The War of Art

My sister-in-law recently gave me Steven Pressfield’s The War of Art: Break Through Your Blocks and Win Your Inner Creative Battles. I’ve heard about it for years from other friends, but I’ve read my share of inspiring books about creativity, and I think I’ve gotten a little jaded. Often when I’m reading a book about writing, or attending sessions at a writers conference, I find myself thinking, This is absolutely true and all—so why am I not just writing my book right now instead of talking about writing my book?

Steven Pressfield gets it. The “chapters” are short and to the point, he doesn’t wax poetical (although he’s plenty mystical about the creative process), and he too is skeptical about too much talk and not enough action (simply sitting down and writing/painting/composing/etc.). War of Art reads less like a how-to book on writing and more like a daily devotional for creators. Each chapter—which range from half a page to a couple of pages—gives the reader an insight or challenge, but then Pressfield leaves it up to the reader to mull it over or act on it.

Resistance is probably Pressfield’s central insight in the book, which I found very refreshing. The idea of “writer’s block” has always annoyed me, perhaps because I’ve never experienced it, but also because I’ve heard of many “cures” for writer’s block that just seem like fancy ways of avoiding writing. But I have absolutely experienced Resistance in my creative work, and I appreciate Pressfield’s honesty that Resistance is a daily problem that never goes away. Momentum is also a creative reality—it’s easier for me to continue with a project when I’ve recently made some progress, especially when I’m touching the project every day—but Resistance doesn’t go away simply because I’ve got some momentum on a book. As I was sharing with a friend last week, I’m a hundred pages into editing my pirate book (which is long at 450 manuscript pages); I’ve literally spent hundreds of hours on this project and believe it can be a wonderful book some day, and yet often I have a hard time getting into the manuscript because I feel like, What’s the point?

Pressfield does occasionally get a little woo-woo for me. Like, I have my doubts that people resisting their life’s creative work is a contributor to the prevalence of cancer, or on the flip side that engaging in creative work can help cancer go into remission. I’m also probably not going to be praying to the Greek muses any time soon, and I’m not sure what I think about angels being involved in the transmission and completion of creative work.

That said, I love Pressfield’s insistence that all people are creative—whether they know it or not—and that our creative work is part of what makes us human and gives us purpose. I like his certainty that creative work is worth doing, and doing every day, whether or not we earn a paycheck for it. And I completely agree that creative work—which builds empathy and connection between people in their various situations—is essential to human cultural and spiritual growth.

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