Recap: The War of Art

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.

On Working Holidays

As someone with a service job, I have become accustomed to working on holidays. It’s not fun and I’d much rather be with family. At the same time, the free market explains why businesses are open on holidays and how people could change this if they dislike it.

Last year at Walmart I worked the day before Thanksgiving, Thanksgiving, and Black Friday. Panera is closed on Thanksgiving and Christmas, but I worked today, Christmas Eve. Last year I worked Christmas Eve at Walmart.

The worst customers will lament the terrible fact that people are working on holidays. While shopping there.

If people voluntarily decided to stop doing business on holidays, companies will have no reason to be open on holidays. As it is, enough people want to go out and shop that businesses find it profitable to be open.

Most places have more limited hours for Christmas Eve and/or Thanksgiving and are closed on Christmas. If they didn’t, they might lose workers, which could prevent them from opening at all.

Money and employees drive a business. Serving customers well and when they want service has a lot of influence on business hours.

If everyone bought Christmas presents and food before Christmas Eve, shops would be closed that day. Those workers who were asked, “Why do they make you work Christmas Eve?” will not be asked that, because they will be at home with their families.

You can’t change the world if you don’t first change yourself.

Mood, Productivity, and Sleep Schedules

I prefer to go to bed at midnight or later and get up around nine. Last night I went to bed at 7:30 pm and I got up today at 3 am.

I feel like a complete wreck. Sort of okay, but not quite right.

I went to bed earlier the two nights before to prepare as well as I could. Tuesday I didn’t have a choice but to stay up til about 11 because of my shift at work.

I closed and opened at work in the same few days. I could not keep a sleep schedule. That may not have helped me. I know I’m more of an afternoon/evening person. I agreed to work mornings at Panera, and to open today.

On top of feeling rather crazy this week (which I mention a bit here), I didn’t sleep well the last few days. I predicted that that would be the case yesterday, too.

Not getting enough sleep has made me more irritable, crabby, and unproductive. I’m worn out when I get home from work and I have my own work to do — Praxis, this blog, Over the Invisible Wall, everything I do before it comes to the blog.

If I can change my schedule, either by working different shifts at work or finding some freelance jobs, I can change this pattern.

Instead of feeling constantly tired and worn out, I can fit my body’s sleep preferences. I feel more energized when I sleep from 12 or 1 am to 8 or 9 am. I wake up faster and reach a point where I can be productive sooner. That means I can do more that day.

I’ve given myself a few lax days, not pushing myself to do a lot of work. I’ve been wearing myself out, and I need to stop.

I can change my patterns and be healthier and more productive. If you can identify your sleep and work preferences, so can you.

Working Unmotivated

This past week has been hard.

I’ve had a lot of hours at work, there’s been some crazy mood swings, and a lot of lows. I sat down to write my blog posts feeling awful. I love to write, but I didn’t want to.

Most of the time I feel pretty great, motivated, exuberant even. For about a week things seem to suck. I don’t want to do anything, even what I love.

But I push through that. I work anyway. I do the things I love, even if I temporarily enjoy them a bit less. I know it won’t last, that I’ll start picking back up soon.

I’ve tried to put in more work on my posts this week, to have substantial, valuable content. That’s made my posts more article-like than is sometimes par for the course here. Not that sharing recent poetry or past poetry or fiction or worldbuilding details or updating about my personal life is always bad. But I can’t only post that without providing any value to anyone.

I have to work longer to create well when I’m unmotivated. I try to push the keys, force out a few words. Even if it’s crap and I hate it. I do something, trying to break the funk, find my way out of the fog, wake up from this zombie-like state.

I don’t give in to the lack of motivation.

It takes longer to get started and it’s harder to do well, but I make sure to show up and work.

Navigating Relationships with Co-Workers

In service jobs, the only thing as important or possibly more important than customer service is teamwork. This has been especially true at Panera Bread where the team is far smaller than at Walmart.

The customers change, but you will be working with the same handful of people day in and day out, so it’s vital that you can work together.

The Non-Worker

The only case I would say feels actually impossible is the co-worker who absolutely refuses to pull their weight. They pretend to work and do small things when the managers are watching, but they don’t do much else. This co-worker puts undue pressure on everyone else to get the work done. Never be this person. Everyone will hate working with you and you will likely get fired.

The Joker

Jokes at work can be great. You get paid to spend a block of time doing a certain set of tasks. Making it more enjoyable helps the time pass and can make the day a little better. Knowing when to stop joking is important. Understanding the difference between funny and annoying as well as what that is to who you’re working with matters. The person who loves to joke all day can either make a shift amazing or dreadful. The people and the jokes involved make the difference.

The Utility Player

I jump around to different “zones” on line. If I’m on sandwiches but have no sandwiches to make, I see if the salad person could use help or if any soups need poured. I don’t isolate myself to my bar and only do that. If someone could use help or if I don’t have anything to do, I jump in to get the food made faster overall. Some other people at work do this also, and they’re great to work with. Teamwork is magnified when at least one person does what they can to help everyone do their best.

These are the three categories of workers that I’ve seen at Walmart or Panera. Shifts can be horrible, okay, or great. The job duties may be the same, but my co-workers make a lot of the difference.

Focusing on Projects

I can be very easily distracted. But I can also sit and write for hours without realizing.

I start the day with a list of activities I need to do. I set out exactly what I plan to accomplish with the day at the beginning so I know how to spend my time. The specific amounts of time on each task isn’t important, it’s crossing each item off the list by the end of the day.

I keep a glass of water at my desk. I take care of my physical needs, then I get to work. I think only of the writing.

I sit down to write my blog post and I think. Even when I have an idea, I take a moment to think about it before writing anything. I don’t jump in immediately.

I stare at the blank page, let it stare back at me before writing words. They don’t have to be the right words, they don’t have to be organized, they just need to get on the page. I can fix them later.

I can’t go from blank page to masterpiece if I never start writing.

At first, I have to force myself to write. I force out a few sentences before I get into the flow. I have to get in the “zone,” that place of mental concentration if I want to build momentum. For a blog post draft, I might need only about thirty minutes.

Once I cut out distractions, I get to writing. I put one word after another, and keep going. I think about what comes next and the overall message. I pour out words until I reach the conclusion. I don’t look at the clock to see how long it took. I work to silence and the clacking of my keyboard or the scratch of my pen on paper.

I try to write as long as I can without a break. Sometimes that means staring at the page trying to find the words.

For a longer project I work as long as I can, then take a short break. If I can’t finish that in one go that’s fine. What matters is I put in the work and got in the zone.

I cut the distractions I can control. I make sure I’m awake and need nothing. I stare at the tauntingly blank page, then force myself to write until I’m not forcing it. My thoughts hone in on the the work and topic at hand. The words start to flow and I get in the zone. I make it last as long as possible or as long as needed.

Then I take a break and come back to do it again.