Tag Archives: Steven Pressfield

Things I wish I’d known before starting to write.

I returned to creative writing in 2013. The last few years have been joyful, as a direct result of producing short stories, novellas, novels, poetry and song lyrics.

All the same, there are a few things that I wish I’d known before I put fingers to keyboard.

1) No one wants to read my writing. Steven Pressfield crudely summed this up as No one wants to read your shit! 


Image result for Steven Pressfield

I smile wryly when I think back to my naive optimism in uploading a dozen short stories and novellas to Smashwords, hoping to make a little money in time for Christmas, 2013.

Whatever the worth of my stories, it wasn’t financial, and they disappeared like snowflakes in a blizzard of other writers doing the same thing.

I quickly learned, that half of the battle to get anywhere as a writer was gaining attention through self-promotion. Nobody knows who I am, so why should they want to read my work? Writers are part of a branding process these days. Reclusive authors are virtually extinct. It sometimes feels to me, that reading novels is a form of nosiness for some people. They want to find out more about the author through their work.

In this way, the book world has become more like the music industry and Hollywood.

2) Writing a book is actually the easiest part of the whole process. I love the planning, background research, specific fact checking and seeing a new story take shape.

For me, editing is quite the most tedious task I’ve ever done, confirming what Garcia Gabriel Marquez observed: 

Image result for Ultimately, literature is nothing but carpentry….With both you are working with reality, a material just as hard as wood.

I had no idea how time-consuming and soul-destroying it would be.

Querying is like crawling on broken glass to the tradesman’s entrance of a fortified castle full of carousing gatekeepers, the literary agents who know what’s what…and they sure as hell don’t want to know me!

That leaves selling the book, the self-promotion, the flogging of my precious story as a commercial product—see point 1).

Learning that publishing, more than anything, is a BUSINESS was tough. It’s not an arena for gently showing off how clever I am as an author, it’s more becoming the manufacturer of a commercial product. My book may as well be a new flavour of baked beans.

3) What sells best isn’t necessarily the finest writing by the most talented authors. We’re advised by writing gurus to labour carefully to produce a brilliant manuscript, an intriguing story that’s correctly punctuated and free of flab. I take a lot of care in creating my novels, devoting thousands of hours to each title.

It’s galling to realise that someone who’s already got a public persona (and piles of cash) can throw a story together and instantly get a publishing contract. Invisible ghostwriters will knock things straight. Had some nitwit celebrity submitted my novel it would have been published to acclaim.

Readers buy books by people they already know. They also buy stories that are so basically worded, that the language wouldn’t trouble a 10-year-old child. Bestsellers are often not highfalutin literature. Instead, simple yarns sell in their millions.

It makes me question why I’m trying to produce high-quality crime novels, when, if I want to make money, I should simply scribble off a piece of crudity that appeals to mouth-breathing, knuckle-draggers who move their lips while reading to themselves.

Dumbing down has won. That’s something that I didn’t fully comprehend before entering a new era as a writer.

4) Competition writing is an art. Another thing that I wish I’d known, in my early stages of creative writing, is a greater awareness of the rules of writing competitions.

In a burst of enthusiasm and naïvety, I uploaded 44 titles to Smashwords and Amazon in a short period of time. This was the best of my work, including short stories and poetry. Self-publishing in this way, making an ebook available for sale, means that it disqualifies the work from eligibility for most writing competitions.

A few competitions allow entry by stories that have previously appeared online, but not many.

In retrospect, I wish that I’d held onto them, and tried my luck by submitting to competitions. Even if I hadn’t won, being short or long-listed is a better way of raising a writer’s profile, not just to readers but literary agents who keep an eye open for potential talent.

Wise words from the first writer to become a billionaire from her work:

JK Rowling reveals what she wishes she’d been told when she was writing Harry Potter

What do you wish you’d known before starting out?

Image result for baby writer typing

Nobody Wants to Read Your Sh*t

I’ve read about 30 writing handbooks in the last few years. One of the best is The War of Art by Steven Pressfield. It’s not a writing guide as such, more a motivational boot camp nag into how to overcome obstacles in the creative process.

He really knows what he’s talking about, from long and bruising experience:

Steven Pressfield – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

His website: Books | Steven Pressfield

Pressfield is closely allied with Shawn Coyne, who is his agent and quite a writing guru himself. His Story Grid method of writing a book is worth a look—it’s cheaper as an ebook.

His website: Story Grid

Together they started a publishing company called Black Irish and published a sequel to The War of Art. It’s called Nobody Wants to Read Your Sh*t and is available as a free audio download if you sign up to Audible.

The Long & Winding Road

Writing may be joyful, but making a living from your words is a long, hard slog.

I returned to creative writing in 2013, since when I’ve self-published 45 titles as ebooks, written a dozen unpublished short stories and novellas and five crime novels. I’m glad that I didn’t upload my first Cornish Detective novel in 2015, as it would have disappeared like a fart in a tornado! Self-publishing is great, because it allows anyone to become a published author…the trouble is, millions do.

I’ve just endured the malarkey of querying literary agents and will be moving on to promoting myself by social media posting and blogging. This feels like dodging between the wrong ends of telescopes, to peer up the lenses to see if, far, far away someone is looking down the other end examining me… maybe showing an interest in my writing.

No one said it would be easy. That I’m a stubborn oaf might finally be playing in my favour, after 60 years of banging my head against a brick wall! My métier is being rejected by literary agents without being disheartened. My hide is as thick as a rhinoceros.

It’s good to have armour and a positive attitude, for looking at the careers of famous authors shows what a struggle they endured. Steven Pressfield is the author of The Legend of Bagger Vance and historical novels. His The War of Art and other books on writing are inspirational, especially when your creative spirit is flagging.

Image result for the war of art

Steven Pressfield spent 27 years writing before achieving success, working minimum wage jobs, wandering aimlessly from state to state, couch surfing and sleeping in his car.

Author, literary agent and writing guru Noah Lukeman warns that it may take ten years before a writer gets anywhere. Lots of famous authors persevered for years until their first book was published.

Whenever I feel weary, I remember this advice from Danish journalist Jacob Riis:

Look at a stone cutter hammering away at his rock, perhaps a hundred times without as much as a crack showing in it. Yet at the hundred-and-first blow it will split in two, and I know it was not the last blow that did it, but all that had gone before.

This week, a cartoon popped up in my Quora feed, that reminded me of why I’m glad to be a writer, as it helps me to live in the moment.

As Franz Kafka said: So long as you have food in your mouth, you have solved all questions for the time beginning.

I know there are miles to go before I sleep with the contented thought that I’m successful as an author, but the long and winding road still beckons me.

How about you?

Where are you headed? Towards a traditional publishing contract or self-publishing?

How long have you been on the writing road?

What success have you had, so far?

“So does stepping off a cliff: make sure you’re facing in the right direction before beginning” – Paul Whybrow

Are Authors Arrogant?

Hilary Mantel reckoned that:

The most helpful quality a writer can cultivate is self-confidence—arrogance, if you can manage it. You write to impose yourself on the world, and you have to believe in your own ability when the world shows no sign of agreeing with you.

Wise words indeed, after all, why the hell should anyone want to read your book? You’re an unpublished nobody—how dare you think you’ve written anything good enough to be enjoyed by readers? When submitting queries to cloth-eared literary agents, the whole world of publishing is one big question mark, forcing the author to become an exclamation mark of cockiness! Damn, I’ve just infringed someone’s copyright (see below).

I recently stumbled across a word new to me, which sums up the characteristics needed to be an author who doesn’t give a damn for the opinions of others—menefreghismo.

As a word, I doubt it’ll enter common usage in English…which raises another point—are authors being arrogant by using long words in their stories, or are they demonstrating their love of language, which they hope will be shared by their readers?

As an example of supreme arrogance, in 2018 an author applied to trademark the word ‘cocky’, to protect her romance novels, which include it in the title. To my jaundiced eye, this is more of a clever ploy to gain free publicity, rather than genuine concern about readers buying other authors’ books.

The thing is if you don’t believe in your story, why should anybody else?

I don’t think that’s arrogance. It’s more self-confidence. Quite where delusion fits in depends on the ambition of the author for their story.

Being a writer is lonely and bruising to the soul. Writing guru Steven Pressfield summed it up well: The artist committing himself to his calling has volunteered for hell. whether he knows it or not. He will be dining for the duration on a diet of isolation, rejection, self-doubt, despair, ridicule, contempt and humiliation. (From The War of Art)

To counter such misery, he gave this advice (which mentions that word again!)

I’ve no way of knowing the fate of my Cornish Detective novels, but if they have any success, attracting readers who like them, then it would inevitably bring me a certain amount of attention. I’m too stoical to become arrogant from being in the public eye, which is largely a hoopla of marketing, trying to flog books.

If people love my books, then great, I’ll be glad to have given them a few hours of entertainment—and maybe make them think about things in a different way.

This poem describes the sort of fame I’d like:


The river is famous to the fish.

The loud voice is famous to silence,   
which knew it would inherit the earth   
before anybody said so.   

The cat sleeping on the fence is famous to the birds   
watching him from the birdhouse.   

The tear is famous, briefly, to the cheek.   

The idea you carry close to your bosom   
is famous to your bosom.   

The boot is famous to the earth,   
more famous than the dress shoe,   
which is famous only to floors.

The bent photograph is famous to the one who carries it   
and not at all famous to the one who is pictured.   

I want to be famous to shuffling men   
who smile while crossing streets,   
sticky children in grocery lines,   
famous as the one who smiled back.

I want to be famous in the way a pulley is famous,   
or a buttonhole, not because it did anything spectacular,   
but because it never forgot what it could do.

Naomi Shihab Nye

How cocky, self-confident or arrogant do you feel about your writing?

Are there any arrogant authors that you can’t stand the sight or sound of?

(I find Martin Amis, Jonathan Franzen and Salman Rushdie hard to tolerate)

Have friends and family members ever treated you as being big-headed, for being a writer?