# BOOK CLUB. the War of Art

# BOOK CLUB. the War of Art

Book Review

Steven Pressfield | Read on 17 April 2021

I have picked this book up because of a video that I watched. The book was meant to be life changing. The producer(s) of the video claimed that the book was so powerful, that when reading it, they had to stop every few minutes in order to "take action". That must be a very deep and meaningful book.

So ok, I decided to get it. After all what harm would it be to read another book. If it is really so good then I may learn something. If it’s bad then at least it wouldn’t be the first crappy book I've read. I went onto Amazon and bought a hard copy. It was cheap. About 10 EUR ( approx. 12 USD). First clue - when books are that cheap it is usually not a good sign.

z„we don‘t tell ourselves, „I‘m never going to write my symphony“. Instead we say „I‘m going to write my symphony; I‘m just going to start tomorrow.“z

The title of the book includes a subtitle Break Through the Blocks and Win Your Inner Creative Battles. Intriguing.

The author Steven split the book into three parts

  • Book One - Resistance, Defining the Enemy
  • Book Two - Combating Resistance, Turning Pro
  • Book Three - Beyond Resistance, The Higher Realm

Book One - Resistance, Defining the Enemy.

In this part of the book Steven defines the reason or the force behind the procrastination. He names is „Resistance“. He argues that it is an invisible force that we "cannot see, touch, hear or smell but one that we can feel". It appears every time we have to do any piece of work that requires the slightest of efforts - be it studying for an exam, mounting a lamp on the wall, taking the dog for a walk. The Resistance gains its strength proportional to the effort we have to invest. It hits the hardest when the work we have to do is most important. It is an invisible enemy that never sleep and is always ready to strike.

Steve names „procrastination the most common manifestation of Resistance “. He says „we don‘t tell ourselves, „I‘m never going to write my symphony“. Instead we say „I‘m going to write my symphony; I‘m just going to start tomorrow.

This is real - how many times have we actually said that we were going to do something later or tomorrow. I will call that company tomorrow, I will write that letter tomorrow, I will start studying for my exam tomorrow, and so on. All of that is manifestation of Resistance. In reality once it is too late and we are up agains the wall, we finally get off our butt and do the work. However in these cases it is not us who takes control - it is the external pressure. We feel stressed; we burn the midnight oil, we work weekends, whatever it takes just to get the task at hand done.

When I pause here, and take time to think about it, it is amazing how easy it is to procrastinate. You just don‘t do that one thing you should be doing. Simple as that. Instead of putting in the work and getting things done you find other things to do - cleaning your apartment, calling grandma, watching Netflix, and so on. However, there is a price to pay for all of that - at best, things just don‘t get done and you forget about them, at worst you face real consequences - failing your exams, getting kicked out of the university, not delivering on your project, etc.

So remember, every time you feel like not doing that one thing you should be doing, know that it is this invisible enemy that strikes and kicks you down. You are better than that. You can win.

Moving on, I like the idea of Resistance because it is simple. It personifies the enemy and allows us to find someone else or something else to blame for our weaknesses. This is our inbreed human problem - if we fail or make a mistake we search for excuses or for others to take the blame. The Resistance is the chosen enemy here. It is our mental punching bag.

In the rest of book one there are a lot of references of how Resistance manifests itself. To me this is a notch too far. He argues that dramatization, intoxication, addictions or even some forms of sickness are caused by Resistance. Quote „doctors estimate that seventy to eighty percent of their business is non-health-related. People aren‘t sick, they’re self-dramatizing“.  Steven provides no evidence to back up this claim.

Generally, the idea of Resistance is great. The rest is obsolete.

Book Two - Combating the Resistance, Turning Pro

Here, Steve is talking about turning professional. Not the professional in the job sense of way - like a lawyer or an accountant - but as an ideal. Pressfield outlines ten characteristics that define a Professional:

  1. Show up every day
  2. Show up no matter what
  3. Stay on the job (can also be task) all day
  4. Commitment over the long haul
  5. Stakes are high and real
  6. Accept remuneration for the work
  7. Do not overidentify oneself with the profession
  8. Master the technique of our job
  9. Have a sense of humour about the job
  10. Receive praise or blame in the real world

The way I look at this is as follows. For example, I am an actuary by title and by qualification. I perform a job of an actuary. Therefore I am an actuary, right? However do I really, at the deep and intimate level, see myself as an actuary or is it „just my job“. When I talk to my friends and my family do I proudly say that I am an actuary or do I try to explain my job without even using that word -  they anyways wouldn‘t understand what I do. When we change our mindset from „I like running so I go for a run“ to „I am a runner“ that is when we are starting to turn pro. It's is harder than it sounds.

Steve goes on to talk about other characteristics of a Professional, such as - doing the work out of love, patience, in-depth knowledge of the job, honesty or dedication to name a few. However, there are two elements that I think, really stood out.

First one is a quote from Somerset Maugham. When asked „if he wrote on a schedule or only when struck by inspiration. „I write only when inspiration strikes“ he replied. „Fortunately it strikes every morning at nine o‘clock sharp“.

Whether that is true or not, whether Somerset actually did say it or not, the important lesson from that is through repetition and persistence we create a habit and that habit becomes the firing force behind our productivity. It's the characterisitcs #1 and #2 above.

The second part is about what Steven calls “being miserable“. It is this idea, that in order to excel one needs to expose oneself to misery and discomfort. That when we harden ourselves there will be less than can break us . We often hear that we need to step outside of our comfort zone to learn and develop. Well, "being miserable" is Steve's idea of stepping outside of your own comfort zone.

Book Three - Beyond Resistance, The Higher Realm

This part is where we disagree Steve. I do not believe that talent, muses or any higher realm are necessary to achieve greatness. What I think matters most is good old fashioned hard work. However, there are two conditions that need to be met

  • one needs to really love what they do - only that way they can put in the hours necessary to excel and not give up when initial excitements fades and dust settles.
  • the earlier they start the better - if one learns how to play piano at the age of 3 and practices dilligently for twenty years, chances are they will be extremely good at it.
  • they need the right guidance and teaching - development curve will slow down eventually, so in order to speed it up again we may need some guidance and teaching.

There are however a few valid points where we agree. At the beginning of the chapter Steven is saying that "nothing matters except sitting down every day and trying. (...) because when we sit down day after day and keep griding, something mysterious starts to happen". That is true; what happens is that we learn, we improve and we better ourselves. That is a development process. Once we reach a certain level, growth rate start to increase and then improvements happen exponentially; that is the outcome of knowledge and experience starting to take compounded effect.

Another point I find valuable is this idea of hierarchy vs. territory.

"The artist must operate territorially. He must do his work for its own sake.

To labor in the arts for any reason other than love is prostitutions (...)

In the hierarch, the artist looks up and looks down. The one place he can't look is that place he must: within"

Hierarchical behaviour is one where we are doing things for the sake of impressing others; territorial behaviour is one where we are doing things out of love. A simple test to check if we are acting one way or the other is this. Ask yourself: "of any activity you do: if I were the last person on earth, would l still do what I do?" If the answer is yes then we are on the right path".

The rest of the book is a bit too wizardly for my tastes. However if it works for him or some other people out there than that's great. After all it's about finding out what is best for us and going with that.

Overall I think that the book is good, probably pretty good. Is it life changing? ... I can't tell yet; it needs time.

One things to say is that the reader needs to ignore some of the more extreme statements Steve is putting across and go beyond. This is the only way we can extract what is useful and ignore what is not. It took me two attempts to read that book properly, but once you are there you will find what you need.

If you do read it and have your comment please share with me. Would be interested to hear your views.

Until next time.


M | K