. And so it makes you work really, really hard and also makes you really project yourself into the mind of the of the viewer or the reader in an empathetic way, in a really good way, and try to say what would be interesting to them, what would catch their interest and what would hold their interest.
And you realize to that writing is or and reading is a transaction that the reader or the viewer is giving you a very valuable commodity, which is their time and their attention. And you've got to give them something. 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, you know. So that was that was a great lesson for me that applied and writing novels or movies or anything at all, that you're going to do a restaurant, you're going to open a restaurant.
You know, nobody wants to come in there and buy your greasy cheeseburgers. You know, you've got to come up with something that makes them say, I've got to go in there, you know, and that's where the work comes in and that's where the creativity comes in. And another sidebar to that of what you learn in advertising is a 30 second commercial cannot have more than 60 words in it. Two words per second. Does an announcer or people speaking, actors speaking can't deliver it.
It becomes so fast that you can't hear. So there's pressure on you every time you write a piece of copy, like I would bring a piece of copy into my boss, whoever he was or she was, and they would say, get out of here. This is way too long. Go back to your cubicle and cut it down. And I'd spend, like, hours cutting it down and bring it back. And then they'd say, cut it down again.
And so that was a wonderful skill to learn to find that you can say maybe in twenty five words what you had said and two hundred and fifty words before. So you're right to be right on target, that there was a lot of lessons that came out of that experience of writing, as I mentioned in passing.
And I'm by no means an expert here, but mentioned in passing Hero's Journey in reference to your your life in a sense. But my understanding is that you consider the hero's journey as we know it, in the Joseph Campbell sense, different from the artist's journey. Could you please elaborate on that?
I definitely feel this time that you and I are talking about now. And I was driving trucks and doing things like that and being kind of lost in the wilderness as my quote unquote, hero's journey. I mean, I think we all have many heroes journeys, but we probably have one sort of overarching one. And to me, the hero's journey of our lives is takes us from believing that we are what our parents told us we are or what society told us we are or what we imbibed from the culture, shedding that and finally finding out who we really are.
And that's sort of the moment. The hero's journey always ends. And Joseph Campbell, terms with the hero coming home, right. Like Odysseus coming back to Ithaca. And at that point, the we've hopefully we've kind of found who you are and what our calling is. And for me, you know, that was it was along it was a long journey, but at that point. A new stage of our life takes over, like I'll say.
For me, it was when I finally got a novel published in a bag advance events that took me like twenty eight years of, quote unquote, hero's journey. And in my view, this is me thinking about this later. I had no concept at the time. At that point, at that point, I said to myself, I'm a writer, I'm a real writer, I can do it, I've paid my dues. And then the next question became, OK, now what am I going to write about?
What is my gift if I'm here to bring kind of a gift to the people? As the Hero's Journey template says, my question to myself is, what is that gift? So for the rest of my life, I feel at that point I got on my artist journey and now I'm a writer. I'm going to write one thing, I'm going to write another. I'm going to write another. And the question I'm asking myself is, what is what is book one?
What is book to what is book three? What is my gift? What am I here to give? And, you know, I'll blather on for a bit here, Tim, if you don't.
I love I love your blather. And if you've ever heard of Richard Roar who wrote Falling Upward, I think it is he's a he's a Franciscan monk and a very deep thinker. And he kind of divides life into two halves, first half and second half. And the first half of your life, he says, is when you are sort of finding your identity and kind of establishing your presence on the planet, like maybe you're a mom and you say, OK, I'm a mom on that or I'm a lawyer.
I bought a house. I have a wife, I have children. You're sort of in his words, because words are are if you want to look it up, I highly recommend anything by him. You're creating the vessel that is your life. And then in the second half of your life, you're filling that vessel. So you sort of ask yourself, OK, now I can do it. I've got a house, I've whatever. I have a profession.
What am I going to do with this? Am I just going to be another crappy person? That's that's, you know, continuing the societal garbage that we have? Or am I going to try to find my gift that's unique to me and bring it forth to the world and try to help one way or another? So that to me is the hero's journey comes first. And when the hero's journey is over, our artist journey begins. And I would define art as the broadest possible terms.
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Part of the hero's journey, as I understand it, and please correct me if I'm getting this wrong, is what is sometimes referred to as refusal of the call, right? Like when Luke Skywalker is just bitching and whining and doesn't want to go see Yoda, et cetera, like he's just being a pain in the ass to Obi Wan Kenobi. Everyone should watch Star Wars if you don't remember this part.
The section was there. That element in your hero's journey, getting to the point of having created the vessel. Was there a refusal of the call? Did that did that play any role?
Oh, absolutely. And I think it does in everybody's life. In the hero's journey, as Joseph Campbell lays it out. There's a bunch of stages and the hero's journey. Usually it starts in what Joseph Campbell would call the ordinary world. And it's just you're living your regular life. But something is wrong, like in the case of Luke Skywalker, he's on Uncle Owen and Andrew's evaporator farm on Tatooine, I guess, is the planet you got. And he's just right.
And and this is his ordinary life, right? He's stuck. He's nowhere. In fact, I think there's somebody asked him at some point, where are you? And he says, if there's a spot that's the farthest point away from the bright centre of the universe, that's where I am. Right. And that's the that's kind of the order. And then what? The next day? This is very early in the hero's journey. And then the next stage is the call.
And it's something happens that tends to pull you out of this ordinary world, like in The Wizard of Oz. It starts you get swept up in the tornado and Star Wars. It's that Luke Skywalker finds R2 two D two and he unplugs the little hologram that says Princess Leia, help me, Obi Wan Kenobi. You're my only hope. Right? So that's the call, right? Suddenly you realize, oh, I've got to do something here. And then what follows immediately after that and Joseph Campbell paradigm is the refusal of the call for Loki goes, I can't leave.
I've got responsibilities for Andrew and Onkalo and blah, blah, blah. And that seems to be across the board. If you if you remember the first Rocky, the movie when Rocky when Apollo Creed or the promoter calls Rocky into his office and says, I'm going to give you a shot to fight the champ. And Rocky's first reaction is, no, I can't do it. You're crazy. This is a joke. I can't do it. Or if we want to go back to another one, when Odysseus is being summoned to go fight in the Trojan War, his first reaction is no, no, no, I don't want to do it.
And if you remember the myth, he pretends to be crazy and he goes out and he's showing his fields with salt. And the messenger who is sent to summon him takes his baby, the young telemeters, Odysseus, his baby, and puts him in a furrow in the path of the of the plough. And when Odysseus comes to the baby, he veers around it. Right. He's not going to run over his baby. And the message is, am I your faking?
You're really not crazy. Get on the boat. We're going to the Trojan War. So that's the refusal of the call. And for me, it was the first novel that I tried to write, which I had no business doing. I got like two minutes from the end and I just blew it up and blew my my whole life up. That was that was my refusal. I refused to go into the unknown world.
How did you blow it up to mean that you just stopped you? The details. But I did something that made my wife hate me and kick me out. I got it. OK, go do that.
So that's why I acted out what as I would say in psychological terms, in other words, another form of self destruction that that was that was my those are my demons forever.
They may be your demons forever, but perhaps you're getting or have become better at dancing with them instead of struggling against them. It seems like at least referring to your mentors and lessons learned that in some respect and please correct me, disabuse me of this.
It's not true that you've been able to at least, like, strike a deal with these demons because, yes, you went up from being unable to finish a novel to producing many works.
What is that deal or how how has that come to be the case? But let me just talk about a novel for a second, please. After the first one that I wrote that I couldn't finish. And then I went on these various spiraling down the rathole type of things, I finally got it together. I save some money. I saved twenty seven hundred dollars working in advertising in New York. And I moved out to a little town in Northern California and determined to write an.
And finish and I rented this little house and I was just by myself and through that whole time again, I was aware every second of my tendency to sabotage myself. So I just said to myself, I'm going to finish this son of a bitch or I'm going to kill myself. And when I finally did and I write about this in the war of art, when I finally did finish it and I typed those words and I felt like my DNA changed, you know, and I will say that as an encouragement to anybody that's listening, that's struggling with the same stuff.
Once I was able to finish that thing, that novel, I've never had any trouble finishing anything ever again. That's interesting. But it was just sheer willpower driven on by shame that I just no, I think shame is a great thing. But I think but I just couldn't stand myself if I failed yet again. So I just had to keep going. Keep going, keep going. It seems like it it's possible. And I'm speculating here. But the when you finish that novel and you had the end.
Right, because confidence is just not something you can fake. Right. In the respect that. Yeah. Your true self knows whether you've earned or it's unearned. When you typed the end, the story of I always self sabotage now had a counterexample that that statement was no longer you know, I haven't thought about it that way, Tim, but I think you're absolutely right.
Yeah. A counterexample.
Yeah. With the legend of Bhagavan. So finishing a novel is one thing. Getting a novel published is quite another endeavor in many respects. So thirty year overnight success. What happened? Did you end up like drawing straws and you became the bridge partner of a book agent. Like what, what actually happened that allowed this, this publication publishing your first book? Well, like I said, I wound up writing three novels that never got published. Right.
And when I finished the third one, that was sort of like another kind of in all is lost a moment, a suicide moment for me because I couldn't get an even my friends wouldn't read it. And I knew that I just didn't have the wherewithal to do this again, you know, to save up money to work for two years. I just didn't have the wherewithal. And so I decided or sort of came to me as a flash that I would go to Hollywood, let me write a screenplay, let me write.
We try Hollywood. I failed as a novelist, let me go fail as a screenwriter. So I did go out to Los Angeles and after about four or five years, I got my eight. I did have an agent. I kept writing screenplays that also didn't sell. And finally, I got kind of teamed up with an established writer, Piney, named Ron Said, who did the first alien, among other things, and who was like a really a real brand name and a real guy that really could get work.
How did you get teamed up with him? I'm sorry to keep interrupting, but like like Alien turned into an iconic film. I mean, you created a franchise. Great film. How did you get teamed up with him? I had an agent, a wonderful agent named Mike Warner, who tragically died at a young age, but and he had other clients. And Ron was one of his other clients. And Ron usually worked with a partner. And at that time, as he was more around, was more of a producer writer than a writer writer.
What is a producer writer? A writer writer is the guy that actually sits down at the page and the typewriter and actually writes the scenes and so on and so forth. A producer writer is somebody who is great at coming up with the ideas, the big ideas and also sort of shepherding a story through from start to finish and also as a producer in the sense of being able to get financing and write, take the meetings and make a deal. So whereas Ron was not the kind of writer that could actually sit down and write the screenplay, you know, but he could say I would sit there and come up with like 30 ideas.
What if we do this? What if we do that? What will we get? And he would say, twenty nine of them suck do this one.
He's the guy who would say it's Jaws in Space Act one, two, three. Here's the deck. He could line up all of the time to get the financing. For instance, the great scene in Alien, where that thing bursts out of John Hurt's chest. Right. That's paint. That is Ron Scream. You know, that was his idea, which is turned into anyone's mind. Who has ever seen one of the aliens movie?
So you can't say just because maybe he didn't actually physically write it at the typewriter that was his. So so it's a very creative thing to be a producer. So he usually works with a partner.
He's more of a producer writer instead of the writer writer. You have the same agent.
So the agent said Mike said. So let me team you guys up and you'll be you'll be a team. So that from my point of view, I now became like an apprentice. I was like the junior partner of this team. And when we go to meetings in Hollywood, nobody wanted me. They wanted Ron. He was the brand. And I was just I was the guy that actually sat at the keyboard. So in any event, for maybe ten years or so, I did have a career as a screenwriter.
So that was gaining credibility for me. And also I was learning what a story is, you know, by by the process that you go through. And then at one point, I just had this idea for the legend of Bagger Vance, and I had it as a book, not as a movie. And so when I told that to my agent, then at the time he basically fired me. He basically said unceremoniously broke the story and I fired him.
But his stories that he fired me. But basically he he was absolutely right, because what he said to me was, I've spent the last five years trying to get your career going and we're now just about to get going. And you're telling me you're going to write some stupid golf novel that nobody's going to buy and nobody's going to read. It's going to take you a year to write it. And by that time, everybody will forgotten who you are here in the business in Hollywood.
And I'm back to square one and I've spent a lot of time working with you, so get out of here. So but in any event, that was how an actual novel that I wrote actually got published. So it was it was sort of a smooth transition. And when, you know, the actual the actual passage there, it didn't just come out of nowhere. So if you broke up with this agent or he broke up with you, you go off to write this thing.
The agent has these these doubts and believes that you're going to sort of sink into oblivion and become irrelevant. Right. You're just going to be completely forgotten. You march off to pursue this this dream and this project from there, not to beat a dead horse about this, but how does it then find a home with a publisher?
You know, it was like a joke that I was an overnight success after 30 years. And I think sometimes your bad luck builds up to such an extent that it turns into good luck, like the law of averages starts to work for you.
Right. And what happened was to try to get up. You have to get a literary agent, right. Which I didn't have. I had a Hollywood agent. So I went to my lawyer. I had an entertainment lawyer named Larry Rose, and he sent me to an agent named Jodie Hotchkiss in New York who worked for Sterling lawyer. It was a big literary agent who is still my agent and just turned 100 years old. Wow. By the way.
And so almost overnight, that manuscript just found a buyer, boom, boom, boom. It found a buyer, found a movie buyer, found everything right away. So it was I think it was just a law of averages finally evened out a little bit.
That's just incredible. What a story. So I'd like to ask you about momentum in your life.
And I'm asking this is this is where I might Segway, at least indirectly, to some therapy for myself as I am.
I am looking at an interview you've done and it's discussing the little successes approach.
And I'm just going to read the first paragraph, then you can tell me if things have changed. But the first paragraph in this is your response to a question. I think this is a writing routine. Starcom I'm at the gym at five thirty every morning, but it takes me until around 11, 30 to actually sit down and start work. I used to be able to put in four hours, but these days, two and a half as my outer limit, I close the office.
Then I never work later or at night. And then you talk about your friend Randy. Could you speak to the little successes approach and what this what this schedule represents?
Randy, is Randall Wallace, who wrote Braveheart and has directed a bunch of movies as well. And he's a good friend of mine out here. And he has a theory that he calls little successes. And he means that from the moment he gets out of bed and I believe this to exactly. He's looking to build up, he's looking ahead to the moment when he actually sits down and has to write whatever time that may be for him, nine o'clock, 10 o'clock, whatever.
And he's trying to produce a series of little successes between now and then to generate momentum. And he counts like brushing his teeth as a little success. And I do, too. And one of the one of the reasons I like to go to the gym early or do something physical early is because I'm trying to build up little successes so that by the time I get to sit down at the page, I feel like I've got some momentum going. You know, I've done I've done this.
I've done that. I'm not taking out the garbage. You know, I've, you know, fed the birds and I've got a little momentum going because I and I think it's very important. I mean, even if you think about. Let's say a basketball player thing about Kobe Bryant or Michael Jordan or anybody, Steph Curry or whatever, going to a game tonight, you know, they're at the at the stadium like three and a half hours early.
And even before then, they've been at the gym where they've been getting a massage or they are mentally they're preparing themselves and they go through the do their if you watch Steph Curry do his routine, it's you know, it's like I don't know what it's amazing what he does. No rubber bands between his knees. That's great strength in his knees. And he does one hundred shots from beyond the arc. And he's trying to build up little successes so that when the game starts, he's in the flow immediately and he's at the highest possible level.
That's the theory anyway. What is your preferred? Exercise routine, do you have any favorite exercises or workout I'm in now in the covid thing where I'm doing a this out on my deck, but for up until the covid thing, I trained with a wonderful trainer named T.R. Goodman at a place called Brokamp Gold's Gym Events. And he has a whole thing that he does with us who trained with him. We train in a group of two or three guys and it's basically just just really straight basic weight training, you know, squats and curls and stuff like that, you know, legs on one day, you know, just very basic stuff.
Mm hmm. That's a very iconic location as far as gyms go. Yeah, it's yeah.
It's now it's all in a tent in the parking lot now.
So it's changed a bit during the pandemic times. So the little successes approach makes sense to me and really appeals to me. And there's there's so much variation, of course, when you talk to riders about process. So I recently interviewed Joyce Carol Oates and I've when I was an undergrad, took a just a wonderful seminar with John McPhee. And both of them seem to basically sit down, chained themselves to a desk and write for eight hours. And their feeling is you can't wait for mood, you can't wait for the muse to strike.
You really just need to start writing. And that will produce the conditions for writing.
I have sometimes had the experience of that working, but perhaps it's just a weakness of character. I often break. I also just break. I'm just like, God, this is fucking terrible.
And I start and then you have maybe a contrast. And I'm not saying this is all or nothing one approach or the other, but folks like B.J. Novak, who people might recognize, who spends quite a lot of time getting himself into a good mood. So he might take a few hours to get himself into the proper mood to write. And he's prolific and very successful. And then there's this little success approach. I suppose the question piggyback off of this is how should someone think about.
Developing a routine for their own writing process or creative process, let's stick with writing just because it's it's what we're talking about, even though I think the discussion extends to many other areas, how should somebody think about figuring it out? Because even. For me personally, I have well, we'll talk about this afterwards, but I've been having quite a lot of challenges writing in the past few years and so I've tried to reach into the grab bag of different routines.
And I found it challenging because so many of them are diametrically opposed or seem to be.
How would you talk someone through finding something that works for them or making sense of conflicting advice?
The one thing I would say is that it seems to me that every writer or artist has a unique way of doing it. And I don't think there's any kind of one size fits all type of thing. Like there was an article in the L.A. Times a few years ago where they interviewed screenwriters and they were asked what was their routine? They interviewed like five writers and three of them wrote in their cars. And this is true. And one of them wrote in their car when it was moving.
I don't know how they did this, but it just goes to show you that whatever works works, you know, like Joyce Carol Oates or John McPhee doing eight hours.
That is beyond my comprehension. I just can't imagine.
It's just I mean, that's yeah. That's like Alex Honnold and Free Solo, but the writing world that I can't can't process that.
But I do agree with them that, you know, there's that famous quote and I quoted in the War of Art and now I'm I'm blanking on who it was, the famous writer who they asked him, do you write on a schedule or only when inspiration strikes you of Somerset Maugham? And he said, I write only when inspiration strikes me says fortunately, it strikes me every morning at nine thirty sharp.
He was a believer in routine, right? Mm hmm. And another person there's a wonderful book by Twyla Tharp, I'm sure you're aware of this, Tim, called The Creative Habit. And she kind of describes her habits and she's kind of like me. She goes to the gym at the crack of dawn every day. She she catches a cab at exactly the same time, does the exact same place. And she's trying to build up those little successes for when she gets to the studio and actually has to work to go.
A little deeper than that. In my book, The War of Art, I talk about the concept of resistance with a capital R, which is, again, that force of self sabotage is a big theme in my life that will try to stop you as a writer or an artist or anybody from achieving your best work from following your call and will try to distract you, undermine your self-confidence, make you procrastinate, make you quit, make you give in to fear, or on the other hand, make you such a perfectionist that you spend all day on one paragraph and you accomplish nothing.
And the whole thing of little success is the concept of little successes or of a routine is to help you overcome that resistance, to help anybody. That's the wall that you know you're going to hit, you know. Right. So you're mentally preparing yourself for that moment when you sit down and that negative force hits you, that you've got enough momentum and enough self-confidence or your friend who gets himself in a good mood, you're in enough of a good place.
You got enough good calm and good juju going for you that you could get through that wall of resistance and then just get into a rhythm and get into the flow and then just keep it going. That's the whole sort of concept behind little successes or a routine or habits.
And I'm a big believer in habits, too, when I have been, I suppose, what we might call successful in writing, just getting anything consistently out of pages. It's been with some form of scaffolding in the form of routine and one that actually worked for me and thought about this to finish at least one book, maybe two, was copying what I believe it was Maya Angelou maybe who would rent a hotel room to work out to put herself in a different environment that was dedicated to writing.
And when I was living in San Francisco, I remember Hotel Vitale was this this hotel right on the Embarcadero. And I would I would rent a room when I got really stuck to put myself in a different environment.
And for whatever reason, I mean, let's have sure. It's placebo effect because how could it not be right? It's got to be hard at harnessing the mind and kind of pulling a Iquito move on your own psyche. It really, really helps. You've mentioned a number of books, The War of Art. I think everyone should read. Certainly then Twyla Tharp, the creative habit. I've also read you mentioned Stephen King's on writing Ernest.
We are riding high Larry Phillips and Henry Miller on writing Henry Miller's just incredible one that I'm not familiar with. I would love to hear you just expand on for a second, and the line here that I'm reading is for integrating the editor's mindset into the writing process. The best book is The Story carried by Sean Coyne. I think it is CEO Y and E. What does that mean, the editor's mindset into the writing process?
Before I say to that, I want to say that your idea of checking into a hotel room I think is a great idea. And it is. And that's something that might be unique to you, Tim. That might be a trick that works.
Feel safer than driving a car and writing. Yeah, but it is kind of an Iquito.
It's a way of tricking yourself to somehow, you know, like, I can't work there, but I can work here. If it works, it works, you know. Right. Right. Totally.
But the story Great Sean Toid is actually was my first editor. He was the editor who bought the fire. Oh, no kidding. And we are amazing. We're we're really good friends. And we're partners in a little publishing company that we have called Black Irish Books. So I know John very well. And Sean is a Harvard guy and he has evolved this concept of editing that he calls the story great. And it's and it's incredibly deep. If you and I were looking at this, it was like it's like Einstein, you know, I can't even begin to grasp what it is.
But he really has a whole concept from A to Z of what a story is, what a scene is, and so on and so forth that he calls the story great. And he actually I highly recommend his website, A Story Grid, that if you want to be an editor, if you want to be a writer, he teaches this whole concept and it's great. But getting back to integrating the editor's mindset to the writer's mindset. A lot of times I found me as a writer, I will just sort of spew stuff out in a novel, let's say I'll just be consumed with a story and I'll just take it from a Z without even thinking about it.
And then I have to bring it to Sean and he kind of tells me what the story's about, which I never had any clue what the theme is, and also will help to shape it into an actual story that really works. And a lot of the editors mindset has to do with the hero's journey and that whole concept of Act one, Act two, Act three, refusal of the call that we were talking about earlier. And Sean has another company of his own that he calls genre management.
And he's a big believer in genre in the sense that, like a thriller has certain obligatory scenes and conventions, a love story has certain obligatory scenes and conventions. A Western has certain and you have to know them. And that's what an editor does. You know, for instance, if if you're going to have a love story, there always has to be a rival. That's a big thing. Think of any story, love story in the world.
And there's also almost always has to be the lovers part in the middle or towards the end. And then they come back together at the end or they fail to come back together again. And that's kind of what an editor brings to to a writer's huge pile of papers that you bring and dump on the editor's desk. Is he or she is kind of aware of the various structures that actually work and the kind of the principles of storytelling. And when you violated them, an editor can bring you back from that or when you have left certain things out that need to be in there, an editor will say, you know, you need to do this.
And so if you can educate yourself as a writer in that editor's way of thinking, you can sort of become your own editor in a sense. And it really helps you. I mean, I do maybe 15 drafts of a book and, you know, seventh, eighth, ninth. I'm really thinking like an editor. I'm looking at this and saying, what's missing? What have I done wrong? What you know, what the conventions have I violated?
And if I if I have violated them, do I have a good reason for it? So I'm not sure that's an answer to. But that's but isn't I recommend anything to do with Sean Coin and story it.
I'm going to ask you about a man at arms. First, I want to take this opportunity to paint a picture of the last week in my life. If I may be self-indulgent for a second, please, please do. So I. I have this newsletter called Fibular Friday. It's five short bullets of things that I found interesting or helpful or novel throughout each week. And I had the experience describer, by the way.
Oh, wonderful. I appreciate that. So I know all about it. I love doing it. And it serves as a diary of sorts for me. And I had the experience in the last week of one of those bullets expanding dramatically and ultimately becoming close to a ten page blog post, which if people want to check out, it's related to conservation and ethical choices in the world of of psychedelic compounds. They can find it at Tip-Top Blog. But the point that I want to make or the contrast maybe is I wrote this piece.
I was very happy to have finally written this piece, even though I'm catching heat from certain factions within the psychedelic communities for it, because it's been a very long time since I've written a blog post, a long form blog post.
And that having been said, I was I was interviewed yesterday by a friend of mine, Harley of Shopify fame and.
He read a passage from the four hour workweek in the course of that interview because he was he's read the book, he's very kind. He wanted to use it as a as a launching pad for discussion. And he read a few paragraphs for the four hour work week. And here's what you can probably guess. Here's what I thought to myself. God damn. I have done nothing but become worse at writing since I was 29. What in you know, for fuck's sake, what am I doing with my life and.
I and I became hyper self-critical, I was like, man, like, look at how many mustaches I have in this long form blog post I just put up like what kind of crutch is this? I'm using em dashes like they're they're going out of style and so on and so forth. So it's just like litany of abuse, just kind of kind of rolled off the brain while it attacked itself. And that this has been a large part of my own resistance, the feeling that my best work is behind me and I can't replicate it or not replicate it because I don't want to become an imitation of myself, but that for whatever reason, like the pixie dust has has been lost or that I've atrophied, I've so let the muscles atrophy that there's just I passed the point of no return.
Have you ever contended with this? If you haven't like what advice or even if you have, what advice would you give for people who are bumping up against this? Because it's been a real hindrance. I recognized self-imposed, but it's been a real hindrance to me actually putting pen to paper, so to speak. Here's my thoughts on a tip resistance with a capital R, the force of self sabotage is tremendously diabolical and nuanced and protean and that it will and subtle, incredibly subtle.
And it will attack us at our weakest point. And it usually will attack us in an area where there's some truth to what we're what we might fear about ourselves, you know. So I would say for sure, Jim, that thought that you have is bullshit. It's resistance. It's totally resistance. There's nothing wrong with you. You haven't lost any pixie dust. That is pure resistance. It's finding a weak spot in you. You know, it's it just knows, you know, it's like the alien knows how to get it after you.
Right. And so, you know, the form it takes for me might be different. The the weak spot it might find in me might be different. But I think it's just finding that in you. And I think the only way to deal with it is to just dismiss it, take my word for it. It's bullshit. There's no grounding in it at all. Just keep doing what you're doing. You know, and I'm sure that I remember I had a friend when I first came out into to Los Angeles, a fellow screenwriter, and he got on the phone with me when he was in Histeria because he was sure that he was over the hill.
And I asked him, I said, Tom, you know, how old are you? He said, twenty two.
And so this is true. So resistance will find that weak spot, a chink in the armor, but don't pay any attention to it to dismiss it. That's bullshit.
Thank you for that. And I have to follow up by asking what purpose does resistance serve? Why does it exist? Like I try to think of things in evolutionary terms.
Maybe this is just some sort of vestigial mutation that has just persisted but doesn't actually have a utility. But I'd love to hear your thoughts on why it exists.
I'm not sure like I like Seth Godin thinks it's the the lizard brain, the what is it, amygdala, whatever it is, I never have quite understood. But to me and I'm going to get a little airy fairy here, a little metaphysical. I think that we if we think of our identity, we can say that there's there's at least two parts of it. One I would call the ego. And the other I would call the shelf with a capital s in the union sense of self, and the ego is our rational mind.
It's the part of our of us that pays taxes and goes down and gets a driver's license and becomes a lawyer or whatever, whatever. Right. And that ego is our I the letter I and we obviously have to have an ego. We have to have that eye that we know how to stop at a stoplight and all that sort of stuff. And then there's the other thing that you would call the self with a capital s, and that self includes the deep, deep unconscious, the collective unconscious, the hero's journey, the archetypes, all of these things that we're we're not aware of until Freud finally discovered this, but that are driving us in a good way many times in a really good way.
And also, according to you, the self with a capital s butts up against what they call the divine ground. And I love that. It's what I would say is where inspiration comes from. It really is divinity. It's beyond mortality. It's the muse, its inspiration. It's any time you get into the zone, that's where you are, right, as an athlete, as an artist or whatever. So I'm getting back to resistance. Trust me, I believe you.
What I think is when we as artists or athletes or anything begin to shift our identity from our ego to our self, when we start trusting in intuition, when we start trusting in our deep dreams, in our deep inspiration from sources that we don't know what it is like for me, writing the novels that I wrote that I never thought that just came out of nowhere. I had no made no sense, but are coming from a deeper source anyway.
When we start to identify with the self and turn over our nexus of control to that, the ego becomes a threat because the ego realizes that it's going to lose. The ego strikes back and creates resistance. And its goal is to try to to convince us that this other world of inspiration, of intuition, of the muse, or what if the self is a phony world? It's a bullshit. Don't pay attention to it. Stay here with me, Mr.
Ego, on the ego. And that's what it is to me. And I just wish I just had it. I've got into an email correspondent with a monk from Self Realisation Fellowship, Brother Qi Russian Onda. Are you familiar with Self Realisation Fellowship? I'm not. Anyway, it's a wonderful thing. It's yoga paramountcy. Yogananda saying that he started and he was telling me about the beyond the Bhagavad Gita and the story of Arjuna and Krishna. There's the the in this great battle in the Bhagavad Gita is the ego is a character named Bhishma.
And Arjuna finally slays the ego, shooting him with one hundred and eight arrows. And he's shot so full of arrows that he's on his back, supported by the arrows and eat. And he takes them a month to die. And even as he's dying Bhishma, he's constantly spouting his bullshit about how he's still in charge. He's still in charge. He's still in charge. And I think that we as artists or athletes, I think are trying to get beyond the ego or Buddhist meditators or people doing ayahuasca or whatever.
We're trying to get beyond the ego into whatever is next. But the ego doesn't want us to get beyond it and the ego will hang on and take a month to die. That's what I think resistance is the ego's way of trying to hang on to control of us.
I really like that. And it rings true to me in so many respects. I mean, the ego, if we are not what our ego believes us to be a lawyer, a witch, we're not someone who does x someone who always or never does Y, then what are we in? That uncertainty is very threatening.
So that makes a lot of sense that there would be there would be a violent opposition by the ego who I mean, I may be completely wrong, but this is my theory.
It's certainly helpful to think of it. It's a useful lens to look at this through and. This may be very related. I would love to hear you define or describe what what a shadow career is. I read a short, relatively short blog post of yours that discussed this. And I think it's I think it's it could be very helpful to explore. I'll give you kind of an example from the movie business. As you know, in the movie business, there are you need a lawyer.
There are law firms, entertainment law firms. In fact, Rich Roll, the wonderful podcast and athlete used to be an entertainment lawyer. He did. And entertainment lawyers, directors. If you're a director and actor writer, you have to have a lawyer because when deals come up, you know, they make the deals for you, right? They get the contracts right. And I have found that when you talk to not all entertainment lawyers, but some entertainment lawyers, secretly, they want to be writers or they want to be directors or they are.
And what they have done in becoming lawyers to some extent, is their their law career is like a shadow career. It's like adjacent to what they really want to do. They really want to direct or they really want to write. But they for whatever reasons, they were afraid to do it. So they thought, well, let me I can go to law school and that will give me a trade that I can occupation or profession I can count on.
And so the law becomes kind of a shadow career for them. And or another instance of that is a lot of times people will work as other people's assistants. Right. They'll pick up their dry cleaning. They'll do all of that sort of stuff, which can be and that's a shadow career, which can be of course, it's also a legitimate thing. It can be an apprenticeship where you're working for a photographer or whatever, whatever, and you're learning.
But it also can be because a lot of times those people who are people's assistants really want to do what their boss is doing, but be a musician, be a rock star, whatever it is. But for whatever reason, they're afraid to. And so they're just they have it. They pick a profession or is kind of adjacent to where they want to be. But it's not actually doesn't have the same risk.
I want to underscore this for folks, because I think it is. It is exceptionally common, I see the temptation in myself and around me and in certain capacities, so it's it's really worth having on the radar. I think I'm going to read just a little bit of this blog post from 2012, which is on your website, student Pressfield dot com. And I think this is more from turning pro. At least that's the URL. So here we go, sometimes when we're terrified of embracing our true calling will pursue a shadow calling instead the shadow career as a metaphor for a real career.
Its shape is similar. Its contours feel tantalizingly the same. But a shadow career entails no real risk. If we fail at a shadow career, the consequences are meaningless to us. Are you pursuing a shadow career or are you getting your Ph.D. in Elizabethan? That's how you say that studies because you're afraid to write the tragedies and comedies you know you have inside you. Are you living the drug and booze half of the musician's life without actually writing the music?
Are you working in a support capacity for an innovator because you're afraid to risk being an innovator yourself?
These are really good questions. I think the really important questions and the the drug and booze half example, I think is also very important because it's possible to. Grab the romanticized, risky portions. Of a possible real passion and emulate them in a shadow career in a way that actually has quite a lot of downside risk with none of the upside potential.
Yeah, true. I mean, I think, you know, not to overstate it, but sometimes addiction. Is a Sharon of career, you know, that you're you're acting out the kind of wild and crazy lifestyle rather than actually doing the work to do to be a musician or to be or whatever. And what do you say to people who would answer yes in this, in the sense that they are able to be honest with themselves and say, you're totally right?
I am actually doing that. But like you said, this is low risk. And the pursuit of what I really want to do doesn't tail risk.
And I'm afraid well, there's sort of there's kind of no way around it except to actually do it. It would be if I were advising anybody or advising myself, if I were in that condition, I would I would say, you know, get into some kind of therapy, get into something that will help you elevate your consciousness about this, let you explore it, introspection. And at some point it will become pretty clear what your real dream is.
You know, maybe if you're a photographer's assistant, you really say, oh, I want to be a cinematographer, I'd love to be Vilmos Zygmunt. You know, I want to shoot Scorsese's next movie, whatever that is. I'd love to do that. Then it's sort of a matter of kind of I hate to talk about the ego, but getting back into rationality and saying, OK, how do I pursue that? Should I go to school?
Should I apprenticed myself on a track that will actually take me there or should I, you know, know whatever, figure out what the actual track is that will get you to that dream. And then the other thing I'd say is talking to myself again is be very aware of your own tendency to self sabotage of resistance and watch out for any of those mental self conversations that will try to talk you out of doing it. You know, build up your professional habits and just go for it.
You know, just go for it.
I'll add one thing to that which has been very helpful to me. So I'm saying this to myself also, because it's probably time for me to do this again with respect to to writing. And that is take a look at an exercise. You can find it online called fear setting that I've written quite a bit about. And I also did a TED talk relating to the subject because it's saved my life in some ways. And it's really just a rephrasing and presenting of an exercise from the Stoics called Premeditative Milgrom, some meditating on the worst case.
This is just a practice of actually putting to paper what the worst things are that could happen, how you might mitigate against them, how you could minimize the damage or reverse the damage. And as Sinica the younger. Has said, of course, not in English, but I'm paraphrasing here, but we see we suffer more in imagination than in reality and it's easy to to believe or to overestimate the threats that exist from action while underestimating the risks of inaction when they're trapped in your head.
But when you put them on paper, it actually loses oftentimes a lot of its force. So I would just recommend people take take a look at fear setting with a hyphen in the middle. Let's talk about a man in arms.
You have your creative How-To books, the war of art, turning pro, do the work and so on. Then you have your historical fiction, which is just outstanding.
It's a fire, tides of war, the Afghan campaign and now a man in arms. Why did you write this new book? How did it come to be? What was the Genesis story?
Before we go away, let me talk. I'll come back and talk about fear. Shouting I want to say something sure. That when we're done, I have there's only been like one recurring character in my historical fiction. And he is this sort of gunslinger of the ancient world, Telemann of Arcadia, the one man killing machine of the ancient world. And he's been in three books of mine and as a minor character. But I've always been fascinated by this guy.
And in fact, a lot of readers have been fascinated by, too. And I've always wanted to write a book only about him. And this is another kind of weird thing, me, about the creative process a lot of times. I will block out a story and I know exactly what each character represents and who they are and what they're going to do with this one character, Telemann, the one man killing machine of the ancient world, came on the page to me, fully formed.
I didn't plan him. I had no idea where he came from, and he not only was he fully formed, but he had a deep philosophy and a very dark philosophy, a real warrior samurai philosophy. And so I wanted to write this book about him because of only about him, because I wanted to follow his journey is really he was really sort of in the other stories at the end of his hero's journey. And I was wondering where was he going to go from there?
And for like 13 years, I tried to come up with a story that would work. And I just did outline after and I never could find it. And finally, I just had a flash about adding to his world a young, vulnerable girl, a nine year old girl, a mute girl. And somehow that sort of cracked the story for me. And so this book came very fast. It's set in the 1st century ad right after the crucifixion in Jerusalem and in the Sinai desert.
And I just really I just wanted this guy character of Telemann is sort of an alter ego for me. I know on some crazy unconscious level I'm bound to this character in some way. And his story is my story in some way or I don't know what it is. And so I wanted, you know, writing, as you know, particularly fiction is like a dream in in that you you enter another dimension of reality when you're sitting down to write and you don't know what's going to come.
A lot of times the work takes on a life of its own and it'll pull you along. So that was this book for me. I wanted to see where Telemann would go and what his arc would be. And I know I'm going to write another one because I haven't got to the end of it yet. But that's where that was the genesis of a man at Arms.
And when you write a book like this, since I have no experience with fiction, although I'm endlessly fascinated by it, I think I'm afraid of it honestly, because I read good fiction and I think to myself as a good reason to be afraid.
Good Lord, I can. Just cannot.
I just don't know how humans do this.
Do you write a book like this? Simply because you are a a writer in fiction is a way of exploring this alternate reality. Is it because you hope to impart certain messages or lessons that people will learn from? What are the reasons behind an undertaking? I'm absolutely a believer.
As you know in the news, you know, I believe in another dimension of reality. I believe that there is that books or songs or businesses exist in the realm of potential before they exist in the real world. And I believe that as a you know, as a writer, I am a servant of the muse. And I believe this book, A Man at Arms, existed. It existed in that other dimension. And I was called on to bring it forth in this in this dimension.
So I'm really not I really don't have a message. I really don't have I do want to explore certain aspects of the character, but mainly this story just seized me and I felt like I've got to tell this story. I've got to get it. I've got to make it work in a hero's journey terms and I've got to tell it in the right way and solve all those problems. But mainly I just I just wanted to tell this story like a like a singer would want to sing a certain song or a dance.
I would want to dance a certain dance so that that was the reason. It's just the story just seized me and came very fast and very easy.
What would you say if you have an answer for this? Distinguishes the books that come fast and easy from those that are more difficult, those that are maybe just a hard slog.
It seems the hard ones don't work and the easy ones do. You know, it's almost like if it's hard, maybe it's a reason why it's all right.
Why are you pushing a boulder uphill?
Which is not to say even the easy ones are hard in the sense that there are a lot of technical problems to solve. Like I just was doing a just did a video on Instagram. I was talking about the original manuscript of the fire was eight hundred and two pages long, and I in the book was finally three hundred and eighty four. So I had to cut basically cut it in half. So that was like a technical problem. That was hard.
But the book itself was easy. The book came with a lot of energy, just like I'm in it. Arms just kind of came. In fact, I don't even have really a memory of writing it now. I know I wrote it last year, but it just came in a real rush. I would love to experience more of that in my writing.
It sounds like I just have to get on the playing field a bit more often, you know, so I don't see him.
We don't know each other. It's the first time we really talked for a long time. And if you'll forgive me for being a psychotherapist here for a second. Yes, please. I think maybe you should think about writing fiction at some point. I agree with you.
I agree with you. I do. I do. I think I am psyching myself out. And I think it would be so freeing for me to do it because my nonfiction books are so carefully, meticulously architected. There are no surprises. I mean, there everything is intended to be as clear, which is fine and prescriptive and represent such a logical sequence in building. Right.
I know what you mean, that for the writer for me there, there is very little element of surprise that harnessing of the muse is minimal in the sense that it exists with turns of phrase and certain thoughts about composition. But I appreciate you saying that and I agree. I would like to try some fiction and just write it maybe for a handful of friends. Although let me make one comment actually coming way back to something you said at the very early beginnings of this conversation when you said you wrote a novel and even your friends wouldn't read it.
I want to just say that if you write for those people out there who haven't written much, don't be overly offended or demoralized if your friends don't read it, because my friends and especially my family, I'm not going to name out names are the last people who will ever read my stuff, including now.
I think it's just kind of like something absolutely true. I couldn't agree more, Tim. And there's there's a reason for that, too.
They they are the last people who I couldn't get my mother to read anything, you know, it's because they are the people who are close to you. Since when you write something or you take a chance, they sense you changing, you're becoming a different person and their fears they're going to lose you. And so they want to make you stay the way you are. And that's it in a crazy way. It's love. It's out of love, but it's a dark side of love.
Let me say a couple of things to you, Tim. For whatever this is worth, forgive me for being presumptuous, but if you do decide to write fiction, here's what I would suggest. First of all, don't start small. Don't say, oh, let me write a short story, because that's kind of a pushy way of do seriously. And a muse doesn't like that. She wants you to go big, you know, so go for something big, I would suggest.
And also the way you'll know the idea is that it will be terrifying to you prospect of of of exposing yourself to do this. And that's what you should do. I love that. And I encourage you to do that.
So don't piss off the muse with small ambitions. Really. Or maybe not piss off.
Don't insult them. Is a four hour work week was a big idea of huge idea and an idea that could have you could have fallen completely on your face, you know, could have left you out of it. But you did and it worked. So I would say to the same concept only with fiction. Thank you. I am going to take that to heart.
Let me get back for one second to fearsomely. I was just one thing I wanted to say. Yes, please. To reinforce what you were saying a few years ago, I wrote a book called The Lions Gate, which was about the 1967 Arab-Israeli War, the Six Day War. And I went over to Israel and I interviewed a bunch of fighter pilots and I had never really talked to the fighter pilots before. And the thing that was that is that they have in common the mindset of a fighter pilot is exactly what you were saying.
Like when before they would go up on a mission, they would sit down and for hours in solitude, run the mission in their mind, thinking of every possible thing that could go wrong. You know what? If I get a flame out over the Sinai desert, you know what if my guns don't fire, what if I'm attacked from out of the sun, whatever? And they would sort of, in their mind, play out all of these worst case scenarios.
And when they played them out and they knew what they were going to do, then they were ready to go. And I thought that is a great way to think about things, because the last thing you always want to have happen to be able to have to save something is, oh, I never saw it coming right. So I hardly agree with that. That idea of fear setting that whole stone concept, I think it's a great thing.
Let's use that as a jumping off point to something I know very little about. But I've seen it come up in in some discussions. And that is the concept of I'm not going to get the pronunciation here. Correct. But you get Sahara, etc., etc. What is yet to her?
You know, I wish I had my rabbi, Rabbi Mordechai Findlay, here to explain it to us. But he apparently it's a it's a phrase from Genesis and it's translated by Rabbi Finley as a turning toward evil. And he said to me that this is a concept in Kabbalistic thought and Jewish mysticism. And it's the equivalent of my concept of resistance with a capital R, it's that force that exists in the world to stop us from going to a lower level to a higher level, like in to realizing our calling the coming into our own set negative force.
And in Jewish mysticism, there's a concept that life happens on more than one dimension and that we live on the material dimension and above us is a higher dimension. It's called the neshama and that is the soul. And the the what they talk about the soul is that above every blade of grass is an angel saying grow, grow the soul. Or what I would say would be the unconscious or the muse is actively engaged in our life and trying to help us.
And we are trying to reach up to the soul at the same time, the soul is trying to reach out to us and help us. And in between the two is this force for the jets of this negative force of self sabotage. And when Rabbi Feneley told me that that was something that existed in Jewish thought for years and years, I thought, I'm not crazy. Other people have thought about the same thing. And so actually in. Genesis, as I understand this right, I may be getting it wrong, but the that is the story where God decides to destroy the human race and he regrets and repents that he made us and he looks down, he sees what he sees everywhere, a turning toward evil, meaning this is the Sahara and this is when God decides to send the flood to wipe us out.
And Noah survived. Right. So it's in this kind of spiritual sense. It's almost a flaw in the universe that when God created us, at least according to Kabbalistic thought he made a mistake.
He screwed up a bug. A bug in the software. Yeah, a bug in the software. And if you certainly if you look at the human race there is turning toward evil everywhere. Right. There's something wrong with us. And I would say it's a lack of connection to the soul. What we were talking about, about the self and the ego of resistance and everything. So in any event, that's what that's what the Harrar is. As I understand it, I may be wrong, but as I understand it, in Kabbalistic Jewish mysticism.
So I would love to ask just a few more questions in the first few are going to be. Related to my homework assignment or recommendation of writing fiction. So you said go big and in my mind I'm thinking that could mean a novel, could mean a screenplay. So I'd like you to elaborate on what that means. But also, I know that I have a tendency to read and prepare, perhaps excessively often as a form of procrastination. Right. I can read 10 books before I ever set pen to paper since I have no.
Exposure or experience with fiction writing? Are there any books I should read or things I should consider before I begin, or literally should I just say to myself, I'm going to write a novel? I don't even know how novels are structured, but I'm going to start with page one today. So there's the question of what is big? What does that actually mean to you? And then how much preparation, if any, or education is the right amount before beginning?
I think when I say go big, I think that. The news likes it. Fortune favors the bold, and I think when we when we try for something big, we're taking the initiative and we're kind of invoking a tailwind behind us. Whereas if we're kind of timid and we say, well, just let me do the small little thing that I'm going to do, I don't think the music likes that. And I don't like in advertising. When I was working in advertising, I used to come up with the tiniest ideas.
It was really pathetic and I bring them in and they would like to throw me out. This is an idea the size of a postage stamp, you know, get the fuck out of here. You don't come back with something big. And it was really hard for me to do, you know, because I was afraid of it. So I do think going big help invokes the muse in a good way. And sort of as a parallel to that, Tim, I would say, even though eventually you are going to have to learn what the story principles are, I would say just plunge in and follow just to something that you love.
I mean, I have to say, we're not on video here because I have behind me a book by a friend of mine, Mike McClellan, all the fancy. And it's like seven hundred and eighty pages long or something. And Mike is a lawyer. He's a functioning lawyer. You got a wife and kids. And over like a 13 year period, he would get up at the crack of dawn and go out to his garage where he had an office.
And he would put in he would write five hundred words a day. But this this book this, Nancy, is a huge book. It's like a talking type book and, you know, with all kinds of crazy characters from everywhere. And I really applaud that he did it that way. And now he's on to the second book in the trilogy. There's going to be a third one. So for him, going big really worked. And it has gone it has worked for me, too.
That doesn't mean it necessarily has to be 800 pages long, but just a big idea. And I did. It's kind of a scary idea. That you say to yourself, when I show this to people, they're going to look at me and go, What happened to you, Tim? Are you OK? You know that that's where what I mean by big.
And should I just assume this is never going to be read by anyone? Is that a helpful assumption to make a couple of you do it only for yourself and only for yourself?
And is the because when I hear stories of someone working on things, say, in the mornings like The Kite Runner. Right. I mean, the same is similar story. I think the author was working in medicine at the time and would wake up super early and worked for a long period of time on this book. When I think of my first foray into fiction, if I think it's going to be a homework assignment, like a daily homework assignment for years, there is a very large part of me that just does not want to do it unless the purpose behind it is therapy or this is going to be cultivating your connection with this other dimension you've described.
And that's the purpose of doing this. Any thoughts on those points or concerns?
I mean, it may be, Tim, that writing fiction is your calling. I don't know. It could very well be. You could say that non-fiction books and and podcasts and stuff like that might be, if you'll forgive me, might be a shadow career for you.
I don't know. Yeah. Yeah. So in that case, the exercise of writing fiction would be like a lifelong calling, you know, practice from now till the end. And and I would think that it's I think it's a good idea to hope that it will be successful, that will find a market that people will love, you know, but at the same time, I think it's very important. And I'm talking to myself to. To turn off the self censor and not start to think, oh, shit, are people going to like this or is this have I gone too far in this scene?
In other words, trying to second guess the audience because an audience, if it's out there, it'll will find it. It'll find the work. And if it isn't, it won't. But I would say just right to please yourself and always take the brave choice, you know, should I write this scene this way? Which kind of a chicken why should I go really go for it and write it the big way? And I would say, oh, the brave choice and monitor yourself as you go, because what should happen is once you're into this, you should really start to feel good.
You should really feel a tailwind and really feel like, oh, shit, my feet are on the ground, you know, and, you know, I may be a beginner, I maybe I don't know what I'm doing, but I'm on the right path. And if it doesn't feel like that, then maybe it's not the right idea.
Well, I if it's okay with you, I may I may reach out to you as much. Please do. Exactly who absolutely has my my stabilizing wing at some point.
And I know seriously and please do. Thank you. I really appreciate that Stephen. This has been so much fun. I would love to do another round at some point, have another conversation like this.
There's another put me down in the books whenever there's no shortage of of topics to cover and maybe after I've actually given this a shot, I think that should be the stakes. That should be the accountabilities. I can't have you on again until I actually spent some time on this scary thing called fiction. And, well, just a few last questions. And this one doesn't always work out, but I like to ask it. And it's not an easy question necessarily.
But if you had a billboard, metaphorically speaking, to get a message or a quote or a question or an image out to billions of people, assuming they would all understand it, what might you put on that billboard?
And actually, this was a question and tribe of mentors that actually don't even answer to it was. But what I said, and that is a tribe of mentors, was I would not put up any billboard at all and I would tear them all down. But to answer your question a little more seriously, you know, because you're sort of saying, well, what's what would be kind of if you had to say one thing, somebody to help them?
Exactly. I would say life is is long. This is what a friend of mine, Phil Slote, once said to me, he said, they always tell you life is short, but actually life is long. And if we find ourselves making mistakes or we haven't yet found our real calling. Don't drive yourself crazy with that, you know, there's plenty of time everybody thinks they've got oh, I don't do it in the next six months, I'm going to kill myself, you know?
And I thought that, too, forever. But look at me. It took me forever to break through into anything. And I still feel that I've got a whole other lifetime ahead of me. And, you know, YouTube, you've got like three lifetimes ahead.
So be patient with yourself. I would say to people, be kind to yourself. 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. Stephen, this has been so much fun. I really appreciate you taking me home. And people can find you at Steven Pressfield again with a V Steven Pressfield dot com Twitter at Pressfield Instagram.
Steven Underscore Pressfield will link to all of your books, including the newest and one that I'm quite excited about, A Man at Arms, an epic saga about a reluctant hero, the Roman Empire and the rise of a new faith.
Checking all the boxes for me. And are there any other comments you'd like to make? Any requests of my audience, any parting questions or anything at all that you'd like to add before we bring this this conversation?
Because, no, I think that billboard that's that's my billboard. That would be that will be the final thing other than to say, you know, thanks for having me channel. It's great talking to you, getting to know you a little bit. And I hope I didn't overstepped their bounds in, you know, giving unsolicited advice. But I hope I hope what I said helps a little bit. And, you know, we'll we'll talk again.
I think I think, you know, if this writing thing doesn't work out for you, maybe that's your shadow career from becoming a psychoanalyst. Maybe that is a real calling. All right.
And I have found this very helpful personally, and I'm sure it will help many other people out there. So thank you again, Stephen. And to everyone listening once again, you can find links to everything that we mentioned at Timba blog, Fortgang podcast and until next time. Thank you for tuning in. Hey, guys, this is Tim again. Just a few more things before you take off. Number one, this is five Bullett Friday. Do you want to get a short email from me?
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