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Marie: Hey it’s Marie Forleo and you are watching MarieTV, the place to be to create a business and life you love. I am so excited for today because I have my favorite author of all time and we’re gonna be talking about creativity and doing the work that you were born to do.
Steven Pressfield is the best-selling author of The Legend of Bagger Vance, Gates of Fire, The Afghan Campaign, and The Lion’s Gate, as well as the cult classics on creativity, The War of Art, Turning Pro, Do the Work, and Nobody Wants to Read Your Shit. His most recent book is The Artist’s Journey, and his Wednesdays column on stevenpressfield.com is among the most popular writing blogs on the web. Steve, thank you so much for being here, number one.
Steven: It’s great to be here, Marie. Thanks for having me.
Marie: And a huge enormous thank you on behalf of myself and I know my audience. I have to tell this to you because you’re sitting right here on my couch. Your work, every single work, every single book has helped me personally so much. I get asked all the time what my favorite book is, and never once do I vary from War of Art.
Steven: Well, thank you. I’m glad it helps.
Marie: Yeah, you’re awesome. You’re amazing. So I want to start off with the reality of your creative journey because I feel like in today’s day and age, many of us suffer from this instant gratification idea. We want everything. I have people say like, “Marie, I’ve been working at this for three months and nothing’s happening.” I just want to slam my head against a wall. So you wrote for 17 years before earning your first penny from writing. It took you 27 before you got your first novel, The Legend of Bagger Vance, published. It wasn’t until you were in your early 50s that you actually started to make a living from your words. Is that right?
Marie: So, here’s something you said and then I want to hear your reaction to it, “We cannot control the level of talent we’ve been given. We have no control over the nature of our gift. What we can control is our self motivation, our self discipline, our self validation, and our self reinforcement. What we can control is how hard and how smart we work.”
Steven: Wow, I said that, huh?
Marie: You said… I know, you say lots of good shit.
Steven: That’s pretty inspiring. So you want my reaction to it?
Steven: Well, I agree with it completely. I’m definitely a believer… A lot of people don’t write the way I do. I’m a believer in the muse and I believe that projects come to us almost like assignments and that we have to follow them, or at least that’s my theory. I only want to write what I want to write. Not everybody does that. A lot of people like to write for hire, but in that case, again, not only can’t we control our level of talent I believe, but we can’t even control what we’re gonna work on. I’ve always said that the books that I’ve written, I never knew I was gonna write them before I wrote them. I was always surprised that… you know, I’d look at something and say, “I did that?” You know?
So I think the only thing we really can control is what the Stoics say, that’s kind of a popular thing these days, that how professionally we work, how we control, manage our emotions, how we manage our expectations, how we deal with failure and what our level of aspiration is, how hard we’re gonna try, how patient we are, so yeah. I do think there is that culture of instant gratification, the celebrity culture out there, “All we gotta do is do a sex tape or something like that and the next thing you know… “
Marie: Yeah, you have some…
Steven: Or a YouTube, a clever YouTube video. And it’s just not true.
Marie: I’m curious, did you always know that you wanted to write… Like was the little boy Steve…
Steven: No, I didn’t. I didn’t. That’s kind of what made it hard for me along the way because I wasn’t so sure, and I have a feeling and maybe a lot of people that are watching you, Marie, are in the same boat, where you don’t have that clarion bell that tells you, like if you’re Bob Dylan you know at age 19 what you want to do. But for me, no. I mean I wanted to be a writer, but I didn’t have any real success early at it. It wasn’t like I was a genius in English or anything like that. So along the way, self doubt was an incredible thing. It was like, “Really? Is this really what you… ” Because there wasn’t that much positive reinforcement coming back, so that was a really hard one for me in my long journey. And I think it is for a lot of people, you’re just not sure.
Marie: Yeah, and I think that’s an interesting point in terms of that distinction. I know there are several people in my life who were very clear since the time they were little of the thing that they wanted to do. Eventually they made it happen, and for me similarly, I had no idea. Part of my journey I think was because some of it was cultural. I didn’t really know what I wanted. I’d never seen anyone do the thing that I’m doing now. There wasn’t really…
Steven: Right, you really invented this thing called Marie Forleo that didn’t exist before, right?
Marie: I don’t think that… Yes, exactly. But in terms of even the world of coaching or creating content, none of those things were really present growing up in the ’70s and the ’80s and the ’90s. It was just not there yet. So I just really appreciate that you said that because I’m sure there are many people listening who are trying to figure out what their gift is or how to express that gift. I think it’s really reassuring to hear from folks who say, “Hey. I didn’t have it figured out for quite a long time, but if you keep showing up and experimenting and listening to that inner voice, there’s a really good chance you’re gonna find it.”
Steven: Yeah, I think that’s about the only thing you can do, just keep plugging.
Marie: You know what’s cool too? I just have to say this is an amazing fun fact that I just discovered about you, that your literary agent, Sterling Lord, can we talk about him for a minute?
Marie: He’s 98 years old.
Steven: When we finish here, I’m going to have lunch with him.
Steven: Yeah, he’s 98 years old. I just had a situation where he’s old enough that he made the deal for On the Road, Jack Kerouac’s On the Road, in 1948 for $900.
Marie: Dude, that’s amazing. And he’s your literary agent and he’s still going like a champ.
Steven: Well, I just had an experience with him where I left him a few years ago with my partner Sean Cohen, and I just had a book that I’ve been working on really hard for the last three years. It’s had just nothing but negative response, and eventually even Sean gave up on it. I was ready to… I was really definitely bummed by this thing, and so I just maybe eight months ago, I called up Sterling out of the blue. I knew he was 98. I didn’t even know if he was still working, and I just said, “Sterling, I’ve got a book that nobody wants. Will you represent it?” And he said, “Hell yeah.” Within two months or something he’d made a deal. It’s very exciting for him to get some action going at this stage of the game, so 98.
Marie: This is pretty cool though, but can we just trace back for a minute because I just need everyone to hear this. Because I’ve been talking about you, we’ve had a conversation earlier on Skype many many years ago. I talk about you every chance I get because I love you so much. I just need everyone to really not skip over the point that you’ve been working on this latest project for how long and it kept getting…
Steven: Three years, yeah.
Marie: Three years?
Marie: Even your partner was like, “I’m done.”
Marie: And was there something in you that said, “I’m not done yet,” and that’s why you called Sterling?
Steven: Yeah. I just couldn’t stand it because I love this thing, and I’d been through the mill with it. But if Sterling hadn’t come through I don’t know what I would’ve done. I was really at the end of the road, but that I think is pretty typical for projects. They just take a long time.
Marie: They do, don’t they?
Steven: To be done, and then to sell them is like a whole other scenario. It doesn’t seem to be, for me at least, to get any easier.
Marie: Yeah, no, I love talking about this because I have this notion for me of myself. I consider myself a bit of a turtle. Sometimes people look from the outside and they’re like, “Where’d she come from? It’s so fast.” I’m like, “Funny. It’s been 20 years so far and I feel like every little thing that I do takes 5 to 25 times longer than a certain part of my mind wants it to.” I try and share this a lot because I feel like many of us go through this, but we’re so…
Steven: Yeah, it’s like a kitchen remodel.
Steven: It always takes twice as long or three times and cost three times as much.
Marie: That’s right. So just, this is actually setting my soul at ease to hear this from you knowing how much admiration and how much experience you have in this game to feel like it actually still happens this way. I want to dive into resistance because I feel like it’s a cornerstone of your work. For those who don’t know, which I don’t know who you are or what rock you’ve been living under, can you share your definition of resistance with us?
Steven: Resistance with a capital R for me, if this were your keyboard here and you were gonna sit down to write a novel or screenplay or something and you sat down the first day and it was blank, radiating off that screen like radioactive magma would be a negative force saying, “Let’s not do this today. Let’s go have a drink. Let’s go to the beach. Let’s do something else.” And it would also say things like, “Who do you think you are to tackle this project? You have no experience. No one cares about your ideas. Everything’s been done before.” It’s all of those self sabotage things. There seems to be a force in the world that is a negative force against anything that we… any dream that we would have. An analogy that I always use is if the dream is a tree, resistance is the shadow that’s… As soon as the tree appears, the shadow appears.
So it’s that negative force that prevents us, or trying to prevent us, and it seems to me that overcoming resistance is far more important than talent or anything else, any gift. There are a million people who have talent, but it’s a very, very few that can sit down and take it all the way from A to Z or do what you’ve done here. Here we have this whole setup here. People can’t see it, but there’s a bunch of people out here, there’s all kinds of stuff. And that you have really created that. That didn’t exist. It wasn’t like that was a job category that you applied for. I think that’s the same thing… Even if somebody’s gonna be a writer or a filmmaker, they’re gonna be a specific type of writer or filmmaker that probably doesn’t exist right now, even like YouTube didn’t exist a little while ago. So that ability to overcome that resistance, that self sabotage, and that self doubt, in my opinion, is way more important than talent.
Marie: I agree with you 10,000% and I’m curious if you’ve noticed the nature of resistance in your experience, has it shifted for you over your career? So for example, for me, when I sit down at the blank page for this show, I’ve written you, I’m working on putting the finishing touches on my book. The thing is kicking my ass from here to Sunday. It’s like I consider myself an extremely hard worker, very diligent, overcome that resistance, but it’s like it doesn’t seem to get easier.
Steven: No, it never gets easier. In fact, I think resistance is so diabolical, it really has its own intelligence, you know?
Steven: It’s like the alien that keeps evolving from this little thing. So even at my stage of the game where I’ve done it a million times, it comes up with more subtle rationalizations and self-rationalizations to kind of trick me into taking a break or not doing it, but it never goes away. It never gets any easier, I’m sorry to say.
Marie: Yeah no, actually I love this because I feel like, and we’re gonna talk about this in a little bit, but there’s so much power in understanding a bit of what’s coming at you.
Steven: It’s almost like once you understand that you can beat it.
Marie: Yes, so I love that you hit upon this notion of how diabolical it is in its shape shifting nature. So I’ll say this, I remember how resistance had a certain tenor and tone and it said certain things at the beginning. A lot of my self doubt had to do with, and this, again, I’m gonna roll my eyes at myself people. If you’ve heard this before forgive me, but starting a coaching business as a life coach as a 23 year old, I was like, “Who the hell’s gonna hire a… You haven’t even lived life yet. This is the dumbest idea ever. How can you be smart and have this dumb idea at the same time? This was nuts.” But I would’ve never gotten here today, but today it sounds different. Today my resistance will sound something like, “Oh, well now I have more to live up to because I’ve been doing this.” So I just want to say this because I think people have a mistaken notion that they’re gonna arrive at some point where then it’s gonna be easy and they’re not gonna hear those voices.
Steven: Where’s the camera? You never do.
Marie: All of them. This one’s for you.
Steven: You never arrive at that point.
Marie: Exactly. I love these conversations because I feel like sometimes there is this veil or people have these mistaken notions about folks that are just in the game grinding it out day after day and they feel like they have some magical mystical ability that they don’t, and it’s not true. It’s just not true.
Steven: And to look at it in a positive way, resistance to me is sort of like the villain in a movie. If there were no villains, there’d be no movie. So resistance sort of gives meaning to everything. If it was just there and all we had to do was pick it up, what would be the point of that?
Marie: And there’s no great stories to tell then too.
Steven: So resistance really gives significance I think, to the fact that it is so hard.
Marie: Yeah, I love it. Let’s talk about Turning Pro. I mean I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been on stage I’ve had War of Art with me and I’ve read the difference between an amateur and a pro and I’ve just read it down. So for those who don’t know, what does turning pro mean?
Steven: Well if you start with the idea of resistance and that there is such a thing, then the next question is how do you defeat it. I think there’s two paths that we go down that are wrong paths or paths that don’t help us. One is we think that if we’re feeling resistance we’re “wrong.” So we need to become right, we need to change something that way. And I don’t think that’s true at all. The other thing when we think if we have resistance is we think, “Oh we’re sick.” Right? Or, “We need to heal. We need to somehow find the cure and then we’ll get over it.” I don’t think either of those ways work of thinking because they’re self judgmental. They put you down. It’s like in training in the gym. If you have a bad day you can’t say to yourself, “I’m a loser. I’m a bum. I’m not an athlete.” You just have to say, “Well it was a bad day and I’m gonna go at it the next day.”
But anyway, the concept of turning pro or the idea that there’s such a thing as an amateur and there’s such a thing as a professional, and that amateurs have amateur habits and professionals have professional habits. And that why people get defeated by resistance in my opinion is they’re thinking like amateurs. I certainly know that’s the way I was. If you’re an amateur, you’re in it for fun, you’re sort of a dabbler. You think, “Oh, well today I’ll do it.” You’re a weekend warrior. When adversity comes you fold in the face of adversity. If there’s anything in your life that is a serious problem, you’ll let that take over your whole life.
It’s sort of if we think of it in terms of athletes, it’s like an athlete that’s injured. If Lebron James has got problems with knee, he somehow plays hurt. So the professional attitude is a whole other different thing. I mean you’re a pro, look at you. Look at this thing here. A pro gets up every morning and does the work, doesn’t take days off, or if they do they only take them off so they can come back…
Steven: Stronger the next time.
Marie: That’s right.
Steven: When a pro hits adversity, they just simply rally in the face of it and kind of use it in their own way. If a pro is hurt, they play hurt. It’s a whole different mindset. So to me that was what really helped me overcome resistance. It was just to start to flip that switch in my mind and say, “I’m a pro. I’m not an amateur, I’m a pro.” When I want to quit or I want to back off something, I just say to myself, “Would Kobe Bryant do this? Would Tom Brady do this?” I’m sorry all you people who hate the Patriots, I do too, but in any event I do think to think of yourself as a professional instead of an amateur is a big, big plus.
Marie: It’s huge, and I love you talk about it, a really easy way to see this is how we show up in our day jobs, right? If we have day jobs.
Steven: Yeah, right.
Marie: It’s like you just show up and you do the work no matter what. And I think about it this way, we have a program that’s called B-School. I think I’ve told you about it before. We’ve had 44,000 people so far go through it. I often answer questions and they’ll be like, “Okay, what’s happening with your business?” And I try and help them navigate the best I can, just give a little perspective. Then I’ll be like, “How often are you publishing your newsletter?” “Well, you know, I publish it once or twice and then I get bored or then I forget.” Then I come back and I’m like, “It’s consistency.” I wanted to bring this up because I feel like that notion of you show up no matter what is half of, it’s actually all of how everything I’ve created gets done.
Steven: I’m sure that’s true. That’s how everything gets done, right?
Marie: It’s how everything gets done. It’s like you don’t necessarily always feel like it, but you show up and you get it. You make it happen. I love that notion because it’s meant the world to me how you explained the difference between an amateur and a pro. I just want to make some clarifications, because again, I’ve developed this gift over time of hearing the audiences. “But what about this?” What we’re saying in terms of being a professional, it’s like we don’t want you to hurt yourself. When Steve was saying played injured it’s not about putting yourself out. It’s there’s an essence I think in each of us where you take a look and you go, “I got this. I can do this. This might be hard.” There’s been times in our business where it’s required us doing a shoot over the weekend. Or you know what, everything goes to hell. Technology breaks, we’re shooting in here and there’s helicopters and we all have to stay a couple more hours. It’s like no one’s whining or crying and going, “I can’t.” They just do it. That’s I think part of that spirit.
Steven: Yeah, and like you’re saying Marie, you might’ve said it so fluidly that it went over people’s heads. When we work in a real job, we’re already pros in that job. We do show up. The reason we’re pros is the job enforces it, right? They’ll fire us if we don’t show up every day, but then when people leave that job and go off on their own to try to be a writer or an artist of some kind, they tend to drop that whole attitude. They think, “Well it’s Monday. I don’t have to go in because I’m not… ” But you do have to go in. That’s really the secret if there is such a thing.
Marie: I think too there’s another aspect that you’ve written about self validation is another quality of a professional. You said that’s a big word, and maybe it’s hard to understand, but it’s about somewhere finding the ability to judge your own stuff.
Steven: Now how do you do that Marie? Let me ask you that.
Marie: Oh gosh, it is hard as hell. I have a couple of different ways that I do it. There are times when I feel like… It depends on the project and the context, but if I’m writing let’s say an episode of MarieTV, I’ll often do a couple of first drafts on my own, if it’s not an interview, if it’s something straight to camera and I’m either answering a question or there’s a topic I want to riff on, and I know, because you probably know this, a lot of my stuff there’s skits and sketches because I have this weird sense of humor and I build in all these things. So I’ll do a couple of passes on my own, and then I have to ping out to someone else. I have to either have a member of Team Forleo or someone else go, “Okay, can we go through this together? Because I think 60 or 70% of this is working, but I know I’m missing the mark. But I don’t know if I can see,” you know what I mean, “how to thread that needle.”
Steven: Yeah, that’s what I wanted to ask you because in a way you’re the product. So it’s very hard I would think to look at yourself…
Steven: Objectively and pull back from it. I mean how do you… Do you do it just by having other people give you feedback?
Marie: I do, and then I think what I’ve been able to do over the years is surround myself with folks that I really trust so that if we need to… I call them creative boxing matches. I get into them with my creative director. I’ll get into them with people on the team where I’m like, “Okay. I really believe in this.” They have eyes on different lenses of the business, like, “Oh, let’s just use a current one.” Like is that even appropriate because things in culture change so fast I would never want to hurt anyone unintentionally. I don’t want things to get taken off topic and go into this strange place that’s nothing I intended, so sometimes we’ll do battle, but I trust them and they trust me. I feel like we can go to the mat, but ultimately it’s my call. When it comes to now…
Steven: Yes, true.
Marie: Book writing, I’m curious to hear your process on it. I feel like there’s certain parts for me, and I would love to hear how you work with Sean or anyone else, there’s been parts in this book I’m like, “I don’t know if it’s any good. It’s all shit.”
Steven: Yeah, yeah, yeah. Of course.
Marie: I feel like I took my stack, threw it up in the air, and I’m like, “Can someone help me figure it out?”
Steven: Yeah. Well my partner Sean Cohen was my original editor on Gates of Fire and also was the publisher of The War of Art. I’m so lucky that I have somebody that I really trust and that I can give him a pile of pages and he’ll give me feedback that I believe.
Marie: That’s a key piece. I don’t want to interrupt you, but for everyone listening, two things I heard from both of us, people we trust.
Marie: Someone we trust their feedback, because…
Steven: They’re hard to find.
Marie: They’re very hard to find because that other person may be smart, intelligent, talented, but if there’s not a soul alignment, I feel, or a philosophical…
Steven: Somebody that just gets you or gets what you are trying to do.
Marie: Yes. Their feedback can kind of send you… It’s happened to me before where it’s like I get in a creative cul-de-sac over here and I’m like, “Wait. This is so far away from who I am.”
Steven: Yeah, yeah. I want to say one thing about writers groups where people give you feedback. I’m completely opposed to that. I think that can be the most destructive thing because you’re getting feedback from other people who don’t know what they’re doing either. You know?
Marie: That’s like the blind leading the blind.
Steven: Yeah. And also the whole concept of jealousy and all that kind of stuff that goes… So to me it’s really important to find somebody that you really trust, but beyond it, like you were saying Marie, it’s self validation. In the end the bottom line… Being a professional, I think, and going away from being an amateur, is like also going from working in a job to being an entrepreneur, to being completely on your own. When you’re in a job or you’re in a situation where you have a mentor or a boss or something, you look to that external voice to tell you, “Oh, that’s good. You did it right.” Right? We’ve all had jobs where we take something into a boss and they look at it and then they mark it up and they give it back to you. As you walk in and give it to the boss you’re completely giving away your power. That may be a good thing when you’re young and you’re learning, but at some point you do have to acquire the ability or teach yourself to read your own stuff and know whether it’s good enough or not. You know?
Steven: I don’t know if there’s any way to do that other than experience, and even then you still need a great eye from somebody else. But self validation is very important, not looking to other people to… Because they always tell you it stinks. If you listen to them then it’s over.
Marie: It is over, and it would’ve been over for your latest project, right?
Steven: Yeah, definitely.
Marie: Because you had a lot of people who you loved.
Marie: I want to talk just for a minute, one more thing on going pro before we get into some tactics. I loved you talk about how your day changes when you turn pro, and I think that that’s so practical for us because one of the things that folks struggle with, especially when they’re going out on a creative project or becoming a freelancer or trying to become an entrepreneur, a business owner is like, “Whoa. If I don’t have to show up for a J-O-B, I got all this free time.” You wrote, “It changes what time we go to bed and what time we get up. It changes how we organize our day. It changes what we read and what we feed our bodies. The amateur tweets, the pro works.” I was like, “Steve Pressfield just took me to church on that one.”
Steven: But that certainly is true, because again, when we were working in a factory, our day was structured for us by the factory, right? You gotta show up at 7:25 when the whistle, and you can have lunch from 11:30 to… But as soon as we’re on our own as artists, then we have to structure our day. Well the reason I’m sure that you go to the gym is because you found that that helps in some way.
Marie: Yeah, I find my physical body as a huge creative channel, and when I disconnect and spend too much time up here, I’m done.
Steven: Yeah, me too.
Marie: Totally done.
Steven: What you eat and how much sleep you get.
Steven: All those things. There’s a… I think it’s in The War of Art, it might be in Turning Pro…
Marie: I have all of them.
Steven: Where I talk about Roseanne Cash’s moment that comes from her book Composed. If you haven’t read that book I highly recommend it. But she had a… Her sort of moment, she was already successful, she had a dream. I won’t go into the dream because it’s, you know… We’ll save time, but the bottom line is when she woke up from this dream, the dream sort of kicked her in the ass and just said to her, “You are an amateur. You are a dilatant. I don’t care if you’ve had four number one hits, you’re not writing songs. You’re just covering other people’s material. You’re not living up to what your talent is.” She said in the book Composed, she said, “I changed everything about the way I was. I changed what time I got up in the morning. I changed how I took care of my body. I started studying painting because I wanted to see how you express yourself without words and without music.” Then she locked onto certain habits that she had, bad habits like daydreaming, like going off, and she would teach herself to check herself and stop herself when she started doing that thing. Then she elevated her level of aspiration. She said, “The next album I’m gonna write either every song or co-write every song.” So that’s how she restructured her day, not just her day, but her week, her month, her year, her whole life. That’s another way of saying she turned pro.
Steven: Even though she was already a success, but not to the level that she wanted to be.
Marie: I think that’s such a great distinction, because one of the dangerous areas we have to watch out for I believe, especially when we start to get whether it’s some recognition or financial success or whatever that looks like for you, is this idea like, “Oh I can kind of sit back.” Like, “Oh I’ve figured this out or I can just keep it going.” But it gets stale real fast. And I love what you said about there was this voice inside of her that said, “No there’s more for you. There’s another level.” She elevated her ambition for who she could be and listened to that, and I think that’s…
Steven: Yeah, and she certainly has taken it there in the years since.
Marie: Yeah. It’s exciting. I want to talk about getting a project started, The Foolscap Method, because I feel like it’s so simple and I love… I believe that I wrote, and please correct me if I’m wrong here, was that you heard it but it took you quite a number of years to actually get it, meaning to start using it.
Steven: Oddly enough, the friend that taught me this thing I just had breakfast with him two days ago.
Marie: No way. That’s cool.
Steven: He’s sort of a mentor of mine. He was a very successful writer and I was just struggling, couldn’t get anything done. I was just totally at sea. He took me to lunch at Joe Allen’s over on 40 whatever it is Street. What he said to me was, “Steve, God make a single sheet of yellow foolscap paper to be exactly the right length to hold the entire outline of a novel.” That sort of woke me up in there, because it was on the subject of getting a project started. What I would’ve done at that time was I would just plunge in. Chapter one and I’ll just, you know, or I would say, “Oh I better outline it, every scene.” That would be so much it would blow my mind.
But the idea of, and I think this is good for any project, not just a book or something, is if you can just get it on one page, boil it… Because it forces you to boil it down to the essentials. What’s act one, what’s act two, what’s act three? What’s it about? What’s the climax? If you can get it just on one page, then you suddenly have a certain confidence. Like if you and I are sailing to Tahiti, if we can just put on one page, “Okay, we’re gonna go to Hawaii first. We’re gonna stay three days, then we’re gonna hit the current, okay, whatever it is. That’ll get us there.” And we take it from A to Z on just one page, then it gives you confidence that you can do it. At least you have an idea of what the whole thing is.
Steven: But here’s just a little sidebar to this, Marie. I’ve been looking forward to seeing my friend Norm for lunch, who I saw two days ago, and I wanted to ask him more about that. I sort of said, “Well, what was your thinking on it?” Of course he hasn’t thought about anything beyond that. I hoped he was gonna tell me, “Well, I divide it into A, B, C and D.” But he didn’t do any of that sort of stuff.
Marie: But I love it because it does work, and I feel like one of the things that I’ve learned to do and I try and offer this as a suggestion for anyone who wants to take it, is sometimes when I’m working on a creative project, it’s a little different, but I need to work on both the creative side of it, like what is this thing, and also think about the sales and the marketing of it.
Steven: That’s really interesting. I never even thought about that.
Marie: Yeah, so we’ll talk about that more in a little bit, but it’s like this idea of The Foolscap I love, like, identifying its theme, breaking it down to the fundamentals, do it on one page. I love that you wrote, “Resistance will make us fiddle around forever unless we draw the line and stop it. That’s what The Foolscap trick does. It cuts out the crap. It concentrates the mind.”
Steven: Which is very true because a lot of us love to get into research, right? Before I can start let me do three months of research.
Steven: So if you’re only gonna do it on one page, forget the research. Do the research later.
Marie: Let’s talk about the practicality of from Nobody Wants to Read Your Shit, I loved this, that there’s one idea every writer and entrepreneur needs, the ability to switch back and forth between your own point of view and that of the customer/reader, which is exactly what I was just talking about, this little method. I think that’s a tricky dance for most people, shifting perspective, especially perhaps when they’re first starting out. So my question to you is what are some of the lessons you’ve learned about how to do that? I just shared one of mine which was working on the marketing and the sales piece and the creative piece.
Steven: Well, I think it’s if you’re telling a joke and people are… You need to be looking in the eyes of the people that you’re telling the joke to so to see if they’re getting bored. Are they confused? Do they not understand? The two rabbis walked into a bar with the alligator, you know? That kind of thing. So I think it’s just a natural empathetic thing that you have to have if you’re gonna do any creative thing.
An example I always think about is the ride of Pirates of the Caribbean at Disneyland, you know, where you enter the tunnel and you’re in a boat. If you and I were designing that ride, we would be thinking to ourselves, we’d put ourselves right in the mind of the person in the boat. What do we want to show them first? What do we want to show them second? How long do we want them to see the pirates hanging, walking the plank, or whatever it is? And we’d be constantly asking ourselves, “Are they bored yet? Are they interested? Are we pulling them forward? Did number B pull them forward to number C?” That kind of thing. So I think that that’s just a natural thing that anyone has, probably stand-up comedy would probably be the real crucible for that, where you really have to…
Marie: Test it.
Steven: Be in touch with if the audience is following you or whatever.
Marie: Yeah. I wanted to bring this up because I do think it’s so important when I’ve worked with some people on creating their first, they’re doing something, they want to teach a course or they’re creating something. They’re like, “I have all these ideas and these are… ” I’m like, “Yeah, we need to put on our customer hat.”
Steven: Yes, exactly.
Marie: We need to put on our customer hat and then we also have to think about, too, like I was sharing, this idea of how are you gonna sell and market it. I just went through this with my Amazon copy. I’d gotten a draft of the Amazon copy of the book from the publisher and they were like, “Hey. What do you think of this?” I was like, “No, because that’s my deal. I need to write that.” But it’s this notion of thinking and I had to put myself in the reader’s head and going, “Ah, what are the important parts to her or him? What are the questions she is asking? What are the benefits she wants to get out of this and how can I position all this stuff that I’ve created so it matches those points?”
Steven: Yeah, you know, I think when we’re young and we’re starting out in something, a lot of times we’re in our ego completely and all we want to do is put our stuff out there. Let me tell you this. Let me tell you that. Let me tell you this other thing. We forget that we’re actually talking to somebody and that that person is gonna get bored and impatient and so on and so forth.
Marie: Yes, yes. I want to talk to you about an early part of your career. I’m really curious your perspective on this because I know you did a couple rounds in advertising and copywriting. I’m a huge fan. I make no bones about this, I freaking love marketing. I love sales. I teach copywriting. Part of the reason is because who knows why, because I love it and I think I’m pretty good at it, but I also believe that for any artist or any entrepreneur or anyone that’s starting their own philanthropy, or there’s something that they want to share with the world, it’s a crucial aspect of what we do in this day and age. So I’m curious from your perspective looking back if you ever notice anything that you’ve learned in your ad and copywriting days supporting your ability to do the genius work that you do now.
Steven: It’s only what we were just talking about, Marie, the idea of nobody wants to read your shit, which is the first lesson you learn in advertising because everybody hates advertising, right? They really don’t want to read your ad for Preparation H or your commercial for the newest drug that stops whatever. So you have to learn as you well know, you like to put yourself in the shoes of the viewer who hates you already and somehow whatever you come up with has gotta be so good or so interesting or so clever. You just can’t settle for “Shrinks hemorrhoids for $1.95.” It’s gotta be something better than that.
Marie: Yeah, you’ve also written too, I think this is this connector, about defining the problem, like thinking about things in terms of problem and solution, which works for us in ads right?
Steven: Yes, yes.
Marie: It’s like, “Can we speak to what that customer or reader’s problem is?” Which is…
Steven: Yeah, I’m not so sure I’ve figured out how to translate that into other stuff.
Marie: It’s hard.
Steven: But it’s certainly true in advertising.
Marie: Yeah, no, it’s…
Steven: Because every ad is a problem.
Steven: Right? How do we get people to care about Progressive Insurance? There is a solution somewhere in there.
Marie: Somewhere in there, thinking about the problem, thinking about the solution. Okay, I want to talk… This is one of my favorite things I wanted to ask you because I feel like it’s so useful. It’s circling back on something we mentioned earlier, but the predictability of resistance in terms of stages.
Steven: That’s great already, Marie. Yeah.
Marie: This initial resistance that many of us feel when getting started, we kind of talked about that. I’m afraid, I don’t think I’m good enough, who am I to do this, it’s all been done before, it’s never gonna work out.
Steven: Right, right, right.
Marie: So we’ve covered that, but then I want you to walk us through like one month in when you’re doing it and then you realize how much work it’s gonna be. You’ve written this. Why did I start this thing?
Marie: Now everybody hits that, right? But no one really talks about it.
Steven: Yeah, there’s definitely… I mean that book Do the Work really was kind of about the predictable stages. What you were just saying, Marie, about the book you’re working on now it was kicking your butt, I can kind of tell just from the little you’ve said you’re at a very predictable stage which is closing in on the finish line.
Steven: It’s a predictable stage where resistance is really gonna be high. But to go back to what you were saying, there’s obviously at the start you have resistance, then it’s sort of to me, I analogize is to sailing like Columbus, sailing off into the ocean. Once you get beyond sight of land, that’s the second point. Suddenly you look back and there’s no land anymore and you don’t know where the Indies are. You go, “Oh my God. What have I done?” That’s the second point of resistance. Then another one is the act two miseries, you know, when you’re sort of halfway through. What David Mamet says is it’s hard to remember that you set out to drain the swamp when you’re up to your ass in alligators, you know? That’s another predictable moment, when you’re right in the middle of something and you’re so far from the beginning you’ve forgotten the fun of the beginning, when you’re so far from the end you think you’re never gonna make it, plus everything becomes really complicated in the middle for some reason. I don’t know why.
Marie: The messy middle.
Steven: Yeah. You really gotta slog through that. Then when you get to the end, and even… Just before the finish line it’s like hitting a wall in a marathon at mile 24, whatever that is. So I would say to you, Marie, you just gotta push through it.
Marie: I’m pushing, baby.
Steven: Just set you up and keep going, you know?
Marie: I highlighted that part because I realized that, and I am really close, and the folks that are supporting me with the book, my editor, they’re like, “Marie, it’s so close.” I’m like, “It doesn’t feel so close.” But I’m trusting.
Steven: Here’s another little trick for whatever this is worth, because this used to be my problem for years and years was I couldn’t finish anything. I’d get right to the one yard line and I’d fumble the ball on the one yard line. One trick I sort of learned is sometimes you don’t think you’re done but you’re done. It’s like I had an agent who used to say to me, “Are you close?” And I’d say, “Yeah, I’m close.” He’d say, “Close is good enough. Give it to me.” So sometimes we torture ourselves and think, “Oh I gotta get that last cherry on the top,” and really you can almost do that three weeks from now, but turn it in. Ship it, as Seth Godin says.
Marie: Yes. Yes, yes, yes. Thank you for that. I want to talk about The Artist’s Journey now, the unglamorous, un-cinematic part, the grindy part, because I feel like once folks get a certain level of momentum and they’ve gotten some projects out there, they’ve shipped them, they have it under their belt, The Artist’s Journey feels like it’s this… First of all it’s the most recent of the books. How do you define it and why is it important for us to recognize this as a separate stage?
Steven: They’re really good questions, Marie.
Marie: I try. Maybe I should do this for a living.
Steven: You actually read some of these because you really think about… Yeah, but it really is… Just as sort of thinking about my own experience, that I can sort of divide my life in half. The first half, what I would call the hero’s journey part of it, and I think this applies to everybody, is where you’re just coming from… You don’t know who the hell you are or what you want to do and you finally reach the point where you say, “Okay. I am an artist,” or whatever it is. “I am a writer. I am an entrepreneur. I am a dancer,” or whatever it is. At that point, the hero’s journey is over. If we do the analogy to The Odyssey, Odysseus has come back to Ithaca and reclaimed his kingship.
In The Hero’s Journey, the hero always, in the myth, the Joseph Campbell version, the hero always comes back with a gift for the people. So if your hero’s journey ends and you say, “Okay I’m a writer. I’m a screenwriter,” whatever it is, now the second half of your life begins that I call the artist’s journey. Now the question is, “Okay. I’m gonna be a writer. What the hell am I gonna write? What is my gift?” “Who am I?” is really the question. Philip Roth would have one answer and Bruce Springsteen would have another answer and Joni Mitchell would have another answer. They each have different gifts.
That’s when, as you were saying, the mundane part, sort of the Roseanne Cash part that we were just talking about where you say to yourself, “Okay, I’ve gotta build my day. I’ve gotta build my month, build my year. I’ve gotta be thinking in long term, in the next 10 years, the rest of my life.” What’s the next album and that kind of thing, but really it’s answering the question, who am I, what is my gift, and that’s quite different from the hero’s journey of thrashing around out in the real world having love affairs and getting divorced and being into drugs and all that other sort of stuff. That’s over I think once you pass a certain point, but now it becomes almost as hard. It’s like you’re just coming into your studio, if you’re a dancer, let’s say. It’s like, “What am I gonna choreograph? What do I do?”
Marie: What’s my voice?
Steven: Yeah, “What’s my voice? Who am I?” That’s really hard.
Marie: Yeah. It is really hard. It is really hard. Sometimes people… It’s funny, I have a love-hate relationship with social media, even though I do this, my team will tell you…
Steven: I have a hate-hate relationship with it.
Marie: I love it. I can’t stand taking selfies. They literally have to force me. I’m just not interested. I’m like, “I don’t want to look at myself. Why do y’all want to look at me?” Sometimes they’ll be like, “Well we want more behind the scenes shit.” I’m like, “You literally want to see me in a dirty bun, haven’t showered for like two days, sitting on my couch in the same pair of sweatpants. “I’m like, “It’s not glamorous.” This is a show. We do this because it’s a show and I love the show and I love sharing information and all that stuff, but my point is, and when you’re in the artist’s journey, when you’re working on your voice, when you’re developing a body of work, it’s like, “It’s grindy people. It’s not cute.”
Steven: Yeah, absolutely.
Marie: It’s absolutely not cute. But I just want to say this, because again, I want to demystify stuff for people because there are so many mistaken notions that I think can keep people paralyzed, or keeping themselves as though they’re not measuring up, they’re not good enough. They have these comparison things that they do. So I just… The reason that I’m saying this is because I believe part of the artist’s journey is that tough work, and I want to go to this place next because it’s one of my favorite parts of that book, “Put your ass where your heart wants to be. Put your ass where your heart wants to be.” I know you have a hate-hate relationship with social, but I used that quote when I was talking about this book when it first came out. People were like… They lost their shit, for good reason, because that’s what it’s about.
Steven: Well, it’s a simple way of saying just show up. If you want to be a writer, sit in front of the keyboard. Put your ass in that place and just grind it out. Eventually the muse will come to you. I believe the muse flies over us every day and kind of looks down to see if we’re working, if we’re doing our work. If we are, sooner or later the magic will happen, I think.
Marie: I agree with you. I want to close by having you read a passage from the book which I think is perfect for our audience, if you wouldn’t mind.
Steven: Not at all.
Marie: I have it outlined of course in hot pink. It’s that section right there.
Steven: Okay, it’s nice and short, huh?
Marie: Yeah, it’s nice and short.
Steven: So I just read it?
Marie: Yeah, because it’s your… I don’t want to read your words, but I think it’s so perfect for this show.
Steven: “Suspending self judgment doesn’t just mean blowing off the, ‘you suck,’ voice in our heads. It also means liberating ourselves from conventional expectations, from what we think our work ought to be or should look like. Stay stupid, follow your unconventional, crazy heart.”
Marie: Yes. That is one of my favorites. Steve Pressfield, thank you so much for coming, hanging out. Thank you for doing the work that’s impacted millions.
Steven: Well, this has been great, Marie, and thanks for asking such great questions that pulled out the essence of what I’ve been trying to put in these books.
Marie: Well, you’ve done a brilliant job. We love you, and I can’t wait to continue to read everything you create.
Steven: Congratulations on what you’re doing here and thanks a lot for having me.
Marie: Thank you.
Now, Steve and I would love to hear from you. We talked about so many incredible things. I’m curious, what’s the biggest insight that you’re taking away and how can you put that insight into action right now? Leave a comment below and let us know.
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