Do the Work by Steven Pressfield

Reading Time: 5 minutes

Do The Work Book Cover


Do the Work is part of Steven Pressfield’s series of nonfiction works about pursuing your creative dreams – The War of Art, Turning Pro, Nobody Wants to Read Your Sh*t. This book is less good than the others in the series, but it does have some unique tactical advice about how to take a large creative project from start to finish.

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Key Takeaways

Friends and Family

“The problem with friends and family is that they know us as we are. They are invested in maintaining us as we are.”

Overcoming resistance and pursuing your creative dreams requires you to change and evolve. That’s how you unlock your unlived potential. But friends and family often like you as you are, so any attempt to change will be at odds with how they see you. You need to be willing to combat the desire to remain as you are.

Go on a research diet

“We want to work, not prepare to work.”

Research can be its own form of resistance. If you do any research for a project, read at most 3 books on the subject so you don’t fall into the research trap.
Avoid doing research during your prime working time. Do it very early or late.

Don’t overthink

  • Put the outline for your book on a single piece of paper. This stop you from letting preparation become a form of resistance. On your single sheet of paper, break your work into a three act structure.

Do you love your idea?

“Do you love your idea? Does it feel right on instinct? Are you willing to bleed for it?”

If not, you might want to find a better idea.

Start at the end

  • It’s easiest to figure out where you want to go and then work backwards from there. Once you know where you’re going, you can more easily fill in the details.
  • You know where you’re going by answering the question: “What is this about?”

Be able to boil your pitch into

  • A killer opening scene
  • Two major set pieces in the middle
  • A killer climax
  • A concise statement of the theme

Finish your first draft ASAP

Get a full working draft done as quickly as you can. You can always edit and rewrite later. To do this, you need to keep working and suspend self-judgment. If you have a crazy idea, let it flow and see how it turns out.

Have a device for random ideas

Since ideas come from anywhere at anytime, keep some sort of device near you to record those ideas. It can be a phone, a little notebook, a tape recorder, etc. But keep something so you don’t forget.

The writing process

There are two parts: action and reflection. You never want to act and reflect at the same time. You need to keep these processes separate.

  • Action means putting words on paper.
  • Reflection means evaluating what you have on paper.

For the first draft, go light on reflection and heavy on action.

Personal meetings

Have a meeting with yourself once or twice a week, just like you would with a team. Ask yourself: What is this thing about? What’s going well? What’s not going well?

Remember your theme

Write down your theme and attach it to your computer so you can always see it.

The enemy is inside you

“You can board a spaceship to Pluto and settle, all by yourself, into a perfect artist’s cottage ten zillion miles from Earth. Resistance will still be with. you. The enemy is inside you.

Fear, love, and dreams

“The opposite of fear is love – love of the challenge, love of the work, the pure joyous passion to take a shot at our dream and see if we can pull it off.”
“The dream is your project, your vision, your symphony, your startup. The love is the passion and enthusiasm that fill your heart when you envision your project’s completion.”
Love of an idea provides the meaning you need to carry you through the terror.

Adjust your attitude

“The only items you get to keep are love for the work, will to finish, and passion to service the ethical, creative Muse.”

Drop your ego, sense of entitlement, impatience, fear, hope, anger. You must also drop:

  • “All grievances related to aspects of yourself dependent on the accident of birth, e.g., how neglected/abused/mistreated/unloved/poor/ill-favored etc. you were when you were born.”
  • “All sense of personal exceptionalness dependent on the accident of birth, e.g., how rich/cute/tall/thin/smart/charming/loveable you were when you were born.
  • “All of the previous two, based on any subsequent (i.e., post-birth) acquisition of these qualities, however honorably or meritoriously earned.”

To do your work, you need the right attitude.

Finishing a creative endeavor is hard

“We’ve got no trainers over us, shouting in our ears or kicking our butts to keep going. We’re got no friends, no fellow sufferers, no externally imposed structure. No one’s feeding us, housing us, or clothing us. We have no objective milestones or points of validation. We can’t tell whether we’re doing great or falling on our faces. When we finish, if we do, no one will be waiting to congratulate us. We’ll get no champagne, no beach party, no diploma, no insignia. The battle we’re fighting, we can’t explain to anybody or share with anybody or call in anybody to help.”

Success and failure

Don’t take success or failure personally. An issue or shortcoming of your project is not about your personal worth. It’s a problem to be solved.
If something is not working with your book or project, ask yourself: What’s missing? And keep asking until you get to the heart of the problem.

Marianne Williamson on Fear of Success

“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness, that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”

Finish the first work

“From the day I finally finished something, I’ve never had trouble finishing anything again.”

Once you beat resistance once, you’re better equipped to do it again.

Martin Luther King Jr., Beyond Vietnam – a Time to Break Silence

“We are now faced with the fact that tomorrow is today. We are confronted with the fierce urgency of now. In this unfolding conundrum of life and history there is such a thing as being too late. Procrastination is still the thief of time. Life often leaves us standing bare, naked and dejected with a lost opportunity. The ‘tide in the affairs of men’ does not remain at the flood; it ebbs. We may cry out desperately for time to pause in her passage, but time is deaf to every plea and rushes on. Over the bleached bones and jumbled residue of numerous civilizations are written the pathetic words: ‘Too late.”

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