The War of Art, by Steven Pressfield

Steven Pressfield (who also wrote The Legend Of Bagger Vance) begins this book with  words like these:

“Most of us have two lives. The life we live, and the unlived life within us. Between the two stands Resistance…have you ever brought home a treadmill and let it gather dust?… are you a writer who doesn’t write, a painter who doesn’t paint, an entrepreneur who never starts a venture? Then you know what Resistance is”.

Pressfield drives home some very important points in a witty, funny and easy-to-read way. Whatever your calling is, you MUST follow through and do it kid. And you need to be aware of anything that will try to stop you. For Steven Pressfield that thing is Resistance.

He goes on to give examples of what Resistance looks like:

  • a repelling force whose aim is to distract us from doing our life’s work.
  • it doesn’t come from the outside – it is internal, self generated and self-perpetuated.
  • it never sleeps (the battle against resistance must be fought anew each day).
  • it’s fuelled by fear and commonly manifests as procrastination. Self doubt is another of its allies.
  • one of its favourite tricks is criticism (“when we see others beginning to live their authentic selves, it drives us crazy if we have not lived our own”)
  • grandiose ideas of your fame and fortune are also symptoms of Resistance (and the mark of an amateur). A pro, according to Pressfield, concentrates on the work.

Resistance however can be beaten, and Pressfield offers some tips on how. First of all – you have to start thinking and behaving like a Pro (and not like an amateur). He gives the example of the writer Somerset Maugham who said “I write only when inspiration strikes, fortunately it strikes every morning at 9 o’clock sharp”. According to Pressfield “That’s a Pro”.

Among other things, the Pro:

  • is patient (an amateur dives in with over-ambition and unrealistic timetables for when things will be achieved).
  • is scared to death but forges ahead anyway. The “counterfeit innovator is wildly self-confident”
  • “plays it as it lays” i.e takes it all as it comes and does not wait for the terrain to look good before taking action.
  • seeks order. After all, the Muse that every pro calls on before embarking on the work must not “soil her gown” in your messy physical environment.
  • “distances herself from her instrument” i.e the pro understands that she/he has a gift and she/he must work with it, not get caught up in it (as Pressfield humorously points out – Madonna doesn’t walk around her house in cone bras. She does not identify with “Madonna”. Madonna employs “Madonna”)

The War Of Art is not just another manual of dos and don’ts.

In the final section of the book Pressfield discusses higher realms (he writes, “I plan on using terms like angels and muses, does that make you uncomfortable?”). Pressfield understands that any labour of love involves not just your hard work and determination but other unseen forces – and you can call those forces whatever you want. “When we sit down each day and do our work, power concentrates around us. The Muse takes note of our dedication”. So say your prayers, meditate, whatever, and then sit down and do your work. When you set out to truly create something (anything!) an intelligence steps in and begins to work with you and through you.

We all know that the process of being true to ourselves is not easy but you have to take the plunge. “The Knights of the Round Table were chaste and self-effacing…[but] they dueled dragons. We’re facing dragons too.” And by “dragons” Pressfield is simply referring to all those things within us that stop us from living to our highest potential.

Pressfield also says that anyone who has children will tell you that babies don’t pop out “tabula rasa” (a blank slate). Children are born with distinct and unique personalities. You came into this world with a specific personal destiny. You have a job to do.

Perhaps the best part of this book is that Pressfield is honest about his own journey. It was years before the success of The Legend of Bagger Vance. But even before the glory, when no one knew and no one cared, that moment when he finished the book was  profound. “I felt like a dragon I’d been fighting all my life had just dropped dead at my feet and gasped its last sulfuric breath”.

So:

For all of us out there who are on the fence, or scared about taking the plunge, I encourage you to go ahead and do it. And grab a copy of “The War Of Art” so that on those days when you’re down and out, you can flip open a page and remember why you’re in the game to begin with.

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