Doctor of Leadership in Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

A Writing (and Leading) Kick in the Seat of the Pants

Written by: on February 10, 2022

“Writing is magic, as much the water of life as any other creative art. The water is free. So drink. Drink and be filled up.”[1] So ends Stephen King’s memoir on the craft of writing. Sounds great. Meanwhile, whether someone wants to write the next great novel or a weekly blog post for a doctoral class, the experience often feels more like a hike in the arid desert of ideas rather than a drink from the creative fountain. All that precedes King’s words at the end demonstrate how some of the best-skilled writers battle through multiple issues, just like everyone else, to produce great works.

Both Stephen King’s On Writing and Steven Pressfield’s The War of Art belong to seasoned and successful authors who offer help to those who want to improve their creative writing skills. The format chosen by each author differs in style. King’s biographical approach shares his journey toward his prolific career. His book unfolds in four sections. The first section walks the reader through King’s formative years. By the end of that section, King feels like a long-held friend. The second section shares essential tools for writing like basic grammar, vocabulary, and style. King references William Strunk and E. B. White as masters from whom he learned in this section. The third section contains King’s advice on specific aspects of building writing skills, including constant reading, writing, and paring down various drafts. The last section reads like a personal diary entry of King’s way back to life after an auto accident almost took his life.

Pressfield’s work, classified under self-help psychology, offers short segments of advice about overcoming barriers and releasing a person’s innate creativity. His work reads more philosophically as a guide to living one’s best life, including pursuing one’s most profound passion. The great barrier to that better life occupies the first section, what he calls “resistance.” He diagnoses that “Resistance arises from within. It is self-generated and self-perpetuated. Resistance is the enemy within.”[2] In his second section, Pressfield counsels a winning strategy in the fight against resistance. In the final section, he describes life beyond resistance. Both authors write to encourage nervous, aspiring, and struggling writers like mentors cheering on their students toward future success.

I gleaned three principles from the two authors that apply to leadership. First, be honest about yourself. Stephen King writes about his addiction to alcohol in graphic ways that do not seek to manage the reader’s understanding or shade the reality to skew his responsibility or situation toward the positive. Such straightforward honesty inspired respect as the tendency to manage our image can be subtle, even unconscious to the one doing so. Among younger generations, the ability to “smell” disingenuousness comes hard-wired. A leader integrity’s credibility, and that trait grows through multiple sources. One of the ways to gain credibility arises from an honest portrayal of ones struggles, not just one’s strengths. I believe it was on a Craig Groeschel leadership podcast where he stated, “People are not looking for a leader who is perfect, but they are looking for a leader who is real.” The authenticity of both authors starkly shared every aspect of their all-too-human journey.

Second, leaders cannot always be certain, but they can be clear. In his section called “The Toolbox,” King offers numerous writing tips, primarily aimed at concise, strong language. He takes issue with passive verbs and adverbs with a strident tone, arguing for the active voice and clarity. When explaining the motivation behind unclear writing, King speaks about the inner battle of the writer when he states, “ With the passive voice, the writer usually expresses fear of not being taken seriously. . .”[3] His understanding of the motive behind the overuse of adverbs centers on a fear of not being taken seriously.[4] Simple, straightforward communication connects best. An expectation upon leaders often includes that assumption that she or he possesses all the answers to all the questions. One aspect of honesty could include the willingness to admit, “I don’t know.” Leaders need to conquer insecurities and unrealistic expectations to find the freedom of honest communication.

Another application of this principle includes a leader’s willingness to share their weaknesses and failures, not just their strengths and successes. When a pastor uses an illustration from a TV show and prefaces the quote with, “not that I watch a lot of TV,” could they be managing their image before their frontstage audience? Simon Walker wrote about the visible and invisible part of a leader’s life in Leading Out of Who You Are. Both King and Pressfield take their readers into their backstage world of fears, motives, and imperfections. That endearing quality gets admired when others to so but can prove a challenge to the person faced with that choice to expose what can only be known if revealed.

Third, check your motives. King states, “Writing isn’t about making money, getting famous, getting dates. . .or making friends. In the end, it’s about enriching the lives of those who will read your work, and enriching your own life, as well.”[5] Pressfield speaks in terms often designated in ministry as a “calling” when he states, “Our job in this lifetime is not to shape ourselves into some ideal we imagine we ought to be, but to find out who we already are and become it.”[6] When young folks approach me considering a future in ministry, I ask them to relate their sense of calling. Some days calling alone provide affirmation to endure the challenges of leadership. A leader’s purpose must exist beyond themself.

Both authors urge readers to step up, step out, and get writing. Neither exists apart from the struggles common to all. Pressfield quotes Goethe, who said, “Whatever you can do, or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius, magic, and power in it. Begin it now.”[7]

[1] Stephen King, On Writing (New York: Scribner, 2000),  270.


[2] Steven Pressfield, The War of Art (New York: Black Irish Entertainment LLC., 2002), 8.


[3] King, On Writing, 124.


[4] Ibid., 124.


[5] Ibid., 269.


[6] Pressfield, The War of Art, 146.


[7] Ibid., 122.

About the Author


Roy Gruber

Husband, father, pastor, student, and sojourner in Babylon

12 responses to “A Writing (and Leading) Kick in the Seat of the Pants”

  1. I love your clear synthesis of King and Pressfield. I think they’d both be proud. Steve Pressfield’s works are ringing in my ears, “All that matters is I’ve put in my time and hit it with all I’ve got. All that counts is that , for this day, for this session, I have overcome Resistance.” What are your inertia-killers and saboteurs to “putting in the time”?

  2. mm Roy Gruber says:

    Michael, thanks for that good question. I believe my biggest inertia-killer is my own fear and insecurities. I’m not sure of the page number where Pressfield says this, but, in essence, he says we fear to start something but in reality we fear success! I can relate to both of those aspects of the process. It’s easy to project our fears onto other people or circumstances rather than own them for what they are. More and more I wonder why God chooses to use such broken people as us.

  3. mm Troy Rappold says:

    Roy: Of your three principles that you elaborated on, “Check your motives” was the most thought provoking to me. It holds true for writers, ministers and all leaders. It is a constant search we have to perform on ourselves to make sure we don’t fall into our selfish motives and entitlements. When we find this sweet spot of resting in God, being who we are, fulfilling our calling, creativity flows. I wish I could stay in that spot continuously, but being human prevents it. When you compose your Sunday sermons, do you feel the creative joy that King and Pressfield talk about in this books?

    • mm Roy Gruber says:

      Troy, I like that question! I feel that kind of joy on occasion but not always. I’ve found that on weeks that I struggle to put a message together well, God shows up in wonderful ways, probably because there is a greater need to rely on Him and not me. Knowing that God does the work makes it a lot easier to sleep on Saturday nights!

      • Kayli Hillebrand says:

        Roy – I think the 3 summation points you make can be transferrable to so many sectors of our lives. Similar to Troy’s question about composing a sermon, have you found that you’re style or composition in preparing your sermons has been impacted in any ways by the more consistent and scholarly work you’ve had to do in this program so far?

        • mm Roy Gruber says:

          Great question, Kayli – made me think for quite a while. I think the biggest impact of my studies with Jason have been in my leadership of staff and the church Board. Friedman’s sledgehammer on differentiation has impacted me the most so far. I am thankful for the changes and I know we never stop learning, so bring on the rest!

  4. mm Eric Basye says:

    Excellent post. What I most appreciate was your boiling down to three takeaway points. Those are some great leadership principles and I would certainly agree with all three.

    Of the three, what do you find to me the most lacking in society today? And how about in the Church?

    • mm Roy Gruber says:

      Eric, my experiences with those who lost their ministry due to moral issues leads me to believe the “be honest” principle lacks the most. I can think of several people I knew personally who projected a “I got this” attitude to ministry but were living secret lives that they denied until it was obvious. The last several years of high-profile falls also leads me to wonder how that happens to people like Ravi Zacharias. Folks in our church knew him personally and have been devastated by his fall. I once head someone say, “The person we lie to the most is ourselves.” I wish there was more focus on those who ran the race of faith well, not on what only seems emphasis on the fallen.

  5. mm Nicole Richardson says:

    Roy, I appreciate the takeaways you share.

    Your wrote, “An expectation upon leaders often includes that assumption that she or he possesses all the answers to all the questions. One aspect of honesty could include the willingness to admit, “I don’t know.”” What might Friedman say about this? Your thought also makes me think of Poole’s Leadersmithing….how would you compare her argument with this tension from Friedman?

    • mm Roy Gruber says:

      Nicole, In my own mind, I refer to you as the cohort’s “Friedman expert” and I mean that in the best way. You seem to have integrated his work into all the others. About this point, I think Friedman would say an answer of “I don’t know” is appropriate in a given moment if it is genuine. I believe an undifferentiated leader might make up an answer believing she/he needs to give one whether they have one or not. They might also give an answer that seeks to appease the anxiety of the person to whom they speak. An honest “I don’t know” (when that is true) trumps the other two choices. For Poole, I’m guessing she would direct that leader to her deck of cards about practicing leadership moments so that if that scenario comes up again, she/he is prepared for it next time. Thoughts?

  6. mm Denise Johnson says:

    Your opening paragraph made me laugh, as you seem to have read my mind.
    The clarity and significance of your three key points really struck me. They reminded me of Walker and the leader who is able to live authentically between his backstage and frontstage. What might some ways to connect with his work?

    • mm Roy Gruber says:

      Denise, I took a great deal of comparison between both author’s willingness to share their inner world in such graphic and personal ways as an expression of Walker’s backstage. I’ve been struck by recent “falls from grace” by people in ministry and it appears a consistent dynamic of that scenario is a secret, hidden life that few, if any, could see. While a leader should not share every detail of their backstage life, there need to be trusted people that get to see/hear what’s happening in the leader’s inner life, Accountability is great as long as it’s genuinely accountability and not just the appearance of it. Accountability is only as good as the willingness of people to be appropriately honest.

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