Tag Archives: creativity

Thoughts on Do the Work by Steven Pressfield

Do the Work by Steven PressfieldIt’s tough to write about Do the Work by Steven Pressfield without focusing on how the book was published. It’s the second release from the Domino Project, a joint effort between Amazon and Seth Godin. Their first book was Poke the Box by Godin himself, though in Do the Work Godin limits himself to the introduction.

Pressfield is also the author of a slew of successful novels, including Gates of Fire and The Legend of Bagger Vance.  In Do the Work, he revisits the advice from his wonderfully titled War of Art, offering a basic roadmap for tackling creative projects. He focuses on the concept of Resistance–yes, with a capital “R”–and how it can freeze us on the blank page. He writes mostly of writing, but the formula he lays out could equally apply to any entrepreneurial or political endeavor–anything that requires a massive effort to yank a something from the void. The central tenant is that Resistance will show its fangs each step of the way and must be bludgeoned into submission. To do this, we employ the power of stupidity and its other allies. Don’t overthink it. Banish perfectionism from the creative process.

There’s nothing profoundly new here, and the book doesn’t offer as concrete of a plan as it claims. It’s more rough outline, wrapped in a harsh–think drill sergeant–pep talk. It’s also a slim tome. I was able to read it cover to cover on the bus ride to and from work. But I’ll revisit it, once I get stuck and need a firm kick in the butt to get going again. The book reminded me of Unleash the Warrior Within by Richard J. Machowicz, which I strongly suspect Pressfield has read. His references to the Navy SEAL training program seem to have been drawn from Machowicz’s stories. Though this other book goes beyond the pep talk, and offers help with understanding and evaluating priorities.

I picked up the ebook version of Do the Work for free through a sponsorship that the Domino Project received from General Electric. (Only after reading Do the Work did I realize that this is the second book by Pressfield that I’ve read. Gates of Fire, his novel about the battle of Thermopylae in ancient Greece, was much beloved at the bookstore where I once worked.) The ebook was briefly priced at $9.99, but for now at least, is free again. It seems to have been designed with the ebook format in mind. The cover–like the first book from the Domino Project–is a single image with no text, perfect for a postage-stamp sized icon. There are chunks of super-sized text throughout the book. And whole pages dedicated to a single–white on black–word.

There’s also a signed, limited edition hardback that comes with a special metal plate–one with a 16th-century style engraving, no less–that’s available for $65. I love to see the Domino Project experimenting with new formats, taking the book beyond just pixels on a screen or bound paper. I suspect this won’t be the last offering from the Domino Project to land on my Kindle.

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Interactive Story is an Oxymoron

I’m reading The Writer’s Journey: Mythic Structure for Writers by Christopher Vogler. The book is based on the work of Joseph Campbell, an analysis of the basic elements of myth and story that stretch back for millennia. Fascinating stuff, if not entirely new.

Since I got the book, it’s been released again as a third edition. This bit caught my attention in the introduction to the 2nd edition, from 1998:

Shortly after the first edition of this book came out, a few people (threshold guardians) jumped up to say the technology of the Hero’s Journey is already obsolete, thanks to the advent of the computer and its possibilities of interactivity and nonlinear narrative. According to this batch of critics, the ancient ideas of the Journey are hopelessly mired in the conventions of beginning, middle, and end, of cause and effect, of one event after another. The new wave, they said, would dethrone the old linear storyteller, empowering people to tell their own stories in any sequence they chose, leaping from point to point, weaving stories more like spider webs than linear strings of events.

It’s true that exciting new possibilities are created by computers and the nonlinear thinking they encourage. However, there will always be pleasure in “Tell me a story.” People will always enjoy going into a story trance and allowing themselves to be led through a tale by a masterful story weaver.

I’m not sure if Vogler goes far enough. More than ten years later, the iPad is heralded as a miraculous device that will usher in a whole new type of storytelling. The idea that stories are destined to be reinvented as interactive experiences predates the looming ebook tsunami. Presumably, it was also predicted long before the hyperlink came along. But such thinking fails to understand what a story is at its core. If the basic structure of the story hasn’t changed in a few thousand years, it has nothing to fear from ebooks. New devices will create whole new types of games… but story, nope.

AmphitheaterIf stories were meant to be interactive, the stage would never have been invented. Actors would have just scattered through the crowd and everyone would have become part of the production. Instead, we got the amphitheater that separates the storytellers from the audience. Centuries later, movie theaters are dark for a reason that goes beyond helping us see the film. We want to get lost in the story. Is anything more annoying than someone yacking on their phone next to you at a movie? Nope, because it pulls you out of the story. And those choose your own adventure books that they had when I was a kid were fun, but a novelty. I remember that I had to pick what happened next, but I don’t remember any of the stories.

The power of a good story, in part, is that it does have a definitive beginning, middle, and end. There is cause and effect. Life hardly ever works that way. Stories do, and appeal to a need for such order that is almost primal. Once we have to choose what happens next, order evaporates and with it the story. It becomes a game at best, a chore at worst. Instead of laughing at someone else’s mistakes or commiserating with their plight, the reader of an interactive story shares responsibility for its outcome.

Experiencing a story only works when it’s a passive medium, and that’s okay. Interactive story is an oxymoron.

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Short Story Writing Tips from Ray Bradbury

It’s a Friday and the sun is actually out in Seattle, so cutting straight to this Ray Bradbury video that’s chock full of tips for the short story writer. There’s three that jump out at me. One, keep a large blow-up dinosaur in the living room. Two, don’t wear pants (or at least very big ones). Three, and perhaps most important, drink a six pack of Coors straight from the can. These tips aren’t specifically called out, but they are shown–and we all know that the real art of the story is in the telling, not the showing.

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Alexander Calder’s Circus, Play Art

While Michelangelo drew me into the Seattle Art Museum last month, their Alexander Calder exhibit (runs through April 11) may well have rivaled the master’s scribbles. The thick black circles on the floor around the bigger mobiles, that you weren’t supposed to step past, were a tad odd, but overall what’s not to like about art that you’re encouraged to blow on? Art that moves. In the back though, there was one of the more entertaining bits. They had a film playing Cirque Calder, which drew a few of the polite chortles that they allow in museums.

Since then I found the videos on YouTube. I love watching this grown man, and not a young man at that, playing with these elaborate dolls that he built himself. He gets really into it, in poor French no less. Calder explains his thoughts around the circus near the start at 1:12, but my favorite part of this clip is the Western stuff at 2:42. And who is that woman at 3:44? Probably his wife wondering what she got herself into.

It’s interesting that Calder worked on and amused himself with toys before he started on the mobiles that have since become synonymous with his name. Isn’t this what art is really about? That thing you do when everything else gets out of the way. Play. I used to have a post-it note stuck to my desk that read: YOU ARE PLAYING! Eventually it felt a bit too stern, so I took it down. Did I really need to shout about it?

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