A Square-Peg People Book Review
The WAR of ART
by Steven Pressfield
Usually subtitles are exciting to me - they tell me what the book is really about. Better than the title does.
This one, "Break Through the Blocks and Win Your Inner Creative Battles", doesn't do it for me. My first thought, when I'd read the book and looked back at the subtitle, was: that's not what this book is about!
On second thought, the book does help you with these things (breaking through blocks/winning inner creative battles), but the subtitle would be more fitting if it addressed how the book does this.
One of the quotes on the back cover of the book (by Robert McKee) says: "As I closed THE WAR OF ART, I felt a surge of positive calm..." That makes sense to me - that's what this book is about. It empowers us, gives us that foundational "positive calm" that helps us defeat resistance as we move into creativity.
On the last page, in the last paragraph, Pressfield says: "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." He offers us that kind of encouragement throughout the book.
The WAR of ART is a treatise on the wily ways of resistance, and encouragement to move past resistance. But mostly, it's a call to be the best of who we are as creators.
Pressfield is familiar with war. He was a marine ( "In my younger days dodging the draft, I somehow wound up in the Marine Corps") and has written extensively - in several historical fiction novels - about war. He uses a lot of war terminology in The WAR of ART.
He introduces us to Resistance - the enemy (he names it, capitalizes it throughout the book) - who you'll realize you've known all along. But, like those couple pounds you may have put on in the past several years, has been too close to notice.
He lists "those activities that most commonly elicit Resistance" and summarizes them as "...any act that rejects immediate gratification in favor of long-term growth, health or integrity." Pressfield then describes how resistance shows up in our lives and what we can do about it.
I'm not inclined to embrace the war metaphor, preferring to think of resistance as part of us - as having a role in protecting us until we are able to strengthen whatever in our nature needed protection. Pressfield considers resistance evil, I do not. Yet his ideas still worked for me because he is so thorough in describing resistance - making it easy for me to see how resistance works in my life - and plan how to make it unnecessary.
One of the most interesting parts of the book is the section on fear. Pressfield writes about "the Mother of all Fears...That We Will Succeed." He explains that "We humans seem to have been wired by our evolutionary past to function most comfortably in a tribe..." This results in us defining our "rank within a hierarchy...a pecking order..." The fear of moving out of that pecking order comes up when we consider success.
He then describes another way of living - the "territorial orientation", where a person looks within, rather than at the tribe - for his sense of place. Pressfield states: "The artist can't do his work hierarchically. He has to work territorially."
As Pressfield describes both types of working - and being - I thought about people who consider themselves Square-Peg. It would seem that they have already begun to switch to the territorial mindset.
He divides the book into 3 parts (Pressfield calls them "books"): Book One: Resistance (Defining the Enemy); Book Two: Combating Resistance (Turning Pro); Book Three: Beyond Resistance (Higher Realm).
Many chapters are as short as half a page. Some of the chapter titles are: "Resistance is Impersonal", "Resistance and the Choice of a Mate", "Resistance and Being A Star", "How to be Miserable", "A Professional is Patient", "A Professional Doesn't Take Failure (or Success) Personally", "The Authentic Self".
In The WAR of ART Pressfield busts some myths: that we shouldn't fear, that we need to heal before we can work, that resistance means we can't do it, that we're alone in experiencing resistance. In "Book Two: Combatting Resistance (Turning Pro)" he writes insightfully and extensively about the difference between a professional and an amateur.
Pressfield writes for writers (with The Legend of Bagger Vance and a string of historical novels as proof that he's got something to tell us), but not just for writers. He writes for everyone who creates - that's all of us, right? He talks about decisions, parenting - everything we endeavor to do - as being potentially creative.
His writing doesn't feel like he's pushing us to do or not do something. Instead, he lets our goal pull us. He shows us a picture of our destination (reminding us of who we are, why we create and what it's like to be doing our work) - along with what stands in our way.
The book feels like a letter from a friend who's further along the creative path - it's very personal.
Pressfield tells us that he believes in God and literal angels. His spiritual beliefs inform his beliefs about creativity and why we are here. He acknowledges that not all his readers will share his faith, and explains how we can gain from his teaching even if we don't have the same beliefs.
He talks about his ritual for invoking the Muse, which involves praying - out loud - to the Muse. Pressfield shares his prayer, a T.E. Lawrence translation of Homer's Odyssey. He expounds on it, explaining it verse by verse. Reading through it before his explanation did nothing for me, but after looking at it through Pressfield's eyes I was thrilled by it.
Reading The WAR of ART, I realized that this past year I've let my committment to writing slip. There have been difficulties - life can be hard, but I allowed the struggle of life to shake my professionalism. I allowed days to go by without writing. I've missed deadlines (it's tremendously easy to miss deadlines you set for yourself) - it's so easy to rationalize. Pressfield talks about rationalization going hand in hand with resistance, I can vouch for that!
I forgot that showing up is IT. Forgot a lesson I'd already learned - that showing up - writing itself - disciplined (oh, how I hate that word) writing - everyday - is how you become a writer. It's also how you stay a writer.
I got up from reading this book with resolve. I'll go back to read it when I need a booster shot. It energizes me. I don't feel guilt-ed or shamed into daily creativity, but I feel very, very pulled! I'm reminded of the Rumi saying: "Let yourself be drawn by the pull of what you really love."
YES! That's what this book is about.
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