when your art has a life of its own

A struggling screenwriter finally had an idea for a story. He was excited about it, but there was only one problem: his story came as a book, not a movie. So he called up his agent to tell him the bad news, as they both “knew that first novels take forever and sell for nothing.” Even worse than that, his novel was about golf, so it had even less of a chance of being picked up by a publisher, not to mention small hope of success.

“To my amazement, the book succeeded critically and commercially better than a anything I’d ever done, and others since have been lucky too. Why? My best guess is this: I trusted what I wanted, not what I thought would work.”

Steven Pressfield, The War of Art

But first novels take forever and sell for nothing! And he was a screenwriter, not a novelist. He was supposed to be writing movies, not books. If Steven Pressfield had listened to his inner critic, The Legend of Bagger Vance would never have been written. And it definitely should never have been a success.

I’ve not read the book but that’s not really the point. The point is, he wrote it anyway. He wrote it because he couldn’t not write it. He wrote it because he did what artists do and believed in the creative process. He says “the idea came as a book, not a movie.” The idea had a life of its own. An artist respects that, and trusts his instincts.

One of the most difficult struggles for an artist (besides a crippling fear of failure) is to trust her instincts, to believe in her idea even though it looks different, seems illogical, feels terrifying. Great art has a life of its own, and great artists have the instinct and the courage and the heart to allow the art to finally breathe.

And sometimes? The book becomes a movie anyway.


  1. says

    “Great art has a life of its own…” Allowing the art to breathe as we hold our breath is so difficult. I love how you make me feel as if I could do whatever I dream. I’m supposed to know that already, aren’t I?

  2. says

    What wonderful encouragement this morning! I have a novel in my heart I am writing and it is hard to give it priority when so many things keep crowding in but I know I must write it. It is taking a life of its own in my head and I must get it out. Who knows what can happen but I know I need to get it written and today is a day I have to write but it’s always daunting to start. This post came at the perfect time.

    Thank you.

  3. says

    Love to hear these encouraging words, especially in our day to day of practicality. A blessed message for today and every day… thanks, Emily!

  4. says

    Thank you for this today. I needed it so badly. I have been struggling with my art. I know that I need to focus on writing a book but it feels impossible right now (baby is 9 months and sleepless and toddler is busy and three). I’ve put a lot of effort into my blog especially in the last few years. I don’t get paid to do it but do find it rewarding. I do want to pursue a book – I have a rough first draft I finished in November but life just feels too overwhelming to focus right now on that. I read when you said that it will follow you around if it’s really supposed to happen and I feel like that. Writing haunts me unless I’m doing it. I will work on the book just not now. I need to give myself permission to only do the blog right now. Sorry for the rambling:)

  5. says

    Spoken well, and very encouraging! I LOVED todays post. It is true, true, true… An artist can, and ought to ONLY do what they love, and what is on their heart. No one wants fake artistic expressions, and those are always easy to see.

  6. says

    Oh, wow, did I need this. Writing terrifies and also compels me. I go from exhilerated to i-could-puke insecurity. Waxing between both my joy of words and my fear of sharing them. A mixed bag. I’ve been loving your spontaneous series on art. It’s really ministering to me. :)

  7. says

    That is one of my favorite movies. Helped me realize I have my own “authentic swing” and I need to live in that place where God’s best in me comes out.

    But I didn’t know the story behind the story. Makes me love it even more.

    I have sooooo loved your posts Em. God is writing your third book here. In my humble opinion, for the two cents its worth.

  8. says

    Love this: …”he wrote it because he couldn’t not write it”…
    I missed this movie when it came out…sounds like one we’d enjoy.

  9. says

    that is my husband’s favorite movie.
    I feel like you’re my own personal cheerleader, tucked into my pocket. Nothing has “come to me” yet, but I just have a feeling that someday, I’ll need this advice.

  10. says

    “Great art has a life of its own, and great artists have the instinct and the courage and the heart to allow the art to finally breathe.” I am going to print this quote out! I have been so enjoying your talks on art these past few months. Thank you

  11. says

    With these posts, one after another, you are constantly communicating words from the Creator: You have permission to create. They are words that I (and I think so many of us) need to hear. Thank you for speaking them!

  12. says

    you are our little cheerleader and you know what, it IS going to return to you hundred-fold and I pray even thousand-fold…I think that’s what’s struck me most about you as i’ve gotten to ‘know’ you more here…you have an amazing heart to encourage and that just inspires so much in you…thank you emily:-)

  13. says

    Per your suggestion, I am reading the War of Art. His message is inspiring. Do your art and good will come. Bagger Vance is a good example of this. Thanks for the tip Emily. The book has been a great read.

  14. says

    This probably sounds so weird, but sometimes I feel like I have no instincts about art or anything creative. I have mothering instincts and I have feelings, but things that I want to create- I’ve got nothin’ It takes me forever to pick out anything for my house, I have to think about simple decorating things for a long time. It makes me wonder if the art that I am supposed to create isn’t a common thing that others think of as art.

    I promise I’m not a crazy person.

  15. Gwyn says

    I’ve been enjoying your blog, Emily. I was just reading about how C.S. Lewis had the idea for his novel, “Til We Have Faces” in the 1920s and tried to write it as a poem twice, only to be dissatisfied with both. In the 1950s he wrote the novel, and I am so glad that he did. I love the thought of the idea following him for decades until he was ready to write it.

  16. says

    This was vastly encouraging – just what I needed to hear for my own writing. So what if I don’t know the why or the how or what would make people want to read my story (about growing up on a homestead and living in a tipi)…I still need to go for it. Believe God has a plan, and I need to just obey and write.

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