Monday, December 26, 2011

Book Review: The War of Art

Photo by John R. Sowash
I love reading. Every year there are a couple of books on my Christmas list. This year, I received The War of Art by Steven Pressfield.

This book was recommended by Seth Godin and Merlin Man, two bloggers/authors that I read regularly and appreciate for their poignant insight.

The War of Art contains principles that I have blogged about previously. You might consider reading my previous post on "Shipping."

The core thesis of this short book is the unlived life:
Most of us have two lives. The life we live, and the unlived life within us. Between the two stands the Resistance. (introduction)
The "Resistance" is a central theme of this book. Everyone has fought against the resistance, only a few recognize its influence, however.  The Resistance is not a secret government agency, it's not a foreign power, or an alien influence. The Resistance is the internal "voice" that does everything possible to keep you from doing what you were born to do.

Seth Godin calls it the "Lizard Brain". Pressfield calls it the Resistance. In either case, there is a constant internal battle within everyone that seeks to prevent you from taking a wild leap of faith, from putting yourself out there, from trying something new. Why? Because it might not work. The Resistance is primarily concerned with maintaining the status quo-- comfort, predictability, safety, security. Anything that could potentially upset that balance must be fought against.

How many times have you had an idea burning within you that you ignored for a variety of reasons:
I don't have time
I don't have enough money
I'm too busy
I'll start tomorrow
I'm not feeling well
I'm too tired
Each of these excuses are from the Resistance. The curious thing, is that all of them are probably true (at least to some extent). The Resistance is smooth, cunning, and subtle. Pressfield suggests that we use the Resistance this way:
"Like a magnetized needle floating on a surface of oil, Resistance will unfailingly point to true North-- meaning that calling or action it most wants to stop us from doing...The more important a call or action is to our soul's evolution, the more Resistance we will feel toward pursuing it." (pg. 12)
Pressfield is a professional writer (primarily a novelist). The Resistance is constantly trying to distract him from what he does-- write. The principles found in The War of Art extend well beyond authorship, however. Anyone with any ambition, goal, or dreams, is susceptible to the Resistance. To counteract this powerful force, Pressfield suggests the following:

1. Stop being an Amateur and turn Pro. 
An Amateur is far to in love with the idea of what he/she does to be effective at it. Turning Pro forces you to approach your work in a detached, business like manner. A close look at any professional athlete will quickly demonstrate that they aren't just "playing around" at what they do-- they take it seriously, and love the game at the same time.

2. Just show up
Showing up and getting to work is 80% of the battle. There are many distractions that keep us from fully "showing up." Research, email, phone calls, coffee breaks, oil changes, and lunch appointments are good things that keep us from our real work.

3. Long Term Commitment
Let's be real. Nothing of significance is accomplished quickly. Anyone who wants to be successful is going to need to make a long-term commitment to showing up and being a pro.

4. Do it because you have to 
The true artists gives birth to his/her art because it is a burden on the soul. The artists doesn't paint/write/dance/sing to make money or to be famous, he does it because he must; like a pregnant women must give birth. Frequently an artist produces something that the "market" will not accept. This is not a failure on the part of the artist. He/she did what was within them, if no one else appreciates it, so what. Show up the next day and do the next thing.

Pressfield shares many more helpful principles related to overcoming the resistance and working with your inner Muse. Much more accustom to writing fiction than non-fiction, Pressfield clearly communicates the frustration, toil, and ardor, it takes to be an artist. There is nothing easy about it. There is no 5 step process to follow. Art is War. It comes down to hard work, focus, determination, and dedication. There is no easy way out. The resistance is never beat, it constantly tries to distract, scare, and confuse us unto living ordinary lives.

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