Book Review: The War of Art (2002)


war of art

by Alan F. Zundel

Need inspiration for your creative self? “The War of Art: Break Through the Blocks and Win Your Inner Creative Battles” is a nice succinct guide and pep talk for the path. Many thanks to Steven Pressfield for writing it and Bobby Gladd for recommending it.

The best thing about the book—not to denigrate the contents—is how short it is. That way you can’t use the rationalization of spending time reading it to “study how to be creative” as a way to avoid actually doing something creative. It’s just not long enough to feed that excuse!

The book is composed of three parts divided up into brief essays, which you could savor a bit at a time to reflect on or swallow each part whole in a few short sittings like I did. The first part is on Resistance, the second on Combatting Resistance, and the third on going Beyond Resistance.

Resistance is all that stuff that keeps you from your creative work, whatever that work may be—art, acting, starting a business, writing. (The book is by a writer—duh!—so mostly uses writing as an example.) Fear, procrastination, rationalizations, distractions, self-doubt, grandiosity, all that mind muck. We’ve all been there, and Pressfield takes apart the inner workings of the enemy so we can see it more clearly.

After recognizing resistance, you need to combat it. For this you have to become a professional. Not in the sense of earning a living at your work, although that would be nice, but in the sense of treating it with at least as much commitment as you would a job. You gotta show up, be consistent, and do the work, whether convenient or not, whether feeling inspired or not, whether your stuff looks like crap or not.

Because only by doing the work can you push beyond resistance and break through to inspiration, which Pressfield likens to a spiritual realm of angelic muses trying to communicate with us. However you conceive of it, inspiration doesn’t show up until you’ve slogged away at the work long enough to clear the stage for it.

All good stuff, and worth reading even though it was pretty familiar to me. Good for validating the things we suspect but are sometimes afraid to admit to ourselves. I would quibble with a few points here and there, but generally nothing essential.

One of those points is the idea that if you keep on keeping on eventually the universe will start opening doors for you. I don’t know—maybe it works that way for some folks, but my experience has been a bit different. I’ve kept on with various types of creative work consistently and persistently, I would say, and doors would open a crack but then things would seem to stall. Maybe the breakthrough was just around the corner, but how long can you tell yourself that before questioning whether this is the right path for you?

Which brings me to my second point. The assumption seems to be that you know what it is you want to do, or at least that you can identify it with a simple technique. Pressfield recommends identifying what it is by identifying what you most fear doing. I feel like I’m beyond the point of fearing creative work, but I still have a problem figuring out what it is I want to do.

Are other people like this or is it just me? My problem is that when I start getting creative, floods of ideas come in and I don’t know which to focus on. Right now I have ideas for several books, a couple movies, reviews for my blog, a policy think tank, a political campaign for electoral reform, and God knows what else might strike me tomorrow.

I don’t need inspiration, I need to learn how to choose one project and turn off the flow of other ideas until the project finished. A book like that would be really helpful.

Anyone know of one?


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