The War of Art, by Steven Pressfield (2012)
Final verdict: Should-read
We know it already, we go through it, we suffer from it - a creative "block" does not leave anyone out. The more important the goal of our life we aim to achieve, the bigger setbacks we face. A paradox, right? Not anymore after reading War of Art.
Steven Pressfield, born in a family with a military background, is a former Marine. After finishing Duke University he had struggled in life until he became a famous writer, both in fiction and nonfiction genre. Today, his books are parts of a curriculum at West Point (USA), at the United States Naval Academy, or at the Marine Corps Basic School; US soldiers in Afghanistan and Iraq read and exchange them in platoons.
Resistance defeats us
The main conflict is happening inside of us. We want to create, we want to exercise, we want to meditate, we want to be successful, but, out of different reasons, we can’t start the action. We are defeated, by our greatest enemy - ourselves. And as a soldier, you might win a war only if you identify the enemy and create a winning battle plan. War of Art follows a similar pattern.
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. - Steven Pressfield
The enemy is named Resistance and its characteristics are:
- It is a destructive force within us.
- It tells us anything to keep us from doing the work.
- It rises when we face a tough, long-term action that might bring an improvement in our evolution.
We might have heard it in different names, but the result is similar - we resist to improve our lives, our bodies, our surroundings; we stick to what is comfortable and easy. We identify it the best in our regrets of things we have not done and should have.
Turning pro - a battle plan
We do not have to lose every time. In the past, Steven Pressfield lived through the miseries of Resistance and overcame it. He knows how that feels when we can’t get going with aspirations. He suggests to front the Resistance by turning pro.
What does turning pro mean?
- We show up every day.
- We show up no matter what.
- We stay on the job all day. Our minds may wander, but our bodies remain at the wheel.
- We accept remuneration for our labor. We’re not here for fun. We work for money.
- We do not over-identify with our jobs.
- We master the technique of our jobs.
In short, we get serious about a goal we want to achieve.
Turning pro is a decision of will. It is up to us to defeat the Resistance. If we want to become writers, we need to sit down and write, we need to force ourselves to write every day, we need to accept failures and move forward. In the case of Pressfield, it is the artistic expression he seeks to reach. His first script was considered as a failure, his first paycheck arrived after 17 years of writing. But he has not given up on his war of art.
The most important thing about art is to work. Nothing else matters except sitting down every day and trying. - Steven Pressfield
Turning pro does not apply to arts only. We can pursue health goals, business goals, or spiritual goals. It is difficult, it hurts, but Resistance hates it.
Invoking a Muse
The book, in the final chapter, divides two aspects of a human - the Ego and the Self. The Ego is a part of a psyche that believes in material existence, it likes things just the way they are. The Self wishes to create, to evolve, it is a greater entity including unconscious dreams and intuitions, it is a sphere of a soul. The Self is our deepest being, it is where Muses of creativity reside. Anyway, why does it matter?
Resistance has its seat in the Ego, while the inspiration (Muses) resides in the Self. It is a goal to move from our Ego to the Self, to find our call and to create. This is a vision of the victory over Resistance. If we stick to being a pro, Muses will come for the help and the magic of a creation happens, in our Self. Pressfield calls it a higher realm.
The feeling that I felt throughout the book is - it's too much, too pushy. It might be because I have a natural tendency to distrust anything that is looking like an absolute truth, or some sort of a general explanation of everything. Especially, the trend is evident in the first section. Resistance is depicted as something that is fluid enough to explain any aspect of us not doing our work. But it is a vague term. The same is true for the last chapter about finding an inspiration - it is very abstract.
Moreover, the author sets up a dichotomy between Resistance and Turning Pro as if no other option exists. It is tricky. I have more aspirations in life and, in most occasions, I compromise between aims I want to achieve. It is not the case that I want to become solely an artist, but I want to be good at something else too, for example playing a sport or helping my family etc. Leaving all other inspirations out, for the sake of only one, is ruthless.
Nevertheless, the book has the tone of voice of a man who wants to push reader’s limits. Some might find it encouraging, some disturbing. I recommend the book to everyone who is struggling with their "blocks" in life. Turning pro is the decision of a will, and the book kicks into the direction where we finally say "not anymore" to the Resistance.