Book Review: The War of Art by Steven Pressfield
Book: The War of Art: Break Through the Blocks and Win Your Inner Creative Battles by Steven Pressfield
Genre: Creativity advice
Publisher: Black Irish Entertainment
Publication date: 2002
Summary: A book about creativity, defining creative people very broadly to include entrepreneurs, spiritual seekers, and (my favorite) those seeking a healthier diet or weight loss. Since The War of Art is written by a writer, though, this is mostly a book for writers and similar creative types. A series of short, related essays (ranging from three lines to four pages), The War of Art is quickly read and slowly lived.
Thoughts: As I read The War of Art, I kept thinking of my all-time favorite TED talk, Elizabeth Gilbert on genius. I’ve watched it so many times that I have parts of it memorized. The War of Art is the book that gives me a further path to walk using the inspiration from that TED talk.
The structure of The War of Art is three Books. The first covers resistance in all its forms. What keeps us from our art? The answer turns out to be some of the same forces in society that pressured me to overeat and others to take manufactured drugs for conditions invented by manufacturers:
When we drug ourselves to blot out our soul’s call, we are being good Americans and exemplary consumers. We’re doing exactly what TV commercials and pop materialist culture have been brainwashing us to do from birth. Instead of applying self-knowledge, self-discipline, delayed gratification, and hard work, we simply consume a product. p. 26
The second Book tells us how to combat resistance, recommending a mindset of “Turning Pro.” The section on A Professional is Patient was instructive for me:
Resistance outwits the amateur with the oldest trick in the book: It uses his own enthusiasm against him. Resistance gets us to plunge into a project with an overambitious and unrealistic timetable for its completion. It knows we can’t sustain that level of intensity. We will hit the wall. We will crash.
….The professional arms himself with patience, not only to give the stars time to align in his career, but to keep himself from flaming out in each individual work. He knows that any job, whether it’s a novel or a kitchen remodel, takes twice as long as he things and costs twice as much. He accepts that. He recognizes it as reality. p. 75
In the last week of January, I re-wrote my writing goals for the year (goals that I wrote less than a few short weeks ago). I spent most of the month making myself miserable because I wasn’t meeting my word count goals. I barely acknowledged that I was putting the time in on my work that I intended, a praise-worthy act, because I was so disappointed to be behind on my word count. Finally, with the help of The War of Art, I determined that I need to put in the time and let the words take care of themselves. I dropped my timetable, erased my word count goals, and put a plan in place that requires only that I show up for my work.
Book 3 of The War of Art helps me know what to do when I’m at my work — how to invoke the muse, find the magic, and work through the fear that leads to resistance.
Appeal: I want to hand this book to anyone who experiences resistance to any calling whether it’s what we normally think of as a creative pursuit or it’s something we think of as more practical, like breaking a bad habit. The War of Art argues that if you’re encountering resistance then you want an act of creativity, you just may not know it yet. This book will help you find it.
Challenges: The War of Art by Steven Pressfield is the fourth of four books for my New Year’s Resolution Reading Challenge — yay! I completed the reading by the end of January, but it took a couple of more days to get the review written. I read this book to support my resolution to Be More Creative.
This is the fourth of 16 to 20 books for The Nonfiction Reading Challenge, so I’m off to a good start for that in 2014.
Have you read this book? What did you think?
After reading it, I immediately gave it to my daughter. I know what you mean about wanting to pass it on to others.
What I can say is…..I need this book!
“The War of Art is quickly read and slowly lived.”
So true. That’s how I feel about this book also.
I appreciate your goal of only showing up for your writing instead of having a specific word count. It takes the pressure off ourselves when we don’t anticipate the outcome but only hold ourselves responsible for the effort.
Thanks for the great review. And I love that Elizabeth Gilbert TED talk too. I’ve watched it many times (but not yet memorized it, ha).
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