Friday, October 30, 2009

"WHAT IS IMPORTANT IS THE STORY": Questions & Answers with author Steven Pressfield

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I have been a fan of Steven Pressfield's writing for a number of years now, especially the books he has written about ancient Greece: "Gates of Fire", "The Virtues of War" "Tides of War" and "The Afghan Campaigns" to name a few.

Steve has been generous in his encouragement for me in my own work. He's also been a great mentor to many other writer's. His "The War of Art" Break Through the Blocks and Win Your Inner Creative Battles" is a popular book with techniques on writing (available on

Recently I was privileged to be asked to contribute three questions to Mr. Pressfield about writing, and he would reply to them. Here's the questions I posed:

How close to the historical facts do you stick? Aside from the initial research before starting a story, how much do you do while the writing is in progress? (I know even the historians have conflicting information and I sometimes have found this really inhibiting when trying to be as accurate as possible.)

STEVE: Ruth, I'm not trying to be lazy but here's a blog piece from the site that's right on this subject. Look for Writing Wednesday #4 "A Single Sheet of Fool's Cap" It tells you all I know.

This link takes you to Writing Wednesday #9 so scroll back to see page Writing Wedensday #4

Read this page. It is full of helpful suggestions and advice. "The more research you do, the less writing you do" and "The answer is 'As little as possible!". "WHAT IS IMPORTANT IS THE STORY!"

2) WRITER'S BLOCK: I find that chapter beginnings and transitions between scenes can often slow me down. When you find yourself up against the wall what is your technique for overcoming 'writer's block'.

STEVE: I never mention that term. It's dangerous to even think about it. I banish it from my mind. Just keep writing. If you're stuck in one part of the story, work on another. Momentum, I've found, is a big help. If you can get rolling in one part of the story, when you come back to a 'sticking point'[, sometimes that mementum will carry you through it. Another trick is to give yourself only so long to lick the problem. Ten minutes. One hour. Something short so you don't get hung up driving yourself crazy. "We're gonna lick this between now and lunch!"

3) THE FINAL DRAFT: I'm almost finished my novel and already know it's far too long. How do you decide what to cut? Do you do the cuts and rewrites and then do the line editing (spell check, etc) as the final touch up?:

STEVE: This is tough. Sometimes you have to split yourself in two: the boss and the worker. The boss says, "Ruth, I want you to get 10% out of this sucker!" This gives you something to shoot for. But there's no substitute for skill and work. I was just working on a screenplay with Randall Wallace, who wrote "Braveheart". He is much better than I am. On the final day, he went through 'my' pages and whacked out massive amounts. To my amazement, everything got better. A lot better. I have yet to try that on my own stuff, without help, but it sure taught me that being ruthless can really work.

I am very grateful for this opportunity to pose these questions to Mr. Pressfield. And I know you will get as much as I do out of following his "Writing Wednesday" blogs. You can read more about him on his website and order his book, "War of Art" from there as well as from


Anonymous said...

The link in the first answer doesn't work for me.

Wynn Bexton said...

The link has now been fixed. Sorry for the error.

Adrian said...

Wonderful! It's always a boost to read what successful writers do in their work to overcome the obstacles we all face. Thanks for sharing this!

Marie said...

Interesting. Thanks for sharing, Wynn.

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