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The creative experience is a roller-coaster – and we all experience the highs and lows of the journey over time. You are not alone, wherever you are on the path, even though it might feel like it sometimes.
In today's show, I talk to Steven Pressfield about The Artist's Journey.
In the introduction, I talk about KDP Print adding Expanded Distribution and Large Print and muse on when the end of Createspace will come. Plus, BookFunnel's new print giveaway codes which are really useful for live events and conventions. I also talk about what Google Duplex might mean for AI translation and audiobook narration.
I give an update on my writing fun with Valley of Dry Bones – and how I found an awesome story link between New Orleans and Louisiana voodoo, the Spanish Inquisition and West Africa. Fun times! Plus, my dark fantasy novel, Map of Shadows, is included in a limited-time bundle along with some other amazing books. If you'd like to binge read this summer, check out: www.storybundle.com/fantasy
Today's show is sponsored by IngramSpark, who I use to print and distribute my print-on-demand books to 39,000 retailers including independent bookstores, schools and universities, libraries and more. It's your content – do more with it through IngramSpark.com.
Steven Pressfield is the author of non-fiction works including The War of Art and Turning Pro, and novels around the classical wars of ancient Greece and modern warfare like Gates of Fire.
His latest book is The Artist's Journey: The Wake of the Hero's Journey and the Lifelong Pursuit of Meaning.
You can listen above or on iTunes or Stitcher or watch the video here, read the notes and links below. Here are the highlights and full transcript below.
- On writing from the inside out rather than productivity hacking
- On writing from a deeply primal source.
- How Steve gets out of his own way in order to write.
- On the importance of creative habits and rituals.
- How to discover our inner genius or destiny
- Being true to what inspires us and therefore being a force for unity and empathy
- Having patience as an artist
- Learning from every writing experience
You can find Steven at StevenPressfield.com and on Twitter @SPressfield
Transcript of Interview with Steven Pressfield
Joanna: Hi everyone. I'm Joanna Penn from TheCreativePenn.com and today I'm back with Steven Pressfield. Hi Steve.
Steven: Hi Joanna. It's great to be with you today.
Joanna: Thank you so much. And just a little introduction for anyone who doesn't know Steve.
Steve is the author of non-fiction works including “The War of Art” and “Turning Pro,” which everyone should read, and novels around the classical wars of ancient Greece and modern warfare like “Gates of Fire.” And his latest book is “The Artist's Journey: The Wake of the Hero's Journey and the Lifelong Pursuit of Meaning,” which is just fantastic.
Steve, I've read all your non-fiction books, I'm such a fan. And this one feels like the most spiritual of the books.
Why now in this time when it feels like most non-fiction is all about productivity hacking and yet you've gone deep.
Steven: You sent me that question ahead of time, Joanna. I wanted to ask you what exactly is productivity hacking?
Joanna: If you tweak, if you time this, and if you eat this, and if you do this you'll get an extra 1% brain power.
Steven: Oh, I see.
Joanna: It's all about the things you can do to make yourself better and quicker. So it's all about quick stuff.
Whereas, what I got a sense with your book, that it's much deeper. So why now? Why this deeper book?
Steven: I'm a believer in following the news, as we'll talk about in this interview, which is something unconscious that prompts you from within. I'm definitely a believer in writing from the inside out.
In other words, what is coming up from your own heart, or coming up from that source in you rather than trying to suss out the market-place. You know, trying to look for, “What could I sell? What could I get over?”
Which is why I hate that whole hacking mentality, which to me is not really writing. It's not really being a writer, it's something else.
My whole way of looking at writing is that it's a lifetime pursuit. Whether you're making money or not. As Elizabeth Gilbert said, that promise that she made to herself when she started writing, that she said to her writing “I will never ask you to support me, I will support you.”
That's a real lifetime commitment of a real writer.
So I don't know, this book just sort of came out of me. I actually wrote it a couple of years ago and it's been kind of sitting around. I re-energized it, or re-tweaked it. But it is spiritual, it is really about that writing from the inside out.
Joanna: I've picked some quotes from the book that touched me. The first one is, and you just mentioned here, “The artist's work evolves over her lifetime. Her subject remains the same.” And that's fascinating to me.
What do you mean by subject and how does that relate to an author's voice? What stays the same and what develops?
Steven: That's a great question. Like I said to you before, I don't know if I can answer it.
But if you think about the works of, say, Phillip Roth, if you could put all of his books up together or the albums of Bruce Springsteen, or the albums of Joni Mitchell, and you looked at them all together.
Let's say just start with Phillip Roth. He definitely has a subject. It runs through all the books. He might define it a little differently than I would. But I would say it was like “What it means to be a male Jew in America in the 20th and 21st century. How does that fit in?”
Every book, from “Portnoy's Complaint,” “Goodbye, Columbus” all the way up to “The Dying Animal” and his last few books, were on that subject.
He changed the way he attacked that subject. In “Portnoy's Complaint,” he did the zany, crazy almost stand-up comic thing. And by the end of his life he was doing very, very serious, totally scholarly examinations of the same subject.
And if you look at the albums of Bruce Springsteen or Bob Dylan or something like that, they're basically on the same subject, they just sort of attack it from a different dimension.
My theory on this is that the artist doesn't really have a choice here if they're following their muse. It's not like Phillip Roth could have said, “I'm going to write about feminists or whatever.” It wasn't really burning in his guts to get it out. So I think our subject sort of chooses us in a way.
And I think that “The Artist's Journey,” the title of the book, is really about that odyssey that we go through. That internal odyssey that we go to after we've committed to being a writer.
After we've committed, we've had that turning pro moment, that come to Jesus moment when we sort of stop messing around and wasting our life. And from that point on, we kind of dedicate ourselves to finding our voice and that sort of thing. And also finding our subject.
And so I think at that point, whether we start asking ourselves or not, or whether it just evolves, the question, what foremost question in our mind is, “What is my subject? What was I put on this earth to write about?”
And I think when you see somebody like Phillip Roth or Bob Dylan or Bruce Springsteen, you can say of them, they found their subject. They really hit it and they were on it right from the start.
Joanna: What's your subject then?
Steven: Good question, Joanna.
Joanna: You have war and conflict in so many of your books. Whether it's external conflict, with the Israel war, you've got your ancient wars, you've got the war of art.
Is war your subject?
Steven: I think it is. But not so much in the sense of soldiers fighting on a battlefield as it is for me the internal war of the artist against his or her own self sabotage and his or her own fear.
I was at the gym the other day and a friend of mine said to me, “Life is a battle”. And he was just talking about the gym but I think it is a battle.
I can certainly see that many other people live their lives in different ways. A mother might feel that life is about bringing forth new life and nurturing new life. Or someone also might say life is about love and etc., etc. Many ways you can look at it.
But for me it is a battle. When I get up every morning, I feel that dragon in there in my head, and I know that if I don't slay it that day, I'm not going to be very happy that night.
It's too bad we couldn't have Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain here right now to talk about that subject. But I think you're right, that is my subject.
And whether I'm writing about writing or ancient warfare or whatever, it does seem to be about conflict and the inner battle against one's own fear and hesitation and all those temptations to be less than you can be. Give less than you can give.
Joanna: You write both fiction and non-fiction. Whenever I read your stuff, I struggle because you have this idea of a shadow career. I write books for authors, you write books for authors, and not that I would put myself next to you.
Steven: I don't put myself next to you, Joanna. It's an honor to be here with you.
Joanna: Oh, you're so sweet. But whenever I write a non-fiction book, I feel like in a way I'm helping my audience and I'm trying to share some of my experience and what I go through.
But when I write fiction, I feel like it's in some ways selfish, but it's more respecting of the muse.
How does your subject go through both your fiction and your non-fiction and how do you balance those two?
Steven: That's a really great question. And as I was reading it when you sent it to me I thought, “I don't know how I'm going to answer that.”
Certainly I wrote fiction for a long time before I wrote “The War of Art.” That was, I don't know what, my seventh or eighth book or something like that, which was the first non-fiction book I'd done.
And that I only did because I just wanted to get it off my chest. Because people kept asking me those questions and I thought, “Let me just write a book, and then I can put the book in their hands.”
And then after that I thought, “Well, you know, I've got to follow it up, there's more to it than that.” And so it's just sort of evolved on its own.
But I do think I go to a different place in fiction. I'm sure you do too, in my head. I don't know if it's a different muse. But it's a different something.
I would say non-fiction is almost like writing an op-ed piece, or writing an essay where you're really not creating characters, you're not creating a world. You're not inventing a narrative. You're speaking in your own voice, sort of as if someone says to you, “Joanna, I'm stuck on this thing. Please help me. What should I do?”
And so you answer out of your own Joanna knowledge. I don't know if it really is a muse. I guess it is, because it all comes from there. But you're sort of answering, I think, out of your real experiences in this real world.
Whereas for me, fiction, you're digging deep into areas you don't even know where it's coming from. I feel like that about my fiction, that I don't know where the characters are coming from, I don't know what's going to come out of their mouths.
And so that's a sort of deeper surrender to that sort of improv-ish, what's gonna happen next when you open the box.
Joanna: I feel the same way. I almost feel like it's a different mindset. And that's why I like using two different names because I feel like by scheduling my J.F. Penn time I could almost go into that.
Let's just talk about going deeper. You say “The artist is being driven from a far deeper and more primal source than the conscious intellect.”
How do we tap into the “primal source?” How do we go down a level when we're so concerned with daily stuff going on?
Steven: That's another great question. Of course everybody does it in a different way. It's like, how do you dream or how do you have an intuition?
I live in Los Angeles. And they did a story in the L.A. Times a few years ago about where they asked screen writers where they worked; in an office or whatever. And they asked five of them.
Three of them said they worked in their cars. And one of them said he or she worked in a car while it was moving. In other words, everybody gets at it in a different way.
To me, it sort of starts with the idea for whatever the book is. That's really the muse speaking to you, I think. I'm always on the look out for a new idea.
And I'm always asking myself, “What's percolating under there?” And I also find a lot of times an idea will come to me, say in January. And I'll make a note in my head, and I'll completely dismiss it. I'll forget it completely.
And then three months later I'll go, “Whatever happened to that idea I had back in January?” And I'll look at it and I'll go, “You know, that's a pretty good idea.” And then I'll start focusing on it.
So let's say you have an idea to do something about Queen Boudicca of early Britannia. Then I think, you begin to surrender to that. You start researching it, and you begin to surrender to that idea. And I think you start outlining it, or blocking it in, in the broadest strokes. And I think that a mystical sort of process happens there. Tell me if the same thing happens with you, Joanna.
As you start to work on something, a gravitational field begins to form around you. And it begins to attract stuff. Ideas. You're in the shower and you'll think, “Ooh, what if Queen Boudicca fell into a pit of snakes when she was three weeks old?” Whatever.
And you go, “Where does that come from?” And pretty soon, you've opened a pipeline to that part of you that's trying to tell that story.
And then it's a process, I think, of getting out of its way and letting it come through. I know that's kind of airy fairy and mystical, but that's certainly the process for me.
And that's why I say, the way I write, I'm not a writer for hire. It's not like somebody calls me and says, “Can you do something about…” I'm a spec writer. I write what comes out of me and just bet on myself that I can sell it.
So I do follow the muse, and I am looking for that. It's the old analogy of it's a radio station, the signal's coming in, and you're trying to tune the dial to hit that radio station and pick up that signal.
Joanna: And you have some rituals, don't you?
Steven: Superstitions, yeah.
Joanna: To call down the muse. Now we've got through knowledge that your rituals won't work for everyone, they won't just automatically mean that muse will arrive.
What do you do to start that process, when you get to your desk or wherever you work?
Steven: Right here, right where I am. Let me answer that by recommending a book to your listeners. If they haven't heard of this book yet, it's by Twyla Tharp, “The Creative Habit.”
Twyla Tharp is a famous choreographer. When she calls the book “The Creative Habit” and her thing is about habit, about the power of habit, which is like ritual.
She talks about how every morning she gets up at the exact same time, 5:30 she's down outside her building in New York City hailing a cab going to the gym. She works out for two hours at the gym, then she comes back to her studio, and then she works for the day.
And I think that it doesn't matter so much what your ritual is, but I do think it helps to have a ritual. What I sort of liken it to is, let's say you have yoga practice, just your own self. And you were fortunate enough that you built a little yoga studio out at your cottage in Devonshire, or whatever it is.
At a certain hour of the day, you would get on your yoga stuff, and you would walk out to the thing and you would make sure that it was clean and well-lighted. And you'd open the door, you'd do a little bow before. You might even say a little prayer to the gods of yoga, or whatever it is that you're trying, and you've set an intention for yourself.
And when you enter that space, you consider that you are entering a sacred space. And then you would begin your yoga. And your practice would be intending to connect with…not just doing the physical part but to connect to a spiritual connection of yourself. And I think that's sort of what writers do or actors do or choreographers do.
And so my ritual's pretty simple. I'm like Twyla Tharp. I go to the gym. I come home, I answer my email, stuff like that, and then I just sit down and just plunge right into it. And when I start making mistakes from fatigue, typos, then I stop. And I don't try any harder.
Let me ask you, Joanna, what's your ritual?
Joanna: I wear noise cancelling headphones and I play rain and thunderstorms. I've been playing the same album for like ten years now.
Steven: Really, no kidding? Why do you do that? What's the point?
Joanna: Well, like you say, it cuts out bad noise, like other noises. And the repetition; it's like you say, the repetition of a sound or something puts you in a place where your brain goes, “Ah. Now I'm doing this. Now I'm writing.”
Because the whole point of it, I think, what you do and what I do, is a turning inside. It's an interior thing.
One of the things I say in “The Artist's Journey” is that I used to write at a desk that faced a wall. And people would say to me, “Why don't you turn the desk around and you can look outside, see the scenery.” But I said, “I don't want to see the scenery, because I'm in here.” Just like you with your noise-cancelling headphones.
Joanna: I do a lot of travelling for book research. I love traveling. We were in Madrid last week and it was just amazing. We were in Toledo, old Jewish place, and it was amazing. And people were like, “Oh, you must write so much when you're traveling.” and I'm like, “I can't.” I can't write while I'm traveling. I have to be back in my routine. In my kind of boring repetitive space.
Joanna: Do you find the same thing?
Steven: Exactly. Every now and then I can write on the road, but it's pretty rare. And when I can, I sort of bring my own little version of my own space to that thing.
I have my little Canon here that I use to fire inspiration into myself. So I take my Canon with me, and I set it up.
But one other thing I do I do want to say, as far as rituals and stuff like that, which is very important for me, is one of my earliest mentors, Paul Rink, gave me a copy of “The Invocation of the Muse” from T.E. Lawrence's translation of “The Odyssey.”
The very start, where Homer says, “Oh, divine poesy. Goddess daughter of Zeus…” etc., etc. And I say that prayer every morning out loud. And so I really am invoking the muse and saying, “Help me. I need help.” And, “Here I am, I'm reporting to duty” that kind of thing.
Joanna: Do you think the muse is a feminine force?
Steven: Yes. Without a doubt. I don't know why I'd say that. There were nine muses, they were nine sisters. The daughters of Zeus and Mnemosyne, which means “memory.” And so, I guess I agree with them, I think it seems to be a feminine thing to inspire.
Joanna: Another thing that I really loved. “The artist is not expressing himself, he is discovering himself.” And you talk about the daimon, not demon, the daimon, the genius having an aspect of the monstrous, which I really love. Because as part of my writing, I've discovered things that are quite dark and disturbing within myself that sometimes makes me want to self-censor and not put those things in the world.
Steven: Oh, yeah.
Joanna: How do we discover that daimon, that genius? And what if we find stuff that doesn't really fit?
Steven: I think the only answer is to kill yourself, I think. No, I don't really know the answer to that.
But let's go back to the concept of the daimon. Because if your listeners haven't heard of this, it's an interesting thing. Greeks daimon, D-A-I-M-O-N, was for the ancient Greeks a kind of an inherent spirit that we were born with. And the Romans had the same concept, and their word for it was genius.
I'm definitely a believer that we're born as fully-formed individuals. We're not a blank slate. And we've got a destiny, and we have a calling.
I got this from a book called “The Soul's Code” by James Hillman, another book I highly recommend. And he likens it to an acorn, daimon's kind of like an acorn. Even as infants, we've got this destiny inside us just like an acorn contains the entire oak tree already.
I used to work in advertising, as I say in the book. And I would quit, write a novel, it would fail or wouldn't be published. I'd come crawling back to advertising, work again, save money, quit again, etc. etc. I did that three different times.
And every time I would do that, get ready to quit that is, my boss, with good intentions, different bosses, would call me into the office and say to me, “Steve. Why are you throwing your life away? We'll promote you, we'll give you a bonus.” blah, blah, blah.
And each time I thought, “You know, they're right. Why am I going off to write this stupid stuff that nobody wants to read?” etc. etc. But every time, I quit. And every time I did go off and write another book.
And that's the daimon. That is that thing inside me that just, against all logic, compelled me to do that. So I do think that Bruce Springsteen's daimon made him do whatever it was he did. Anybody that we want to look to, and that really had a career.
But the daimon is monstrous. So that's a whole other subject. I don't even want to get into that, Joanna. That's a subject for a whole book.
But I will say one tiny thing. I wrote a book called “Virtues of War” which was about Alexander the Great's career. And I wrote it in the first person, as Alexander. He was somebody who had a daimon that really drove him to conquer the world. And it contained the monstrous and he knew it. And so that's sort of the classic mega-daimon that we could find through history.
Joanna: I've been writing on and off for several years now a book about the shadow side. And I know you know all about Carl Jung. I just find that I think it's a very similar idea, a monstrous daimon, or the collective unconsciousness, the darkness that we write from.
But I think there is some other aspect. I hope you don't mind, but some aspect of the monstrous in your war-like side of writing. And your fiction, some of the topics you pick really are violent, and they are that monstrous side. And yet, you're just such a lovely man, Steve. And so I'm gonna push you on it.
Steven: You just don't know me very well.
Joanna: No, but there is maybe the point. And this is what I partly also want to push you on; do you feel that in yourself?
You have to almost let the monsters out in your writing and then put it back in when you do stuff in your non-fiction.
Steven: I think that's true. I had a dream not long ago. And I know dreams are really boring, but here's the gist of it. I encountered this monster who was like the phantom of the opera. Somebody that lived in the darkness and had a face that was half-covered by a mask.
And everybody in the dream was absolutely terrified of this monster. They kept him in kind of a cage, and machine guns were trained on him constantly.
But at one point in this dream, the monster sang. He just sang like three notes. And even in the dream, those notes were so beautiful that even in the dream, you were mesmerized and surrendered to them. And you thought, “There's no way we could ever kill this thing if it can produce that beauty.”
So that's the weird part of what we call a monster, is also our creative soul, and it's capable of incredible beauty that we can't produce it from any other source, not from any nice-guy source. It's a paradox, a mystery, it's beyond me. But villains are always the most fun characters to write.
Someone said to me, “Could I ever be an actor, or would somebody ever give me a role…” I would say, “I'd love to play like the most dastardly villain. And I want to have some horrible villain speech.” But that's the monster. The monsters can be fun, if we keep them a little bit under control.
Joanna: The balance, I think of Plato's chariot, with the black horse and the white horse, and having to keep them in balance. And if you let one take over, like maybe coming back to Bourdain, you can end up going off the road. But if you let just the white horse go along, you end up going off the road the other way. It's a very difficult balancing act.
But in terms of balancing act, you do have another thing, which I think is interesting. This is not a political show, but you have “The artist is a force for unity.”
I thought that was fascinating because we have so little empathy at the moment it seems, between split political realities. Where people can't seem to imagine the other person's point of view.
How can we use our writing in unity?
Steven: That's a great question, Joanna. I think that we don't need to do this consciously. If we're true to what inspires us, what will come out will be a force for unity.
But here's how I mean that. There was a movie, an Iranian movie called “A Separation.” Did you ever see that a while ago?
Steven: Anyway, I think it won the Academy Award for Best Foreign Film a couple of years ago. And it was about a family in Tehran where the father was coming down with Alzheimer's and how it split the son and his wife.
What was so great about this movie was, here we are in America, we're afraid of Iran, they're gonna bomb us, whatever, right? And they hate us, we're the great Satan.
When you saw this movie and you saw these people, you empathize with them so naturally, there was no way not to. Your heart went out to them, you completely related to their problem.
And this was the artist's gift to us, really. That's what I mean by unity. There's no way, after you see that movie, that you could say, “The Iranian people are enemies of the United States” or whatever. They're just like us, we're just like them.
I think the artist is a force for unity in that a great novel, or even just a halfway decent novel, takes you into the lives of other people and helps you identify with people that you might never meet, never know, across centuries. That's what I think the artist's role is.
We laugh at artists a lot of times and we think, even of ourselves we think, “Why am I wasting my time being an artist. Nobody's buying my books.”
But the artist is a real force for good over the long haul. And he or she is a force for unity. Painter, filmmaker, dancer, you name it. Because the artist's gift is a gift of empathy and to show us something that we can no longer say, “That's not us. That's us too.” That's what I meant by that.
It's not really political. The artist kind of goes beyond the political, it's above the political.
Joanna: I think that that's really the point. It's not like, write some preachy thing that is like, “I'm right” or, “I think this”.
Steven: If it gets preachy, you better stop.
Joanna: Yeah. It's human. And the point, I think, it feels like humans are not binary, most of the time. Everyone's really complicated.
Joanna: Now you mentioned the long haul there. “Turning Pro” which I re-read, I've read so many times. But you have this theme to come back to which is, “The artist learns to commit for a lifetime” and again, “The Artist's Journey.”
And coming back to productivity hacking, there's this myth of the publishing industry that you write a best-seller, you make a million, you can retire. But you talk about it taking 17 years to earn your first penny through writing.
What are your thoughts on patience? How can we be patient when our ambition, or our daimon, wants something and it might take a long time to get that?
Steven: I don't know if this is true for other people, but I have to say for me, I just had no choice. Along those 17 years, like I say, many many cross-roads appeared where I could have said, “All right, let me take this job. Let me just settle for something else.”
But I could never do it, I just didn't have a choice. I was so depressed and so bored doing something other than pursuing what my own daimon was telling me to do.
The productivity hacking concept is seeing writing from the outside in, where you say, “What does the marketplace want? Oh, horror is big this year.”
And of course, this is what movie studio executives do, this is their whole job. And then so you write a horror thing. That's not being a writer; that's not being true to your daimon or your muse.
If you're going from the inside out, you're asking, “What's coming up out of me now? What am I being led towards?”
And if you think of it that way, you have to have patience. And I'll go back to Liz Gilbert and her saying “I'm not going to ask you, my writing, to support me. I'm going to support you.”
I see all your books behind you there. Your body of work. And there's no reason why anybody that's listening to this or watching this right now, why they can't have a body of work exactly as good or more. And you're going to go on and on and on and continue to do more and more and more.
The concept of the artist's journey is that we are artists, and we have this journey inside us. Those books behind you are the fruits of your journey. And so that even, particularly these days where anybody can publish.
That can be one's body of work that you produce over a lifetime. And even if you're a lawyer or a doctor or a mom or whatever, this is what you were put here to do. So that's, for me, what I mean by patience.
You don't have a choice. If you're going to be true to it, once you start down this road, you can't really turn back without really abandoning your own self.
Joanna: I feel like I first put out my first book 10 years ago, and it does just feel like yesterday.
Steven: Joanna, you've probably got 30, 40, 50 years ahead of you.
Joanna: I hope so.
Steven: You're going to need a bigger bookshelf.
Joanna: But it's interesting thinking about who we were and who we've become on this discovery of ourselves. In our emails you mentioned that some of the screenplays you wrote in the early days are not necessarily things that you would associate with yourself anymore.
How do you reconcile that learning and discovery over the journey with your idea that you're born with this acorn.
Steven: Ah, that's another great question. I mean at one point I worked on a porno movie.
Steven: Some of those jobs I've done in advertising are unbelievably off-the-mark. But you learn.
I remember when I first got out to Hollywood, the first job I got I was working with an old-time director named Ernie Pintoff, who became sort of a mentor to me. And he just said to me, “Keep working.”
This is actually a mantra for actors as much as for writers. Take the next role, take the next job. You'll learn on everything. And at some point, the daimon will kick in.
I've written so much stuff that was really not me. But it's a learning process. And you really do learn in every job. And then at some point, maybe the muse is circling overhead and looking down and saying, “Nah, she's not ready quite yet. You've got to do a few more of these terrible things.”
And then at some point, maybe the muse says, “Ah. She's ready. She's paid her dues, so now I can start to give her some good stuff.”
Joanna: When you put a book out there you're like, “This is the best I can do.” But it's not the best you can do in 10 years' time, or in 20 years' time.
Steven: Right. Do you look back on your earlier stuff and say, “Oh man, I could have done so much better if I had…”
Joanna: I think what I do is I look at my reviews on Amazon. And if I'm still getting good reviews on the old books, I'm like, “It's fine.”
Steven: Yeah, that's true.
Joanna: But also, don't they say if you're not slightly embarrassed by what you did last year or the year before, you're not moving on?
Steven: Yes. But I'm not embarrassed by any of it. It's all part of the process. It's all part of the learning process.
Joanna: I always like to ask you about marketing because you do everything, and you go from the spiritual to the actual marketing side. And like you say, you worked in advertising. So you're very aware of all the business side.
You've been serializing this book on your blog at stevenpressfield.com. And many authors feel that that is giving the book away for free.
Why serialize the whole book, and why is blogging still important to you?
Steven: Well, you're asking the wrong question in terms of marketing, Joanna. I'm the worst marketer. The only one worse is my partner, Shawn Coyne.
We're terrible. We just don't know what we're doing, we're bumbling around, nothing ever works for us. And I really only put it out on the blog because I think I forgot what else to do. Saw the book and I just thought, “I'll just serialize it.”
I don't believe in hoarding stuff. I think the real problem we all face is that no one knows that our stuff is even there, you know? It's not like, “Ooh, people are stealing our great stuff.” So I'm happy to put something out there.
I don't know if I would serialize a novel because only three people would stay tuned all the way through. But I think a book like “The Artist's Journey” you can serialize. And hopefully people will still want to buy an actual copy when all is said and done.
I'm a terrible marketer, Joanna. I look to you as the guru of how to do this. But it's hard, isn't it? It's hard to get something out there, for all of us.
Joanna: I guess the point is that many authors starting out now would say, “Well why would I bother starting a blog?” And I would say, you know, “Well, Steven Pressfield has a blog so why wouldn't a new author start a blog?”
Do you still think the writing itself can be your marketing out there?
Steven: The writing of the blog, you mean?
Joanna: Yeah, the blog. It's more shareable than the book, isn't it? In that way.
Steven: I hear people say, “I really want to help people. I really want to teach people.” I really don't, that's not my motivation at all. Because I think that the writer who's a born writer, they're going to write anyway. Nothing can stop them. And if they're not, they're going to fade away anyway.
But I do it almost to teach myself and to explore, “What do I think about villains? Why don't I do a series of 12 posts about villains?”
And I do find that it's very helpful. You start to get in there, and you go, “Oh, I never realized that that…” Or you watch a movie and you go, “That was a great speech that Jeremy Irons gave” and “What can we learn from that?”
So I'm really blogging for my own benefit. I hope people profit from it and like it. But I'm really doing it for myself.
I do think that a new or beginning writer should do it. Because it makes you ask yourself, “What do I really think? What do I really know? What do I think about this?”
It's easy, we can come up with an opinion. But then if someone says, “Why do you think that?” A lot of times you don't know. And it's good to ask that question and answer it.
Joanna: And that's probably why I end up writing another non-fiction book. Because I want to know what I think.
Where can people find “The Artist's Journey” and all of your books and everything you do online?
Steven: It's on Amazon or Barnes & Noble or all that stuff, or my little company with my partner Shawn is called Black Irish Books. And if you just google that, Black Irish Books, you can get all of our stuff there.
Steven: And it's not cheaper, but if you want to buy a bundle of e-book, audio book-end, paperback, then it is cheaper.
Joanna: Did you narrate the audio book?
Steven: Yeah, there's an audio book of this.
Joanna: Fantastic. I've got the “Turning Pro” one, and I think that's awesome.
Thanks so much for your time, Steve. That was great.
Steven: Thank you, Joanna. Thanks for the great questions. It's always great to talk to you and hang out with you. It's great.
christopher wills says
Great podcast Jo. Totally agree about the Jack Canfield book, “The Success Principles”. I’m a bit of a cynic about those kind of things but Jack’s book overcame that and I recommend it as a must read for anyone who has doubts about their eventual success. Interesting when Stephen was asking the question “What’s percolating under there?” about ideas and connections appearing as if from nowhere. I’ve heard this referred to as the unconscious mind, and Jack Canfield talks about something similar as the “Law of Attraction” I think. Enjoyed listening again.
christopher wills says
Apologies – Steven 🙂
Joanna Penn says
Glad you liked it, Christopher – and I still love Canfield’s Success Principles 🙂
Excellent podcast. I have read The War of Art and Turning Pro and will get The Artist’s Journey today. It is so mice to hear a writer of his stature discuss writing from the inside-out instead of outside-in. As great as the indie publishing movement has been over the past decade…there seems to be more of a focus about writing from outside-in. I get it. Discoverability and Marketing are the biggest hurdles for all of us indie writers. However, it still does seem the journey of an artist gets left behind somewhat. I appreciate Steven talking about Philip Roth and the common themes throughout his books. I would like to hear more of that artistic side of creation in the indie publishing world. That part is still important and adds to our growth as writers too. Enjoy this one, Joanna!
Joanna Penn says
“As great as the indie publishing movement has been over the past decade…there seems to be more of a focus about writing from outside-in.”
I know what you mean, Marion – but I think it’s just because the thing that distinguishes the indie movement is the focus on the business side. All the writing blogs and courses etc focus on writing and publishing, and indies have been evangelical about discovering how to market and make money. That is actually the thing that has changed significantly in the last 10 years – but once you understand how those functions work – you can get back to craft 🙂 That’s certainly how I feel.
Joanna, you make a fair point about what distinguishes indie publishing from trad publishing. However, I believe that the indie publishing movement does not have any discussion on the books themselves. Steven mentioned Philip Roth on the podcast and themes that dominated his writing. To me, I believe the indie movement needs to have a discussion or engagement with the books. I listen to a lot of book podcasts and hearing the hosts and guests go deep into a book is healthy for literature on the whole. I would love to hear your Arkane Series or Mark Dawson’s Milton Series, or Lindsay Buroker’s Emperor Edge series being discussed by readers and podcasts. That kind of engagement will strengthen indie publishing. And that’s where I was going when I mentioned indie publishing has been overly focus on writing from “outside-in.”
Gabriel Chiasson says
I saw your podcast on a list of podcast about writing and I listened to this one as my first.
Gotta say, I enjoy the format, but I feel I fell on a really bad one. I will try to listen to your next to see if I like it better.
What I didn’t like about your podcast, well the beginning about Duplex. I feel as if you do not have any experience with translation because AI/machine translation is not something any writer should want to use for any book. Translation is such a creative progress, an AI would not be able to replicate for plenty of reason. You just have to look at the multiple English translation of the Bible to see how translation can be an arduous process. Or, even closer to us, look up how the Harry Potter books are translated around the world. A machine would not be able to creatively translate the names of the Hogwarth houses for example. There are just somethings that human will keep on doing better, for a quite a few years, not the 5 to 10 you mentioned. Another way to look at it, the moment an AI can translate a book as well as a human, it will also be able to write a book the same way, since the skills required are pretty much the same.
In principle, I have less problem with the narration part, but it would still be clunky. It could be a cool idea to bundle a machine narrated book with it’s ebook, but I do not think it’s gonna be a product to sell by itself for a while.
The interview with Steven… Well, this is what made me not like your podcast. There was nothing there of interest of use to any one. The way I see it, and from what he said himself, these books are just so he has something to point to when someone ask him how he write, as such, nothing is for writers at all. Everything is flashy language that means next to nothing, it is the same language I hear when I talk to people who wrote books back home be they self published or not. It the same non-answers you get everywhere. I personally don’t see the point. I feel this is a trap for aspiring writers.
To me, it was a disappointment for another reason. The title of his book, I thought it was going to be a spin on the Hero’s journey. That, by itself, would have been a way better use of that title. You could even transpose the Hero’s journey into the Artist’s journey and make it an educational or self aware novel. But in the end, it’s all vapid language. Any one would be better served reading grammar books and researching story structures.
I could go on about pretty much everything that was said here, but honestly, I really don’t feel like reading/listening to this again. I find it really depressing.
I guess this got me writing at least, so there’s that. I even wrote a longer version of this on my phone after listening to this this morning, but I distilled the essence of what I didn’t like about it. I knew I was going to write a response as soon as you spoke about translation. Writers rarely get how the translation process works.
As I said, I will listen to your next one for sure, the subject seems interesting and more practical than this.
Joanna Penn says
Hi Gabriel, The great thing about podcasts is that you don’t have to listen to them 🙂
My show is not for everyone.
(a) on AI translation – this is a futurist segment I do on my show sporadically – it has nothing to do with how translation works now – it is a glimpse into the future. When I went to school, the internet didn’t exist – most of what I do every day could not have existed. This podcast could not have existed. My futurist segments are a glimpse into a future that may seem unlikely – but we are taking steps to this every day.
(b) I love Steve and all his books – but as with any books and any writer, they are not for everyone 🙂
Wow, such an inspiring podcast, thank you. So true Steven’s words: ” So let’s say you have an idea to do something about Queen Boudicca of early Britannia. Then I think, you begin to surrender to that. You start researching it, and you begin to surrender to that idea. And I think you start outlining it, or blocking it in, in the broadest strokes. And I think that a mystical sort of process happens there.
As you start to work on something, a gravitational field begins to form around you. And it begins to attract stuff. Ideas. ”
The whole purpose of the journey is finding it ‘inside’. Made me think of the following: (excerpt of an introduction written to a book)
“Front Door People, Back Door People, and World Views”
” I find myself with still another unconventional manuscript,left at the back door of my mind. The pages fluttered down into my awareness one by one, day after day, as if left by some invisible newspaper boy, the latest installments in a steady line of communications that seem to come from strange lands.
Without painting this analogy in too glowing colors, I’d like to point out my feeling that conscious mind is like a house of awareness, with an elegant front door through which we receive usual callers and messages. (Hello. How are you? State your name and your Business).
This front entrance is swept and well tended, to its doorstep come all official magazines and newspapers.
The shrubs of our beliefs are trimmed and pruned, and the regular mailman, whistling cheerfully, leaves the mail at the proper, anticipated times. Neat curtained windows look out to the well organized streets of the world, and we’re told that all messages must come to us through that front door, the only entrance – or exit
But no matter what we’re told by all of the officials and authorities, we seem to remember a secret back door from the time of our childhood, a magic entrance that we discovered when we were left by ourselves, perhaps on rainy afternoons- a door that opened into other worlds. Vaguely we may recall finding and opening that door on nearly forgotten occasions. We may have sensed messengers coming and going, once or twice we may even have found strange packages or papers on the back door stoop, wet with rain as if they’d been waiting there for a long time. But the next time we look, the door is invisible.
The wall of awareness is smooth, and we see only the whitewashed walls we’ve been taught to expect.
Some of us are just too stubborn and curious to ignore those unofficial events, so symbolically speaking at least, while I keep my front door well tended, I’ve learned to watch at the back door of my mind.
Now and then I stand on the mind’s back porch, and sometimes I take a few tentative steps down unofficial paths that lead to unexplored psychological lands that just might correlate with other realities than the one we know.
We’re all both front and back door people, whether we know it or not. The trouble is that we know how to read the important news that comes to us through the exterior world, but often we just don’t know what to do with the equally valid messages that come by the unofficial back route.
For one thing, the messages left by inspiration or intuition are highly personal, intimate, left at our back doorstep, and they have to be read by the part of the mind that is peculiarly suited to their translation. They may deal with symbols, for example, instead of the good clear alphabets we’re used to.
Sometimes their messages may even seem to contradict the news that comes in the front door, and not only can’t we confirm the data with our neighbors, but we have to restructure our own thinking before we can accept it ourselves.”(Jane Roberts~Introduction,The Aftterdeath journal of an American philosopher)
Very thought provoking interview – i can definitely relate to the “inside out” discussion. The Artist Way by Julia Cameron (no relation) is Another great book on exploring and finding our creative self .
Thanks for such an informative site . Wayne
I read the script on your blog. Thank you for sharing it in print. It was an insightful conversation, and I look forward to reading some of Pressman’s books. Each of us is wired and inspired in our own unique way. What I liked about what you and Pressman said is that we need to let our art percolate and eventually emerge from within us before we can share it with others through our chosen medium. We need to be conscious of this or risk not tapping into our genius.
Hi Joanna – I’d already read The Artist’s Journey when I saw your interview and love how the richness of your questions added to the subject and what you brought out of Steve. Thank you!
Pete blyth says
Great podcast as ever, but Steve needs to sort out his audio, it sounds as if he’s broadcasting from down a well ( assuming you don’t have him locked in you basement a la ‘misery’ ) . I’ve noticed this on his interviews before.
Joanna Penn says
It’s because he doesn’t have a separate mic and just uses his computer – but it’s Steve, so we can forgive him!
Andreas Moser says
I have driven on the road you used for your photo, the Transfagarasan in Romania:
Terri Connellan says
Fabulous and inspiring podcast chat – thank you both! This is a subject close to my heart that is always evolving as we engage more with writing I love how Steven Pressfield’s work and your own has accompanied my creative journey. I look forward to reading The Artist’s Journey as part of a new chapter in my life focused on writing!
Steven Johnson says
“I really want to help people. I really want to teach people.” I really don’t, that’s not my motivation at all. Because I think that the writer who’s a born writer, they’re going to write anyway. Nothing can stop them. And if they’re not, they’re going to fade away anyway.