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Sonderbooks Book Review of

The War of Art

Winning the Inner Creative Battle

by Steven Pressfield


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The War of Art
Winning the Inner Creative Battle

by Steven Pressfield

Review posted December 30, 2012.
Rugged Land, NY, 2002. 165 pages.

Well, I'm reviewing this book partly to figure out what I think about it. There's a whole lot I agree with, and a whole lot I don't agree with.

You'll understand what he's getting at right at the start of the book:

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

Have you ever brought home a treadmill and let it gather dust in the attic? Ever quit a diet, a course of yoga, a meditation practice? Have you ever bailed out on a call to embark upon a spiritual practice, dedicate yourself to a humanitarian calling, commit your life to the service of others? Have you ever wanted to be a mother, a doctor, an advocate for the weak and helpless; to run for office, crusade for the planet, campaign for world peace, or to preserve the environment? 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.

Now I've got an automatic resistance to the whole idea that if you want to create something positive, You Will Face Resistance. I don't like the whole mystique of the Suffering Artist or Tortured Writer. In fact, I loved Jane Yolen's book on writing Take Joy! because it said what I believe -- that if you don't enjoy the process of writing, you probably shouldn't do it.

But I can see that sometimes we don't do the things we want to do if we think we should do them. Actually, I began reading a book that talked about tricking yourself around that tendency. It was called The Art of Procrastination, and I didn't get around to reading it before it was due back at the library!

So I'm not sure if I want to see Resistance as this big bad force that you will inevitably encounter. But I have to admit that the book does have some excellent tips on getting around whatever Resistance you do encounter. So does that mean I admit I do encounter some?

And in a lot of ways, he's saying the same thing as Jane Yolen does, just in a different way. Here's a short chapter I just turned to:

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.

But later he says that signing up to be an artist is signing up to be miserable, because war is hell. I don't think I agree with that!

The second section, though, is about habits of a professional as opposed to habits of an amateur. That whole section was excellent.

I liked the chapter about how we're all Pros already in one area: Our jobs. In our jobs, we do all these things that define us as professionals:

1. We show up every day.
2. We show up no matter what.
3. We stay on the job all day.
4. We are committed over the long haul.
5. The stakes for us are high and real.
6. We accept remuneration for our labor.
7. We do not overidentify with our jobs.
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.

The third and final section gets into more mystical things and is a little less practical. But one excellent concept it contains is the idea of having a territorial orientation as opposed to a hierarchal orientation. You don't have to be above others to be good at what you do. The value of art lies in its existence, not in where it falls in some ranking.

On the last page of the book, you'll find these words:

Are you a born writer? Were you put on earth to be a painter, a scientist, an apostle of peace? In the end the question can only be answered by action.

Do it or don't do it. . . .

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.

Now, as I'm writing this review, I'm in the middle of reading a book called Too Good to Ignore which says the whole "Find your passion" teaching is dangerous. Reading it is making me look at The War of Art with different eyes.

But I don't think Steven Pressfield is telling readers to find their passion and quit their jobs and go follow it. He's talking to people who know they have creative pursuits inside them that aren't getting out. He's giving them tips to fool and get around their own Resistance or maybe fight it head on and win.