Books: The War Of Art

war-of-art-gif1-243x387The War Of Art is a short, blunt treatise on why the creative process is so hard and what to do about it. Steven Pressfield, the author, lays out his advice with the kind of certainty that lives somewhere between a combat General and a gypsy fortune teller. He builds his case in three parts:

1. Resistance — Pressfield defines the creative process very broadly (starting a diet, building a company, learning to dance, writing a novel, etc.) and then describes in detail the force of nature, the evil force — Resistance! — that works incessantly to derail creative work.

2. Combating Resistance — the focus on work is the only way to fight resistance and in this section he goes into depth on the difference between amateurs and professionals.

3. Beyond Resistance — this section is about what keeps a person humble and focused enough to be professional. There’s a bunch of psych theory, dreams, and lots of talk of Muses and higher powers, most of it some combination of fascinating and helpful.

Two parts stuck with me on this first read. I loved the quote that shows up a few times — and is the basis for his theory of professionalism — which I think he paraphrased from the Baghavad Gita:

You have a right to your labor, not the fruits of your labor.

The focus on action as reward is a superhelpful mental posture for me.

The second part that stayed with me was Pressfield’s Largo dream sequence — where he’s on a navy ship under attack and everyone including himself is looking for help from this badass sergeant named Largo. After a few encounters with other soldiers it slowly dawns on him that he *is* Largo. I thought that was a pretty cool way for a subconscious to deliver the message — you have more power to be awesome than you think.

The book has a decidedly military flavor which may be off-putting in some quarters, but personally I loved the approach. Pressfield puts creative effort into a moral framework and provides a compelling model of the world that gives me a map and a kick in the butt around things I wrestle with all the time — doing great work and being a professional.

Shout out to Bax for staying on me for the last 3 years to read this, glad I did.

3 thoughts on “Books: The War Of Art

  1. Brent Logan

    Seth Godin recommends another book by Pressfield, Do The Work. It’s good and short, easily readable on the flight from Portland to Sacramento. According to Seth: “Pressfield, a successful screenwriter and novelist, presents his thinking on the Resistance and the war of art in this slim, fast read that will change your life forever.”

    I think it’s time for a re-read.

  2. shelby Post author

    I definitely want to read Do The Work, and probably The Warrior Ethos and Turning Pro too. I’m curious to see if “resistance” is an idea he can develop further.

    The Godin book list is interesting — another of my favorites is on there, Finite and Infinite Games. Cool.

  3. Brent Logan

    I read “Are Creative Types Just A Bunch Of Slackers?” and thought of this post. Maybe, because of this quote:

    I was first introduced to the concept of bringing a blue-collar work ethic to the creative space in Steven Pressfield’s amazing book, The War Of Art. It was re-introduced to me when he updated some of the concepts for the book, Do The Work (which was a part of Seth Godin’s The Domino Project publishing imprint).

    Good stuff, and more good book recommendations.


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