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The War of Art

Steven Pressfield

By Jesse Kornbluth
Published: Oct 28, 2010
Category: Self Help

Is there a project you can’t finish? Do you have a dream that stays in the ozone? A gym membership going unused?

In "The War of Art," Steven Pressfield bluntly tells you why you can’t do the stuff you say you most desperately want to do, and what you can do about that, and what happens when you get your motor revving high.

It’s 163 pages short. Lots of white space. Big ideas put into simple words.

Very appealing?

Prepare to be bludgeoned. [To buy the paperback from Amazon, click here. For the Kindle edition, click here.]

We want, as Larry the Cable Guy says, to “get ‘er done.” What stops us, Pressfield writes, is Resistance. That’s why we feel like functioning schizophrenics. There’s the life we live, and then there’s our real life, which we don’t. So this Resistance, it’s strong — “the most toxic force on the planet,” says Pressfield. ”Resistance will bury you.

What is Resistance? “An energy field radiating from a work-in-potential.” And where is that energy field? Inside us, like the Alien. It wants nothing but power, and it won’t stop until it gets it. It’s not a personal thing — no need to run to the shrink and trace Resistance back to the source. It afflicts us all. And afflicts us all every day.

We are, says Pressfield, engaged — literally — in a war to the death.

Resistance has only one strategy: Distract us from our lofty goals with small immediate pleasures. We don’t abandon our dreams, we just…postpone getting to them. We don’t decide not to paint today, we just…have sex. Or shop. Drink. Eat crap. Watch TV. Or have an exciting life.

What’s that? Here comes the tough love. Want to get your work done? Get out of all personal trouble. In a high-drama relationship? Say goodbye. Specialize in interesting foibles? Get dull. Nursing your victimhood? Stop looking for rescue. Spending all your free time helping others? Cut back.

In Book II, Pressfield suggests what to do after we’ve joined the battle. It’s this simple: Turn pro. That is, take what we want to do as seriously as the job we hope soon to abandon. Show up regularly. Turn off the music. Say hello to fear — Henry Fonda, all his life, threw up before he went onstage — and plunge in. Don’t complain. Don’t spend a second imagining what to wear at the awards ceremony. In fact, don’t even think about awards. Just…get ‘er done.

In Book III, Pressfield outlines what happens as we confront Resistance. He’ll lose some readers here, because he believes that “when we sit down day after day and keep grinding, something mysterious starts to happen.” Call it the appearance of the muse, if you like. Pressfield calls it angels. Really. “They’re here but we can’t see them.”

No surprise, then, that Pressfield invites us to consider the concept — for him, the reality — of destiny. We are not, he says, born with a blank slate. We came here for a reason. It would be a shame to die without learning what that destiny is and doing something about it. So this is his conclusion:

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 got.

I believe "The War of Art" — written by a guy who bounced from coast to coast 13 times from age twenty-four to thirty-two, who lived in his car, and who went on to write, among other novels, “The Legend of Bagger Vance” — can help us blow through the barriers and become the creators we really are.

Got a great idea? Want to do/be/own something amazing? Got time for 163 pages?