The following is a conversation with Stephen Pressfield,
author of several powerful nonfiction
and historical fiction books, including The War of Art,
a book that had a big impact on my life
and the life of millions of people
whose passion is to create in art, science, business,
sport, and everywhere else.
I highly recommend it and others of his books on this topic,
including Turning Pro, Do the Work,
Nobody Wants to Read Your Shit, and The Warrior Ethos.
Also, his books Gets a Fire about the Spartans
and the Battle of Thermopylae, The Lionsgate, Tides of War,
and others are some of the best
historical fiction novels ever written.
As some of you know, I don’t shy away
from taking on a big, difficult challenge.
One of the hardest for me and for millions of others
is the discipline of staring at an empty page every day,
pushing on to think deeply, to create,
despite the millions of excuses that fill the head.
In his work, Stephen has articulated this struggle
better than anyone I’ve ever read.
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And now, here’s my conversation with Steven Pressfield.
Modern society in many ways dreams
of creating universal peace,
and yet war has molded civilization
as we know it throughout its history.
So let’s start at the high philosophical level.
If you could imagine a world without war,
how would that world be different?
Perhaps put another way, what purpose has war served?
Why do we fight?
I think we’re basically the same creatures internally
that we were in the cave, right?
In tribal society, back for however many,
you know, hundreds of thousands, millions of years,
which means that we’re in the dynamic in our mind
is a kind of an us versus them dynamic
where our tribe is the people,
and everybody else are whatever, you know?
And I don’t see that,
I don’t think that’s changed one iota over the centuries.
It’s just a question of how one might sublimate
that urge to compete.
When you’re a martial artist, you know,
a great part of your day I’m sure is dedicated
to reaching that place of total commitment
and in the face of competition,
in the face of adversity, et cetera, et cetera,
which is, I think, natural and great for the human race
on an individual basis.
So the hope that I have, if there is any hope,
personally, I don’t think the human race
is gonna be around very long,
but would be in sports
or in other kind of sublimated activities
where people can act out their need for conquest
or aggression or so forth,
but at the same time relate to their opponents
as human beings, and when the game is over,
you know, you embrace your competitors, stuff like that.
So you think war was inevitable, it’s a part of human nature
as opposed to a force, a creative force in society
that served a benefit.
Well, I’m sure it has benefited, you know,
spreading cultures and mixing cultures and stuff like that,
but I think the urge to conquest,
if you think about Alexander the Great
or Julius Caesar or Napoleon or anybody like that,
or even individual, or if we even think about
one of the plants that we’re looking at right outside,
I mean, if you let a particular plant have its way,
it would take over, you know, the whole hillside.
And certainly in the days of Alexander the Great, let’s say,
there were, who knows, over the face of the earth,
hundreds of little kingdoms, China, Japan,
you know, Asia, Europe, wherever,
and every prince that grew up dreamt of conquering
his neighbor and conquering a neighbor after that.
That seems to be a universal human imperative,
at least in the male of the species.
The war is just a realization of that imperative.
I think so.
So you’ve written about Spartans in the Battle of Thermopylae,
you’ve about Alexander the Great,
about the Six Day War in 67 in Israel,
against Egypt, Jordan, Syria.
What war, not just out of those, but in general,
do you think has been most transformative for the world?
Well, these are great questions, Lex.
Tough, easy ones, right?
I mean, I wish I knew more about the Mongols,
because I certainly, from what little I know,
I think that was a very,
their conquests were very transformative,
bringing cultures in a horrible, bloody way together.
But gosh, what’s then the most transformative?
Maybe the Roman conquest,
establishing the Roman Empire and bringing that culture.
Maybe Alexander the Great’s wars
that united east and west, at least for a minute.
So building of empire.
Do you have a sense, so there’s wars,
I mean, the Six Day War is not about building empires.
It’s about deeply held religious, cultural conflict
and holding the line, holding the border.
And then there is conquests, like the Mongols,
that, what is it, some large percentage of the population
is a descendant of Genghis Khan, I believe, right?
So that has transformative effects.
And then World War II, I mean, personally,
and my family and so on, had transformative effects.
Let me ask you this, Lex.
Why are you, what are you trying to get at
with these questions?
What is this kind of the theme that you’re aiming at?
Well, I talked to Eric Weinstein,
and he said everything is great about war
except the killing.
And there’s a romantic notion of war.
Certainly there’s a romantic notion of being a warrior,
but there’s a romantic notion of war
that somehow there’s a creative force to it,
that because we fight, out of that fighting comes culture,
comes music and art, and more and more desire to create
with the societies that win.
And to me, war is not just, hey, I have a stick
and I want your land.
It’s some kind of, like it has echoes of the creative force
that makes humans unique to other animals.
Like, war is, it can’t be just four people
or 10 people or 100 people.
You have to have thousands of people agreeing,
usually thousands or more, for something so deeply
that you would be willing to risk your own life.
And there’s a romantic notion to that.
And because you’ve written so well and passionate
about some of these, I wanted to see,
because I don’t have any answers,
I wanted to untangle that.
If there is a reason we fight that’s more than just anger
and hate and a way to conquer.
Well, let me take it from a completely different side.
I don’t think that I, in writing about war,
am really that interested in war per se.
I’m more interested in the metaphor.
I think for me, I’m really writing about my own internal
war and the war against myself and against my own resistance,
my own negativity, all of those things
that spirituality would be the opposite of.
So I’m not really an expert on war.
It’s not like talking to Jim Mattis
or to Victor Davis Hanson or whatever. To me, the human being,
we are spiritual beings in a physical envelope.
And there’s an automatic terrible tension within that.
And which creates a war inside ourselves.
So the outer war, when I think about the Israeli army
standing up to, whatever, 10 to one odds
or whatever it was, that is a metaphor to me
of the fight we’re fighting inside ourselves.
For me, the six day war was, as you know,
my feeling was it was about a return from exile.
It was sort of the culmination of the reestablishment
of the state of Israel, which had never really
been completed because the holiest places
of the Jewish people were in the hands of their enemies.
So now, on the other hand, Alexander the Great’s conquests,
I think, were a whole other different scenario
where the metaphor was that Alexander’s father, Philip,
I think created the First Nation, capital N Nation,
and he created a sort of a pathway for these guys
who were mountain men and basically barbarians,
Macedonians, and by creating this army
and this dream of conquering the world,
which Alexander took to the, you know, really enacted,
he gave them a way of rising out of themselves,
of transcending themselves, not just individually,
but as a people.
So that would go along with what you’re saying, Lex,
of a certain creativity to it.
But again, that’s not, for whatever,
and I’m just realizing this as I’m answering this,
that’s not really what’s interesting to me
about these stories.
And the Spartans, what was a whole, at Thermopylae,
that was a whole other kind of metaphor of war.
That was a sort of a willingly going to one’s own death
for a greater cause, just like, to me,
the Spartans at Thermopylae enacted as a group
what Jesus Christ enacted as an individual,
a sacrifice of their lives for the greater good.
I don’t know if that answers your question,
but that’s how I see it.
I do feel like, you know, I get invited to speak
to Marine Corps groups and things like that all the time,
and I decline because I don’t really feel
like I’m a spokesman for the warrior class
or anything like that.
That’s not what’s interesting about it to me.
But didn’t you just say, with war as a metaphor,
that we’re all essentially, in various ways, warriors?
If we think of it in terms of Jungian archetypes,
and think of our life at least as males,
and the earliest archetypes that kick in
are the youth and the wanderer and the student
and that kind of thing, and then at some point
around age 15 to 20, whatever,
the warrior archetype kicks in,
and we want to play football, we want to do martial arts,
we want to join the special forces,
we want to hang out with our buddies,
that’s our great bond, we want to test ourselves
against adversity and so on and so forth.
But at some point, that archetype,
we move beyond that archetype,
and we become fathers and teachers and so on and so forth.
And then there are many archetypes beyond that
towards the end.
So I’m interested in the warrior archetype,
but not to the be all and end all of everything else.
In my book, The Virtues of War, have you read that?
Well, there’s a character named Telamon,
who’s actually, it’s a long story,
but when he’s with Alexander’s army,
and when they arrive in India,
he becomes fascinated by the gymnosophists,
the fakirs, the naked wise men, the yogis.
And he says to Alexander that these guys
are warriors beyond what we are, even though they do nothing
because they are inside their own selves all day long.
If we go to the Six Day War,
you write about, in Lionsgate,
you write about the Six Day War in Israel.
I think of the wars you’ve written about
as the one we’re still in many ways in the midst of today.
So what is at the core of that conflict in Israel?
The Israeli Palestinian conflict?
I mean, today it’s the Israeli Palestinian conflict,
but it echoes of the same conflict
in that part of the world with Israel.
What is, in your sense, the nature of that conflict?
What can we learn about society
and human nature from that conflict?
That is one of the hottest conflicts
that still goes on today.
Well, when I was working on the Lionsgate
about the Six Day War, I wrote in the introduction
that this was not gonna be a multi sided story.
I was taking it entirely, I’m a Jew,
I identify with the Israeli people,
I was gonna see it entirely from their side.
So that’s probably not what you’re asking,
but to me, the Six Day War and that whole,
it’s a piece of land that’s holy
to at least three religions and probably more.
And from the Jewish point of view,
it’s where the state of Israel,
it’s where David founded Jerusalem,
it’s all where the 12 tribes were, et cetera, et cetera,
where Moses came and brought the people.
So to me, the Six Day War was about,
as I said, a return from exile,
from diaspora after 2000 years.
Now, obviously, from the Palestinian point of view
or the Saudi Arabian point of view or whatever,
it’s a whole other scenario.
Religion is at the core of this conflict in some ways,
but religious beliefs.
Religion and racial slash ethnic tribal identity.
I mean, again, what is a Jew?
Is a Jew somebody that believes in the religion
or is it somebody of a certain race
that race arose in a certain place?
Same thing as a Muslim.
What is a Muslim?
Do they believe in Muhammad or whatever?
Or did they arise in a certain place and a certain ethnicity?
Because if we landed from Mars,
we couldn’t tell a Jew from a Palestinian, could we?
Just looking at them,
you could easily mix them and you’d never know.
And the specifics of the faith
is not necessarily the thing that defines a person.
No, I don’t think so.
So you could be, like many are,
secular Jew living in Israel
and still have a strong bond.
In fact, almost all of the Jews,
the fighters that I spoke to from the Six Day War
were secular and it really was not
a religious thing with them
as much as it was a national thing.
So having spent time in Israel,
how’s the world where military conflict is directly felt
as opposed to maybe if we look at the US
where it’s distant and far away?
How is that world different?
How are the people different?
It’s very different, as you know.
I’ve never been to Israel, actually.
Oh, you haven’t? I haven’t felt it.
Ah, well, you should definitely go.
I mean, here in the United States,
where when an incident like Charlottesville comes up,
where people are chanting,
Jews will not replace us, blah, blah, blah,
the impulse in the Jewish community is to think of,
well, how can we reach out to the other side?
How can we show them that we are human beings like they are
and show them that we care for them, et cetera, et cetera?
That’s the sort of distant from war.
From, if you’re in Israel,
like if you and I were Israeli citizens right now,
you would be a fighter pilot or a tank commander or whatever.
You would not just be working at MIT or whatever.
And I would be in the army too.
And so from their point of view,
they say all those people who hate us,
can I curse on this?
Can I curse on this thing?
Fuck them, we’ll kill them.
We’ll kill them.
If they dared to cross the line,
and that’s their whole different point of view.
To me, it’s actually a healthier point of view.
You think so?
So there’s no, so let me ask the hard question is,
well, maybe it’s an impossible question is,
how do we resolve that conflict?
In Israel and?
In Israel or?
Anywhere where the instinct is to reach out in US
and say, F you and the people, yeah.
Here’s my, I think that the only way that two warring sides
or two sides that are opposed to one another
can ever really come together
is when there’s mutual respect,
we’ll get just more water.
I got it, I got this.
When there’s mutual respect
and they can see each other as equals
and when there’s mutual fear, you know,
where one side says, we don’t dare cross the line
with this other side,
and the other side says the same thing.
I think then you can kind of reach across that thing
and say, okay, we’ll stay here, you stay here.
We’ll mingle in cultural ways
and we’ll have interchange, you know, winter marriage,
da, da, da, da, da, da.
But as soon as one side has no power,
as the Jewish people have had no power
throughout the diaspora forever, right?
Then it’s just a human nature.
You can see it in Trump
and what he does to any vulnerable minority, right?
And he’s not alone.
I’m not blaming him alone.
That’s human nature.
So I do think that that idea of like, fuck you,
if you cross the line, we’ll kill you,
is really a good way, is a good place to start from.
Because now you can sit down on opposite sides of the table
and say, you know, what do we have in common?
How can we, we want to raise our children.
You want to raise your children.
How can we do this in a way that we’re not hurting each other?
So you kind of said that you need to arrive at a balance,
some kind of balance of power.
But you haven’t spoken to the fact
that there’s deeply rooted hatred of the other.
So is there no way to alleviate that hatred?
Or is that, I mean, what role does love and hate come?
I think that hatred can go away.
I really do.
I mean, if you look at even now
that I haven’t seen this in person,
but they say that the Saudis and the Israelis
are collaborating in certain things, you know,
by their mutual fear of or antagonism to Iran.
I do think that even really long, long, longstanding
hatreds and animosities, thousands of years old,
can go away under the right circumstances.
In a, on what time scale?
I mean, for instance, I don’t know if there’s some,
do people have to die?
Do generations have to die and pass away
and new generations come up with less hate?
Or can a single individual learn to not hate?
I think a single individual can learn to not hate
because it certainly doesn’t seem to,
over thousands of years, doesn’t seem to work.
You know, we keep thinking that that’s gonna happen.
But I think it’s, we’re in a real spiritual realm here
when you’re talking about that.
You’re in a realm of, you know, Buddha, Jesus, whatever,
something like that, that where, you know,
a true change of soul happens.
But I do think that’s possible.
So what do you think is the future of warfare?
Especially with what many people see as the expansion
of the military industrial conflict.
To what, do you, I know you’re not a military historian.
I’m asking more as a metaphor.
And do you see us as people continuing to fight?
You know, it’s a really great question, Alex,
because I think now with social media, TV, movies,
all of these things that create empathy across cultures,
it becomes harder and harder, I think, I think,
to totally demonize the other,
the way it was in previous wars.
I also think, I don’t really see an appetite
for people wanting to go to war these days.
And in a way, I don’t know if that’s good or bad.
It’s like everybody’s so fat and lazy
and so concerned with how many clicks they’re getting
that, you know, whereas I know at the start of World War I,
both the younger generations were eager to go to war.
You know, I think it was insane,
but it was that sort of warrior archetype
that we were talking about before that,
that generational testosterone eros thing.
Whereas nowadays, I don’t know.
I mean, it’s hard to say there’s not gonna be another war
because there always are,
but it’s sort of hard to imagine people
getting off their ass these days to do anything.
Well, it’s funny that you mentioned social media
as a place for empathy, sure.
But in a sense, it’s a place for war as well.
For hatred, yeah, true.
And perhaps the positive aspect of hatred on social media
is that it’s somewhat less harmful than murder.
And so it kind of dissipates sort of the hatefuls.
You get the hate out at a less,
on a daily basis and thereby never boils up
to a point where you want to kill.
It’s also a really weird thing that’s going on
that I don’t know if anybody really understands,
like with video games where kids are acting out
these incredible horror things, right?
But you know that if they cut their finger,
they would like freak out, you know?
And I also don’t think that many of the people
that are hateful on social media,
if they were face to face with the person, they wouldn’t.
So there’s a sort of two mental spheres
happening at the same time.
And I don’t know how that plays out.
Maps to the actual military,
how that actually maps to military conflict.
Like if you in the United States have a draft, for example,
how the populace would respond different than they did
in previous generations.
Yeah, I think they certainly would.
Another question, not sure if you’ve thought about it,
but I work on building artificial intelligence systems.
In our community, many people are worried
about AI being used in war.
So automating the killing process with drones
and in general, it’s being used more and more.
I should recuse myself on that one.
I really haven’t thought about that one.
You haven’t thought about it.
I’d rather ask you what you think about it.
Well, it’s interesting, I mean,
because it’s so fundamentally different
from if you look at the Battle of Thermopylae.
It means just if we talk about the difference between a gun
and a sword.
I’ll tell you one little anecdote.
There was a Spartan king, I don’t know which one it was,
but at one point they showed him a new invention
and it could launch a bolt that would kill someone
at a range of 200 yards.
And the king wept and said, alas, valor is no more.
Because their point of view of war,
it was highly ritualized, as you know,
and the code of honor was that you were not supposed
to be able to kill another person
unless you yourself were in equal danger of being killed.
And any other way of doing that,
even bow and arrow was considered less than manly
and less than honorable.
And maybe we should go back to that
because at least it makes the stakes real and true.
Not that we could.
Not that’s the point.
You were in the Marine Corps,
so we talk about the real, the bloody conflicts
that you’ve written about, many of them.
So let me ask a personal question.
Have you, sort of as a writing and in general,
have you thought about what it takes to kill a person
if you yourself could do it in the war?
I have thought about it, yeah.
And how that would make you feel?
Of course, one never knows.
I certainly, I have not been in combat.
I haven’t killed anybody.
But I would imagine in the real world
that it would change you utterly forever.
Because you can’t help but identify
with the person that you’ve just killed.
And it’s another human being.
And I mean, I have a hard time killing a spider.
So I would imagine that it’s something
that warriors understand and nobody else understands.
And you’ve spoken with many.
How, I mean, you’ve spoken with people
who’ve seen military combat in Israel.
What, have they been able to articulate
the experience of killing?
It’s sort of just what I said.
I mean, I’m even thinking of one pilot
that I interviewed over there
who was strafing a tank in his Mustang
and saw, at really low altitude,
and saw what his bullets did to the guy
and could see his face and everything like that,
which is even one remove or more removes
from an infantryman, what an infantryman does.
And he said that same thing that I said,
that it just changes you and you can never say it,
never look at the world or look at anything
the same way again.
And when that happens at scale,
it’s thousands, tens of thousands, hundreds.
That changes entire societies.
I mean, that’s what we’ve seen.
At least it, but the problem is
it doesn’t change the politicians back home.
How important is mortality, finiteness,
the fact that this thing ends to the creative process?
So, killing and war really emphasizes that,
but in general, the fact that this thing ends.
It does, and uh.
And on a serious note,
do you think about your own mortality?
Do you meditate on your own mortality
when you think about the work you do?
That’s another great question, Lex.
I actually, I’m 75, and I just was having,
I had breakfast in New York a few months ago
with a friend of mine who’s like my exact same age.
And I said to him, I said,
Nick, do you ever think about mortality?
And he said, every fucking minute of every day.
And I was kind of relieved to hear that because I do too.
But actually, I always have, I think.
And I think, you know, the fact of mortality
gives meaning to life, you know?
I think that’s why we want to create.
That’s why we want to make a mark of some kind.
Or, and the other aspect of it is
what’s on the other side of that mortality?
I’m a believer in previous lives.
So I sort of, and I,
the question I’ve never been able to answer
among many, many others is like, why are we even here?
Why are we in the flesh?
You know, I sort of, I like to believe that God
or some force is, we’re on some kind of journey, but I’m not sure why,
why we were put in this world where the ground rules are,
if you think about animal life,
that you cannot live from one day to the next
without killing and eating some other form of life.
I mean, what a demented thing, you know?
Why couldn’t we just have a solar panel on our head
and, you know, be friends with everybody?
So I sort of, I don’t get what that was all about,
but that’s sort of the big issue.
Have you read to Ernest Becker’s Denial of Death, for example?
Is Ernest Becker’s a philosopher that said that the death,
that the fear of death is really the primary driver
of everything we do.
So Freud had what the?
Right, I would agree with that.
So to you, you’ve always thought about your,
even your own mortality.
And can you elaborate on the reincarnation aspect
of what you were talking about?
Like that we kind of, what’s your sense
that we had previous lives?
In what, have you thought concretely
or is it a lot of it kind of is?
No, I’ve thought concretely about it.
I mean, it’s very clear when you see children,
young kids, or even dogs and cats,
that they come into the world with personalities, you know,
and three kids in a family are gonna be completely different
and completely their own person.
And that person that they are doesn’t change over life.
And I, you know, there’s one of the things that I did in my book
The Artist’s Journey is that there were certain things
where I tracked or just listed in order,
like all of Bruce Springsteen’s albums
or all of Philip Roth’s books, you know,
kind of a body of work throughout over, you know,
a period of 30, 40, 50 years, you know.
And you can see that there’s a theme running through all
of those things, that it’s completely unique to that person.
Nobody else could have written Philip Roth’s books
or Bruce Springsteen’s songs.
And you can even see sort of a destiny there.
So I ask myself, well, where did that come from?
What, it seems to be a continuation of something that was,
that happened before, and that will lead to something else
because it’s not starting from scratch.
It seems like there’s a calling, a destiny in there already.
This gets back to the muse and all that kind of thing.
So yeah, it’s almost like the, there’s this,
let’s call it a God, it’s passing,
it’s almost like sampling parts of a previous human
that has lived and putting those into the new one.
Sampling is probably a pretty good word.
Taking some of the good, well, you can’t take
all the good parts because the bad parts
is what makes the person.
Let’s say you’re taking it all together.
Okay, this is humans only, or does it pass around
from animals in your view?
I don’t know, that’s above my pay grade, I don’t know.
So, okay, so you talk about the muse
as the source of ideas maybe.
Since you’ve gotten a few glimpses of her in your writing,
tell me, what is it possible for you to tell me about her?
Where does she reside?
What does she look like?
I mean, you can look at it many different ways, right?
The Greeks did it in an anthropomorphic way, right?
They created gods that were like human beings.
But if you look at it from a Kabbalistic Jewish perspective,
Jewish mysticism, you could say
that it’s the soul, the neshama, right?
That the soul is above us on a higher plane,
our own, your soul, my soul,
and is trying to reach down to us and communicate with us.
And we’re trying simultaneously to reach up to it
through prayer or through, if you’re a writer or an artist,
you know, when you sit down at the keyboard,
you’re entering into a kind of prayer.
You’re entering into a different state
of an altered consciousness to some extent.
You’re opening yourself, opening the pipeline,
or turning on the radio to tune into
the cosmic radio station.
And another way of looking at it, this is an,
did you ever see the movie City of Angels?
The visual of the movie, it was Meg Ryan and Nicolas Cage.
Yeah, yeah, I’ve seen it, yep.
And right, the visual of the movie sort of was
Meg Ryan is a heart surgeon.
And as she’s operating on somebody,
suddenly Nicolas Cage in this long duster coat,
like Jesse James, appears right next to her
in the operating room, and he’s an angel.
And he’s waiting to take out the soul
of the patient on the operating table.
And she doesn’t see him, she’s totally unaware of him.
And so is everybody else in the operating room,
except maybe the guy who’s about to die,
who suddenly sees him.
But I kind of believe that there are beings like that,
or if you don’t like that, it’s a force,
it’s a consciousness, it’s something
that are right here, right now.
And they’re trying to communicate to us.
And like through a membrane,
like tapping on that window over there,
they’re like right out there.
And they carry the future.
They are everything that is in potential.
All the works that you will do, Lex,
your startup, whatever else you’re doing,
they know that.
And it’s not really you
that’s coming up with those ideas, in my opinion.
Those things are appearing,
it’s like somebody knocks on the door and puts it in.
I mean, in the Iliad, where gods and goddesses appear,
along with the human antagonists
on the battlefield all the time, right?
There’ll be, you know, Homer flashes to Olympus
and then back to the real world.
And there’s a thing where one Aphrodite,
let’s say wants to help Paris.
And so she says, well, I will appear to him in a dream.
And I’ll take the form of his brother
and I’ll say, bump, bump, bump, bump.
So that’s creatures, beings on one dimension,
as the Greeks saw it, communicating with,
and I believe that that’s exactly what’s going on,
in one, whatever analogy you want to use.
That communication, to which degree
do you play the role in that communication?
As opposed to sitting at the computer,
if you’re a writer, and staring at the blank page
and putting in the time and waiting.
So if, in your view, are these creatures
basically waiting to tell you about your future?
Or is there choice?
How many possible futures are there?
How many possible ideas are there?
That’s a great question.
I think there’s basically, yes, there are alternatives,
you know, degrees within it.
But if you look at Bruce Springsteen’s albums,
how much could he have done really differently?
Yeah, he would, you can just see
there’s a whole impetus going through the whole thing.
And nothing was going to shake him off that, you know?
And yeah, maybe the river could have been different,
could have been called something else,
but he was dealing with certain issues.
His conscious self was dealing with certain issues
that were really out of his control.
He was drawn, he was called to it, right?
Nothing could stop him.
And so it is sort of a partnership, I think,
the creative process, between the creative impulse
that’s coming from some other place,
or it’s coming from deep within us
is another way to look at it.
You know, it’s like if we are acorns
and we’re growing into oaks.
So the conscious artist,
who’s sitting there at the keyboard or whatever,
is applying his or her consciousness to that,
but is also going into opening themselves
to the unconscious or to this other realm,
whatever that is.
I mean, certainly songwriters for a million years
have said, you know, a song just came into their head,
A poem, just all they had to do was write.
But then, you ever see that thing where,
of Keats’s notes for a thing of beauty is a joy forever?
It’s like covers an entire page,
and it’s like, you know, he’s crossing this out
and that out, and he has to go.
His consciousness is, his conscious mind is working on it.
But, so I do think it’s a partnership.
And I think that, I know when I was first starting out
as a writer, I worked in advertising,
and I tried to do novels that I could never do.
I was like, really unskilled at getting to that,
tuning into that station.
I just, I beat my brains out and was unable to do it,
you know, except in,
because I was sort of trying too hard,
it was sort of like a Zen monk or a monk of some kind
trying to meditate and just like constantly thoughts
driving you crazy.
But over time, you know, knock wood,
I’ve kind of gotten better at it.
And I can sort of let go of those,
that part of me that’s trying so hard.
And so these angels can speak a little more easily
through the membrane.
Can you put into words the process of letting go
and clearing that channel of communication?
What does it take?
That’s another great question.
For me, it just took, it took probably 30 years.
And I don’t even, I guess I would liken it to meditation,
even though I’m not a meditator.
But it would seem to me to be one of the hardest things
in the world to just sit still and stop thinking, right?
And so it’s very hard to put into words.
And I think that’s why these teachers of meditation
use tricks and koans and stuff like that.
But for me, at least, I think it was just a process
of years of years and years of trying,
and finally beating my head in the wall.
And finally, little by little giving up
the beating of the head.
But there doesn’t seem to be any trick.
Everybody wants a hack these days.
And I don’t think there is a hack.
If you look at it in terms of the goddess, the muse,
she’s watching you down there,
beating your head in the wall.
You’re like a Marine going through an obstacle course,
or a martial artist trying to learn,
like Uma Thurman doing the casket deal,
trying to make that little four inch punch, you know?
The muse or the goddess is just sort of watching,
going, it’s Lex, he’s trying, he’s trying.
I’m gonna come back in another couple of months
and see if he’s still there.
And finally, she’ll say, all right, he’s had it,
he’s paid his dues, I’m gonna give it to him.
So, the hard work and the suffering, yeah.
But I’m also, being Russian, in wrestling and martial arts,
we’re big into drilling technique.
I was also just even getting at,
certainly there’s no shortcut.
But is there a process?
So you’re, that can be, the process of practice.
So you had two.
One, you had an example of meditation.
So it’s essentially the practice of meditation.
Is you sitting here?
I think a lot of drill, I think,
is a good way to look at it too.
But what are you drilling?
You’re just sitting and?
You’re writing, you know?
You’re writing, then you’re looking at what you wrote,
You’re hitting moments when it flows, you know?
And then your other hitting moments
where you just can’t do anything.
And you’re trying to, from the moments where it flowed,
you’re trying to come back and look at it and say,
what did I do?
How did that happen?
Where was my mind, you know?
But I think it’s just a process of over and over
and over and over until finally it gets a little bit easier.
And did you always, when you read something you write,
did you always have a pretty good radar
for what’s good and not after it’s written?
I think I do now.
But no, it was always really hard
for me to know what was good.
I mean, do you edit, the process of editing
is the process of looking at what you’ve written
and improving it.
Are you a better writer or an editor?
How often do you edit?
That’s another great question.
Cause I do think that in writing,
the real process of looking at it
is the process that an editor does
rather than what a writer does.
The gentleman I was just talking to on the phone
is my editor, Sean Coyne,
who was the guy who bought Gates of Fire
when he was an editor at Doubleday.
And who basically when I finish a book, I give it to him.
And he gives me, you know,
editing doesn’t really mean like crossing out commas.
It really means looking at the overall work
and saying, does it work?
And if it doesn’t work, why doesn’t it work?
Is there something wrong here?
You know, like if you were building the Golden Gate Bridge,
you know, and one span was out of whack, you know,
you could, and I think a really skilled editor,
which Sean is, understands what makes a story tick.
And he also has the perspective that I’ve lost
in something I’ve wrote, cause I’m so close to it,
to say, you know, this isn’t working and that is working.
What kind of advice has he given you?
Is it like layout?
Like this story doesn’t flow correctly.
Like you shouldn’t start at this point.
Or does he even sit back at a higher level and say,
I see what you’re doing, but you could do better.
No, he doesn’t do that.
But a lot of it is about genre
and kind of the defining what genre you’re working in.
And I’m gonna get up here to just bring something over here
for the camera.
This was one where Sean tore this down
and made me start from scratch.
And what the specifics of it were really,
this is a supernatural thriller.
That’s the genre.
Sort of like Rosemary’s Baby or The Exorcist.
And what he showed me was that I had violated
certain conventions of the genre.
And you just can’t do that.
It’s gotta be, it has to be done the right way.
And so he pointed out certain things to me.
So he must be a prolific reader himself too, actually.
That’s such a tough job of editor.
Again, he was sort of born to do that.
He just kind of glommed onto it.
But since he was his first job publishing
cat thrillers, cat detective books,
he studied how it works, what makes a story work,
et cetera, et cetera.
And so he really, he’s great.
And I think any really successful writer,
unless they’re utterly brilliant on their own,
has gotta have a great editor behind them.
But you yourself edit as well.
I’m constantly trying to learn from him and teach myself.
Everything you see in my blog posts
that it’s about the craft of writing
is me trying to teach myself the rules
so that, I’m sure it’s the same in martial arts
or anything else, right?
You try to not be dependent on that other person
because it’s so painful to make those mistakes.
You really feel like, ah, I wish I could get it right
the first time the next time I do it.
Well, in research, we go through that.
In research more than writing,
so what you do is a little more solitary.
In research, there’s usually two, three, four people
working on something together and we write a paper.
And there’s that painful process of where you write it down
and then you share it with other.
And not only do they criticize the writing,
they criticize the fundamental aspects
of the approach you’ve taken.
I would think so.
So it’s exactly like they would say you’re attacking,
you’re asking the wrong questions, right?
And that’s extremely painful, especially when you,
well, yes, painful and helpful,
but there’s disagreement and so on.
And through that comes out a better product.
And if you want to still have an ego,
but you also want to silence it every once in a while,
so there’s a balance.
In your book, The War of Art,
you talk about resistance, what the capital R,
as the invisible force in this universe of ours
that finds a way to prevent you from starting
or doing the work.
Where do you think resistance comes from?
Why is there a force in our mind
that’s constantly trying to jeopardize our efforts
with laziness, excuses, and so on?
That’s another great question.
I mean, in Jewish mysticism, in Kabbalistic thinking,
it’s called the yetzer hurrah, right?
And it’s a force that if this up here is your soul
of Neshama trying to talk to you, us down here,
the yetzer hurrah is this negative force in the middle.
So I’m not the only one that ever thought about this.
But, and I don’t know if anybody really knows the answer,
but here’s my answer.
I think that there are two places
where we as human beings can see our identity.
One is the ego, the conscious ego,
and the other is the greater self.
And the self in the Jungian sense,
the self in the Jungian sense includes the unconscious
and butts up against what Jung called the divine ground,
which what I would call the muse, the goddess, or whatever.
And I think, and the ego is just this little dot
inside this bigger self.
And the ego has a completely different view of life
from the self.
The ego believes, I’m gonna give you a long answer here.
The ego believes that death is real.
The ego believes that time and space are real.
The ego believes that each one of us
is separate from the other.
I’m separate from you.
If I could punch you in the face and it wouldn’t hurt me,
it would only hurt you.
And in the ego’s world, the dominant emotion is fear
because we were all made of flesh.
We can all die.
We can all be hurt.
We can all be ruined.
So we are protecting ourselves
and even our desire to create,
as we were talking about before,
comes out of that fear of death.
The self, on the other hand,
the greater self that butts up against the divine ground
believes that death is not real,
that time and space are not real,
that the gods travel swift as thought.
And the ego also believes that,
I mean, the self believes that there’s no difference
between you and me, that we’re all one.
If I hurt you, I hurt myself, karma, right?
And in the world of the self, of the greater self,
the dominant emotion is love, not fear.
Now, so I think that, I’ll go farther back here,
a long way to answer your question.
When Jesus died on the cross,
or when the 300 Spartans willingly sacrificed their lives
at Thermopylae, they were acting
according to the rules of the self.
Death is not real.
No difference between you and me.
Time and space are not real.
Predominant emotion is love.
So, in my opinion,
we as conscious human vessels
are in a struggle between these two things,
the ego and the self.
To me, resistance is the voice of the ego saying,
and it’s a fearful voice,
because if, when we identify with the self,
we move our consciousness over to the self
as artists or scientists opening ourselves up
to the cosmic dimension, to the other forces,
the ego is tremendously threatened by that.
Because if we’re in that space, that head space,
we don’t need the ego anymore.
So I think resistance is a voice of the ego
trying to keep control of us.
In a way, I’ll give you a bad example, Trump is the ego.
That’s probably a very good example, right?
It’s a zero sum world for him,
and for anybody that’s in that.
And the opposite of that would be somebody
like Martin Luther King or Gandhi.
And that’s, of course, why they all wind up
Because that voice, that ego, is hanging on to itself
and feels so threatened by,
I could talk more about this if you want to.
No, for sure, that’s fascinating.
It’s just, it’s interesting why the fear is attached
to the ego.
I really like this dichotomy of ego and self
and that struggle.
It’s just, ego has a, the self obsession of it.
Why fear is such a predominant thing?
Why is resistance trying to undermine everything?
It’s fear, it’s out of fear.
Let’s think about the whole thing in terms of stories.
In a story, the villain is always resistance,
is always the ego.
The hero is always, of course, always is not everything,
but you know what I mean?
Pretty much represents kind of the self.
If you think about the alien on the spaceship,
that’s like the ultimate kind of villain.
It keeps changing form, right?
First it goes on the guy’s face,
then it pops out of his chest,
but it always just has that one monomaniacal thing
to destroy, you know?
And just like the ego, just like resistance.
And maybe alien is a bad example
because Sigourney Weaver has to sort of fight
on the same terms as the alien,
but maybe a better example might be
something like Casablanca,
where in the end, the Humphrey Bogart character
has to, acting, operating out of the self,
has to give up his selfish dream
of going off with Ingrid Bergman,
Neil Salon, the love of his life,
and instead, you know, puts her on the plane to Lisbon
while he goes off to fight the Nazis in the desert.
I don’t know if that’s clear,
but in almost every story,
the villain is the ego, is resistance, is fear,
is that zero sum thing.
And in almost every story,
the hero is someone that is willing to make a sacrifice
to help others.
It’s letting go of that fear
is what leads to productivity and to success.
Do you think there’s a,
this is probably the answer is either obvious or impossible,
but do you think there’s an evolutionary advantage
Like, what would life look like without resistance?
That’s another great question.
I think, I also believe that resistance, like death,
gives meaning to life.
If we didn’t have it, it’s gonna be, you know,
what would we be?
We’d be in the Garden of Eden,
picking fruit and just happy and stupid, you know?
And I do think that that myth of the Garden of Eden
is really about this kind of thing, you know,
where Adam and Eve decide to sort of take matters
into their own hands and acquire knowledge
that until then, God had said,
I’m the only one that’s got that knowledge.
And of course, once they have acquired that knowledge,
they’re cast out into the world you and I live in now,
where they do have to deal with that fear
and they do have to deal with all that stuff.
The human condition.
The human condition and the meaning and the purpose comes
from the resistance being there
and the struggle to overcome it.
To overcome it, right.
And also the other aspect of it is that
it’s not real at all.
It’s not even like it’s an actual force.
It’s all here, right?
So the sort of,
in a way, it’s sort of a surrender to it, you know?
You know, or it’s just a sort of like turning on the light
in a dark thing.
It’s like, oh, it’s gone.
But not quite because it’s never really.
Because it comes back again tomorrow morning.
So you have to keep changing light bulbs every day.
So what’s been, maybe recently, but in general,
maybe in your life, what’s been the most relentless
or one of the more relentless sources of resistance
to you personally?
I mean, it’s always the same.
It’s about writing for me
and evolving within my own body of work, you know?
It never goes away, it never gets any less.
Do you have particular excuses,
particular justifications that come out?
No, it’s always the same.
Well, I would say it’s always the same,
but it’s really not because resistance is so protean,
you know, it keeps changing form.
And as you move to hopefully a higher level,
resistance gets a little more nuanced
and a little more subtle trying to fake you out.
But I think you learn that it’s always there
and you’re always gonna have to face it, so.
I mean, your battle is sitting down
and writing to some number of words to a blank page.
Do you have a process there with this battle?
Do you have a number of hours that you put in?
Do you sit down?
Yeah, I’m definitely a believer
that even though this battle is fought
on the highest sort of spiritual level,
that the way you fight it is on the most mundane,
I’m sure it’s like martial arts, must be the same way.
I mean, I go to the gym first thing in the morning
and I sort of am rehearsing myself.
The gym is called resistance training, right?
You’re working against resistance, right?
And I don’t wanna go, I don’t wanna get out of bed,
I hate that, but I’m sort of fortifying myself
to be ready for the day.
And like I said, over Knockwood, over years,
I’ve learned to sort of get into the right kind of mindset
and it’s not as hard for me as it used to be.
The real resistance, I think, for me,
and I think this is true for anybody,
is the question of sort of what’s the next idea?
What’s the next book?
What’s the next project that you’re gonna work on?
And when I ask that question, I’m asking it of the muse.
I’m kind of saying, what do you want me,
or I’m asking it of my unconscious.
If we’re looking at Bruce Springsteen’s albums,
it’s kind of, well, what’s the next album?
Now he’s on Broadway.
That was a great idea, right?
Where’d that come from, you know?
But, and then for him, what’s after that, you know?
Because that body of work is already alive.
It already exists inside us,
kind of like a woman’s biological clock,
and we have to serve it.
And we have to, otherwise it’ll give us cancer, you know?
I don’t mean to say that if anybody has cancer
that they’re not, you know what I mean?
It’ll take its revenge on us.
So the next resistance to me is sort of,
or a big aspect of it is, what’s next?
You know, when I finish the book I’m working on now,
I’m not sure what I’m gonna do next.
And I see at the same time you have a kind of,
you have a sense that there’s a Bruce Springsteen
single line of albums.
So like, it’s already known somewhere in the universe
what you’re going to do next, is the sense you have.
In a sense, yes.
I don’t know if it’s predetermined, you know?
But there’s something like that.
Yeah, I’d like to believe that there’s,
well, it’s kind of like quantum mechanics, I guess.
Once you observe it, maybe once you talk to the muse,
it’s one thing for sure.
It was always going to be that one thing.
But really, in reality, it’s a distribution.
It could be any number of things.
Yeah, I think so.
There’s alternate realities.
Alternate realities, yeah.
But they’re not that far apart.
I mean, Bruce Springsteen is not gonna write
a Joni Mitchell song, you know?
No matter how hard he tries.
But he still went on Broadway.
I mean, he still did that,
which is not a Bruce Springsteen thing to do.
So I think you’re being, in retrospect,
it all makes sense. I think it is
a Bruce Springsteen thing to do.
It’s a next sort of evolution for him.
Why not take his music to there, you know?
In retrospect, it all makes perfect sense, I think.
If you pull it off, especially.
Do you visualize yourself completing the work?
Like, Olympic athletes visualize getting the gold medal.
Do you, you know, they go through,
I mean, that’s actually a really,
you can learn something from athletes on that,
is years out,
certainly two, three years out,
some people do much longer,
every day, you visualize how the day
of the championship will go down to,
I mean, everything, down to how will it feel
to stand on the podium and so on.
Do you do anything like that
in how you approach writing?
Because it’s. It’s always in the moment.
Because, yeah, it is in the moment, I think.
Because it’s such a mystery.
You just don’t know.
I think it’s different from sports.
Because you don’t know the destiny.
There’s no gold medal at the end.
In fact, I would like to think that
as soon as you finish one,
the next day you’re on the other.
And in fact, hopefully you’ve already started the other.
You’re already, you know, 100 pages into the other
when you finish the first one.
But it is a, it is a,
it’s a journey, it’s a process.
I don’t think it is a,
in fact, I think it’s very dangerous to think that way.
To think, oh, this, I’m gonna win the Oscar, you know?
For the creative process, it might be dangerous.
It’s a, maybe you can, like, why is that dangerous?
Because I kind of know where you’re coming from.
Because it’s the ego.
It’s the ego.
Because you’re giving yourself over to the ego.
You know, I keep saying this myself.
My job, I’m a servant of the muse.
I’m there to do what she tells me to do.
And if I suddenly think, oh, I’m really,
I just wanna, you know, whatever,
the muse doesn’t like that.
And, you know, and she’s on another dimension from me.
I’m trying to square that, because I agree.
I’m trying to square that with the,
I think there’s a meditation to visualizing success
in the athletic realm, to where it focuses,
it removes everything else away,
to where you focus on this particular battle.
I mean, I think that you can do that in many kinds of ways.
And in sports, the ego serves a more important role,
I think, than it does in writing.
And the ego, there’s something.
Well, let me, when you say that,
I know what you mean, Lex, and I do think there is
a sort of a, you know, it’s interesting to watch interviews
with Steph Curry, who’s such, obviously such a nice guy,
but he’s got such tremendous self confidence,
you know, that it, but it doesn’t border on ego so much
because he’s worked so hard for it, you know?
But he knows, so he has visualized.
He has visualized maybe not so much winning, you know,
as just him being the best he can be,
him being in the flow, you know,
doing his thing that he knows he can do.
And I do think in the creative world,
yeah, there is a sort of a thing like that,
where you, where, and, you know,
a choreographer or a filmmaker or whatever
might be, do an internal thing where they’re saying,
I can make an Oscar winning movie.
I can direct this movie.
You know, I’m banishing these thoughts
that I’m not good enough.
I can do that.
I can edit it.
I can score it.
I can, you know, bump it, bump it, bump.
But, and I don’t think that’s really ego.
I think that’s part of the process in a good way,
like an athlete does that.
So extreme confidence is what some of the best athletes
come with, and you think it’s possible to,
as a writer, to have extreme confidence in yourself?
I do think so, you know, that I’m sure
when John Lennon sat down to write a song,
he felt like, shit, I can do this, you know?
I’m not so sure.
I think, because the great artists I’ve seen,
and you’re haunted by self doubt.
It’s that resist, I mean, the confidence.
Yes, but I mean, I guess, but even beyond the self,
within the self, above the self doubt.
Oh, it’s the bigger picture of the self belief, you know?
Yeah, I’m freaking out.
Yeah, I’m worried that I’m not gonna be able to do it.
But, you know, I know I can do this.
Yeah, and when you look at,
when you take a bigger picture of it.
So the writing process, is it fundamentally lonely?
No, because you’re with your characters.
So you really put yourself in the world.
Absolutely, you know, I’ve written about this before
that I used to, my desk used to face a wall
instead of seeing, and people would say,
well, don’t you wanna look out the window?
But I’m in here, I mean, I’m seeing, you know,
the Spartans, I’m seeing, you know, whatever.
And the characters that are on the page,
or that you create, are not accidents, you know?
They’re coming out of some issue,
some deep issue that you have.
Whether you realize it or not,
you might not realize it till 20 years later,
or somebody explains it to you.
So your characters are kind of fascinating to you.
And their dilemmas are fascinating to you.
And you’re also trying to come to grips with them,
you know, you sort of see them through a glass darkly,
you know, and you really wanna see them more clearly.
So yeah, no, it’s not lonely at all.
In fact, I’m more lonely sometimes later,
going out to dinner with some people
and actually talking to people.
Do you miss the characters after it’s over?
Let’s say I have affection for them,
kind of like children that have gone off to college
and now are, you know, you only see them at Thanksgiving.
Definitely, I have affection for them, even the bad guys.
Maybe especially the bad guys.
Especially the bad guys.
You’ve said that writers, even successful writers,
are often not tough minded enough.
I’ve read that in the post,
that you have to be a professional
in the way you handle your emotions.
You have to be a bit of a warrior to be a writer.
So what do you think makes a warrior?
Is a warrior born or trained in the realm,
in the bigger realm, in the realm of writing,
in the creative process?
I think they’re born to some extent.
You have the gift, like you might have the gift
as a martial artist to do whatever martial artists do,
but the training is the big thing.
90% training, 10%, 10% genetics.
And, you know, I use another analogy other than warrior
as far as writer, and that’s like to be a mother.
If you think about, if you’re a writer
or any creative person, you’re giving birth to something,
right, you’re carrying a new life inside you.
And in terms of bravery,
if your child, your two year old child
is underneath a car that’s coming down the street,
the mother’s gonna like stop a Buick,
you know, with her bare hands.
So that’s another way to think about
how a writer has to think about,
or any creative person has to think about,
I think, what they’re doing,
what this child, this new creation
that they’re bringing forth.
Yeah, so the hard work that’s underlying that.
I’ve just, a couple weeks ago, talked to,
just happened to be in the same room,
both gave talks, Arianna Huffington.
I did this conversation with her.
I didn’t know much about her before then,
but she has recently been, she wrote a couple books
and been promoting a lifestyle
where she basically, she created the Huffington Post,
and she gave herself like, I don’t know,
20 hours a day just obsessed with her work.
And then she fainted, passed out,
and kind of, there was some health issues.
And so she wrote this book saying that, you know, sleep,
basically you wanna establish a lifestyle
that doesn’t sacrifice health,
that’s productive but doesn’t sacrifice health.
She thinks that you can have both,
productivity and health.
Criticizing Elon Musk, who I’ve also spoken with,
for working too hard,
and thereby sacrificing, you know,
being less effective than he could be.
So I’m trying to get this balance between health
and obsessively working at something
and really working hard.
So what Arianna is talking about makes sense to me,
but I’m a little bit torn.
To me, passion and reason do not overlap much
or at all sometimes.
Maybe I’m being too Russian,
but I feel madness and obsession does not care for health
or sleep or diet or any of that.
And hard work is hard work,
and everything else can go to hell.
So if you’re really focused on whether it’s writing a book,
it should, everything should just go to hell.
Where do you stand on this balance?
How important is health for productivity?
How important is it to sort of get sleep and so on?
I’m on the health side.
I mean, there was a period of my life
when I was just, I had no obligations
and I was just living in a little house
and just working nonstop, you know?
But even then I would get up in the morning
and I would have liver and eggs for breakfast every day,
and I would do my, you know, exercise, whatever it was.
But although I was still doing like 18 hours a day,
but I’m definitely, I kind of think of it
sort of like an athlete does.
I’m sure that like Steph Curry is totally committed
to winning championships and stuff like that.
But he has his family, he sees his family,
you know, the family is always there.
He, I’m sure he eats, you know, perfect, great stuff,
gets his sleep, you know, gets the training,
you know, the whatever a trainer does to him
for his knees and his ankles and whatever.
So I, or Kobe Bryant or anybody
that’s operating at a high level.
So I do think I’m from that kind of the health school.
The good thing about being a writer
is you can’t work very many hours a day.
You know, four hours is like the maximum I can work.
I’ve never been able to work more than that.
I don’t know how people do it.
I’ve heard of people do 10, 12, I don’t know how they do it.
So that gives you a lot of other time to do it.
Optimize your health.
Yeah, to optimize your health.
Because you need to, you’re in training, you know?
You’re really, you’re burning up a lot of B vitamins
when you’re working here, aren’t you?
Maybe it’s a Russian thing with you, Lex.
Well, it’s not even a Russian thing.
It also may be youth, you know?
At 35, you can be crazy.
You know, that’s the thing, they keep telling me,
but I’m pretty sure I’ll be added still at a later time too.
I think it has to do with the career choice too.
I think writing is almost, from everything I’ve heard,
it’s almost impossible to do it
more than a few hours really well.
When you start to get into certain disciplines,
like with Elon Musk and me, engineering disciplines,
that really there’s a lot more non muse time needed.
Right, right, right.
So the crazy hours that you often are talking about
have to be done, and it doesn’t.
I think that’s true.
Yeah, so there’s still the two, three hours of muse time
needed for truly genius ideas,
but it’s something I certainly struggle with.
But yeah, I hear you loud and clear on the health.
So what does a perfect day look like for you
if we’re talking about writing?
An hour by hour schedule of a perfect day.
I get up early, I go to the gym,
I have breakfast with some friends of mine.
What’s early by the way?
Let’s, like how early?
So we’re talking really early.
Now I’m crazy early, it’s ridiculously early.
But, and I haven’t done that always,
but that’s kind of what I’m on now.
So I’m in bed, like when I’m with my nephews
that are like four years old and three years old,
I’m in bed before them.
Okay, you got a beat.
You wake up, sorry, you said exercise first.
And what does that look like?
What’s exercise for you?
You go out to the gym?
I go to the gym.
I have a trainer, I have a couple of guys
that I work out with, and I’ll, you know,
it’s maybe an hour, maybe a little more.
I’ll do a little warmup before stretching afterwards,
take a shower, go have breakfast.
But it’s an intense kind of a thing
that I definitely don’t wanna do that’s hard, you know?
So you feel like you’ve accomplished something, first thing.
That’s a big accomplishment of the day.
At the same time, it’s not like so hard
that I’m completely exhausted, you know?
And then I’ll come home and handle whatever correspondence
and stuff has to be done, and then I work
for maybe three hours, and then I just sort of crash.
The office is closed, I turn the switch,
I don’t think about anything.
I don’t think about the work at all.
Do you listen to, oh, you mean afterwards?
After work, once the office is closed.
But during, so this was like 12 to three kind of thing?
Something like that, yeah.
Something like that, okay.
You listen to music?
Do you have anything?
But that’s just me, I mean, I don’t think, you know,
but somebody could do it a million different ways.
It’s fascinating, you know, the,
I mean, you’ve also, of most, of many writers,
you’ve really, but like I’ve read Stephen Kington writing,
you’ve optimized this conversation
with the muse you’re having.
Not optimized, but you’ve at least thought about it.
So what’s, can you say a little bit more
about the trivialities of that process,
of the, like you said, facing the wall?
What’s, do you have little rituals?
You mean like the granular aspect of it?
The granular aspects, yeah.
I do have little rituals, I do have all kinds of,
which I’m not even gonna tell you about.
But the one thing,
and I don’t wanna like talk about this too much
because it sort of jinxes things, I think,
but the one thing I do try to do is when I sit down,
I immediately get into it, first, second.
I don’t sit and fuck around with anything.
I immediately try to get into it as quickly as I can.
The other thing is that writing a book
or screenplay or anything like that
is a process of multiple drafts.
And it’s the first draft
that’s where you’re most with the muse,
where you’re going through the blank page.
Like right now I’m on, I don’t know what,
the fifth or sixth, seventh draft
of the thing I’m working on.
So I’ve got pages already written
and I’m kind of reading them afresh
as I go through the story.
So it’s not quite where I am now.
It’s not quite a deep muse scenario, partly it is,
but it’s also sort of bouncing back and forth
between the different,
between the right brain and the left brain.
I’m kind of looking at it
and trying to evaluate it.
And then I’m going into it
and try to change it a little bit.
And when, do you know,
sit down and get right into it,
do you know the night before
of what that starting point is?
I always try to stop.
And I learned this,
I think Hemingway wrote about this
or John Steinbeck or one of the,
or maybe both of them,
to always stop when you kind of know what’s coming next.
So you’re not at a facing a chasm, you know?
Okay, so and afterwards when you’re done,
the office is closed.
The office is closed,
I let the muse take care of it, you know?
And I don’t want to,
and I think it’s a very unhealthy thing
to worry about it or think about any creative process.
You don’t, like on a long walk later, think about?
Yeah, then I will sort of keep my mind open to it,
but I won’t be like obsessing about it.
Because actually on walks,
sometimes things will pop in your head, you know,
and you’ll go, oh, I should change that.
But that’s not your ego doing it,
that’s the deeper level.
Okay, so how does the day end?
So go. In terms of writing?
So yeah, the writing, well no,
the writing, the office door closes
and then the rest of the day just do whatever the hell.
Maybe go out to dinner,
my girlfriend is not here now,
she’s in New York working,
we’ll make dinner or whatever.
Go out to dinner, something like that,
and maybe I’ll read something, nothing heavy.
And I go to bed pretty early,
and the gym is a big thing for me.
I’ll already, sort of probably like with you
with martial arts, the night before,
I’ll be visualizing what I have to do the next day
and getting myself psyched up for that.
And then I’ll just conk out like a light
and wake up at the crack of dawn.
Okay, so looking out into the future,
this year, next few years,
what do you think the muse has in store for you?
I don’t think you can ever know.
It’s probably something along the same,
I really believe there’s that exercise
where they say to you,
visualize yourself five years in the future
and write a letter from that person to yourself.
I don’t believe in that at all
because I don’t think you can,
there’s a line out of Africa
that God made the world round
so that we couldn’t see too far ahead.
You just don’t know as a writer or as a person,
I never knew, my first book was A Legend of Bag of Ants.
I hadn’t, before that happened,
I had no clue that I was gonna be writing anything like that
on that subject, anything at all, no clue,
until it just sort of came.
And then when that was done,
people said, well, you gotta write another one.
I had no idea what it was,
which was gonna be Gates of Fire, no clue.
So if somebody had sat me down at the start of that
and asked the question,
I would have been crazy to have said it.
So I just hope as the future unfolds,
that I’m open to it.
Well, I think I speak for a lot of people
in saying that we look forward to what that future looks like.
Stephen, thank you so much for talking today, it was fun.
You got the best job in the world going around
talking to people that you wanna talk to
and that they will talk to you.
So thank you for doing it.
Hey, thank you for the great questions you made me think.
I’ve certainly a bunch of questions
I’ve never ever answered before.
Awesome, thank you so much.
So thanks a lot, great.
Thanks for listening to this conversation
with Stephen Pressfield,
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And now let me leave you with some words
from Stephen Pressfield.
Are you paralyzed by fear?
That’s a good sign.
Fear is good.
Like self doubt, fear is an indicator.
Fear tells us what we have to do.
Remember one rule of thumb,
the more scared we are of a work or a calling,
the more sure we can be that we have to do it.
Thank you for listening and hope to see you next time.