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The War of Art by Steven Pressfield

Read more on Amazon.

Rating: 6 / 10

Thoughts

Good book about what being an artist entails and how to overcome the resistance that you inevitably will meet. The first 2/3 was fine. The last 1/3 was confusing and boring. Don't read that part. It's already a short book, but I feel like it could be much shorter.


Summary

Resistance

  • Writing is not the hard part. Sitting down to write is.
  • Anything that takes effort right now, but you gain from in the long term, will make resistance come knocking. Anything that isn't instant gratification.
  • Don't be fooled: resistance comes from within.
  • Resistance will do anything to deceive you. It even uses rationalization to create 'valid' excuses. Don't allow it to deceive you like this.
  • Go where there is most resistance. That's where you'll gain most.
  • You're not the only one who has experienced resistance. It happens to everyone.
  • Resistance gets its power from you. Once you've mastered your fear, you've conquered resistance.

    • You won't ever get rid of fear, but you can acknowledge it and do the task anyway — that's courage.
    • The more fear you have, the more you can be sure that you should do the task.
  • We are only met with resistance when we aim for something better. Never when we aim lower than where we are.
  • Resistance will be greater when you're about to finish.

    • Submitting your big project for evaluation, for example. This is why so many books are never sent to publishers; fear of failure.
  • When you beat resistance, others will become jealous. They may accuse you of "changing" or "not being like you used to be".
  • Procrastination is a typical form of resistance. "I'll do it... just not now."
  • Never, ever, cast yourself as a victim. It doesn't help.
  • "Individuals who are realized in their own lives almost never criticize others. If they speak at all, it is to offer encouragement."
  • Focus on the work. If the rewards come, fine. If they don't, fine too. The work is the reward.

Overcoming Resistance — Turning Pro

  • Work every day. Not just when 'inspiration strikes'. Inspiration will strike when you start working.
  • The journey will suck. Learn to deal with it.
  • You are already a pro — transfer this to your work.

    • Show up every day. No matter what.
    • Stay all day.
    • Stay committed. It might not be the same task, but you keep working at it.
    • You aren't doing it for fun. It's serious. It might feel fun — but take it seriously.'
    • Don't overidentify with your work. Share it and keep working.
    • Master the techniques of your work.
    • Receive praise or blame. Get real feedback.
  • Don't quit just because you've encountered failure. You are doing what you set out to do. Failure is the price of being in the arena and not on the sidelines.
  • You love what you do, but you play for money.
  • Your work will take time. Stick with it. Be patient. You're in this for the long run.
  • Seek order. Clean environment. Clean psyche.
  • Cave in today and you're twice as likely to cave in tomorrow. Don't accept excuses.
  • Deal with whatever adversity you are met with. The road is never even — you'll encounter bumps on your way.
  • Dedicate yourself to mastering the technique for your work. You are not above it.
  • Realize that you can't know or figure everything out on your own. Seek help.
  • Distance yourself from your instrument — your person, body, voice, talent, etc, that you use in your work. Assess it impersonally and objectively. It is only your will and consciousness that you should identify with.
  • Don't take failure nor success personally. Your work is not you — you create many pieces of work. On to the next one.
  • Listen to criticism but keep in mind that resistance uses criticism against you, too. Learn, but don't fear.
  • You can't be a pro at everything. Bring in others to help and treat them with respect.
  • Turning pro is a decision.
  • You can change what you do. Just continue on your journey.
  • "the most important thing about art is to work. Nothing else matters except sitting down every day and trying."

    • When we sit down to work, ideas come. Insights come.
  • You think you're finished? Start on the next one.

Highlights & Notes

What I Know

There’s a secret that real writers know that wannabe writers don’t, and the secret is this: It’s not the writing part that’s hard. What’s hard is sitting down to write.
What keeps us from sitting down is Resistance.

Resistance's Greatest Hits

What elicits resistance

1)The pursuit of any calling in writing, painting, music, film, dance, or any creative art, however marginal or unconventional.

2)The launching of any entrepreneurial venture or enterprise, for profit or otherwise.

3)Any diet or health regimen.

4)Any program of spiritual advancement.

5)Any activity whose aim is tighter abdominals.

6)Any course or program designed to overcome an unwholesome habit or addiction.

7)Education of every kind.

8)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.

9)The undertaking of any enterprise or endeavor whose aim is to help others.

10)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.

11)The taking of any principled stand in the face of adversity.

In other words, any act that rejects immediate gratification in favor of long-term growth, health, or integrity. Or, expressed another way, any act that derives from our higher nature instead of our lower. Any of these will elicit Resistance.

Resistance Is Internal

Resistance seems to come from outside ourselves. We locate it in spouses, jobs, bosses, kids. “Peripheral opponents,” as Pat Riley used to say when he coached the Los Angeles Lakers.

Resistance is not a peripheral opponent. Resistance arises from within. It is self-generated and self-perpetuated. Resistance is the enemy within.

We may blame others. But it is ourselves we must blame. What we think is the doing of others is really our own resistance in disguise.

Resistance Is Insidious

Resistance will tell you anything to keep you from doing your work. It will perjure, fabricate, falsify; seduce, bully, cajole. Resistance is protean. It will assume any form, if that’s what it takes to deceive you. It will reason with you like a lawyer or jam a nine-millimeter in your face like a stickup man. Resistance has no conscience. It will pledge anything to get a deal, then double-cross you as soon as your back is turned. If you take Resistance at its word, you deserve everything you get. Resistance is always lying and always full of shit.

Resistance Is Infallible

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.

We can use this. We can use it as a compass. We can navigate by Resistance, letting it guide us to that calling or action that we must follow before all others.

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.

Reminds me of "The obstacle is the way"

Resistance Is Universal

We’re wrong if we think we’re the only ones struggling with Resistance.
Everyone who has a body experiences Resistance.

Resistance Never Sleeps

fear doesn’t go away. The warrior and the artist live by the same code of necessity, which dictates that the battle must be fought anew every day.

Resistance Is Fueled By Fear

Resistance has no strength of its own. Every ounce of juice it possesses comes from us. We feed it with power by our fear of it. Master that fear and we conquer Resistance.

Resistance Only Opposes In One Direction

Resistance obstructs movement only from a lower sphere to a higher. It kicks in when we seek to pursue a calling in the arts, launch an innovative enterprise, or evolve to a higher station morally, ethically, or spiritually.

We are only met with resistance when we aim for something better. Never when we aim lower than where we are.

Resistance Is Most Powerful at the Finishline

The danger is greatest when the finish line is in sight. At this point, Resistance knows we’re about to beat it. It hits the panic button. It marshals one last assault and slams us with everything it’s got.

Resistance Recruits Allies

Resistance by definition is self-sabotage. But there’s a parallel peril that must also be guarded against: sabotage by others.

When a writer begins to overcome her Resistance—in other words, when she actually starts to write—she may find that those close to her begin acting strange. They may become moody or sullen, they may get sick; they may accuse the awakening writer of “changing,” of “not being the person she was.” The closer these people are to the awakening writer, the more bizarrely they will act and the more emotion they will put behind their actions.

They are trying to sabotage her.

The reason is that they are struggling, consciously or unconsciously, against their own Resistance. The awakening writer’s success becomes a reproach to them. If she can beat these demons, why can’t they?

Resistance and Procrastination

Procrastination is the most common manifestation of Resistance because it’s the easiest to rationalize. 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.”

Resistance and Procrastination, Part Two

The most pernicious aspect of procrastination is that it can become a habit. We don’t just put off our lives today; we put them off till our deathbed.

Never forget: This very moment, we can change our lives. 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.

Resistance and Sex

Sometimes Resistance takes the form of sex, or an obsessive preoccupation with sex. Why sex? Because sex provides immediate and powerful gratification. When someone sleeps with us, we feel validated and approved of, even loved. Resistance gets a big kick out of that. It knows it has distracted us with a cheap, easy fix and kept us from doing our work.

It goes without saying that this principle applies to drugs, shopping, masturbation, TV, gossip, alcohol, and the consumption of all products containing fat, sugar, salt, or chocolate.

Avoid instant gratification

Resistance and Trouble

The working artist will not tolerate trouble in her life because she knows trouble prevents her from doing her work. The working artist banishes from her world all sources of trouble. She harnesses the urge for trouble and transforms it in her work.

Resistance and Self-Dramatization

Creating soap opera in our lives is a symptom of Resistance. Why put in years of work designing a new software interface when you can get just as much attention by bringing home a boyfriend with a prison record?

It’s more fun than a movie. And it works: Nobody gets a damn thing done.

Resistance and Victimhood

A victim act is a form of passive aggression. It seeks to achieve gratification not by honest work or a contribution made out of one’s experience or insight or love, but by the manipulation of others through silent (and not-so-silent) threat. The victim compels others to come to his rescue or to behave as he wishes by holding them hostage to the prospect of his own further illness/meltdown/mental dissolution, or simply by threatening to make their lives so miserable that they do what he wants.

Casting yourself as a victim is the antithesis of doing your work. Don’t do it. If you’re doing it, stop.

Doctors estimate that seventy to eighty percent of their business is non-health-related. People aren’t sick, they’re self-dramatizing. Sometimes the hardest part of a medical job is keeping a straight face.

The acquisition of a condition lends significance to one’s existence. An illness, a cross to bear. Some people go from condition to condition; they cure one, and another pops up to take its place. The condition becomes a work of art in itself, a shadow version of the real creative act the victim is avoiding by expending so much care cultivating his condition.

Resistance and Criticism

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.

Individuals who are realized in their own lives almost never criticize others. If they speak at all, it is to offer encouragement. Watch yourself. Of all the manifestations of Resistance, most only harm ourselves. Criticism and cruelty harm others as well.

Resistance and Self-Doubt

The counterfeit innovator is wildly self-confident. The real one is scared to death.

Resistance and Fear

Are you paralyzed with fear? That’s a good sign.

Fear is good. Like self-doubt, fear is an indicator. Fear tells us what we have to do.

Remember our rule of thumb: The more scared we are of a work or calling, the more sure we can be that we have to do it.

Resistance is experienced as fear; the degree of fear equates to the strength of Resistance. Therefore the more fear we feel about a specific enterprise, the more certain we can be that that enterprise is important to us and to the growth of our soul. That’s why we feel so much Resistance. If it meant nothing to us, there’d be no Resistance.

Resistance and Love

The more Resistance you experience, the more important your unmanifested art/project/enterprise is to you—and the more gratification you will feel when you finally do it.

Resistance and Being a Star

Grandiose fantasies are a symptom of Resistance. They’re the sign of an amateur. The professional has learned that success, like happiness, comes as a by-product of work.

The professional concentrates on the work and allows rewards to come or not come, whatever they like.

Resistance and Rationalization

Rationalization is Resistance’s right-hand man. Its job is to keep us from feeling the shame we would feel if we truly faced what cowards we are for not doing our work.

It’s one thing to lie to ourselves. It’s another thing to believe it.

Resistance and Rationalization, Part Two

Resistance is fear. But Resistance is too cunning to show itself naked in this form. Why? Because if Resistance lets us see clearly that our own fear is preventing us from doing our work, we may feel shame at this. And shame may drive us to act in the face of fear.

Resistance doesn’t want us to do this. So it brings in Rationalization. Rationalization is Resistance’s spin doctor. It’s Resistance’s way of hiding the Big Stick behind its back. Instead of showing us our fear (which might shame us and impel us to do our work), Resistance presents us with a series of plausible, rational justifications for why we shouldn’t do our work.

What’s particularly insidious about the rationalizations that Resistance presents to us is that a lot of them are true. They’re legitimate.

What Resistance leaves out, of course, is that all this means diddly. Tolstoy had thirteen kids and wrote War and Peace. Lance Armstrong had cancer and won the Tour de France three years and counting.

Resistance Can Be Beaten

If Resistance couldn’t be beaten, there would be no Fifth Symphony, no Romeo and Juliet, no Golden Gate Bridge. Defeating Resistance is like giving birth. It seems absolutely impossible until you remember that women have been pulling it off successfully, with support and without, for fifty million years.

Book Two - Combating Resistance, Turning Pro

It is one thing to study war and another to live the warrior’s life.

—Telamon of Arcadia, mercenary of the fifth century B.C.

Professionals and Amateurs

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 word amateur comes from the Latin root meaning “to love.” The conventional interpretation is that the amateur pursues his calling out of love, while the pro does it for money. Not the way I see it. In my view, the amateur does not love the game enough. If he did, he would not pursue it as a sideline, distinct from his “real” vocation.

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.

Aspiring artists defeated by Resistance share one trait. They all think like amateurs. They have not yet turned pro.

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.

A Professional

Someone once asked Somerset Maugham if he wrote on a schedule or only when struck by inspiration. “I write only when inspiration strikes,” he replied. “Fortunately it strikes every morning at nine o’clock sharp.”

That’s a pro.

Maugham reckoned another, deeper truth: that by performing the mundane physical act of sitting down and starting to work, he set in motion a mysterious but infallible sequence of events that would produce inspiration, as surely as if the goddess had synchronized her watch with his.

He knew if he built it, she would come.

Inspiration will come. Keep a schedule and stick to it.

How To Be Miserable

The artist must be like that Marine. He has to know how to be miserable. He has to love being miserable. He has to take pride in being more miserable than any soldier or swabbie or jet jockey. Because this is war, baby. And war is hell.

It will suck. Learn to deal with it.

We're All Pros Already

All of us are pros in one area: our jobs.

We get a paycheck. We work for money. We are professionals.

Now: Are there principles we can take from what we’re already successfully doing in our workaday lives and apply to our artistic aspirations? What exactly are the qualities that define us as professionals?

1) We show up every day. We might do it only because we have to, to keep from getting fired. But we do it. We show up every day.

2) We show up no matter what. In sickness and in health, come hell or high water, we stagger in to the factory. We might do it only so as not to let down our co-workers, or for other, less noble reasons. But we do it. We show up no matter what.

3) We stay on the job all day. Our minds may wander, but our bodies remain at the wheel. We pick up the phone when it rings, we assist the customer when he seeks our help. We don’t go home till the whistle blows.

4) We are committed over the long haul. Next year we may go to another job, another company, another country. But we’ll still be working. Until we hit the lottery, we are part of the labor force.

5) The stakes for us are high and real. This is about survival, feeding our families, educating our children. It’s about eating.

6) We accept remuneration for our labor. We’re not here for fun. We work for money.

7) We do not overidentify with our jobs. We may take pride in our work, we may stay late and come in on weekends, but we recognize that we are not our job descriptions. The amateur, on the other hand, overidentifies with his avocation, his artistic aspiration. He defines himself by it. He is a musician, a painter, a playwright. Resistance loves this. Resistance knows that the amateur composer will never write his symphony because he is overly invested in its success and overterrified of its failure. The amateur takes it so seriously it paralyzes him.

The last sentence hits hard. Don't be afraid to share what you have.

8) We master the technique of our jobs.

9) We have a sense of humor about our jobs.

10) We receive praise or blame in the real world.

How an amateur pursues his calling (as opposed to a pro - see above)

One, he doesn’t show up every day. Two, he doesn’t show up no matter what. Three, he doesn’t stay on the job all day. He is not committed over the long haul; the stakes for him are illusory and fake. He does not get money. And he overidentifies with his art. He does not have a sense of humor about failure. You don’t hear him bitching, “This fucking trilogy is killing me!” Instead, he doesn’t write his trilogy at all.

Nothing is as empowering as real-world validation, even if it’s for failure.

Get real feedback.

My friend Tony Keppelman snapped me out of it by asking if I was gonna quit. Hell, no! “Then be happy. You’re where you wanted to be, aren’t you? So you’re taking a few blows. That’s the price for being in the arena and not on the sidelines. Stop complaining and be grateful.”

If you are thinking of quitting

For Love of the Game

To clarify a point about professionalism: The professional, though he accepts money, does his work out of love. He has to love it. Otherwise he wouldn’t devote his life to it of his own free will.

The professional has learned, however, that too much love can be a bad thing. Too much love can make him choke

Playing for money, or adopting the attitude of one who plays for money, lowers the fever.

Remember what we said about fear, love, and Resistance. The more you love your art/calling/enterprise, the more important its accomplishment is to the evolution of your soul, the more you will fear it and the more Resistance you will experience facing it

Technically, the professional takes money. Technically, the pro plays for pay. But in the end, he does it for love.

A Professional Is Patient

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, on the other hand, understands delayed gratification. He is the ant, not the grasshopper; the tortoise, not the hare. Have you heard the legend of Sylvester Stallone staying up three nights straight to churn out the screenplay for Rocky? I don’t know, it may even be true. But it’s the most pernicious species of myth to set before the awakening writer, because it seduces him into believing he can pull off the big score without pain and without persistence.

It takes time. The pro is consistent

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

The professional steels himself at the start of a project, reminding himself it is the Iditarod, not the sixty-yard dash. He conserves his energy. He prepares his mind for the long haul.

A Professional Seeks Order

The professional cannot live like that. He is on a mission. He will not tolerate disorder. He eliminates chaos from his world in order to banish it from his mind. He wants the carpet vacuumed and the threshold swept, so the Muse may enter and not soil her gown.

Don't live in disorder; physical nor mental.

A Professional Demystifies

The sign of the amateur is overglorification of and preoccupation with the mystery.

The professional shuts up. She doesn’t talk about it. She does her work.

A Professional Acts in the Face of Fear

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.

A Professional Accepts No Excuses

There are no excuses. Do your work.

The amateur, underestimating Resistance’s cunning, permits the flu to keep him from his chapters; he believes the serpent’s voice in his head that says mailing off that manuscript is more important than doing the day’s work.

The professional has learned better. He respects Resistance. He knows if he caves in today, no matter how plausible the pretext, he’ll be twice as likely to cave in tomorrow.

A Professional Plays It As It Lays

The professional conducts his business in the real world. Adversity, injustice, bad hops and rotten calls, even good breaks and lucky bounces all comprise the ground over which the campaign must be waged. The field is level, the professional understands, only in heaven.

What happens, happens. Deal with adversity.

A Professional Does Not Show Off

A professional’s work has style; it is distinctively his own. But he doesn’t let his signature grandstand for him. His style serves the material. He does not impose it as a means of drawing attention to himself.

This doesn’t mean that the professional doesn’t throw down a 360 tomahawk jam from time to time, just to let the boys know he’s still in business.

A Professional Dedicates Himself To Mastering Technique

The professional respects his craft. He does not consider himself superior to it. He recognizes the contributions of those who have gone before him. He apprentices himself to them.

The professional dedicates himself to mastering technique not because he believes technique is a substitute for inspiration but because he wants to be in possession of the full arsenal of skills when inspiration does come. The professional is sly. He knows that by toiling beside the front door of technique, he leaves room for genius to enter by the back.

A Professional Does Not Hesitate To Ask For Help

It would never occur to him, as it would to an amateur, that he knows everything, or can figure everything out on his own. On the contrary, he seeks out the most knowledgeable teacher and listens with both ears. The student of the game knows that the levels of revelation that can unfold in golf, as in any art, are inexhaustible.

A Professional Distances Herself From Her Instrument

The pro stands at one remove from her instrument— meaning her person, her body, her voice, her talent; the physical, mental, emotional, and psychological being she uses in her work. She does not identify with this instrument. It is simply what God gave her, what she has to work with. She assesses it coolly, impersonally, objectively.

The professional identifies with her consciousness and her will, not with the matter that her consciousness and will manipulate to serve her art. Does Madonna walk around the house in cone bras and come-fuck-me bustiers? She’s too busy planning D-Day. Madonna does not identify with “Madonna.” Madonna employs “Madonna.”

A Professional Does Not Take Failure (Or Success) Personally

When people say an artist has a thick skin, what they mean is not that the person is dense or numb, but that he has seated his professional consciousness in a place other than his personal ego

The professional cannot take rejection personally because to do so reinforces Resistance. Editors are not the enemy; critics are not the enemy. Resistance is the enemy. The battle is inside our own heads. We cannot let external criticism, even if it’s true, fortify our internal foe. That foe is strong enough already.

The professional loves her work. She is invested in it wholeheartedly. But she does not forget that the work is not her. Her artistic self contains many works and many performances. Already the next is percolating inside her. The next will be better, and the one after that better still.

The professional gives an ear to criticism, seeking to learn and grow. But she never forgets that Resistance is using criticism against her on a far more diabolical level. Resistance enlists criticism to reinforce the fifth column of fear already at work inside the artist’s head, seeking to break her will and crack her dedication. The professional does not fall for this. Her resolution, before all others, remains: No matter what, I will never let Resistance beat me.

A Professional Endures Adversity

The professional endures adversity. He lets the birdshit splash down on his slicker, remembering that it comes clean with a heavy-duty hosing. He himself, his creative center, cannot be buried, even beneath a mountain of guano. His core is bulletproof. Nothing can touch it unless he lets it

A Professional Self-Validates

The professional cannot allow the actions of others to define his reality. Tomorrow morning the critic will be gone, but the writer will still be there facing the blank page. Nothing matters but that he keep working. Short of a family crisis or the outbreak of World War III, the professional shows up, ready to serve the gods.

The professional learns to recognize envy-driven criticism and to take it for what it is: the supreme compliment. The critic hates most that which he would have done himself if he had had the guts.

A Professional Recognizes Her Limitations

She gets an agent, she gets a lawyer, she gets an accountant. She knows she can only be a professional at one thing. She brings in other pros and treats them with respect.

A Professional Reinvents Himself

The professional does not permit himself to become hidebound within one incarnation, however comfortable or successful. Like a transmigrating soul, he shucks his outworn body and dons a new one. He continues his journey.

No Mystery

There’s no mystery to turning pro. It’s a decision brought about by an act of will. We make up our minds to view ourselves as pros and we do it. Simple as that.

Approaching the Mystery

Why have I stressed professionalism so heavily in the preceding chapters? Because the most important thing about art is to work. Nothing else matters except sitting down every day and trying.

When we sit down and work, we become like a magnetized rod that attracts iron filings. Ideas come. Insights accrete.

Invoking the Muse

But that moment when I first hit the keys to spell out THE END was epochal. I remember rolling the last page out and adding it to the stack that was the finished manuscript. Nobody knew I was done. Nobody cared. But I knew. I felt like a dragon I’d been fighting all my life had just dropped dead at my feet and gasped out its last sulfuric breath.

Rest in peace, motherfucker.

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.”

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