Do the Work by Steven Pressfield

I’m not exactly sure why DO THE WORK is a book. It has about as many words as a longish blog post, arranged in the poorest layout I’ve ever seen. Each sentence is a different font size, positioned all over the page, with more white space than words. I bought the hardcover book, so it wasn’t an ebook formatting problem. This was a deliberate design. Some pages have only one word on them, as if the publisher will do anything to stretch the minimal text into 98 pages, justifying a hardcover print run with a matching price.

The entire book is about “resistance,” in other words, the normal human response to doing a hard task. Pressfield compares this resistance to a dragon who wishes the writer’s death. Of course, the bigger the monster, the braver the writer gets to feel. Pressfield imagines writers as “heroic knights” for doing nothing more than putting pen to paper.

Let’s get real. If writing is truly that difficult for Pressfield–for anyone–maybe he shouldn’t be doing it. Most writers (me included) love to write. Sure, the words flow more easily on some days than others, but overall, we write because we enjoy it.

The bulk of DO THE WORK is trite observations like “suspend the inner critic” and “this draft is not being graded.” Pressfield’s advises writers to make a three-sentence outline of our novels (beginning, middle, end) and then fill in the gaps to have a complete outline. No…really?

Pressfield stands in awe of anyone who finishes a novel of any quality. Awe! He likens it to the difficulty of losing forty pounds, kicking crack cocaine, or surviving the loss of a loved one. Writing must be a truly ghastly experience for him if it equals the pain of daily self-denial, drug withdrawal, or acute grief. If it’s so bad, why does Pressfield write at all? Nobody is forcing him to. Anyone who finds writing that difficult should maybe find another job. I’m not saying that writing isn’t important. It is deeply, deeply meaningful. It takes courage and a lifetime of dedication. But come on! It’s not life or death.

As for me, I will take the title of the book as an invitation, not a punishment. Do the work? I’d love to. Right after I put this little stack of useless paper into the recycling bin.

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rating: 1 star

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pie slices: none

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I recommend How to Avoid Making Art by Julia Cameron or The Courage to Write by Ralph Keyes instead of this book.

6 thoughts on “Do the Work by Steven Pressfield

  1. I am not sure how I missed finding your blog until now, but I’m glad I managed to catch your tweet about this post. 🙂 Your reviews are straight-spoken and useful: thanks!

    I haven’t read DO THE WORK, but as far as the premise goes, I’m not opposed to saying that writing is work. For me it is joyful work. I’ve never kicked a crack habit, but I have quit other bad habits; withdrawal comes with anxiety, depression, and guilt over having gotten hooked in the first place. Writing is not at all like that! If anything, writing counterbalances a lot of the other negative things in life. Sure, it’s not always easy to pass up every social invitation for months on end because you need the time to revise – but the fulfillment and sense of grace that comes from completing a work is worth it.

    I’m curious about the layout of the book. Most writers aren’t afraid of a full page of words, so spreading them out randomly seems to be antithetical to attracting what should have been the target audience. Perhaps I need to see a copy to understand, but it sounds like this was fluff – and a shame, too, because there could be meaningful things said about the nature of work that goes into writing.

    -aniko

  2. Love the review! I agree that too many writers propogate the myth that writing is some dreadful chore to be endured. I could recommend some books on career choices for them. Or is it just a rationalization for why they don’t “do the work?” If they view writing as a heinous task, then avoiding it is so much easier to justify!

    Harper West
    http://www.PackLeaderPsychology.com

  3. I’ve come to the conclusion that this kind of talk from certain writers is wedded to a secret guilt that writing is actually a lot easier than most other jobs–and a lot more fun. “I sit alone in a room and make things up. I swear, it’s hard work.” Even though sitting alone in a room making things up sounds an awful lot like what my five year-old does when he’s not getting along with his sister. 🙂

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