Steve's All Is Lost Moment, 1974

What It Takes

What It Takes

The Bar, the Blonde, and You

By Callie Oettinger
Published: March 17, 2017

There’s a scene in the movie A Beautiful Mind, when the John Nash character explains the best way for he and his colleagues to get laid.

A blonde walks into the bar with a group of brunette friends. Nash’s colleagues start ogling her and making stupid comments.

Have you remembered nothing?
Recall the lessons of Adam Smith,
father of modern economics.

In competition, individual ambition
serves the common good.

Every man for himself gentleman.

Those who strike out
are stuck with her friends.


Nash stares at the blonde and Hollywood jumps in with voiceovers and special effects as Nash makes a breakthrough and starts monologuing.


Adam Smith needs revision.

If we all go for the blonde . . .

We block each other.
Not a single one of us is going to get her.

So then we go for her friends,
but they will all give us the cold
shoulder, because nobody likes to be
second choice.

What if none of us go for the blonde?

We don’t get in each other’s way
and we don’t insult the other girls.

That’s the only way we win. That’s
the only way we all get laid.

Adam Smith said the best result
comes from everyone in the group
doing what’s best for himself.

Incomplete . . . Incomplete . . .

The best result will come from
everyone in the group doing what’s
best for himself and the group.


However, this only applies to Nash’s colleagues. There are four of them and four brunettes. If their goal is to get laid they can’t help other men in the bar, because they’d lower the odds, with a greater man to woman ratio (all off this living under the assumption that the women even give a crap about men whose maturity levels are as low as their IQ’s are high).

We see this outside the bar, too. There are certain circles in which I often see the same authors endorse each other. By supporting each other’s work, the idea is that they help grow the success of each individual and the group.

This true?

Yes and no.
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Posted in What It Takes

Writing Wednesdays

Writing Wednesdays

Working on Two Tracks

By Steven Pressfield | Published: March 22, 2017


When we finish any work of art or commerce and expose it to judgment in the real world, three things can happen:

  1. Everybody loves it.
  2. Everybody hates it.
  3. Nobody notices that it even exists.

    The value of Van Gogh's "Sunflowers" went from zero in 1889 to $39.9 million in 1987, the equivalent of $74M today.

    The value of Van Gogh’s “Sunflowers” went from zero in 1889 to $39.9 million in 1987, the equivalent of $74M today.

[Continuing our exploration of the Professional Mindset, let me repurpose this post that first ran about four years ago.]

All three present you and me as writers and artists with major emotional challenges, and all three drive deep into the most profound questions of life and work.

It will not surprise you, I suspect, if I say that all three responses are impostors. None of them is real, and none should be taken to heart by a writer or artist working from the Professional Mindset.

When we labor in any field that combines art and commerce, we’re working on two tracks.

Track One, the Muse Track, represents our work in its most authentic, true-to-itself and true-to-our-own-heart expression.

Track Two, the Commercial Track, represents the response our work gets in the marketplace. In other words, points 1-2-3 above.

Track Two counts for putting bread on the table and getting our kids through college.

Track One counts for our artistic soul.

The problem with Track Two is it also represents the siren song of riches and fame, or at least applause and recognition in the real world.

Two weeks ago my friend Paul finished writing a TV pilot. It was the first time he had completed a project from FADE IN to THE END. He turned it in to a friend who is a serious producer and who was anxious to see it. Almost immediately Paul’s spirits went over a cliff.

He became depressed, anxious, irritable. He couldn’t sleep. He stopped working. He was waiting to hear his producer friend’s response.

In other words, Paul let himself get sucked over onto Track Number Two, the Commercial Track.

Hollywood (or any big-buzz field like music, publishing, games, software) is a Rorschach test for the soul.

Can we keep our focus where it should be? Can we find our real self and stand up for it? The dream of success/glamour/megabucks is like dark matter. It exerts a gravitational pull that’s so strong it can haul even the best us down into a black hole.

What’s the antidote?

The antidote is remaining grounded on Track Number One. There’s nothing wrong with success. I hold no beef with cashing a check or getting a parking place with your name on it. But don’t confuse Track #1 with Track #2.

While Paul was pacing his living room wondering if he could really kill himself by leaping out a second-story window, the real truth of his situation was this:

He had completed his first serious full-length piece of work.

He had shipped.

He had delivered.

His creative momentum was high.

The Muse was with him.

On Track #1, Paul was rolling!

My advice to Paul (which he did not heed, by the way) was to start another project immediately. In fact Paul was already working on Project #2. But he had stopped.

Why is it so important to keep working?

Because when we finish a project and wait around breathlessly to learn the world’s response to it, we have planted our butts squarely on Track #2. Track #2 means evaluating our work and defining our artistic selves by the opinion of others. (What Shawn calls 3PV, Third Party Validation.)

Nothing good ever came from 3PV. Even success can be bad, viewed through the prism of 3PV. How many people have won Oscars in one year, only to vanish into rehab the next? And failure? Ask Van Gogh how that worked out for him.

And yet: how was Vincent doing on Track #1? He was red-hot. True, a century ahead of his time, but still smokin’ hot.

The ideal position for an artist of authenticity is when Track #1 and Track #2 coincide. When he is working his real stuff—and that stuff finds a welcome in the wider world.

When an artist’s voice is true enough to his own heart and authentic enough to his own vision, Track #1 pulls Track #2 over to it. Bruce Springsteen. Bob Dylan. Hunter S. Thompson.

But we lose our way when we overvalue Track #2 at the expense of Track #1. “Sunflowers” was just as great in 1889, when Van Gogh couldn’t give it away, as it was in 1987 when it sold for $39.9 million.

Whatever Track #2 fate awaits Paul’s pilot, he knocked it out of the park on Track #1.

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Posted in Writing Wednesdays | 13 Comments

Writing Wednesdays

Writing Wednesdays

427 Minus 1 = Zero

By Steven Pressfield | Published: March 15, 2017


My first agent was a gentleman named Barthold Fles. He was seventy years old. When I fictionalized him in The Knowledge, I made him ninety-six. But he was really seventy.

427 is everything

427 is everything

I was twenty-nine at the time, so Bart had me by forty-one years. He was Swiss. He had represented Bertolt Brecht and even Carl Jung. He had seen and done everything.

One day Bart said to me, “How much is 427 minus one?”

I gave the obvious answer: 426.


“No,” said Bart. “It’s zero.”


He was speaking about pages in a novel.

If the full book is 427 and you’ve written 426, you haven’t got 426/427ths.

You’ve got nothing.

The work isn’t ready to be shipped till it’s 427.

I’m working on a new piece of fiction right now and I’m smack up against the finish line. It’s the eighth draft actually, but that’s the big one on this project. When I get this one done, I can say I’m over the hump.

Resistance, of course, is monumental.

So I’m thinking about Bart.

I quit 99.9% of the way through the first novel I tried to write, when I was twenty-four. Everything in my life imploded after that. It took me years to recover.

Like I said, I’m thinking about Bart.

Resistance ratchets itself to fever pitch as we approach the finish of any project. Only one response is possible. We have to assume the full Professional Mindset. Dig deep. Whatever it takes. We have to summon our resources of will and determination and push through.

No matter what, we MUST finish.

When I was interviewing Israeli fighter pilots for The Lion’s Gate, they told me of a concept they called “operational finality.”

The phrase in Hebrew is Dvekut BaMesima.

Mesima is “mission.”

Dvekut means “glued to.”

You and I may not be diving into a swarm of surface-to-air missiles or a barrage of anti-aircraft fire. But we still have to finish page 427. We have to put our bombs on target.

If you’re having trouble crossing that finish line, here are two pieces of good news:

One, you’re not alone. Everybody faces massive Resistance toward the end. It’s the nature of the beast. Like “hitting the wall” in a marathon, that moment of horror always rears its ugly head.

Two, if you can beat that monster one time (I can attest to this absolutely), it will never have the same power over you.

It’ll have power, yeah. But not at the same level.

Beat it once and you can beat it after that every time.

426 = zero.

427 is everything.


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Posted in Writing Wednesdays | 19 Comments
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