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.

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.

Maintaining Dedication

I’ve been working on and off on my novel-in-progress for three years. Even for such a long time and spread out work, I haven’t quit.

I decided that I would finish this novel. Even if I decide it is terrible and I hate it, I will finish it. I will take it from an empty page to a published novel.

I committed to finishing it.

Not for my friends or my family or anyone else. For myself.

I’ve had a lot of trouble finishing large projects.

Four years ago I started crocheting a baby blanket for my cousin’s daughter. I never finished it.

Between the ages of twelve and fifteen I started countless stories that were intended to be novels. I have finished none of them.

I realized I had a problem. I start projects but don’t finish them.

So I went through all my novel projects and ranked them from highest to lowest current priority. I decided I would focus my efforts on the first project on the list, then the second, and on.

That was two and a half years ago, and I’ve made great progress. Mystical Warriors, my novel-in-progress, is over 30,000 words. That’s the longest of any writing project I’ve ever had.

What made the difference was a commitment to myself.

I decided that I had to do this, that it was going to happen. I am not willing to give up no matter the obstacles. I will finish this novel. Even with it on the backburner, I know I will be coming back to it.

I prioritized my projects such that I have no excuse for working on a new novel that would prevent me from finishing this one.

For a long time, I had a daily writing habit that included my novel. I wrote at least one sentence in my novel every day. That has fallen off, but I will be reviving that practice. I keep making excuses for why I haven’t done that yet, and I need to stop.

I stayed dedicated to this project over the last three years because I committed to it for myself. I maintained my commitment by focusing my time and energy on the project. I remind myself of my obligation to myself by writing blog posts about it and talking about it. I also take my novel with me on vacation to write in the car or during down time.

I need to reprioritize my projects, not just my novels, but my short stories and worldbuilding too. I will be incorporating progress on my novel into my daily habits. I want to say “after I finish x,” but I should start tomorrow. No more excuses, I need to deliver on this commitment.

“Santa Claus” (Poem)

It was nearly Christmas time

as could be seen

by the decorations,

smells, and the ringing of bells

Everywhere

All the time,

It seems.

But few consider

what this time means,

The consequences awaiting

from a year of spying.

The elves and secret eyes and ears

Reporting all

To none other

Than Santa Claus.


This poem was inspired by the song Santa Claus is Coming to Town.

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.

Indifference

“The opposite of love isn’t hate; it’s indifference.” – The War of Art by Steven Pressfield, p. 42.

Both love and hate are a feeling, indifference is the lack of a feeling.

This line in the War of Art struck me. I’d never heard or read something like this.

We so often view love and hate as diametrically opposed to each other, as opposites, and in a way they are. But the opposite of feeling is not feeling, apathy, indifference.

When we love or hate or are angry because of something, we have a feeling. We care about it in some way, positive or negative. If we’re indifferent or apathetic, we don’t feel anything.

In that way, Steven Pressfield is right.

As far as a spectrum of emotions, love and hate may appear opposite.

But they are really rivaled against indifference.