Remembering Your Swing: A Review of Steven Pressfield’s ‘The Authentic Swing’

The Authentic Swing: Notes From the Writing of a First Novel
by Steven Pressfield
Black Irish Entertainment, 2013

Golf swingAfter years of writing unpublished novels, but on the verge of having a breakthrough as a screenwriter, Steven Pressfield’s Muse spoke. Listening, he decided to walk away from screenwriting and begin work on a novel about golf set in the 1920s. His agent fired him.

The Authentic Swing, written in the style of Pressfield’s previous books The War of Art and Turning Pro, is a record of the writing of the book that became The Legend of Bagger Vance. Pressfield explores the imaginative writing process and, above all, the search for what he calls the authentic swing.

Pressfield confesses early on that Bagger Vance was stolen. Well, at least the structure was (he encourages you to do this, too). The novel was based on the Hindu text The Bhagavad Gita, which he explains as a mentor-protege story. But the mentor comes as the servant–in the case of Bagger Vance, the caddy. Golf is not only the subject of the novel, but also Pressfield’s explanatory device for The Authentic Swing.

Pressfield - Authentic Swing coverGolf, as Pressfield explores, is an individual sport. You have no teammate to blame for failure. Even your opponent is not a direct factor on your performance. He can’t stop you. You can only stop yourself. Anyone familiar with Pressfield’s concept of The Resistance, the inner voice we each possess that seeks to sabotage our success, will recognize immediately why Pressfield was drawn to it.

Writing is the search for one’s own swing, the authentic swing. “[T]he golfer cannot swing anyone else’s swing. He can only swing his own.” Pressfield argues everyone’s swing is innate: “The golf swing is not learned, it is remembered.”

This is the search for what one is supposed to be, fighting the Resistance that so desires to excuse us to be something else. Golf, Pressfield’s metaphor for writing, turns out to be his metaphor for life.

 

Read the Pinstripe Pulpit reviews of Steven Pressfield’s Turning Pro and Warrior Ethos.

[A copy of this book was supplied by the publisher for review purposes.]

Inner & Outer Battles: Steven Pressfield’s Warrior Ethos

A Spartan mother handed her son his shield as he prepared to march off to battle. She said, “Come back with this or on it.”

Review of
The Warrior Ethos
by Steven Pressfield
Black Irish Entertainment, 2011

Fighting the Resistance, our daily inner battle, has been a theme of Steven Pressfield’s The War of Art and its followup, the newly released Turning Pro. But Pressfield is a novelist primarily where he has focused on wars past and future. The Warrior Ethos grows out of the years of research and writing on war.

From where does this Warrior Ethos, common across times and cultures, originate? Pressfield sees it as a necessary component of man’s development from hunting band to tribe to army. “It all comes from the hunting band’s need to survive.” The Warrior Ethos “evolved as a counterpoise to fear” and “the instinct of self-preservation.”

Warrior cultures are shame based cultures–as opposed to guilt based cultures–according to Pressfield. He writes, “A shame based culture imposes its values from outside the invdividual, by the good or bad opinion of the group. The community imposes its code on its members by such acts as shunning and public shaming.” Pressfield tells of Spartan maidens who were taught to sing songs of ridicule aimed at young men who did not demonstrate proper courage.

The Warrior Ethos is not simply a matter of overcoming fear, but rather it leads to higher and nobler virtues. “Courage is inseparable from love and leads to what may arguably be the noblest of all warrior virtues: selflessness.” Central to the Warrior Ethos is respect of the group, the unit, over the individual.

For Pressfield, the prototypical warrior culture was Sparta, which found its highest expression with the stand of the 300 at Thermopylae. Leonidas led his men on a suicide mission that ultimately saved Western civilization. The Warrior Ethos proved its worth.

The book is filled with anecdotes from Sparta to Alexander to Gen. Anthony McAuliffe at Bastogne. For Pressfield, though, this is not simply of historical interest, but rather of finding principles that will help us fight our own battles. “We all fight wars….We are all warriors.”

This leads us from the outer battle back to Pressfield’s focus on our inner battle. The former is an outworking of the latter. In the Bhagavad-Gita’s tale of Arjuna and Krishna, and in Alexander’s encounter with a recalcitrant Indian wise man, we find that the ancients recognized that inner battle, too.

Man’s war with Resistance stretches back over millennia, each generation, each individual fighting the same battle again and again. It is the battle with themselves. It is only with the Warrior Ethos that we will beat back our own Resistance.

 

[Related: Review of Steven Pressfield’s Turning Pro]

Kicking the Resistance

Review of
Turning Pro: Tap Your Inner Power and Create Your Life’s Work
by Steven Pressfield
Black Irish, 2012

Resistance. You face it (whether you know it or not). I face it (all. the. time.). Steven Pressfield has made a mini-career of writing about it, and we are the better for it.

Author of numerous novels exploring warfare in the past, and even the future, Pressfield also explores our inner warfare, the struggle that keeps us from creating, from doing the work. He first wrote of that Resistance in the classic The War of Art. The Resistance is that inner self that seeks to distract us, sabotage us. It is why during finals week I had the irresistible urge to go to the local arcade rather than study Latin. It’s why you check your email/Facebook/Twitter every five minutes. It’s why some turn to alcohol or drugs. Why aren’t you able to finish that novel, dissertation or sermon series? Doing the work, it turns out, looks a lot like work.

It is both a comfort to know that one is not waging the only such battle, but also sobering when confronted with the reality of our own shortcomings. The Resistance leverages our weaknesses against us and, most of all, our fears so that the work we should be doing, that Great Thing, never gets done.

In this sequel to The War of Art, Pressfield uses the battle with the Resistance as a jumping off point to discuss what the transformation from an Amateur (one controlled by the Resistance) to a Pro (one who controls the Resistance) looks like. Those are the only options. One can never vanquish Resistance.

Pressfield breaks Turning Pro into three sections “The Amateur Life,” “Self-Inflicted Wounds” and “The Professional Mindset.” As is his wont, Pressfield tells his story through small, often less than one page, vignettes. Most are autobiographical.

Initially, he was in hiding from his desire to write. Pressfield reveals, “In the back of my Chevy van, under piles of junk and rusting spare parts, sat my ancient Smith-Corona typewriter. Why didn’t I throw it away? I certainly wasn’t using it.” The quest away from that work, driven by his own Resistance, takes him from picking apples in Washington state to truck driving.

Pressfield puts forth a theory of “shadow careers.” These are lived out metaphors for our true calling. The Resistance pushes us away from what we ought to be doing into something lesser for “[i]f we fail at a shadow career, the consequences are meaningless to us.” But while we are insulating ourselves from failure, that shadow career can also point us to the substance that it is obscuring.

At root “[t]he amateur,” Pressfield explains, “is a narcissist.” And “the amateur’s self-inflation prevents him from acting. He takes himself and the consequences of his actions so seriously that he paralyzes himself.” Ease of distraction, jealousy, seeking instant gratification are all the marks of the amateur.

But life becomes simple (as distinct from easy) when we turn pro: “we stop fleeing.” The pro has a different mindset. He embraces habit and constancy. Pressfield asks, “Do you understand how the mystery can be approached via order?”

Like The Art of War, Turning Pro is a challenge. It is a challenge to stand up to the Resistance that weighs us down, that tricks us, and lies to us. It makes us stop looking through a glass darkly, but finally face to face.

Pressfield writes in many ways as an old pagan rather than from a Christian worldview. He comes to us from Sparta rather than Jerusalem. But while some of his pronouncements may run counter to our sensibilities, in its essential elements Pressfield is writing truth. It is a truth that we will recognize one way or another if we are ever to do that thing we are supposed to do.

As Pressfield writes, “Becoming a pro, in the end, is nothing grander than growing up.”