Steven Pressfield on The Artist’s Journey, the Wisdom of Little Successes, Shadow Careers, and Overcoming Resistance (#501)

Illustration via 99designs

Resistance with a capital R, that force of self-sabotage, will try to stop you as a writer or an artist or anybody from achieving your best work, from following your calling, will try to distract you, undermine your self-confidence, make you procrastinate, make you quit, make you give into fear, or, on the other hand, make you such a perfectionist that you spend all day on one paragraph and you accomplish nothing. The concept of little successes, or of a routine, is to help you overcome that Resistance.

— Steven Pressfield

Steven Pressfield (@SPressfield), a former Marine and graduate of Duke University, became an overnight success as a writer after 30 years of abject failure. Identifying the omnipresence of “Resistance,” the interior force of self-sabotage he described in The War of Art, has saved his own artistic life and has helped many others struggling to find their creative calling. Steven’s novels of the ancient world, including the nonfiction The Warrior Ethos, are required reading at West Point, Annapolis, and in the Marine Corps. He lives in Los Angeles.

His new book is A Man at Arms, an epic saga about a reluctant hero, the Roman Empire, and the rise of a new faith.

Please enjoy!

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What was your favorite quote or lesson from this episode? Please let me know in the comments.


Want to hear an episode with another prolific wordsmith? Lend an ear to my conversation with Joyce Carol Oates in which we discuss creative processes and obstacles, the joy of revision, the truth about “final” drafts, the relationship between quantity and enduring quality of one’s work, writing for contemporaries over posterity, and much more.


  • Connect with Steven Pressfield:

Website | Twitter | Instagram


  • During tough times, Steven lived behind a house for $15 a month and befriended a backwoods cat. How did this cat become his role model, and what circumstances led to their friendship? [07:27]
  • Steven’s theory about halfway houses and the people you’ll find there (which for a time included him). [14:21]
  • From a resume more eclectic than most, what job stands out as being especially formative for Steven’s eventual pivot to writer? [15:55]
  • Common examples of Steven’s self-sabotage in the working world, and how a caring mentor helped him up and shook him out of this destructive pattern. [18:18]
  • After 30 years of what Steven calls “abject failure,” Steven published his first novel when he was in his early 50s. Where did he pick up his wordsmithing skills, and how did make the transition from blue-collar truck driver to successful novelist? [23:11]
  • What did Steven pick up from his time as a copywriter in the world of advertising? [26:25]
  • How does the hero’s journey, as coined by Joseph Campbell, differ from what Steven considers to be the artist’s journey? [31:39]
  • During his own hero’s journey, what did Steven’s refusal of the call look like compared to that of other notable figures from ancient and modern mythology? [37:16]
  • How did Steven go from a refusal of the call that ended in an act of self-destruction and an unfinished novel to becoming a prolific writer? [41:07]
  • Finishing a first novel is a major feat, but getting it published is another thing altogether. How did he make it happen? Like most modern literary adventures, there’s a detour through Hollywood. [43:52]
  • How Steven’s morning routine gives him the momentum to write with what his friend Randy calls a “little successes” approach. [50:33]
  • What does Steven’s exercise routine look like? [53:22]
  • The writing process that works well for Joyce Carol Oates probably wouldn’t work at all for Steven. How should someone think about developing a routine for their own creative process? [54:15]
  • Recommended books on the writing process — including one that integrates the editor’s mindset to keep things on track. [1:00:43]
  • Steven’s advice for overcoming “Resistance with a capital R” when we feel like anything we create today will never match (let alone exceed) what we created yesterday. [1:05:24]
  • Why does Steven believe Resistance with a capital R exists? What purpose could it possibly serve? [1:10:11]
  • What is a shadow career, and what’s Steven’s advice to someone who finds themselves in one (and is willing to acknowledge it)? [1:15:43]
  • What compelled Steven to write his latest work of historical fiction, A Man at Arms? For that matter, what compels Steven to write fiction? [1:23:10]
  • What distinguishes the stories that come fast and easy from the hard slogs, and what might I gain from testing the waters of fiction writing? [1:28:13]
  • Fear-setting from an Israeli fighter pilot’s perspective. [1:32:59]
  • What is the yetzer hara? [1:34:22]
  • How should I best prepare to “go big” as an aspiring fiction writer? [1:37:36]
  • What would Steven’s billboard say? [1:44:25]
  • Parting thoughts. [1:46:07]


The Tim Ferriss Show is one of the most popular podcasts in the world with more than 600 million downloads. It has been selected for “Best of Apple Podcasts” three times, it is often the #1 interview podcast across all of Apple Podcasts, and it’s been ranked #1 out of 400,000+ podcasts on many occasions. To listen to any of the past episodes for free, check out this page.