Book notes: The War of Art

The War of Art by Steven Pressfield book summary

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The War of Art by Steven Pressfield

Synopsis: “Internationally best-selling author of Last of the AmazonsGates of Fire and Tides of War, Steven Pressfield delivers a guide to inspire and support those who struggle to express their creativity. Pressfield believes that “resistance” is the greatest enemy, and he offers many unique and helpful ways to overcome it.” -Audible

Opening thoughts:

This was another book I put on my list while going listening to one of the guests on the Tim Ferriss podcast. I’ve heard of Steven Pressfield before, but have never read one of his works. Not only was this book highly rated on Audible, but it was a relatively short listen (about 3.5 hours) and probably covered something that has to do with artists and artistry. Didn’t really know what to expect going into this one.

Key notes:

  • The secret that real writers know: it’s not the writing part that’s hard, what’s hard is sitting down to write
    • What keeps us from sitting down is resistance
  • Most of us have 2 lives: the life we live, and the unlived life within us
    • Between the two stands resistance
  • Resistance is the most toxic force on the planet. It is the root of the most unhappiness
    • Resistance is an invisible, repelling, negative force that you can feel
    • “The enemy is a really good teacher” – The Dalai Lama
    • Resistance is internal, though it seems to come from outside ourselves located in spouses, bosses, jobs, kids, or peripheral opponents. Resistance arises from within and it is self-generated and self-perpetuated. It is the enemy within
  • Rule of thumb: the more important a call or action is to our soul’s evolution, The more resistance we will feel towards pursuing it
    • Resistance is most powerful at the finish line
  • Procrastination and creating trouble or drama in our lives is a form of resistance
  • Instead of applying self-knowledge, self-discipline, delayed gratification, and hard work, we simply consume a product
    • We will never cure our restlessness by being a consumer of corporate America, but only by doing our work
  • “The truly free individual is free only to the extent of his own self-mastery, while those who will not govern themselves are condemned to find masters to govern over them” – Socrates
  • Individuals who are realized in their own lives almost never criticize others
    • If they speak at all, it is to offer encouragement
  • The counterfeit innovator is wildly self-confident. The real one is scared to death and battles with self-doubt
  • Fear is good because, like self-doubt, it is an indicator of what we need to do
    • A rule of thumb is the more scared we are of a work or calling, the more sure we can be we have to do it
  • Resistance is directly proportional to love
    • If you are feeling massive resistance, the good news is it means there is tremendous love there too
  • The opposite of love is not hate, it is indifference
    • The more resistance you experience, the more important your unmanifested art, project, enterprise is to you, and the more gratification you will feel when you finally do it
  • The professional has learned that success, like happiness, comes as a byproduct of work
    • The professional concentrates on the work and allows rewards to come or not come whenever they like
  • The part of us that we imagine needs healing is not the part that we create from. The part we create from is much deeper and stronger and cannot be touched by anything our parents did or society did
    • In fact, the more troubles we’ve got, the better and richer that part becomes
  • We all need true healing, but it has nothing to do with doing our work and it can be a colossal exercise in resistance
    • The more energy we expand stoking up support from colleagues and loved ones, the weaker we become and the less capable of handling our business
  • Rationalization is the Resistance’s right-hand man
    • Its job is to keep us from feeling the shame we would feel if we truly faced what cowards we are for not doing our work
  • Resistance hates it when you go from amateur to pro
    • Pro doesn’t mean doing it for money, it means doing it full-time, seven days a week because you love it
  • The principle of priority:
    1. You must know the difference between what is urgent and what is important
    2. You must do what is important first
  • The artist must be like a Marine, know how to be miserable and love being miserable
    • He has to take pride in being more miserable than anyone else. He will be dining on a diet of rejection, isolation, self-doubt, despair, ridicule, contempt, and humiliation
  • Having feedback from a real failure is also the sign of a pro
  • Technically the professional takes money and plays for pay. But in the end, he does it for love
    • The professional is patient and understands delayed gratification
    • A professional seeks order
  • The professional doesn’t wait for inspiration, she acts in the anticipation of its apparition
    • A professional acts in the face of fear
    • A professional accepts no excuses
  • The professional is prepared to confront his own self-sabotage, prepared mentally to absorb blows and deliver them
  • A professional does not show off
    • A professionals work has style and is distinctively his own
  • A professional dedicates himself to mastering technique
    • He is prepared with all of the tools of technique so that inspiration can use those tools and so that genius can show up
  • A professional does not hesitate to ask for help
  • A professional does not take failure or success personally
  • The fear of rejection is both psychological and biological, we feel in our gut
  • A professional schools herself to stand apart from her performance
  • A professional endures adversity
  • The professional cannot let himself take humiliation personally
    • Humiliation, like rejection and criticism, is the external reflection of internal resistance
  • A professional self-validates
  • A professional reinvents himself
  • Making yourself a corporation or just thinking of yourself in that way reinforces the idea of professionalism because it separates the artist doing the work from the will and consciousness running the show
  • There is no mystery to turning pro, it’s a decision brought about by an act of will
  • Book 3: Beyond resistance – the higher realm
    • The most important thing about art is to work. Nothing else matters except sitting down every day and trying
  • Whatever you can do or dream you can, begin it
    • Boldness has genius, magic, and power in it
  • Artists are modest because they know they’re not doing the work, they are just taking dictation
    • It’s also why non-creative people hate creative people because they’re jealous. They’re jealous that artists and writers are tapped into something that they themselves cannot connect with
  • The ego is that part of the psyche that believes in material existence
    • The ego’s job is to take care of business in the real world, and it is an important job
    • But there are worlds other than the real world, and this is where the ego runs into trouble
  • Resistance feeds on fear
    • We fear success, discovering that we are more than we think we are
    • We fear that if this is true, we become estranged from all we know
    • If we embrace our ideals, we must prove we are worthy of them, and that scares the hell out of us
  • We come into this world with a specific, personal destiny. We have a job to do, a calling to enact, a self to become
    • Our job in this lifetime is not to shape ourselves into some ideally imagine we not to be, but to find out who we already are and become it
  • Hierarchical orientation: Most of us define ourselves hierarchically and don’t even know it
    • The entire materialist culture drills us from birth to define ourselves by others opinions
    • For the artist to define himself hierarchically is fatal
  • The artist cannot look to others to validate his efforts or his calling
    • The artist must operate territorially and do his work for his own sake
    • To labor in the arts for any reason other than love is prostitution
  • What are the qualities of a territory?
    1. A territory provides sustenance
    2. A territory sustains us without any external input
    3. A territory can only be claimed alone. You can work out with a friend or play in a team, but you only need your self to soak up your territory’s juice
    4. A territory can only be claimed by work
    5. A territory returns exactly what you put in
  • We must do our work for its own sake, not for fortune or attention or applause

Closing thoughts:

This book made me feel like I could conquer the world, lol. But really, it’s pretty motivating in the sense that it makes you reflect on what artistry or calling you’ve been putting off because of this enemy called “resistance” and its many forms. Some of the main points are that resistance is internal, but the artist must think of herself as a professional. She must not take things personally, separate herself from her work, and most importantly needs to simply DO the work. Only by doing the work will you seek the fulfillment that you deeply desire. Also by doing the work, you’ll find and be sustained by your territory.

Overall, a great book especially if you venture in the arts that requires deep, creative work. Writers, painters, and creators of all sorts understand the difficulties of “writer’s block” in their field, so understanding the root causes helps out a lot. A big part of overcoming this block is to reframe the struggle as just a natural part that can only be overcome by DOING. A good lesson even beyond creative fields.

Nutshell: The true enemy of doing art is resistance, which can be overcome by doing the work.

Rating: 4/5

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