Table of Contents
“The War of Art” by Steven Pressfield is a guide for overcoming the internal barriers, such as Resistance, that prevent creatives, especially writers, from realizing their full potential.
Book Title: The War Of Art: Break Through the Blocks and Win Your Inner Creative Battles
Author: Steven Pressfield
Date of Reading: August 2017
What Is The Book About As A Whole:
The War Of Art is a book about a single thing haunting all the creatives (especially authors) out there—a blank page. It’s so prevalent in every writer’s career that Pressfield has given it a name—Resistance. The book helps you identify and beat the Resistance on a daily basis.
What Is Being Said In Detail:
The War Of Art is divided into three distinct sections: Resistance, Fighting Resistance, and Beyond Resistance.
The first part (Book One) labels the enemy of creativity and calls it the Resistance. This type of “block” causes self-sabotage, self-deception, and self-corruption. And the solution for this is found in the second section.
The second part (Book Two) provides a pathway to dealing with Resistance. And the collective actions you take to beat the Resistance is called “turning Pro.”
It’s a step-by-step process on how to structure your life and become a Pro so you can beat the Resistance. This part teaches you about preparation, order, patience, and endurance. And any successful (entrepreneur) artist needs to master these traits.
And the third part (Book Three) covers the source of Inspiration. Pressfield talks about the higher realms—a place of Inspiration’s origin. But you can only reach this place and attain its powers if you do the work.
This part heavily reminds of Einstein’s quote: “The intuitive mind is a sacred gift and the rational mind is a faithful servant. We have created a society that honors the servant and has forgotten the gift.”
Most Important Keywords, Sentences, Quotes:
There’s a secret that real writers know those wannabe writers don’t, and the secret is this: It’s not the writing part that’s hard. What’s hard is sitting down to write. What keeps us from sitting down is Resistance.
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.
You know, Hitler wanted to be an artist. At eighteen he took his inheritance, seven hundred kronen, and moved to Vienna to live and study. He applied to the Academy of Fine Arts and later to the School of Architecture. Ever see one of his paintings? Neither have I.
Resistance beat him. Call it overstatement but I’ll say it anyway: it was easier for Hitler to start World War II than it was for him to face a blank square of canvas.
In other words, any act that rejects immediate gratification in favor of long-term growth, health, or integrity. Or, expressed another way, any act that derives from our higher nature instead of our lower. Any of these will elicit Resistance.
It will perjure, fabricate, falsify; seduce, bully, cajole. Resistance is protean.
Though it feels malevolent, Resistance in fact operates with the indifference of rain and transits the heavens by the same laws as the stars. When we marshal our forces to combat Resistance, we must remember this.
Rule of thumb: The more important a call or action is to our soul’s evolution, the more Resistance we will feel toward pursuing it.
Henry Fonda was still throwing up before each stage performance, even when he was seventy-five. In other words, fear doesn’t go away. The warrior and the artist live by the same code of necessity, which dictates that the battle must be fought anew every day.
We feed it with power by our fear of it. Master that fear and we conquer Resistance.
Resistance obstructs movement only from a lower sphere to a higher. It kicks in when we seek to pursue a calling in the arts, launch an innovative enterprise, or evolve to a higher station morally, ethically, or spiritually.
So if you’re in Calcutta working with the Mother Teresa Foundation and you’re thinking of bolting to launch a career in telemarketing. . . relax. Resistance will give you a free pass.
The danger is greatest when the finish line is in sight. At this point, Resistance knows we’re about to beat it. It hits the panic button. It marshals one last assault and slams us with everything it’s got.
Never forget: This very moment, we can change our lives. There never was a moment, and never will be, when we are without the power to alter our destiny. This second, we can turn the tables on Resistance.
Of course not all sex is a manifestation of Resistance. In my experience, you can tell by the measure of hollowness you feel afterward. The more empty you feel, the more certain you can be that your true motivation was not love or even lust but Resistance.
It’s easier to get busted in the bedroom with the faculty chairman’s wife than it is to finish that dissertation on the metaphysics of motley in the novellas of Joseph Conrad.
Cruelty to others is a form of Resistance, as is the willing endurance of cruelty from others.
I once worked as a writer for a big New York ad agency. Our boss used to tell us: Invent a disease. Come up with the disease, he said, and we can sell the cure. Attention Deficit Disorder, Seasonal Affect Disorder, Social Anxiety Disorder.
These aren’t diseases, they’re marketing ploys. Doctors didn’t discover them, copywriters did. Marketing departments did. Drug companies did. Depression and anxiety may be real. But they can also be Resistance.
A victim act is a form of passive aggression. It seeks to achieve gratification not by honest work or a contribution made out of one’s experience or insight or love, but by the manipulation of others through silent (and not-so-silent) threat.
The fundamentalist (or, more accurately, the beleaguered individual who comes to embrace fundamentalism) cannot stand freedom. He cannot find his way into the future, so he retreats to the past.
He returns in imagination to the glory days of his race and seeks to reconstitute both them and himself in their purer, more virtuous light. He gets back to basics. To fundamentals.
Rather, his creativity is inverted. He creates destruction. Even the structures he builds, his schools and networks of organization, are dedicated to annihilation, of his enemies and of himself.
The difference is that while the one looks forward, hoping to create a better world, the other looks backward, seeking to return to a purer world from which he and all have fallen.
The paradox seems to be, as Socrates demonstrated long ago, that the truly free individual is free only to the extent of his own self-mastery. While those who will not govern themselves are condemned to find masters to govern over them.
Individuals who are realized in their own lives almost never criticize others. If they speak at all, it is to offer
encouragement. Watch yourself. Of all the manifestations of Resistance, most only harm ourselves. Criticism and cruelty harm others as well.
It reflects love, love of something we dream of doing, and desire, desire to do it. If you find yourself asking yourself (and your friends), “Am I really a writer? Am I really an artist?” chances are you are. The counterfeit innovator is wildly self-confident. The real one is scared to death.
The opposite of love isn’t hate; it’s indifference.
P.S. When your deeper Self delivers a dream like that, don’t talk about it. Don’t dilute its power. The dream is for you. It’s between you and your Muse. Shut up and use it.
Rationalization is Resistance’s right-hand man. Its job is to keep us from feeling the shame we would feel if we truly faced what cowards we are for not doing our work.
Because if Resistance lets us see clearly that our own fear is preventing us from doing our work, we may feel shame at this. And shame may drive us to act in the face of fear. Resistance doesn’t want us to do this. So it brings in Rationalization.
What’s particularly insidious about the rationalizations that Resistance presents to us is that a lot of them are true. They’re legitimate.
The amateur plays for fun. The professional plays for keeps. To the amateur, the game is his avocation. To the pro it’s his vocation.
Someone once asked Somerset Maugham if he wrote on a schedule or only when struck by inspiration. “I write only when inspiration strikes,” he replied. “Fortunately it strikes every morning at nine o’clock sharp.” That’s a pro.
I’m keenly aware of the Principle of Priority, which states (a) you must know the difference between what is urgent and what is important, and (b) you must do what’s important first.
I was crushed. Here I was, forty-two years old, divorced, childless, having given up all normal human pursuits to chase the dream of being a writer; now I’ve finally got my name on a big-time Hollywood production starring Linda Hamilton, and what happens? I’m a loser, a phony; my life is worthless, and so am I.
The professional cannot live like that. He is on a mission. He will not tolerate disorder. He eliminates chaos from his world in order to banish it from his mind. He wants the carpet vacuumed and the threshold swept, so the Muse may enter and not soil her gown.
I’m not talking about craft; that goes without saying. The professional is prepared at a deeper level. He is prepared, each day, to confront his own self-sabotage.
The Bhagavad-Gita tells us we have a right only to our labor, not to the fruits of our labor. All the warrior can give is his life; all the athlete can do is leave everything on the field.
The professional endures adversity. He lets the birdshit splash down on his slicker, remembering that it comes clean with a heavy-duty hosing.
He reminds himself it’s better to be in the arena, getting stomped by the bull, than to be up in the stands or out in the parking lot.
Tomorrow morning the critic will be gone, but the writer will still be there facing the blank page. Nothing matters but that he keep working.
Making yourself a corporation (or just thinking of yourself in that way) reinforces the idea of professionalism because it separates the artist-doing-the-work from the will-and-consciousness-running-the-show.
Because when we sit down day after day and keep grinding, something mysterious starts to happen. A process is set into motion by which, inevitably and infallibly, heaven comes to our aid. Unseen forces enlist in our cause; serendipity reinforces our purpose.
I have learned a deep respect for one of Goethe’s couplets: “Whatever you can do, or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius, magic, and power in it. Begin it now.”
We know that if we embrace our ideals, we must prove worthy of them. And that scares the hell out of us. What will become of us? We will lose our friends and family, who will no longer recognize us. We will wind up alone, in the cold void of starry space, with nothing and no one to hold on to.
In the hierarchy, the artist looks up and looks down. The one place he can’t look is that place he must: within.
She knows it came out of her but not from her, through her but not of her.
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Book Review (Personal Opinion):
There’s something reassuring about the fact that I and Steven King experience the same thing—Resistance. No matter what kind of a writer you are, you will have to face the horrors of a blank page and deal with it if you want to make art. And this book is the antidote for Resistance.
This Book Is For (Recommend):
- A 37-year-old writer who “lost his mojo”
- A 45-year-old artist who is struggling to be prolific
- A 20-year-old aspiring author who thinks inspiration will strike him every morning
If You Want To Learn More
Steven Pressfield rarely does podcasts so this is a hidden gem.
Steven Pressfield on Rich Roll
How I’ve Implemented The Ideas From The Book
I had a personal website in my native language. There, I used to write one article every single Tuesday for more than four years. I never missed a single one ( 220+ Tuesdays) and The War Of Art helped me beat the Resistance every single week and write the articles!
One Small Actionable Step You Can Do
You can’t rely on motivation, muses, and inspiration to be consistent. You need to treat your dream as a full-time job and be a professional.
So one small step you can do is to create a non-negotiable time slot where you create art. It can be 6 pm every Monday or 1 am every Friday— it doesn’t matter what the slot is, but you need to have it. At that time, you drop everything and go create art. Scheduling will make it easier for you to create art (even when you feel like you don’t have anything to create).