The War of Art by Steven Pressfield
Since 2002, The War of Art has inspired people around the world to defeat “Resistance”; to recognize and knock down dream-blocking barriers and to silence the naysayers within us. Resistance kicks everyone’s butt, and the desire to defeat it is equally as universal. The War of Art identifies the enemy that every one of us must face, outlines a battle plan to conquer this internal foe, then pinpoints just how to achieve the greatest success.Though it was written for writers, it has been embraced by business entrepreneurs, actors, dancers, painters, photographers, filmmakers, military service members and thousands of others around the world.
Last week I was looking up book recommendations from some of my idols and “The War of Art” was one of the only books that appeared multiple times. I love to take recommendations from people who’s place I’d like to be in one day, so I purchased it on my Kindle. The books pitch is that it will help you break through mental blocks and win creative battles, something I’m definitely interested in as I continue the blog and hopefully start a podcast.
The point of this review is to give you an overview of what you’ll learn from reading this book, show examples of great sections, and whether it’s worth the money.
The book is split up into three sections:
Resistance: Defining the Enemy
Combating Resistance: Turning Pro
Beyond Resistance: The Higher Realm
Book One: Resistance
“Most of us have two lives. The life we live, and the unlived life within us. Between the two stands Resistance.”
The premise of The War of Art is that everyone is capable of creating and doing great work, but we give in to resistance. Resistance is what stands in the way of us and the life we’re capable of. It takes place in the form of procrastination, fear, rationalization, trouble, victimhood, and other things that keep us from getting our work done.
Book One is about defining resistance, who it is, where you’ll find it, and what it limits us from doing.
The following is a list, in no particular order, of those activities that most commonly elicit Resistance:
- The pursuit of any calling in writing, painting, music, film, dance, or any creative art, however marginal or unconventional
- The launching of any entrepreneurial venture or enterprise, for profit or otherwise
- Any diet or health regimen
- Any program of spiritual advancement
- Any activity whose aim is a tighter abdominal
- Any course or program designed to overcome an unwholesome habit or addiction
- Education of every kind
- Any act of political, moral, or ethical courage, including the decision to change for the better some unworthy pattern of thought or conduct in ourselves
- The undertaking of any enterprise or endeavor whose aim it to help others
- Any act that entails commitment of the heart. The decision to get married, to have a child, to weather a rocky patch in a relationship.
- The taking of any principled stand in the face of adversity.
What do all of those things have in common? They don’t provide immediate gratification, instead they require dedication and growth. Anything that requires you to do something every day, fail, and maybe not see results for years, is where you’ll find resistance.
Think of any goal you have that you know deep down you may never reach, and if you happen to reach it, you would have endured months or years of hard work. That’s where you’ll find resistance.
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.
Defining resistance is what the first section of this book does so well. A lot of times we feel a push back towards our important endeavors but we don’t know what it is. The War of Art defines this as resistance and tells you where you’ll find it, and what the common themes are.
This is something Seth Godin emphasized in his interview with the author, Steven Pressfield (one of the main reasons I bought the book)
SP: Do you experience Resistance (meaning self-sabotage, procrastination, self-doubt, etc.?)In what form does Resistance present itself?
SG: Until you wrote about it in The War of Art, I didn’t know what to call it. For me, the resistance disguises itself as important, even urgent work that could and should be put aside. The resistance most often looks like checking my email. Email is the perfect distraction for me, because it’s fresh, new and bite-sized. When I turn off email, even for an hour, my productivity triples.
Resistance can be found in our actions as well. If you’re constantly criticizing others you may be doing it out of resistance.
If you find yourself criticizing other people, you’re probably doing it out of Resistance. When we see others beginning to live their authentic selves, it drives us crazy if we have not lived out our own.
Another sign you’re facing resistance is if you encounter fear. One of my favorite life concepts is that fear is a compass. When you sense fear you know you are doing something important, something you’ll learn from. The fear of a presentation, job interview, moving, approaching someone, these are the types of fear that point you in the right direction. The War of Art does a great job of explaining this and teaching you to dance with this fear instead of avoiding it.
Book one is an excellent start into The War of Art. You quickly learn the authors writing style as he uses short almost blog post like entries instead of long chapters. If you’re struggling with anything that takes long-term dedication, book one will help you define your enemy.
Book Two: Combating Resistance
Book One was about defining the enemy, book two is about combating it. Now that you’re aware of what resistance is and where you can find it in your life, Steven Pressfield shows you how to defeat it.
The author does this by using the theme “Professionals and Amateurs”.
Aspiring artists defined by Resistance share one trait. They all think like amateurs. They have not yet turned pro.
The moment an artist turns pro is as epochal as the birth of his first child. With one stroke, everything changes. I can state absolutely that the term of my life can be divided into two parts: before turning pro, and after.
To be clear: When I say professional, I don’t mean doctors and lawyers, those of “the professions.” I mean the Professional as an ideal. The professional in contrast to the amateur. Consider the differences.
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.
The amateur plays part-time, the professional full-time. The amateur is a weekend warrior. The professional is there seven days a week.
…The professional loves it so much he dedicates his life to it. He commits full-time. That’s what I mean when I say turning pro.
Resistance hates it when we turn pro.
If you’re doing something because you love it, not expecting money, popularity, or recognition for it, you’re a professional. I see too many bloggers ask about monetizing their blog before they even write a piece. If you’re in it because you expect to be paid for it, you’re an amateur. If you’re dieting just so you can post pictures on social media, you’re an amateur. The professional shows up every day, does the work, and doesn’t expect anything in return, he loves doing it.
This is how the book prescribes we beat resistance, we turn pro.
The amateur believes he must first overcome his fear; then he can do his work. The professional knows that fear can never be overcome. He knows there is no such thing as a fearless warrior or a dread-free artist.
What Henry Fonda does, after puking into the toilet in his dressing room, is to clean up and march out onstage. He’s still terrified but he forces himself forward in spite of his terror. He knows that once he gets out into the action, his fear will recede and he’ll be okay.
You start to catch onto the theme pretty early in this section, professionals rid themselves of all external expectations and do the work, amateurs do not. This is a great lesson you can take from the book and apply to your personal life.
Book’s one and two do a great job of showing you the enemy, and inspiring you to overcome it. When I read these chapters I was inspired and motivated to write and put forth my best work every day. I’d recommend both these sections to any creative. However, book three was a different story……..
Book Three: The Higher Realm
If I could rip out every page of book three and make The War of Art only two sections, I would. Book three doesn’t even feel like it was written by someone on planet Earth, let alone the same author who wrote about resistance.
Book three gets extremely spiritual to a point where even the most extreme follower of religion would raise an eyebrow.
The chapter literally starts out by saying:
The next few chapters are going to be about those invisible psychic forces that support and sustain us in our journey toward ourselves. I plan on using terms like muses and angels. Does that make you uncomfortable?
That’s when you know things are about to get weird. He even tells a story in this chapter about how someone who was dying of cancer started to do the work he was meant to do, and then got cured. Then raised the question of whether or not invoking your muse cures cancer. It’s a hard read, and disappointing end to a great book. If I ever gift this book I’m certainly going to let the person know to skip this section.
With that being said, there are a few actual takeaways from this chapter I’d like to share, such as how artist don’t define themselves hierarchically,
Let’s examine why. First, let’s look at what happens in hierarchical orientation.
An individual who defines himself by his place in a pecking order will:
- Compete against all others in the order, seeking to elevate his station by advancing against those above him, while defending his place against those beneath.
- Evaluate his happiness/success/achievement by his rank within the hierarchy, feeling most satisfied when he’s high and most miserable when he’s low.
- Act toward others based upon their rank in the hierarchy, to the exclusion of all other factors.
- Evaluate his every move solely by the effect it produces on others. He will act for others, dress for others, speak for others, think for others.
Tidbits like this are what will make the book stick with you. Too often we put ourselves in a hierarchy which hinders our ability to do our best work. We see this in school, at work, and in our personal lives. There will always be someone above you, if that’s how you validate yourself, you’ll never be happy.
The last thing this chapter leaves you with is:
“f you’re all alone on the planet, a hierarchical orientation makes no sense. There’s no one to impress. So, if you’d still pursue that activity, congratulations. you’re doing it territorially.
If you were the last person left on Earth, would you still write? Would you still exercise? That’s how you learn of you’re a professional and doing it for the right reason, or an amateur and doing it for hierarchy.
One of my biggest pet peeves is reading a book that I felt like could have given the same information in an article. A good example of this is Influence by Robet Cialdini. Influence puts forth a concept and then spends 20 minutes giving examples to make you learn it, I’d rather have the article.
One of the best things I can say about The War of Art is that it’s much more profound if you actually read the book. I don’t think you can get the key points from this book from an article. This is why I provided examples but didn’t list key takeaways like I did with my Tools of Titans Review. Every creative who reads this book will takeaway something different and have it affect a different area of their life than the next person.
Book three lost me, and based on the Amazon reviews, it lost almost everyone. It’s a shame I have to talk about it, but I’d still recommend the book regardless.
This book is perfect for anyone who is struggling with facing your fears and trying to do creative work. Whether that’s launch a blog, podcast, YouTube show, whatever. This book will help you defined your enemy and overcome it. If that’s you, spend the money and skip the third section.
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