How To Do Your Real Work.

L.N.Tolstoy_Prokudin-GorskyDid you know Tolstoy had 13 kids when he wrote War and Peace? I’m sure Sophia, his wife, did the heavy lifting, but surely they were loud and underfoot and demanded food several times a day. That’s a fairly hostile environment in which to produce some of the world’s greatest literature.

I discovered that convicting little gem recently in The War of Art by Steven Pressfield and have quoted it several times to friends and loved ones who, like me, are dithering, stalling, procrastinating, rationalizing and otherwise avoiding doing the work God put us here to do, which in my case is write.

What’s your work? What’s the thing you would do forever for no money? Are you doing it? Even a little?

If you’re not sure, or this sounds vaguely familiar, please read Pressfield’s slender little volume and let it roundhouse kick you in the melon until you accept that writing the song, plotting the novel, painting the canvas, playing the music, is easier than making excuses for why you can’t do it.

Start today. Anywhere. Because thirty minutes a day is better than no minutes a day, but beware, this is war.

The writer is an infantryman. He knows that progress is measured in yards of dirt extracted from the enemy one day, one hour, one minute at a time and paid for in blood. The artist wears combat boots. He looks in the mirror and sees GI Joe. Remember, the Muse favors working stiffs. She hates prima donnas. -Steven Pressfield. The War of Art.

My God that’s terrible news.

The dream is freeThat means, rather than point to my demanding job and bizarre travel schedule that keeps me from writing, I need really only to think of Tolstoy or his wife Sophia, who incidentally, along with the 13 kids, was the scribe for War and Peace and rewrote the manuscript seven times. It is over 1000 pages.

Novelist Ann Patchett, whose ability regularly renders me speechless, put it this way in her new memoir This Is the Story of a Happy Marriage:

Why is it that we understand playing the cello will require work, but we attribute writing to the magic of inspiration?…Art stands on the shoulders of craft, which means that to get to the art you must master the craft. If you want to write, practice writing. Practice it for hours a day, not to come up with a story you can publish, but because you long to learn how to write well, because there is something that you alone can say. Write the story, learn from it put it away, write another story.

You can read Pressfield’s book in a day or two, which is good, because reading about writing is not writing, it’s preparing to write. Not a bad thing, unless we never write.

So what do you need to write? Sing? Paint? Draw? Invent? Draft? Design?

Why not start today? Then again tomorrow and the next day….

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