A friend recommended Steven Pressfield’s “The War of Art” to me and, despite the depth and breadth of my ‘to read’ pile, I managed to get to it before summer was out. Much to the book’s credit, its 165 page length had something to do with it getting ushered to the top of the list. Pressfield, known chiefly for his military/historical fiction and for his non-fiction novel-turned-film, “The Legend of Bagger Vance,” produced this 2002 work with an eye toward inspiring anyone struggling with creative endeavors. Where others might offer advice in the guise of catchy notions like making lists, organizing the desk, or maximizing production with the help of a day planner, Pressfield instead examines why on Earth we’d be having problems in the first place.
Resistance, he espouses, is the real problem. The book’s three sections, indeed, make this clear – Resistance, Combating Resistance, and Beyond Resistance. He casts resistance in the role of a literal villain which asserts itself as distraction, laziness, fear, doubt or anything else that stands between the creator and what he or she wishes to create. The book demands that the reader confront: “why am I not making my dream a priority?” and goes on to explore potential whys and how to deal with them. Among the usual suspects (guilt, uncertainty, lack of confidence), Pressfield offers the best perspective I have ever encountered on the oft-mocked notion of “fear of success.” Sure, it sounds insane, why would anyone fear success? Pressfield offers the insightful deduction that, as creatures with a long history of tribal-based survival, we’re often reluctant to do something that would set us apart from our community.
Venturing into the spritual/mystical aspect of creativity, Pressfield stresses the importance of acknowledging the inspiration behind artistic effort. Whether a writer/painter/musician believes in a god or the power of the universe or in having a personal muse, Pressfield feels it is vital to recognize that influence, and to respect it. Certainly, there are plenty of authors who describe writing not as a process of ‘making up’ a story, but of discovering it – and it is this idea that Pressfield builds upon. It frees the artist, to some degree, to believe that showing up and doing the work is the real key, and in trusting the rest to inspiration.
While it may or may not solve every artist’s problem with procrastination, it is one of the most thought-provoking works I have found on creativity. If reading it hasn’t stopped me from getting distracted while writing, it has made me more aware of my distraction, more conscious of just how much time I’m wasting. And knowing, as they say, is half the battle.