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Do the Work

Do the Work

Author: Steven Pressfield
Rating: 8/10
Last Read: June 2014

Quick Summary:  I had ready many of Steven Pressfield's novels before I had discovered his works  on the creative spirit.  Do the Work is a short read that discusses the role of Resistance in the projects that we tackle.  Pressfield shares anecdotes and provides motivation for pushing past resistance, doing the work, and shipping whatever you're working on.

While a little woo-woo and out there, I must admit that Do the Work has opened my eyes to the role that Resistance plays in my life.  I have streamlined my processes, separated research and action, and committed doing the work.  With results like that, I can't knock the woo-woo side. 

For those interested in creating or producing something, read this book.

My Highlights

Resistance cannot be seen, heard, touched, or smelled. But it can be felt. We experience it as an energy field radiating from a work-in-potential. --loc 89

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. --loc 105

Bad things happen when we employ rational thought, because rational thought comes from the ego. Instead, we want to work from the Self, that is, from instinct and intuition, from the unconscious. --loc 117

The problem with friends and family is that they know us as we are. They are invested in maintaining us as we are. The last thing we want is to remain as we are. --loc 125

Ignorance and arrogance are the artist and entrepreneur’s indispensable allies. She must be clueless enough to have no idea how difficult her enterprise is going to be—and cocky enough to believe she can pull it off anyway. --loc 137

A child has no trouble believing the unbelievable, nor does the genius or the madman. It’s only you and I, with our big brains and our tiny hearts, who doubt and overthink and hesitate. --loc 140

Once we commit to action, the worst thing we can do is to stop. --loc 143

Here’s the exercise: Imagine a box with a lid. Hold the box in your hand. Now open it. What’s inside? It might be a frog, a silk scarf, a gold coin of Persia. But here’s the trick: no matter how many times you open the box, there is always something in it. Ask me my religion. That’s it. I believe with unshakeable faith that there will always be something in the box. --loc 154

When art and inspiration and success and fame and money have come and gone, who still loves us—and whom do we love? Only two things will remain with us across the river: our inhering genius and the hearts we love. --loc 165

Don’t prepare. Begin. Remember, our enemy is not lack of preparation; it’s not the difficulty of the project or the state of the marketplace or the emptiness of our bank account. --loc 172

Good things happen when we start before we’re ready. For one thing, we show huevos. Our blood heats up. Courage begets more courage. The gods, witnessing our boldness, look on in approval. --loc 177

Before we begin, you wanna do research? Uh-unh. I’m putting you on a diet. You’re allowed to read three books on your subject. No more. No underlining, no highlighting, no thinking or talking about the documents later. Let the ideas percolate. Let the unconscious do its work. --loc 185

Research can become Resistance. We want to work, not prepare to work. --loc 188

Steve, God made a single sheet of yellow foolscap exactly the right length to hold the outline of an entire novel. --loc 207

Discipline yourself to boil down your story/new business/philanthropic enterprise to a single page. --loc 211

Three-Act Structure Break the sheet of foolscap into three parts: beginning, middle, and end. This is how screenwriters and playwrights work. Act One, Act Two, Act Three. --loc 214

Here’s a trick that screenwriters use: work backwards. Begin at the finish. --loc 245

If you’re writing a movie, solve the climax first. If you’re opening a restaurant, begin with the experience you want the diner to have when she walks in and enjoys a meal. If you’re preparing a seduction, determine the state of mind you want the process of romancing to bring your lover to. Figure out where you want to go; then work backwards from there. --loc 246

Yes, you say. “But how do I know where I want to go?” Answer the Question “What Is This About?” Start with the theme. What is this project about? --loc 249

Have you ever meditated? Then you know what it feels like to shift your consciousness to a witnessing mode and to watch thoughts arise, float across your awareness, and then drift away, to be replaced by the next thought and the thought after that. These are not thoughts. They are chatter. --loc 271

I was thirty years old before I had an actual thought. Everything up till then was either what Buddhists call “monkey-mind” chatter or the reflexive regurgitation of whatever my parents or teachers said, or whatever I saw on the news or read in a book, or heard somebody rap about, hanging around the street corner. --loc 274

Pay no attention to those rambling, disjointed images and notions that drift across the movie screen of your mind. Those are not your thoughts. They are chatter. --loc 277

David Lean famously declared that a feature film should have seven or eight major sequences. That’s a pretty good guideline for our play, our album, our State of the Union address. --loc 308

Do research early or late. Don’t stop working. Never do research in prime working time. --loc 315

One trick they use is to boil down their presentation to the following:
A killer opening scene
Two major set pieces in the middle
A killer climax
A concise statement of the theme
In other words, they’re filling in the gaps. The major beats. --loc 320

One rule for first full working drafts: get them done ASAP. Don’t worry about quality. Act, don’t reflect. Momentum is everything. --loc 331

Unless you’re building a sailboat or the Taj Mahal, I give you a free pass to screw up as much as you like. The inner critic? His ass is not permitted in the building. Set forth without fear and without self-censorship. When you hear that voice in your head, blow it off. This draft is not being graded. There will be no pop quiz. Only one thing matters in this initial draft: get SOMETHING done, however flawed or imperfect. You are not allowed to judge yourself. --loc 337

Nothing is more fun than turning on the recorder and hearing your own voice telling you a fantastic idea that you had completely forgotten you had. --loc 356

Let’s talk about the actual process—the writing/composing/ idea generation process. It progresses in two stages: action and reflection. Act, reflect. Act, reflect. NEVER act and reflect at the same time. --loc 358

Forget rational thought. Play. Play like a child. Why does this purely instinctive, intuitive method work? Because our idea (our song, our ballet, our new Tex-Mex restaurant) is smarter than we are. --loc 369

When an idea pops into our head and we think, “No, this is too crazy,” … that’s the idea we want. When we think, “This notion is completely off the wall … should I even take the time to work on this?” … the answer is yes. Never doubt the soup. Never say no. The answer is always yes. --loc 377

At least twice a week, I pause in the rush of work and have a meeting with myself. (If I were part of a team, I’d call a team meeting.) I ask myself, again, of the project: “What is this damn thing about?” Keep refining your understanding of the theme; keep narrowing it down. --loc 408

Paddy Chayefsky famously said, “As soon as I figure out the theme of my play, I write it down on a thin strip of paper and Scotch-tape it to the front of my typewriter. After that, nothing goes into that play that isn’t on-theme.” --loc 414

Have that meeting twice a week. Pause and reflect. “What is this project about?”
“What is its theme?”
“Is every element serving that theme?” --loc 416

The sixth principle of Resistance (and the key to overcoming it) is that Resistance arises second. What comes first is the idea, the passion, the dream of the work we are so excited to create that it scares the hell out of us. --loc 501

“You’re too young, you’re too inexperienced; you’ve got no credentials, no credibility. Everyone who’s tried this has failed and you will, too. It can’t be done. Your plane will crash, you’re going to drown, you’re a madman who is attempting the impossible and you deserve whatever dire fate befalls you!” What saw Lindy through? --loc 526

Did you ever see Cool Hand Luke? Remember “the Box”? You don’t get to keep anything when you enter this space. You must check at the door: Your ego
Your sense of entitlement
Your impatience
Your fear
Your hope
Your anger
You must also leave behind:
All grievances related to aspects of yourself dependent on the accident of birth, e.g., how neglected/abused/ mistreated/unloved/poor/ill-favored etc. you were when you were born.
All sense of personal exceptionalness dependent on the accident of birth, e.g., how rich/cute/tall/thin/smart/charming/loveable you were when you were born.
All of the previous two, based on any subsequent (i.e., post-birth) acquisition of any of these qualities, however honorably or meritoriously earned.
The only items you get to keep are love for the work, will to finish, and passion to serve the ethical, creative Muse. --loc 550

Crashes are hell, but in the end they’re good for us. A crash means we have failed. We gave it everything we had and we came up short. A crash does not mean we are losers. A crash means we have to grow. --loc 594

Creative panic is good. Here’s why: Our greatest fear is fear of success. --loc 602

A professional does not take success or failure personally. That’s Priority Number One for us now. --loc 619

Why does Seth Godin place so much emphasis on “shipping”? Because finishing is the critical part of any project. If we can’t finish, all our work is for nothing. --loc 692

That’s why we’re so afraid of it. When we ship, we’ll be judged. The real world will pronounce upon our work and upon us. When we ship, we can fail. When we ship, we can be humiliated. --loc 737

From the day I finally finished something, I’ve never had trouble finishing anything again. I always deliver. I always ship. --loc 767

Show Your Work!

Show Your Work!

Three Theban Plays (Oedipus Cycle)

Three Theban Plays (Oedipus Cycle)