Saturday, November 30, 2013

The War of Art

You read it right. I just finished a book called The War of Art: Break Through the Blocks and Win Your Inner Creative Battles, by Steven Pressfield. It's still about war, just a much different kind, the kind we all face day to day though we might not even know it. Pressfield calls the force we are battling moment to moment Resistance, and Resistance challenges every person who's ever felt a higher calling or desired to be better (Section 12). Writers call it writer's block, but it's not something unique to writers. Resistance hits when the path toward bettering ourselves in any manner requires just a little bit of work. No one is exempt, but not everyone knows about this war, and if you don't even know you're fighting, how can you win? This book seeks to show us what we are up against, giving us a detailed yet succinct picture of what Resistance is.

I saw myself a lot in this book. I'm a writer, so I could identify with the examples from Pressfield's life. But the book isn't targeted to writers, and my Taekwondo instructor thought it worthwhile enough for his students to give us a little incentive to read it. Mostly, I just recognized how Resistance has often beat me down, and I understand now what I've been up against.

There are so many pithy nuggets to glean from this book. I bought the e-book and wish I hadn't because it's a book to underline and dog-ear. I ended up writing out thoughts on post-it notes. Here are a few quotes:

From Section 18: "Rule of Thumb: The more important a call or action is to our soul's evolution, the more Resistance we will feel toward pursuing it."

From Section 20: "The battle must be fought anew every day."

From Section 24: "Resistance is most powerful at the finish line."

The biggest thing I came away with from this book is that the only way to beat Resistance is to jump right into the work. Resistance will always be there every day. We will fight the war all our lives, battle by battle. Some days, we might not do so well, but every day is new. Every day is another chance to win. All we have to do is sit down and work, Pressfield says. That's the hardest part. By doing that, we've already beat much of Resistance.

Resistance takes many forms, and it helps to be aware of them. It can come from our friends, who feel guilty about their lack of success in comparison to ours and who try to make it seem like we aren't doing the right thing. Resistance can be food. It can be our culture: Facebook, Twitter, anything on the Internet, movies, games, books. Resistance can take the form of a very good excuse, too: I'm sick, I'm too busy, my family needs me. Whatever stops us from the work is Resistance.

Pressfield gives some great tips for beating Resistance. My favorite is the simplest and foremost one: just work. You can't rely on other people to help. The best way a friend can help another beat Resistance is to be an example, not coddle him, give him advice, or help him brainstorm. Though those seem like very good excuses to not do our own work (I'm helping someone!), ultimately, we are only wasting time on both sides. Neither one of us is working.

I found it a little humorous that Pressfield says writer's workshops are colleges of Resistance. The best example I've seen in my personal life of someone who can beat Resistance is my husband. He hates writer's workshops and would much rather just put in his time and write those requisite million words of junk in the hopes of finally producing something worth reading.

As a martial artist, I appreciated Pressfield's point that we have to fight through the pain. He says, athletes can't give up when they get hurt, and he's right. If that was the case, the Taekwondo school I attend would be empty. I wouldn't be there either. There's going to be pain. Let yourself know that, and be prepared to keep going. In some cases, the only way to healing is through the pain.

Pressfield also says, let fear guide you. If you are afraid of moving forward, you are probably on the right track.

Finally, I liked Pressfield's idea that we need to become professionals in our higher callings. Professionals don't need fame and reward. They just do the work. I thought it was interesting that Pressfield advises separating yourself from the work by making it more of a job, something you show up to at a certain time every day, something you get paid for, and something you move on from when you are done. The common belief among young fiction writers is that they have to make it big to be anything. Everyone dreams of having the next bestseller. Pressfield cautions, don't wait for success, and don't invest yourself too much in one project or you will paralyze yourself with the fear of failure. He says, loving your work too much makes you choke. It makes sense.

Pressfield separates The War of Art into three "Books," where he defines Resistance, tells you how to fight it, and finally speaks about inspiration. Book 3 is where he gets kind of messy and discredits himself a bit. It kind of makes me sad. The guy obviously has talent and genius and offers some valuable insight into pursuing our higher callings, and then he goes and attributes it all to weird, half-true theories about divine inspiration. He believes in a god of sorts (though nothing like Christianity's) and in angels and the Muse, explaining how Zeus had nine daughters called the Muses. And I just find it hard to take him seriously when he's attributing genius to mythology. He correctly assumes there has to be something divine at work inspiring us, and he allows room for each of us to call that divine inspiration what we want. But earlier in the book he tries to discredit fundamentalism, which I'm sure Christianity falls under, and he says fundamentalists only look backward to a purer world, when in fact Christians are the most forward-looking people on the planet, looking toward a purer future! He comes across as not knowing what he's talking about when he spouts religious theories.

Some of his science is a little iffy, too. He believes organization is built into nature when in reality, the very laws of nature are that anything we don't put work into gradually de-evolves into a state of disorder (the law of entropy). He says this organization points to the existence of something otherworldly and divine. And I say, yes, yes, it does. There is a God, and if there's order in the world, it's because of him, but not a hocus-pocus, whatever-I-imagine-and-want-him-to-be deity.

Aside from nearly all of Book 3 (though there are still truths mixed into the mess), I agree with Pressfield's ideas on Resistance, and I think this book is a great motivator for anyone who knows they are not living at their full potential. This book will open your eyes to what can make that possible.

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