2022-12-28

The War of Art by Steven Pressfield

Impressions

Almost every writer or creative person I listen to swears by this book. I had high expectations. Those were met (and exceeded).

Throughout, Pressfield identifies this “thing” that he calls Resistance. Resistance is a force that keeps you from achieving the things you were born to do. Fear is Resistance. Criticism is Resistance. Jealousy is Resistance. Rationalization is Resistance. Resistance is tough, but it’s also a sign that you’re supposed to be doing that thing. The greater something is to your calling or the more that you feel like you should do something, the more Resistance you’ll feel while doing so.

The only antidote to Resistance is to show up every day and do the work. When you focus on the daily process and not the outcomes or the accolades, you give Resistance less power.

Ryan Holiday has said he reads this book before starting a new creative project. I plan to adopt that habit.

My Notes

  • Writing isn’t hard. What’s hard is sitting down to write. Making videos isn’t hard. What’s hard is sitting down to film videos. Editing videos isn’t hard. What’s hard is sitting down to edit videos.
  • We get jealous of others’ success because their success means they’ve overcome resistance but for some reason, we can’t. “What do they know that we don’t,” we think to ourselves? It also makes us face our own reality. It shows that whatever excuses we’ve been telling ourselves for why we can’t get something done is utterly wrong, because someone else did it.
  • Trouble, frustration, complaining, and ill-fortune are all things that keep the working artist from doing their work. Great artists distance themselves from trouble and ensure any distractions they can control are kept to a minimum.
  • Having a condition–being sick, being a victim, etc.–rationalizes the significance to one’s own existence. People that go from condition to condition becomes their work of art, one that is much easier than the work of art they should create. They use the condition as an excuse to keep themselves from their art.
  • Unalleviated Resistance turns to unhappiness, boredom, restless, unsatisfied, and so on. This forces us to turn to vices to alleviate the unhappiness. We turn away from art to drugs or substances or distractions to keep entertained. If this is how you feel, you may not have a chronic condition of anything, but instead are chronically avoiding something you should be.
  • People are only as free as the extent of their own self mastery. Those who do not govern themselves will find something to govern them: drugs, relationships, vices, etc.
  • Amateurs focus on the outcome. Professionals focus on the work. The professional knows that success, like happiness, is a by-product of doing the work. The professional focuses on the work and allows the rewards to come or not to come.
  • Principle of Priority: (a) you must know the difference between what’s important and what’s urgent (b) you must do what’s important first.
  • Professionals:
    • Show up every day
    • Show up no matter what
    • Stay on the job all day
    • Committed over the long haul
    • The stakes for us are high and real
    • We accept renumeration for our labor
    • Do not over-identify with their jobs. Pros recognize that they are not their job descriptions. Ams do. “Resistance knows that the amateur compose will never write his symphony because he is overly invested in its success and over terrified of its failure. The amateur takes it so seriously it paralyzes him.
    • Master the technique of their job
    • Have a sense of humor about their jobs. Pros take it seriously, but not too seriously.
    • Are patient. The amateur thinks they can get their big goal done in 2 weeks. The professional knows it takes years of daily effort to produce consistently, quality work.
    • Seek order. They eliminate chaos from their enviornment so they can banish chaos from their mind.
    • Accepts no excuses. A pro knows that if he caves in today, he’ll be twice as likely to cave in tomorrow. If you so much as say hello to Resistance, you’re finished.
    • Are prepared. Not for victory, but for the process. Professionals handle their details. The plans. The small things. They work all of them out.
    • Dedicates himself to mastering the technique. They do so not because technique is a substitute for inspiration, but rather they want to be prepared with the full arsenal of skills when inspiration finally comes. By toiling by the front door of technique, the professional lets genius enter slyly from the back.
    • Don’t let the actions of others define who they are or what they do. The critic won’t be there tomorrow. But you know what will be? The blank page…staring you back in the face.
    • Know their limits. Pros can only be a pro at one thing. So they bring in other pros to help them (lawyers, doctors, accountants, etc.)
    • Reinvents themselves. Pros don’t limit what they can create in the future to that which they’ve created in the past. They recognize that with changing technology and ideas, so must their creations. Amateurs think they’re too good to change.
  • You will fail. You will be criticized. But that’s the price for being in the arena and not on the sidelines. Pressfield had a horrible review written about his first screenplay in Variety. But someone snapped him out of his misery. “You’re where you want to be right! Writing full-time?”
  • Resistance will stop you from achieving greatness. The antidote, the only lasting antidote, is professionalism. Professionals follow the rules, qualities, and characteristics of the previous.
  • “The goal of life isn’t to discover who you ought to be, but to become who you already are.” – me
  • The Artist is entitled to their labor, not the fruits of their labor.

On Resistance

  • Any act that rejects short term gratification for long term exceptionality will elicit resistance. Resistance stops you from doing that which you are called to do. And it will do anything to stop you from doing so.
  • Resistance is always lying and always full of shit. If you listen to its demanding voice, you deserve everything that you get.
  • The more important something is to our calling, the more Resistance we will face while doing it. Resistance attacks our love and our calling. If you are experiencing Resistance in one area, it’s a sure sign that you should be doing and accomplishing that thing. The thing that you keep trying to do and just can’t, is probably the thing you should be doing.
  • Resistance is omni-directional and only opposes that which desires a higher order. You’ll never feel resistance quitting your hard corporate job to work the drive thru at in n out. You will feel it trying to quit your 9-5 to go work as a missionary in the Congo.
  • Resistance is greatest when the finish line is in sight. It’s like the story from Odysseus, when they were close to the island at first, the crew opened the bag of wind.
  • Fear is Resistance. If you’re afraid of something, it’s a sign to do that thing. Resistance is also proportional to Love. If you love something deeply, their will be more Resistance facing you there.
  • Healing is Resistance. Telling yourself you can’t create because you’re working on “who you are” or you’re dealing with trauma is a form of Resistance. The part we create from and the part of us that needs healing are not the same. Where we create from is so deep and so within us, that nothing our parents did or our spouse said can touch it
  • The outcomes don’t beat Resistance. Sitting down to do the work beats it.
  • Support is Resistance. What better way to avoid doing the work than going to a workshop or networking event? “The more energy we spend stoking up on support from colleagues and loved ones, the weaker we become and the less capable of handling our business.”
  • Rationalization is Resistance–and it’s oftentimes true! We probably should be helping our pregnant wife, or spending more time with family, or this might be a particularly busy season…but “that all means diddly.” There will always be enough rationalizations to keep you from work: Resistance.
  • Resistance loves pride. Resistance says, ‘Show me someone who is too good to take Job X or Assignment Y and I’ll show you a guy I can crack like a walnut.”

Quotes

  • How many of us have become drunks and drug addicts, developed tumors and neuroses, succumbed to painkillers, gossip, and compulsive cell-phone use, simply because we don’t do that thing that our hearts, our inner genius, is calling us to?
  • The warrior and the artist live by the same code of necessity, which dictates that the battle must be fought anew every day.
  • There was never a moment, and never will be, when we are without the power to alter our own destiny.
  • The counterfeit innovator is wildly self-confident. The real one is scared to death.
  • The professional tackles the project that will make him stretch. He takes on the assignment that will bear him into uncharted waters, compel him to explore the unconscious parts of himself.
  • It’s one thing to study war and another to live the warrior’s life – Telamon of Arcadia, mercenary of the fifth century B.C.
  • “I write only when inspiration strikes. Fortunately it strikes every morning at nine o’clock sharp.” – Somerset Maugham. This echoes another deeper truth: that by performing the mundane act of sitting down and starting to work, he set in motion a mysterious but infallible sequence of events that would produce inspiration, as surely as if the goddess had synchronized her watch with his. He knew if he built it, she would come.
  • The artist committing himself to his calling has volunteered for hell, whether he knows it or not. He will be dining for the duration on a diet of isolation, rejection, self-doubt, despair, ridicule, contempt, and humiliation.
  • You don’t hear the amateur bitching, “This fucking trilogy is killing me!” Instead, he doesn’t write his trilogy at all.
  • The critic hates the most that which he would have done himself if he had the guts.
  • The most important thing about art is to work. Nothing else matters except sitting down every day and trying.
  • The moment one definitely commits oneself, then providence moves too. All sorts of things occur to help one that would not otherwise have occurred.
  • “Whatever you can do, or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius, magic, and power in it. Begin it now.”
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