5 Questions for Judging Your Literary Work

Steven Pressfield, author of The Legend of Bagger Vance and most recently The Lion’s Gate, sends out a newsletter for writers called First Access.

In a recent edition, Pressfield talked about managing expectations when your book is published. It’s a minefield, as you probably know.

“The problem with books is it’s so hard to penetrate the clutter,” Pressfield wrote. “I don’t care how much you network, or how supposedly powerful your publisher is, your book is sallying forth into a marketplace that is overloaded, overstuffed, overstimulated. Your work is swimming for its life in a sea of other thrashing, gnashing competitors.”

Authors get distracted, or obsessed, with rankings, reviews and such. (I have.) Pressfield said don’t listen to the market and don’t monitor the charts. Pay no attention to the critics, he added.

Good advice? Sure, I think so. Hard to do? Oh yeah.

I liked the five questions Pressfield uses to judge his literary work. Maybe they’re a help to you and me.

1. Was this a worthy effort?

2. Did it call upon you to give more than you believed you had in you?

3. Did you conduct yourself honorably in the enterprise?

4. Did you give it all you had?

5. Did you succeed according to your own standards, the measures that only you know and only you can define?

“Those are the only criteria I can control,” wrote Pressfield, who tries to live by an axiom from the Bhavagad Gita:

You have the right to your labor,
but not to the fruits of your labor.

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‘Leave Your Problems Outside’ in 2014

steve-pressfield-2
Steven Pressfield.

In his “Writing Wednesday” message on Christmas Day, author and writer Steven Pressfield opened with an anecdote about studying ballet at the Metropolitan Opera. Miss Margaret Craske, a teacher who danced with Pavlova in the 1920s, told her students:

“LEAVE YOUR PROBLEMS OUTSIDE THE CLASSROOM.”

That’s good advice as we begin a new year. Like a lot of good advice, it can be hard to follow.

Pressfield offered this encouragement:

How will you and I handle our work in 2014?

What’s so great about “Leave your problems outside” is it’s applicable even if we’re only going to have one hour a day to pursue our artistic dreams.

One hour is plenty if we banish all distractions at the doorstep. We enter our workspace, which is sacred space even if it’s only a cubby at the end of our double-wide with a hand-scrawled sign:

KIDS STAY OUT NEXT 60 MINS.

One hour is plenty if we focus. It’s plenty if we block out the self-censor and the inner critic. It’s plenty if we play. It’s plenty if we give it our all.

Steven Pressfield is the author of The Legend of Bagger Vance, The War of Art and several other titles.