I went in expecting to love this book. At first I did love this book. I had my disagreements with Steven Pressfield, but they weren’t on the writing advice.
The War of Art is a collection of connected short essays about being an artist. Pressfield writes extensively on what he calls Resistance. Resistance is the personification of anything and everything that keeps you from doing your work.
This is my review of the book as a whole. I have some contention with various specific details that I might go into another time.
In the first part of the book, Resistance: Defining the Enemy, Pressfield sets forth the nature of Resistance. This section of the book was my favorite. It was relatable, though repetitive. I’ve encountered a lot of what he mentions in my own life and creative pursuits. I do think he goes a bit far in defining Resistance, in some cases, though. On page 55, for example, he discusses rationalization. He admits that the excuses may be valid, but still calls them Resistance. “Our wife may really be in her eighth month of pregnancy; she may in truth need us at home…. What Resistance leaves out, of course, is that all this means diddly.”
In the second part of the book, Combating Resistance: Turning Pro, Pressfield defines a “professional” and how to beat Resistance. This section boils down to “Just Do It.” The whole section is about sitting down and getting to work. Doing it despite Resistance. I’ve heard that before, so I did not find it particularly helpful or valuable. I’m implementing that in my own life. I have been for quite a while now. I’ve been blogging every day since October and have 167 other posts on this blog since July. Pressfield has a position about the distinction between pros and amateurs that I somewhat disagree with.
In my view, the amateur does not love the game enough. If he did, he would not pursue it as a sideline, distinct from his “real” vocation. The professional loves it so much he dedicates his life to it. He commits full-time.p. 63
This ignores the monetary hurdles committing full-time can have. If I quit my job at Panera to blog and write full-time, I will starve. I will not be able to financially support myself if I don’t keep writing on the side for now. It’s my true passion, yes, and I want to do it full-time because I love it so much. I can certainly take steps to changing this. In fact, I have. My poetry collection Inside a Writer’s Head is available for sale. I’ve applied to freelance writing jobs. I write every day and share my blog on social media. I have Patreon set up. But right now, I make no money so I cannot quit my job. It is what it is. I’m resigned to it only because I know I can and will change this reality. I call myself a “pro” even though I’m doing it as a labor of love because I show up every day.
In the last part of the book, Beyond Resistance: The Higher Realm, Pressfield’s creative self-help book turns into a spiritual exploration. This part bothered me the most. Not because I’m an atheist. But because that’s not what I signed up for. I did not read this book to have Pressfield’s view of spirituality as it relates to art pushed on me. On the second to last page, he writes, “In the end, we arrive at a kind of model of the artist’s world, and that model is that there exist other, higher planes of reality, about which we can prove nothing” (p. 163, emphasis added). I have a problem with the lack of evidence in his assertions. I’m given zero reasons to believe his claims that inspiration comes from the Muses or angels or God or beings from invisible realms. He just says it must be that way, that it is that way, and I’m expected to accept it. This whole section of the book felt ridiculous and frankly unnecessary. I would have enjoyed The War of Art more without it.