Steven Pressfield’s The War of Art: Break Through the Blocks and Win Your Inner Creative Battles was published in 2002, but I just came across it. I consider it a find. Pressfield is a novelist, which means that the book is several cuts above the standard self-help manual stylistically. Perhaps even more important, it is infused with humor, so it’s fun to read. Herewith a few excerpts.
The key theme of the book is what prevents us from achieving our dreams, especially our creative dreams, and how to overcome it. Pressfield labels this destructive force Resistance. It manifests itself most notably in procrastination and rationalization. What does it feel like? “First, unhappiness. We feel like hell. A low-grade misery pervades everything. We’re bored, we’re restless. We can’t get no satisfaction. There’s guilt but we can’t put our finger on the source. We want to go back to bed; we want to get up and party. We feel unloved and unlovable. We’re disgusted. We hate our lives. We hate ourselves. Unalleviated, Resistance mounts to a pitch that becomes unendurable. At this point vices kick in. Dope, adultery, web surfing.” (p. 31)
Is the problem fear? No, Pressfield writes. “Fear is good. Like self-doubt, fear is an indicator. Fear tells us what we have to do. … [T]he more fear we feel about a specific enterprise, the more certain we can be that that enterprise is important to us.” (p. 40)
So what then is the problem? Those who are defeated by Resistance “share one trait. They all think like amateurs. They have not yet turned pro.” (p. 62) Pros are not weekend warriors. They show up every day, no matter what, and they stay on the job all day. They master the necessary techniques, receive praise or blame in the real world, and have a sense of humor. They love what they do, but they play for money. “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. The payoff of playing-the-game-for-money is not the money (which you may never see anyway, even after you turn pro). The payoff is that playing the game for money produces the proper professional attitude. It inculcates the lunch-pail mentality, the hard-core, hard-head, hard-hat state of mind that shows up for work despite rain or snow or dark of night and slugs it out day after day.” (pp. 73-74)
The professional “is prepared, each day, to confront his own self-sabotage. … He is prepared to be prudent and prepared to be reckless, to take a beating when he has to, and to go for the throat when he can. He understands that the field alters every day. His goal is not victory (success will come by itself when it wants to) but to handle himself, his insides, as sturdily and steadily as he can.” (p. 82)
The professional also “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.” (p. 84)
Some food for thought.