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The War of Art: Break Through the Blocks and Win Your Inner Creative Battles Paperback – January 11, 2012
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A succinct, engaging, and practical guide forsucceeding in any creative sphere, The War ofArt is nothing less than Sun-Tzu for the soul.
What keeps so many of us from doing what we long to do?
Why is there a naysayer within? How can we avoid theroadblocks of any creative endeavor—be it starting up a dreambusiness venture, writing a novel, or painting a masterpiece?
Bestselling novelist Steven Pressfield identifies the enemy thatevery one of us must face, outlines a battle plan to conquer thisinternal foe, then pinpoints just how to achieve the greatest success.
The War of Art emphasizes the resolve needed to recognizeand overcome the obstacles of ambition and then effectivelyshows how to reach the highest level of creative discipline.
Think of it as tough love . . . for yourself.
Whether an artist, writer or business person, this simple,personal, and no-nonsense book will inspire you to seize thepotential of your life.
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"Amazingly cogent and smart on the psychology of creation."
About the Author
STEVEN PRESSFIELD is the author of Turning Pro, Do the Work, The Warrior Ethos and the international bestselling novels, The Legend of Bagger Vance, Gates of Fire, Tides of War, Last of the Amazons, The Virtues of War, The Afghan Campaign, Killing Rommel, and The Profession. He lives in Los Angeles.
- Publisher : Black Irish Entertainment LLC; 47716th edition (January 11, 2012)
- Language : English
- Paperback : 190 pages
- ISBN-10 : 1936891026
- ISBN-13 : 978-1936891023
- Item Weight : 7.2 ounces
- Dimensions : 5 x 0.48 x 8 inches
- Best Sellers Rank: #277 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
- Customer Reviews:
About the author
Reviewed in the United States on November 28, 2018
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The premise is that there are hidden forces working against us, leading to inaction, distraction, procrastination, complacency, fear and self-destructive behavior. The author calls these forces "resistance." They exist within us as negative tendencies or programming in our subconscious. The resistance may also be outside us, as in associations with the wrong people, or addiction to distractions (which today includes social media).
Resistance doesn’t only affect writers. It hits in endeavors such as business, education, breaking bad habits and even, wrote Pressfield, "Any diet or health regimen.” The back cover blurb says, “Dream about writing the great American novel? Regret not finishing your paintings? Wish you could start dieting or exercising today? Hope to run a marathon some day?” Resistance is what holds us back from these undertakings.
The War of Art is divided into three parts. In part one, Defining The Enemy, Pressfield describes the insidious nature of resistance. He explains it from his perspective as a writer, but lists many activities that elicit resistance. This includes any pursuit that calls for rejecting instant gratification in favor of long-term growth, health or integrity. He also warns of the cost of giving in to resistance.
In part two, Combatting Resistance, you’re encouraged that resistance can be beaten. The way is by turning pro and ceasing to act like an amateur. You learn that this is not an easy task. You only turn pro by practicing self-discipline and pursuing self-mastery.
Here’s a partial list of what Pressfield says turning pro looks like: 1. The pro shows up every day no matter what. 2. The pro is committed for the long haul. 3. The pro knows the stakes are high and real. 4. The pro masters the technique of their craft. 5. The pro doesn’t accept excuses. 6. The pro keeps working with the cards he is dealt. 7. The pro is a student of the game for life and open to coaching. 8. The pro reinvents himself. 9. The pro endures adversity. 10. The pro is patient.
The third part of The War of Art is called, Beyond Resistance: Higher Realm. Some readers might find this part strange or even off-putting as it touches on spiritual topics. The author uses the term “muses” or even “angels” to describe the invisible source of inspiration that spurs us on to do our work. However, depending on your belief system, you could conceptualize this two ways:
One, this is the subconscious. This powerful part of our mind stores everything we’ve ever seen, read and experienced and can call it up into conscious awareness. It can also assemble old ideas and knowledge into new combinations. It is the wellspring of our creativity. Two, there’s a universal consciousness. This is a higher power, creative in nature, and possessing all knowledge. We are connected to it, or one with it in individualized form. We can call on it. But we can also cut ourselves off from this inspiration if we identify only with the ego and physical self.
The second interpretation appears more powerful, infinitely so. In either case, the author does not suggest just sitting around to pray or meditate. The key is setting an intention and then starting the work. You commit to show up and simply begin no matter what. As you begin, you ask for guidance (“invoke the muse”), and the beneficent unseen forces show up. You’re inspired to keep taking action. You’re infused with energy. Ideas keep popping into your head.
A core message is that we are creative and growth-oriented beings by nature and we have a channel to a creative source. Failure to act on our higher urges, do our work and create something or grow as a person means a life unlived, and cheating others out of our potential contributions.
Pressfield has a unique, impactful style. There are a couple F bombs, but colorful language is not gratuitous. At 165 pages, you can zip through the book quickly, especially because some pages contain only one paragraph. I can understand how this book might not be everyone’s cup of tea, but it resonated with me. On the cover, a blurb from Esquire says, “… a kick in the ass.” That’s exactly how I’d describe it too.
In The War of Art, Steven Pressfield launches into a similar discussion. In the first section we will discover our enemy: Resistance. The second section discusses our means for combat: Turning Pro. In the third and final section we will see that the battle is between our Self and our Ego.
Resistance – Defining the Enemy. This is the first of 3 sections Pressfield shares with us on what he considers to be the enemy of the creator. Resistance is an internal force, the ‘enemy within.’ Defined as self-sabotage, resistance usually manifests as avoidance, procrastination, or inaction caused by fear which creates paralysis. Resistance, according to Pressfield, is invisible, insidious, implacable, internal, impersonal and universal. He elaborates on each of these adjectives (and more), unafraid to use a clever metaphor or simile to illustrate a point. For example, in the section ‘Resistance is infallible, Pressfield writes:
“Like a magnetized needle floating on a surface of oil, Resistance will unfailingly point to true North-meaning that calling or action it most wants to stop us from doing.”
Pressfield goes on to point out Resistance in its many guises: the way peers may be recruited as allies of Resistance when an artist starts to conquer Resistance; the people around her “begin acting strange…they are trying to sabotage her” because they are experiencing Resistance of their own. They may begin to feel guilty for not trying to reach their own potential To make themselves feel better, they pressure her either directly or indirectly to backslide. In my case, I have a couple of people who point out how hard I work, don’t I need to take some me time? That sort of thing….
Resistance also encourages the artist’s tendency to quit at 99%, procrastinating work in order to not face completion of their work. Completion opens our work up to our peers for review and examination of others. He states that Resistance has no power of its own, only power it receives from our fear.
Any one reading it will be able to identify where Resistance has dug it’s claws in at one time or another with many of his examples and definitions. I want to point out that nowhere in his book does Pressfield address the Resistance we also face via the internet, email, Facebook, etc. In one section he mentions completely missing Watergate because he was too busy writing. Apparently he is able to focus on his work so strongly these things that distract many of us have no appeal to him.
The second section covers: Combating Resistance – Turning Pro. According to Pressfield, there’s no mystery about turning pro. You just make the decision and by an act of your will it is so. By turning pro, Pressfield is talking about the ideal of becoming a professional, a mindset. You make a decision to sit down and do your craft, or exercise, or whatever, NO MATTER WHAT. No matter what tries to distract you and stop you, you keep going until the day is done. You are professional in your dedication and behavior. “An amateur plays for fun, a professional for keeps.” The amateur lets a cold or minor distractions stop him. The professional knows he needs to do the work, and then get better. The amateur thinks he can quit anytime it gets tough and go back to something else. The professional doesn’t want to quit every time he hits a problem, he has discipline and determination to steady him.
Turning pro means basically to prepare a work discipline and follow it. To paraphrase Pressfield’s definition: A pro shows up every day no matter what, stays on the job all day, and is in it for the long haul. For the pro, the stakes are high. Pros accept payment for their work (even if they don’t always make an income). Pros also master the technique of their work, have a sense of humor about their jobs, and receive real-world praise or blame. He explains the hangovers and colds and other things as excuses we use to deflect ourselves from our purpose and from fulfilling our call. An added benefit, if you really love what you do, you will be like a child who looks up from their activities to be surprised to find that it’s time for supper.
Also, Pressfield makes a point that we are not to get our identity from the thing we are trying to create. You are still you. Your work should be work, not you. Aside from your calling, your life’s work, you should have an identity that stands alone. If you only have an identity in whatever you are trying to create, you leave yourself vulnerable to the attacks that will come. You will take it all personally and it should never be that way. Your work is what is being attacked, and you should be able to stand back and defend it objectively. Do not over invest your emotional well being in your success or failure. I think this is a common mistake made.
You, Inc. – Pressman also brings up the benefits of making yourself a corporation. Even if you only think of yourself in this way it can reinforce the idea of professionalism in your work because it separates the artist-doing-the-work from the consciousness-running-the-show. I love his idea of having status meetings with himself. In corporate America, we have a status meeting every Monday morning, decide on a plan of action and who will take care of what part of that plan, then divvy out the assignments, type it up and distribute it to the various participants. He has one of those meetings with himself every Monday. He sits down and goes over his assignments, decides when to be responsible for what, and types it up and distributes it to himself. Sometimes as Joe-blow he is too intimidated to go out and pimp himself, but as Joe-blow Inc, he enjoys the pimping. He’s not him anymore. He’s Me, Inc.
This third and final section talks about the muses and identifies the cause of Resistance through the Self and the Ego. Muses, angels, demons, geniuses, an input from the collective unconsciousness, all these Pressfield calls our allies, “equal and opposite powers…counterpoised against [Resistance].” These allies join us when we make the shift from being an amateur to a professional.
In the second section, he heavily stresses professionalism. He states the most important thing about art is work. Nothing else matters except sitting down every day and trying.
“When we sit down day after day and keep grinding…The muse takes note of our dedication. She approves…we becomes like a magnetized rod that attracts iron filings. Ideas come.”
Following this simple but powerful truth, Pressfield talks about the day he finished his first book. He finally wrote, The End. He received this sage advice from his friend Paul: “Good for you. Start the next one today.” In my words: don’t stop now, you finally have a work ethic that is producing your art.
Now: Ego and Self, and the battle between the two. Resistance has its seat in Ego. The Ego is that part of the psyche that believes in material existence, is concerned with its own preservation and comfort, with stasis and the physical, material world. The Ego likes things the way they are. It likes to be in control.
The Self, according to Pressfield, is where we grow from. This is where our dreams and ideas come from. When we meditate or pray, this is the part of ourselves we are seeking. Self is our deepest being.
Why does the Ego hate the self? According to Pressfield, its …”…because when we seat our consciousness in the Self, we put the ego out of business.” The Ego hates it when the creator sits down to create, whether it’s a book, a painting or an exercise routine. Ego hates to lose control, and tries to cripple Self. It hates creators because they are pathfinders to the future.
Pressfield ends the book with a simple call to action: listen to your Self and take action in order to find out what you were meant to do. Once you figure it out, do it like a professional. If you don’t explore and utilize your gifts, you hurt yourself and everyone around you. If you do, great; you’re sharing your gifts with the world.
Pressfield uses humor and a confident, competent demeanor in what he shares. He’s been there and done this, and wants to share the rewarding fruit he has to show for it, to encourage us to seek that fruit for ourselves. He wants us to be able to overcome our enemy, Resistance, and flourish with our own muses.
We all encounter Resistance in one form or another (fear of failure, fear of success, procrastination, avoidance, distraction, etc.). This book is an extremely easy read, and was very encouraging to me personally. I would highly recommend it for anyone facing any new project in their life. You will be surprised by the things this book reveals to you, and you will also see yourself represented in more than one situation Pressfield shares. Steven Pressfield defines the enemy, offers a strategy for overcoming it and shows us the beautiful fruit we can have as a result of our labor: A completed work, a job well done. Eventually success. It all started for him when he was finally able to write: The End.
Top reviews from other countries
Clearly Steven has read widely across cultures, subject matter and literature. Clearly he has a talent for writing. But as a non-fiction work, I think this was poorly targeted.
It srarts with a kick-ass be a professional, not an amateur section - which I entirely agree with and enjoyed.
It then descends into a religious and philosophical rant that had little meaning or relevance to me.
Maybe if the blurb had made it clearer who it was targeted at, i.e. religious writers, seeking answers as to where they get their talent, then I wouldn't have picked it up.
Clearly the right target audience find it inspiring. The blurb didn't make it clear that I'm not part of it.