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The War of Art is a Gift…
And Knowing Its One Blind Spot Will Make It Even Better for You
I’m a big fan of The War of Art, Steven Pressfield’s little book of big inspiration.
It’s a heroic roadmap. A call to arms. A kick in the pants. Not just for artists, the book is meant for the creative and entrepreneurial spirit in all of us. It’s for any one with a long-term project whose success requires grit and grace. It’s meant for our bold life aspiration yet to emerge.
The book’s subtitle says it all: “Break Through the Blocks and Win Your Inner Creative Battles.” The fundamental assumption is right-on. We lose our footing in our creative pursuits when we procrastinate because of the powerful Resistance that grows in that stalling moment. Pressfield’s propulsive plan of action has been a boon for me many times over. Our task is to sit down, do the damn work, and in so doing, fight the Resistance every chance we get.
I got a ton of inspiration out of this book when I first read it almost a decade ago. I re-read it every few years to refresh that warrior pose in me. And I encourage anyone who resonates with even a bit of those first paragraphs should read it as soon as possible.
But there’s one major blindspot of The War of Art, and knowing it will help you get more out of the book.
The brilliance of this book is its take on the Resistance. The so-called Resistance is a force that, like Joseph Campbell’s The Hero with a Thousand Faces, can manifest in myriad ways. It can be that fear of failure that pauses you in your process. It can be the pang of self-doubt that ejects you from your seat. It can be any procrastinating activity that unhooks you from the goal. Anything that is not the actual work can be, or can become, the Resistance.
That’s the dark power of the Resistance: it compounds, such that each moment of procrastination makes returning to the work that much harder.
There’s a simple solution to this Resistance. We can defeat the Resistance, the story goes, by constantly centering on our dreams. We beat the Resistance by showing up to the work, like a Professional. When asked whether he wrote following a schedule, author Somerset Maugham famously said, “I write only when inspiration strikes. Fortunately it strikes every morning at nine sharp.” The Professional doesn’t wait for the Muse to appear. The Professional sets the table for daily bread with the Muse.
By committing to the craft and accepting that the Resistance is a natural part of any creative pursuit, we can continue to build, grow, and create. Many a creative rut and writer’s block have been bested with these principles.
But the abiding sense this book leaves the creator with is… not a little exhaustion. The title is War. The “enemy” is the Resistance. The verbs that take us through the battle are all in the mode of action, domination, hard work.
There is unmistakable truth in that warrior pose. There is a place for all of that fight, all that action and boldness. But the language of the War of Art belies a softer truth.
There’s also need for rest, for slowdown, for pause. The War of Art is an adrenaline shot to the heart of the creative pursuit. But because it skews heavily towards action, towards producing at all costs, it misses the bounty that can come from silence.
Some activities that might look a lot like the Resistance are exactly what can help body forth the most beautiful creations. Better yet, these activities bring the whole being a dose of light and gravitas that is beyond production, beyond the Art, beyond our big goals. Meditation, meandering walks, forest-bathing, making love, indulging in a feast with dear friends — these activities bolster the soul of creativity if and only if they are not done with the product of creativity centered in mind.
Prioritizing our whole selves and our connections to something bigger than ourselves is what it’s about. And if that means we slow the production of our pursuits, are we not the better for it?
A slower, more holistic approach to our growth and our pursuits is at the heart of this Art.
To be clear, Pressfield doesn’t explicitly discourage this more holistic approach to the creative pursuit. In places he even encourages setting a slower pace of practice. He says it’s okay if the process is slow, because we must be patient to get results. But language has its own meaning and effect. His chosen words paint a picture of pressure, propulsion, and doggedness. And we pay the price if we don’t find the balance between the art of action and the passion of the pause.
So if you read or re-read this incredible book, be sure to invite that softer truth to the reading. It’s in there, just turn the volume up on it.