Steven Pressfield on practice and life
Steven Pressfield knows from practice. His daily writing practice has taken him from broke taxi driver in New York to the cushy oceanside life of a best-selling novelist in California. No doubt he could coast through the rest of his life without writing another word.
Well, he could—if his writing was about making money. But listen to this:
“If somebody says to me, ‘Steve, you’re going to live to be 97.8 years old. Are you going to be writing the last day of your life?’ I’d say yes. And I don’t give a shit if it sells or not.”
Because it’s not about the achievement. It’s about the practice:
“I’m in it, like, someone will say you have a meditation practice. And meditation is about ‘sitting,’ as they say in the Zen world. Right? The practice is about the sitting; it’s not about achieving enlightenment. It’s not about an object. It’s about the doing of something every day.”
These quotes come from his interview with James Altucher, host of one of my favorite podcasts, The James Altucher Show. It took Altucher two years to land Pressfield as a guest; the result—a two-hour, two-part episode—was worth the wait.
Practice: “It’s not a habit”
Pressfield has a lot to say about persistence, rejection, success, golf (he wrote The Legend of Bagger Vance), and writing (he also wrote The War of Art, a book creative types love).
Listen to the whole thing if you can. But what struck me most happened about 25 minutes into the second part of the interview, when he talked about daily practice.
“I have a trainer at the gym and I was saying to him, ‘This is a habit, getting here every day.’ And he said, ‘It’s not a habit. This is your life.’ And at some point, that’s what it becomes. A practice becomes, it’s your life, this is what you do…”
The episode popped up on my playlist just a few days before my Jumpstart 2017 writing challenge began. About four dozen writers and would-be writers had taken a deep breath and committed to write for 15 minutes a day, for five days in a row.
We’re on day 3 as I write this and I’m happy to say our attrition rate is near zero. People are interacting, posting encouraging comments on each others’ work. They’re not just building a practice; they’re forming a community. And here’s some of what they have to say:
“I can’t tell you how helpful this is.”
“I really feel I am finding my voice.”
“Great to get in the habit of creating on a daily basis.”
“…wrote for 18 minutes. What was astounding was being in the middle of noise and chaos yet I felt like it was just about the writing.”
“What a gift.”
I’ve done a lot of good things in 2016, but I have to say creating this challenge may be one of the best. Practice, practice, practice—it’s not about getting to Carnegie Hall. It’s about getting to the core of who you are.