Do the Work! by Steven Pressfield is a short book that's had a big impact in motivation for creatives over the past few years. When I first read the book, I was looking for the wisdom of a seasoned writer, and I was interested to see what process the author of The Legend of Bagger Vance used. Looking at the book today, I can see that these ideas apply to far more than just fiction writing; these concepts are meant for any creative project: music, website design, sculpture, or whatever art you have chosen.
Pressfield is well-known for his discussions on The Resistance, which he defines as anything that would distract us or cause us to feel as though we could not complete a project.
In fact, even as I was writing this section of the newsletter, I realized that my wireless Internet was not working. It's not a big deal; it's just a matter of resetting the router. But, how easy would it be to get distracted and start on other tasks during that time? Something that small could lead to researching on new Internet providers or hopping on social media to complain about my current provider. The problem with all of that? The newsletter doesn't get done.
It would seem to make sense that we should do what we can to avoid any Resistance, but Pressfield throws that idea out the window. Here's what he has to say about that, "Rule of thumb: The more important a call or action is to our soul's evolution, the more Resistance we will feel toward pursuing it." In fact, Resistance is a compass to help show you what's worth pursuing.
Breaking Down the Process
Having established the idea of Resistance, Pressfield breaks down the creative process:
- The Beginning
- The Middle
- The Middle
- The End
And no, that's not a typo. We'll look at why there's two middles here in just a second.
In The Beginning, Pressfield urges creatives to begin before we're ready. We're experts at finding reasons that we're not completely ready to start whatever project we value. We need more research. We need more practice. We need... We need...
You can fill in the blank, but the excuses are the same. We'll never be 100% ready.
One of the key aspects in getting a move on is to break your idea into a three-act structure. What is the ending that you want to see? Write that down first, then add the beginning and the middle to your structure. See the end and visualize the path. Again, this isn't just a matter of outlining a novel. outline your startup idea. Outline your plan for a sculpture.
The Middle breaks into two sections. The first is the active phase of filling in the gaps of the big idea. You've set the foundation with your first act, and now the middle fleshes out the details. This is the real work of the creative process: bringing together connections between the tent pole ideas of your big concept.
And then, the second part of the Middle hits The Crash. It's the moment when you feel that everything you've been working on has all been for nothing. It's that doubt that creeps in when you look back and can't tell if you have anything worth sharing with the rest of the world.
This is when rewriting comes to the forefront. Now is the time to fix the idea, to make it better. Pressfield says, "That our project has crashed is not a reflection of our worth as human beings. It's just a mistake. It's a problem - and a problem that can be solved."
The struggle that we face at The End is that we are afraid to ship. We are afraid to finish our project and show the world in case our project isn't as good as we hoped it would be.
At some point, shipping will mean that a project will fall on its face. We aren't perfect. Something won't be received well. But it's the setbacks that make our art stronger, that make us better at what we do.
Completing the project is when the Resistance is the strongest, but pressing through is the most rewarding.
Pressfield says it this way: "You have done what only mothers and gods do: you have created new life."