on September 10, 2004
Know the enemy, know yourself, wrote Sun Tzu in his classic The Art of War, and your victory will be certain. For anyone who is stuck at a level below their God-given potential, who can't seem to get on track to do the things they need to do in order to achieve their most authentic goals, knowing the enemy and knowing yourself are one and the same.
Steve Pressfield's magnificent little book The War of Art is about being more creative - but more important, it's also about fulfilling your potential as a human being. To do this, he says, you must overcome Resistance (the "R" is capitalized be Pressfield to represent the fact that it is a very real entity - as real to your authentic Self as Charles Manson or Genghis Khan were to their victims).
The whole aim of Resistance, says Pressfield (who is the bestselling author of The Legend of Bagger Vance and Gates of Fire), is to prevent you from doing the work you are called to do. Resistance wants you to take it easy, to be ordinary and mediocre, to take the low road. Resistance is the reason so many people place a basket over the brilliant candle that shines within them. The fight against Resistance is, Pressfield says, a war to the death.
Pressfield disputes the standard motivational cliché that you can have, do, or be anything if you follow the right formula and just work hard enough. Rather, he says: "We are not born with unlimited choices... Our job in this lifetime is not to shape ourselves into some ideal that we imagine we ought to be, but to find out who we already are and become it."
There are two occasions when Resistance will be the most relentless, and they are related. The first is when something really matters to you. "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." If your lifelong goal is to be a writer, a rejection letter from a publisher will hurt a whole lot more than if you submitted your manuscript on a dare.
The second occasion that Resistance is most dangerous is related to what Pressfield calls "the mother of all fears," namely the fear that you will actually succeed. Resistance builds as you get closer to the finish line. "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." There is a real paradox here: the closer you get to reaching that proverbial tipping point, where things are really starting to click, the more likely you are to engage in the self-sabotaging behavior that is the calling card of Resistance.
Pressfield offers a prescription for defeating Resistance. You must, he says, become "a pro." But he does not mean that in the sense of earning a living at the work, in the sense of being a member of a certain profession, or in the sense of being looked up to by your peers. Rather, he simply means showing up every day with your lunch pail and getting to work. Much of the book has to do with how you make this transformation so that you can do the work that you are called to do.
I have made a small poster with this quote from Steve's book and placed it prominently above my computer: "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. This second, we can sit down and do our work." My own next book has been on the back-burner for far too long, victim to Resistance. But now I have a weapon: Every time Resistance stands between me and doing my work, I pull Steve's book from out of my bookshelf and beat Resistance over the head. Then in that very second, I sit down and do my work. And it's working.
on July 15, 2004
I posted a review of this book over a year ago, right after I read it for the first time. I gave it three stars at that time because, other than the first section dealing with resistence in a practical sense, I found the rest of the book to be too esoteric. Since then I have done a tremendous amount of soul-searching regarding my inner drive to become a writer. That search took me back to this book recently, and after reading it for a second time I have to say I don't know what I was thinking when I gave it only three stars. Today I truly believe it is worthy of five stars because it struck deep into my conscience and helped me understand my situation and the situation of others like me. Anyone who is trying to tap into the inspiration they sense burning somewhere inside them that tells them to go out and write - or to create any other kind of art - will benefit tremendously if they open their minds and prepare themselves for rigorous introspection. This is not a simple self-help or how-to book. It is a truly profound examination of the human mind and the quest for fulfillment that we all feel.
on May 27, 2002
One thing is certain: Steven Pressfield was compelled by whatever source provides him inspiration for his craft to write this book. This is not a labor of love; it is a labor of compulsion. The book is also certain to draw extreme reviews: some will love it; others won't. Middle ground is unlikely. The book manifests itself: I don't think Steven Pressfield cares if he sells one copy, nor does he care whether we like it or not. He only knows that this was a book he had to write. I'm glad he did.
The War of Art is a real-world extension of Bagger Vance, the Jonathan Livingston Seagull of the `90's. Pressfield's presentation draws comparison to many statements that have floated around in my head over the years. JLS said "You have the freedom to be yourself, your true self here and now." In the second edition of the Star War series (in the late `70's?) Yoda tells Luke Skywalker, "There is no try." Either do it or don't do it. The War of Art makes a strong case for both of these concepts.
I was a fighter pilot for nearly 10 years, edited and published a newspaper for two, and entered the battlefield of corporate America two decades ago. As I concluded Pressfield's book, I was overwhelmed with the bittersweet feeling that I truly wished I had read this book when I was 20, not 52. Only having read one or two randomly selected pages when I got the book, I emailed by 20-year-old son in New Hampshire and made it "mandatory reading." He called me within 48 hours, and I couldn't fail to see the impression The War of Art had made on him. "Dad," he said, "For the first time in my life, I can see all the time I've wasted ...." The impact was as real as it was profound.
I read once that "the only thing in the middle of the road is yellow stripes and dead armadillos." Pressfield powerfully demands that the reader has to make affirmative choices to accomplish any calling in life; there is no middle of the road. He deftly explains why so few people reach their own God-given and inspired potential and offers his path for reaching that potential.
Even at 52-years-old, I will change my life having read this book. I sense my son will too. There are concepts that I cannot nor would I fully commit to. Nonetheless, Pressfield has professed an approach to life, be it art or otherwise, that will work. Whether you love this book or hate it, I guarantee it will make you think, and it will alter your approach to life, the path you've taken and the pace of your journey.
If you have a passion in your life -- writing, painting, music, sculpting, dancing, acting -- and if this passion is the reason you believe you're alive, then check out this book. One of Pressfield's premises is that we're all MEANT for something, we're each here for some reason, to create something in the world (Eternity is in love with the productions of time) and if we don't live for and through this, then we're wasting our time. He blasts away even the most stubborn and alluring resistances - the excuses we tell ourselves for not doing the work. This book can rev you up -- it's short (165 pages)and powerful. I breezed through the book in a few hours and felt energized. Pressfield puts art-making in perspective, puts procastination in perspective, and delivers in a direct, conversational tone -- as one human who is trying to live a life that means something to another. I've read a lot of "how to" books and most don't live up to their hype. This one deals with how to overcome the obstacles of ambition and how (and why) to discipline yourself. As much as a cliche as it may sound, it will make a difference in how you look at what you do. Give it to anyone else you know who wants to write, paint, act, dance, compose, and wants to follow their dream.
on December 17, 2006
My addiction to learning is fueled by those once-a-year books I pick up that literally change the way I perceive things and influence me to think and act differently. The Art of War, by Steven Pressfield, is that book for this year. I read the (short) book over the last few days, then re-read the first half of it again today (I guess I didn't want it to end).
This is a book that slams you up 'side the head with its blunt yet beautiful personification of Resistance (the malevolent force of nature that intentionally diverts the "artist" from sitting down and doing her work) and its description of the differences between a "professional" (someone who stomps on Resistance daily, in order to get work done) and an "amateur" (with whom Resistance has its own way). The final section discusses the "angels and muses" who use you and me as vessels for our art - if we'll just get out of our own way, sit down, and begin.
The quality of the book that gives its ideas such power is its depiction of Resistance as an evil force that owns us - unless we become aware of its pernicious influence and take steps every day, every hour - whenever it creeps up on us - to actively combat Resistance. Here are some key excerpts from the first section that defines the enemy of 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."
"Resistance will tell you anything to keep you from doing your work....It will reason with you like a lawyer or jam a nine-millimeter in your face like a stickup man."
"Resistance's goal is not to wound or disable. Resistance aims to kill. Its target is the epicenter of our being: our genius, our soul, the unique and priceless gift we were put on earth to give and that no one else has but us. Resistance means business. When we fight it, we are in a war to the death."
"Rationalization is Resistance's spin doctor.... Resistance presents us with a series of plausible, rational justifications for why we shouldn't do our work.... What Resistance leaves out, of course, is that none of this means diddly. Tolstoy had thirteen kids and wrote War and Peace. Lance Armstrong had cancer and won the Tour de France three years and counting."
"Resistance seems to come from outside ourselves. We locate it in spouses, jobs, bosses, kids.... Resistance is not a peripheral opponent. Resistance arises from within. It is self-generated and self-perpetuated. Resistance is the enemy within."
Already, since reading The War of Art, I have become much more tuned in to those moments when Resistance is trying to press its claws into me. And perhaps because I have learned to identify Resistance in all its chameleon, sneaky forms, I'm really enjoying kicking its butt. It's been four straight days of running now, despite all the (true and real) rationalizations you could possibly imagine. Even writing this blog post is a victory over Resistance. Feels good to block the slam dunk of Resistance for one day. The war begins anew tomorrow morning, 5:00am. Bring it on.
on May 22, 2009
The best book I've ever read about overcoming procrastination and the inner workings of the creative process. It's just awesome.
I recommend it to every creative person that I know.
on September 18, 2014
I was stunned at how bad this book is especially considering that Seth Godin recommended it and it has over a thousand reviews.
I had a problem both with the message and the way it was expressed.
The main message is that we don't do things we should (not just writers stuff like finishing book etc but also stuff like working on our relationships, saving money, working out, eating well etc) because of some inner 'resistance.' He explains the resistence as fear. This, I'm ok with, as we do seem to have resistence to things the would truely make us happy.
Then he loses me! He goes on to subscribe to some weird ancient Greek idea that our genius (ability to do stuff really well) as coming from 'angels' who whisper into our ears!! He says that this is because if we considered ourselves a genius it would create arrogance and interlink 'us' with our genius. Though he doesn't seem to consider the arrogance that it takes to consider that we have been 'chosen' (because not everyone has an angel spouting award winning novels and movie scripts into our ears!) out of millions of people to have an angel of our own who will recite best sellers to us to write down) He quotes many famous and well respected writers and put words in their mouth 'when John Lennon said that, he knew that we don't create our own work, but that our angels bring it to us.' His 'evidence' for these angels is that "if angels didn't exist, how else can we explain Shakespeare...." Seriously, that's his argument!!!
Then, he milks this stupid idea by mentioning every instance of resistance. The resistance affects our relationships, the resistance effects our health, the resistance effects blah, blah, blah.
I wouldn't mind having to endure the new-age crap if he would at least offer some kind of insight or solution - but he offers neither beyond incantations for channeling our angels!
OMG! What a load of crap!! When i was 73% through it, i just couldn't bear it any more and scanned through what seemed to be even worse rubbish!
There are sooooo many good books on being productive and creative - this is NOT one of them.
on March 16, 2006
I stumbled across this book thinking it was the Art of War - boy was I surprised and delighted. It is the best book I have read in the last three years. It has taken me close to 150 books to find this gem. I haven't been able to put it down since I got it. I re-visit it almost daily. It has changed my entire perspective on how I start each and every day.
You MUST read this book if you are feeling a general dissatisfaction, a measure of restlessness, a low grade misery, or you are just plain disgusted with the way your life is heading. Pressfield calls these experiences Resistance. He then tells you what to do about them.
You may not like all of what he has to say or even agree with it, however it will force you to decide what is important to you and above all TO ACT on it! What ever "it" is. Whether it be writing, painting, or study you don't have to be an artist to benefit from this wisdom and his instruction. As a student, I felt he was speaking directly to me.
Here are three things that stuck with me:
"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. This second, we can sit down and do our work."
"We have two lives: the life we live and the unlived life we dream about. Resistance fills the gap in-between."
The hard part of sitting down to study - is not necessary the study itself it is the sitting down part. "The battle must be fought a new every day."
From a student that didn't study - but does now.
Rating: Strong Buy
Are you creative, yet are facing writer's block? Read this book and it'll shake your block loose and help set you free!
In this slim volume Stephen Pressfield discusses the inner naysayer we all have within us, also referred to as an inner critic by most writers.This book helps you identify and defeat the negative self talk any creative person must deal with. It does so in a serious tone, sprinkled with lots of humor. For example, the heading of one of his essays is "How To Be Miserable" - it was an essay that had me chuckling. It also had me nodding my head as I recognized myself in what he wrote.
Written using a variety of short essays, this book is easy to pick up and read at any point. I read it from the first page to the last, in order. You don't necessarily need to do that to benefit from Stephen Pressfield's wisdom about the inner struggle creative people face from day to day. Read from beginning to end does have it's advantages though -- the author takes aim at resistance, procrastination, rationalization, and finally at the end winning the war. When we win the war of art we are free to create, free to be truly happy.
This is one of the best books I've read on the subject. It helped me identify my own foibles then smash the blocks holding me back. I saw myself in each page and triumphed along with the author. This is an excellent book for any creative person. I highly recommend it.
on December 11, 2014
Picked up this book looking for practical advice on creative blocks and the myth of inspiration, hoping to gift it to a friend new to writing. This book has some of that, but it's probably about 10 or so pages of useful advice in a mire of unhelpful (and at times downright toxic) ranting. Aside from the toxic relationship advice (is your spouse pursuing their dreams? they must be holding you back!), claims that a number of psychological conditions are manufactured (very untrue, very harmful to real people), and overdramatic use of metaphors, much of the book seems to be aimed at inflaming the self-destructive guilt and workaholic tendencies that creative people are plagued with enough already. Tips on how to embrace suffering, hate your work, and avoid taking breaks are all well-integrated into this book.
The passages are meant to be short and snappy, but instead they come across as disorganized and over dramatized, preachy but not insightful. I also just don't find Pressfield's thesis that "Resistance=source of all evil" compelling, but maybe that's because I don't share his fundamentalist background.
So that useful advice I mentioned? Let me spare you some time:
-Approach creative work with the same professionalism you'd approach any other job.
-Work consistently, everyday if you can, even when you don't feel like it.
-Don't worry about loving everything you make, just set up consistent habits of focused work time.
There are hundreds of blog posts that can give you same advice and skip all the toxic bs that's in this book. If you want to learn more about habit formation and productivity, there are far more useful and insightful books out there that get into the specific mechanics of how that works rather than the "fight the evil!" approach this book takes. I would recommend "The Power of Habit" by Charles Duhigg for more habit formation, and "Make it Mighty Ugly" by Kim Piper Werker for a take on creative demons that offers more concrete exercises (even if you have to adapt them from crafting to other mediums) in a funnier and less over-dramatized way. They're not perfect, but far better than this.