The War of Art by Steven Pressfield

Have you ever suffered from any type of mental or creative block? If so, Steven Pressfield has some suggestions for you in his book The War of Art. Pressfield, a successful novelist and screenwriter, shares his interesting thoughts about fighting the creative battle in this little book.

I originally downloaded this on Audible, but I decided after listening to the first few chapters that I also wanted a copy for my desk. If you do download the audio version, it’s only about three hours long. It would be perfect for a summer road trip or a day at the beach. And even if you buy the hard copy, it’s broken into very small sections. It would be perfect for a summer road trip or a day at the beach! Wait–am I repeating myself? 🙂

The book is split into three parts:

  • Resistance: Defining the Enemy
  • Combating Resistance: Turning Pro
  • Beyond Resistance: The Higher Realm

In the first section of the book, Pressfield lays out his philosophy of creativity and creative battles. First of all, he defines any creative act–writing, painting, composing, singing, inventing, exercising–as a war. In that war, Pressfield explains, the opposition we feel isn’t just procrastination, writer’s block, or frustration, it’s a force called Resistance. He explains it like this:

Most of us have two lives. The life we live, and the unlived life within us. Between the two stands Resistance.

He says that Resistance is invisible, implacable, impersonal, untiring, universal, and fueled by fear, to name a few of its characteristics. In part one of the book, Pressfield explains how this concept of Resistance manifests itself in self-pity, fear, victimization, over-dramatization, and a lot of other negative things. In other words, what we might term simple procrastination Pressfield elevates to a whole new level.

In part two of the book, my favorite section, Pressfield teaches us that we can combat Resistance by turning pro. He says:

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.

This was my favorite section of the book because he offers some really great, really simple advice: Show up and do your work. Whether your work is writing, playing the guitar, taking pictures–whatever creative act you believe you were meant to do–you have to turn pro, show up, and do your work.

This summer I’ll be starting my capstone project for my master’s degree, so this was a timely encouragement to show up. I’ve taped up a list of Pressfield’s characteristics of a professional over my desk. They are:

  1. Show up every day.
  2. Show up no matter what.
  3. Stay on the job all day.
  4. Be committed over the long haul.
  5. Know that the stakes are high and real.
  6. Accept remuneration for your labor.
  7. Do not overidentify with your job.
  8. Master the technique of your job.
  9. Have a sense of humor about your job.
  10. Receive praise or blame in the real world.

All of the advice Pressfield gives–and there is so much more to dig through in this book than what I’ve mentioned here–is relatively practical. He does stray off into the weeds with some philosophical ideas here and there, but on the whole I thoroughly enjoyed listening to his advice for creative people.

Which brings me to my last point: Pressfield doesn’t just mean artists and writers when he talks about creativity and creative people. He says this:

We’re all creative. We all have the same psyche. The same everyday miracles are happening in all our heads day by day, minute by minute.

And I think I’ll leave it there!

Keep Reading,

Sarah

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