Book Review: “The War of Art,” by Steven Pressfield

Like the recent related book, Turning Pro, Steven Pressfield’s 2002 classic, The War of Art: Break Through the Blocks and Win Your Inner Creative Battles, is a kick in the butt for writers and other creative types. I read Turning Pro recently and liked its message so much I had to check out The War of Art.

A wordplay on the ancient military treatise, The Art of War, Pressfield’s book likens an individual’s approach to the craft to an inner battle. The enemy is Resistance and two-thirds of the book is devoted to defining Resistance and developing strategies to overcome it. Pressfield writes short, digestible chapters that emphasize his major points. Book One is called Resistance-Defining the Enemy. Pressfield defines Resistance as all of those things that prevent a writer from practicing and honing her craft. Resistance takes many forms–some of which the writer does not recognize–and Pressfield covers them all.

To underscore the insidious nature of Resistance, Pressfield gives it mortal ambitions. “Resistance’s goal is not to wound or disable,” he writes. “Resistance aims to kill. Its target is the epicenter of our being: our genius, our soul, the unique and priceless gift we were put on earth to give and that no one else has but us. When we fight it, we are in a war to the death.”

Book Two is called, Combating Resistance-Turning Pro. This section covers many of the points Pressfield would later expand upon in Turning Pro. A professional is defined by his habits and Pressfield makes an effective analogy to a creative person’s paid job, where the person is expected to show up every day, work all day, master the job, make a commitment over the long haul, and accept remuneration. The short chapters that follow expand on the attributes of the professional: the professional is patient, seeks order, demystifies, acts in the face of fear, accepts no excuses, plays it as it lays, is prepared, dedicates himself to mastering technique, and so on.

In Book Three, Beyond Resistance-The Higher Realm, Pressfield gets mystical. He discusses “the invisible psychic forces that support and sustain us in our journey toward ourselves.” He uses the terms “muses” and “angels” to describe these forces. Whether you buy into this theory depends on your belief system. The most valuable takeaway for me from this section was Pressfield’s discussion of the ego and the self. The ego is concerned with temporal, material things, while the self has a higher purpose.”Dreams come from the Self,” he writes. “Ideas come from the Self. When we meditate, we access the Self. When we fast, when we pray, when we go on a vision quest, it’s the Self we’re seeking…The Self is our deepest being.”

There are scores of useful craft of fiction books. Pressfield’s twin books, The War of Art and Turning Pro won’t teach you how to write a novel, but they will give you something just as valuable—the knowledge of the inner forces that threaten your creativity and the means to fight them by making a commitment to turn pro.

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