The War of Art by Steven Pressfield

Book Summary

Creative endeavors are challenging because we all face “Resistance”. This invisible force originates from within and deters us from pursuing our creativity. But once we’re aware of “Resistance” and its qualities, we can beat it.

Notes and Quotes

The War of Art Summary
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Steven Pressfield is a strong advocate of building a writing routine. He has a goal of writing for a maximum of four hours every day.

  • “How many pages have I produced? I don’t care. Are they any good. I don’t even think about it. All that matters is I’ve put in my time and hit it with all I’ve got. All that counts is that, for this day, for this session, I have overcome Resistance.”

Many of us have two lives and what creates that is “Resistance”. There’s the life we live on the surface and the unlived life that hasn’t been fulfilled. Pressfield let “Resistance” scare him away from chasing his life as a writer for almost a decade.

What elicits “Resistance”? In short, any act that values short-term over long-term rewards.

The qualities of “Resistance”:

  • It’s invisible, but it can be felt.
  • It’s internal. It might seem like it comes from outside of us, but it’s self-generated.
  • It’s insidious and will do anything to keep us from doing our work. “It will perjure, fabrícate, falsify, seduce, bully, cajole.”
  • It’s implacable. Resistance can’t be reasoned with and understands nothing but power.
  • It’s impersonal and doesn’t know us nor does it care who we are.
  • It’s infallible. The more important our calling is to us, the more “Resistance” we’ll encounter as we pursue it.
  • It’s universal. No one is alone in their struggles. We all experience it.
  • It never sleeps.
  • It plays for keeps.
  • It’s fueled by fear.
  • It opposes only in one direction.
  • It’s most powerful at the finish line.
  • It recruits allies. Some people in our lives may accuse of changing and not being the people we used to be. “The awakening writer’s success becomes a reproach to them. If she can beat these demons, why can’t they?”

There are many different symptoms of “Resistance”. The ones that stood out most to me were:

  • Procrastination.
  • Victimhood.
  • Imposter syndrome. Pressfield doesn’t say this exact phrase, but he seemed to suggest that he faced it while writing this book. “Resistance” told him, “you’re a fiction writer, not a non-fiction writer”.
  • Self-doubt.
  • Love. “If you didn’t love the project that is terrifying you, you wouldn’t feel anything. The opposite of love isn’t hate; it’s indifference.”
  • Being a star. “The professional concentrates on the work and allows rewards to come or not come, whatever they like.”
  • Healing. We don’t need to be fixed before doing our work. “The athlete knows the day will never come when he wakes up pain-free. He has to play hurt.”

To beat “Resistance”, we need to stop being amateurs and turn professional instead. An amateur waits for inspiration to strike, while a professional creates the conditions to catch it. Here are the qualities of a pro:

  • A pro plays for keeps.
  • A pro thinks that art is his or her vocation.
  • A pro goes full time.
  • A pro makes it a priority to show up, no matter how he or she feels.

How a writer’s day begins: “I wake up with a gnawing sensation of dissatisfaction. Already I feel fear.”

Pressfield told a story about his first screenplay to become a movie. The film bombed in theaters and he was crushed. But he had a friend, Tony Keppelmen, who put the outcome into perspective for him. “You’re where you wanted to be aren’t you? So you’re taking a few blows. That’s the price for being in the arena and not on the sidelines. Stop complaining and be grateful.”

The qualities of a professional

  • Patient. “The professional steels himself at the start of a project, reminding himself it is the Iditarod, not the sixty-yard dash. He conserves his energy. He prepares his mind for the long haul…”
  • Seeks order. “He eliminates chaos from his world in order to banish it from his mind. He wants the carpet vacuumed and the threshold swept, so the Muse may enter and not soil her gown.”
  • Demystifies. A pro “concentrates on technique. The professional masters how, and leaves what and why to the gods.”
  • Acts in the face of fear. “The professional knows that fear can never be overcome. He knows there is no such thing as a fearless warrior or a dread free artist.”
  • Accepts no excuses.
  • Plays it as it lays. ”The field is level, the professional understands, only in heaven.”
  • Prepared. Always ready to confront his own self-sabotage.
  • Doesn’t show off. “A professional’s work has style; it is distinctively his own. But he doesn’t let his signature grandstand for him. His style serves the material. He does not impose it as a means of drawing attention to himself.”
  • Dedicates him or herself to mastering technique. ”The professional is sly. He knows that by toiling beside the front door of technique, he leaves room for genius to enter by the back.”
  • Doesn’t hesitate to ask for help.
  • Distances from his or her instrument. An instrument “is simply what God gave her, what she has to work with. She assesses it coolly, impersonally, objectively”
  • Doesn’t take failure or success personally. “The pro listens to criticism in order to learn and grow. But doesn’t forget that criticism is used by Resistance against her.”
  • Endures adversity.
  • Self-validates.
  • Recognizes his or her limitations and will bring others to do things he or she’s not good at doing.
  • Reinvents him or herself. “As artists we serve the Muse, and the Muse may have more than one job for us over our lifetime.”
  • Recognized by other professionals.

Through the simple act of showing up, something mysterious happens. The art we want to create manifests itself while “heaven comes to our aid. Unseen forces enlist in our cause; serendipity reinforces our purpose.”

Pressfield says that contempt for failure is the artist’s cardinal virtue. We measure success by asking ourselves if we showed up and did our daily work.


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