The War of Art

By

Steven Pressfield

Read in
May, 2020
My rating:
9
/10

Summary

A resounding rallying cry of a book. Gives a name to the enemy of our creative work, 'The Resistance'. Defines what it is, how we must defeat and how to move past it. Pick it up in the morning and you'll be done by the afternoon.

Notes

Book One - Defining The Enemy

  • 'Late at night have you experienced a vision of the person you might become, the work you could accomplish, the realized being you were meant to be? 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 is exactly that - the thing holding us back from our creative endeavours, no matter the sphere.
  • Reistance will be elicited by 'any act that rejects immediate gratification in favor of long-term growth, health, or integrity.' p6
  • Resistance is internal, yet we believe it to come from the outside.
  • Resistance is insidious, yet we often give it the benefit of the doubt.
  • Resistance is implacable, yet we try to reason with it.
  • Resistance is impersonal, yet we think it has it in for us.
  • Resistance is universal, yet we think we're the only one experiencing it.
  • 'We don't tell ourselves 'I'm never going to write my symphony.' Instead we say, 'I am going to write my symphony; I'm just going to start tomorrow.' p21
  • '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.' p22
  • Sex is a definite form of procrastination.
  • The artist will not tolerate 'trouble' in her life. That is, the drama or the gossip or the nonsense that will otherwise distract her from her work - that which is most important. p24
  • 'Casting yourself as a victim is the antithesis of doing your work. Don't do it. If you're doing it, stop.' p28
  • 'Fundamentalism is the philosophy of the powerless, the conquered, the displaced and the dispossessed. Its spawning ground is the wreckage of political and military defeat. ... Fundamentalism and art are mutually exclusive.' p34-35
  • Re: self-mastery, Socrates demonstrated 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 them.' p37
  • On authenticity: 'When we see others begin to live their authentic lives, it drives us crazy if we have not lived our own.' p38
  • On impostor syndrome: 'The counterfeit innovator is wildly self-confident. The real one is scared to death.' p39
  • On fear: 'The more scared we are of a work or calling, the more sure we can be that we have to do it.' p40
  • On fear again: 'The professional tackles the project that will make them stretch - go into uncharted waters, explore unconscious parts.'
  • By now Pressfield has introduced the notion of the amateur versus the professional - will return to this.
  • On success: it is a byproduct of what we do. Not the goal, not the aim.
  • On healing and being hurt/not feeling right to do the work: 'the athlete knows the day will never come when he wakes up pain-free. He has to play hurt.' p48
  • We are always playing hurt - roll with it. Don't wait for things to be perfect.
  • The 'support' of others counts for nothing. It is monopoly money, fools' gold. 'Seeking support from friends and family is like having your people gathered around at your deathbed. It's nice, but when the ship sails, all they can do is stand on the dock waving goodbye.' p51

Book Two - Combating Resistance

  • There is a distinction to be made between the amateur and the professional. 'The amateur plays for fun, the professional plays for keeps' and 'the amateur is a weekend warrior, the professional is there seven days a week.' p62
  • Somerset Maugham asked if he wrote on a schedule or when inspiration struck, he was said to respond that it struck every morning at 9am sharp. p64
  • A definition of a professional:

Show up every day

Show up no matter what

Stay on the job all day

Commit to the long haul

Accept stakes that are high, and real

Get paid

Don't overidentify with the job

Master the technique

Have a sense of humour

Receive praise and blame in the real world

  • 'You don't hear the amateur bitching 'this trilogy is fucking killing me!' Instead, he doesn't write his trilogy at all.' p71
  • The amateur sees what they do as 'art'. The professional recognises what it really is - a craft. There is nothing mysterious about it at all. p78
  • There is no such thing as a level playing field. We must play the hand we're dealt and play it as it lays. p81
  • The professional does not consider themselves above their art - they are always at work on improving. 'He knows that by toiling beside the front door of technique, he leaves room for genius to enter by the back.' p84
  • The professional has seated his consciousness somewhere other than in the ego. p87
  • The professional requires no external validation and does not take external criticism to heart, either. p91
  • The professional recognises their limitations (outside of the sphere of their skill at the very least) and seeks help. p94
  • Reinvention is just what professionals do - have to do - from time to time. p95
  • Game recognise game - you know another professional when you see one. p96

Book Three - Beyond Resistance

  • There is an equal and opposite power to the resistance. Pressfield calls this any number of things (and he loses me a bit here) - daimons, angels, muses. Can be thought of in the abstract of course.
  • '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.' p108
  • 'The next morning I went over to Paul's for coffee and told him I had finished. 'Good for you,' he said without looking up. 'Start the next one today.'' p112
  • The previous feels very much like some form of 'chop wood, carry water' zen englightenment
  • The moment we start on a task is the moment that providence also moves with us. In the act of beginning the thing is the seed of success in that task.
  • Goethe: 'Whatever you can do, or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius, magic, and power in it. Begin it now.' p122
  • He talks about the software grinding away in our minds when we are not aware of it. Suspect this is more likely to be the chaos of our brains at work rather than daimons or anything like that.
  • 'The principle of organization is built into nature. Chaos itself is self-organizing. Out of primordial disorder, stars find their orbits; rivers make their way to the sea.' p126
  • 'This is why 'non-creative people' hate 'creative people' - because they're jealous [that they] are tapped into some grid of energy and inspiration that they themselves cannot connect with.' p127
  • 'The self wishes to create, to evolve. The ego likes things just the way they are.' p136
  • For the artist to define oneself hierarchically is fatal - we are to be territorial. We must do the work for its own sake.
  • Hacks condescend to their audience and try to second guess what the market wants. This is not how it works. p152
  • 'I did what I myself thought was interesting, and left its reception to the gods.' p153
  • We should be receiving sustenance from the act itself. Not from any of the reactions that it creates.
  • Krishna - we have the right to labour, not the fruits of our labour.
  • 'Creative work is not a selfish act or a bid for attention on the part of the actor. It's a gift to the world and every being in it. Don't cheat us of your contribution. Give us what you've got.' p165

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