Book Summaries

The War of Art by Steven Pressfield

Physical Book | Audio

“The enemy of the artist is the small-time Ego, which begets Resistance, which is the dragon that guards the gold. That’s why an artist must be a warrior and, like all warriors, artists over time acquire modesty and humility. They may, some of them, conduct themselves flamboyantly in public. But alone with the work they are chaste and humble. They know they are not the source of the creations they bring into being. They only facilitate. They carry.”

The Book in a Few Sentences/My Biggest Takeaways

Resistance’s goal is to keep us from showing up and doing our work today. Because if it succeeds to do that, it’ll be twice as easy to keep us from showing up tomorrow and the day after…and nothing would ever get achieved that way! The way we defeat resistance is to become pro. And there is no mystery to turning pro. Like Steven says, “It’s a decision brought about by an act of will. We make up our minds to view ourselves as pro and we do it. Simple as that.”

My Book Notes

We all show up on earth with unique gifts and abilities – tools with which we are supposed to create the unique work that we were placed here to do. It doesn’t matter if you were born to be a writer, a musician, a preacher, a business man or whatever else, there is one thing that stands between us and the great work we were designed to put out into the world – Resistance. If we are able to overcome Resistance, we would be free to explore the farthest points of our potentials and see how far we really can go. But if Resistance succeeds in stopping us, neither us nor the world would ever know what we could have accomplished and how much we could have contributed to the world through our talents and gifting.

But what really is Resistance and how can we identify if we have already come under the claws of this predator. That’s what Steven Pressfield sets out to do in the first part of the book and then the rest of the book is devoted to teaching us how to combat this enemy-Resistance.

Here are some of my favorite quotes from the book that summarize the key lessons I got from it:

P.S. The term ‘artist’ is used very often in the book but we are in a similar battle with the artist, whether our goal is to create a successful business, a successful career or whatever other endeavor. Ultimately, we all want to live out the best version of ourselves and that path will always bring us into direct conflict with Resistance. So the lessons of this book hold true and are valid.

  • Robert McKee in the forward of the book defines talent this way: “the innate power to discover the hidden connection between two things-images, ideas, words-that no one else has ever seen before, link them, and create for the world a third, utterly unique work.”
  • “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.”
  • “There’s a secret that real writers know that wannabe writers don’t, and the secret is this: 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.”
  • “When we sit down day after day and keep grinding, something mysterious starts to happen. A process is set into motion by which, inevitably and infallibly, heaven comes to our aid. Unseen forces enlist in our cause; serendipity reinforces our purpose.”
  • “Most of us have two lives. The life we live, and the unlived life within us. Between the two stands Resistance.”
  • Do you have a dream, a goal, a strong call on your life that you’ve always wanted to pursue because it fulfills a deep-seated desire in your heart or because of the impact it would have on others; but you’ve somehow put it off for so long for no good reason? Then you know what Resistance is.
  • “How many of us have become drunks and drug addicts, developed tumors and neuroses, succumbed to painkillers, gossip, and compulsive cell-phone use, simply because we don’t do the thing that our hearts, our inner genius, is calling us to?”
  • The world would be a different place if we all awoke to our true identity and tapped into our inner genius. Steven says, “If tomorrow morning by some stroke of magic every dazed and benighted soul woke up with the power to take the first step towards pursuing his or her dreams, every shrink in the directory would be out of business. Prisons would stand empty. The alcohol and tobacco industries would collapse, along with the junk food, cosmetic surgery, and infotainment business.”
  • Resistance is out to keep us trapped in the life that we have so we never experience the life we can have. “Any act that rejects immediate gratification in favor of long-term growth, health or integrity elicits Resistance.”
  • In many cases, it is easy for us to identify Resistance at work in our lives. But sometimes, Resistance disguises itself in the form of a “reasonable” excuse while kicking our ass all the while. So in Book One (the first part), Pressfield discusses the many characteristics and symptoms of Resistance so that it becomes very easy to recognize it.

Here are a couple of thoughts and quotes that stood out from the first part of The War of Art book:

  • “Resistance is not out to get you personally. It doesn’t know who you are and doesn’t care. Resistance is a force of nature.”
  • Even though Resistance acts from within, it feeds on and is strengthened by forces that exist both within and without. So by becoming aware of what these forces are, I can stop them in their tracks so they are unable to give even more ammunition to Resistance.
  • The direction in which we feel the most resistance can often times be a pointer to our area of calling because “the more important a call or action is to our soul’s evolution, the more Resistance we will feel toward pursuing it.”
  • “Resistance has no strength of its own…We feed it with power by our fear of it. Master that fear and we conquer Resistance.”
  • “Procrastination is the most common manifestation of Resistance because it’s the easiest to rationalize. We don’t tell ourselves, “I’m never going to write my symphony.” Instead we say, “I am going to write my symphony; I’m just going to start tomorrow.”
  • When tempted to procrastinate, try to remember this: “The most pernicious aspect of procrastination is that it can become a habit. We don’t just put off our lives today; we put them off till our deathbed.”
  • We live in a consumer culture that seeks to exploit the unhappiness that we feel as a result of succumbing to Resistance. So rather than doing our work, we seek some form of distraction in spending our disposable income on products we really don’t need, substance abuse or mindless entertainment that isn’t contributing to our overall wellbeing. Those things would not cure the restlessness, giving ourselves to our work WILL.
  • Criticism is another symptom of resistance, whether we are the ones criticizing others or we are being criticized. Most criticism comes from the grandstands, out of the mouths of people who aren’t a part of the action but are mere onlookers and bystanders. So watch out for this! Steven says, “Individuals who are realized in their own lives almost never criticize others. If they speak at all, it is to offer encouragement.”
  • Redefine the relationship you have with fear. Instead of seeing the things you fear as things to run away from, start seeing them as things to gravitate towards. “The more fear we feel about a specific enterprise, the more certain we can be that that enterprise is important to us and to the growth of our soul. That’s why we feel so much Resistance. If it meant nothing to us, there’d be no Resistance.”
  • Daydreaming without taking proportionate action is the hallmark of amateurs. “The professional concentrates on the work and allows rewards to come or not come, whatever they like.”

In Part 2, Steven Pressfield talks about how to defeat Resistance in our lives and here’s the summary of what he says we ought to do and that is: Become a Pro. Now what does it mean to become a pro and how does that help us to overcome Resistance? Here are a couple of thoughts ad quotes from part 2 to answer those questions:

  • “Aspiring artists defeated by Resistance share one trait. They all think like amateurs. They have not yet turned pro.” To become pro, we need to develop the attitude and mindset that the pro has towards his craft/work. It helps to picture your favorite pro sportsman or musical artist – one who has attained high levels of mastery, you’d find these things true about them.
  • The one word that defines a pro is: COMMITTMENT. And because of that commitment, the pro shows up every single day regardless of how inspired or motivated he/she feels. Come rain, come sun you’ll find the pro at his duty post.
  • The pro understands this truth: “by performing the mundane physical act of sitting down and starting to work, he set in motion a mysterious but infallible sequence of events that would produce inspiration…”
  • One lesson that Marine training teaches and which is vital for the artist to learn (or anyone looking to overcome Resistance) is how to be miserable – how to go through hell and keep going. Steven says, “The artist committing himself to his calling has volunteered for hell, whether he knows it or not. He will be dining for the duration on a diet of isolation, rejection, self-doubt, despair, ridicule, contempt, and humiliation.” The Marine knows that he’s getting ready for war and war isn’t pretty. Same goes for you and I.
  • The pro has a deep love for his work, but maintains a healthy balance between his love and professionalism. He cannot afford to love the game so much that it breeds inaction, for any reason.
  • Another attitude of mind that sets the pro apart from the amateur is his patience. Steven writes, “Resistance outwits the amateur with the oldest trick in the book: It uses his own enthusiasm against him. Resistance gets us to plunge into a project with an overambitious and unrealistic timetable for its completion. It knows we can’t sustain that level of intensity…”
  • On the other hand, “The professional arms himself with patience, not only to give the stars time to align in his career, but to keep himself from flaming out in each individual work…He conserves his energy. He prepares his mind for the long haul.” The pro takes a measured approach which prevents him from burn-out so he can keep showing up every day because he knows that sooner or later, he will break-through.
  • “The amateur believes he must first overcome his fear; then he can do his work. 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…He knows that once he gets into the action, his fear will recede and he’ll be okay.”
  • The professional doesn’t entertain Resistance by putting off today’s work in favor of an excuse. “The professional knows that Resistance is like a telemarketer; if you so much as say hello, you’re finished. The pro doesn’t even pick up the phone. He stays at work.”
  • “The professional plays it as it lays….he conducts his business in the real world. Adversity, injustice, bad hops and rotten calls…all comprise the ground over which the campaign must be waged. The field is level, the professional understands, only in heaven.”
  • “The professional is prepared, each day, to confront his own self-sabotage. The professional prepares mentally to absorb blows and to deliver them…to take a beating when he has to, and to go for the throat when he can. He understands that the field alters every day. His goal is not victory (success will come by itself when it wants to) but to handle himself, his insides, as sturdily as he can,”
  • “The professional dedicates himself to mastering technique not because he believes technique is a substitute for inspiration but because he wants to be in possession of the full arsenal of skills when inspiration does come.” That way, when inspiration shows up, he has the skills to execute.
  • A professional seeks out the most knowledgeable teachers and does not hesitate to ask for help.
  • “A professional distance herself from her instrument – meaning her person, her body, her voice, her talent; the physical, mental, emotional, and psychological being she uses in her work. She does not identify with this instrument. It is simply what God gave her, what she has to work with. The professional identifies with her consciousness and her will, not with the matter that her consciousness and will manipulate to serve her art.” This allows her to place uncomfortable demands on her instrument, if she’s convinced that it’d be serving their overall best interest in the long run.
  • “When people say an artist has a thick skin, what they mean is not that the person is dense or numb, but that he has seated his professional consciousness in a place other than his personal ego. The professional loves her work…but she does not forget that the work is not her. Her artistic self contains many works and many performances…”
  • “The professional cannot let himself take humiliation personally…He lets the birdshit splash down on his slicker, remembering that it comes clean with a heavy-duty hosing.”
  • “An amateur lets the negative opinion of other unman him. The professional doesn’t react reflexively. He cannot allow the actions of others to define his reality. Tomorrow morning the critic will be gone, but the writer will still be there facing the blank page.”
  • “Why does Resistance yield to our turning pro? Because Resistance is a bully. Resistance has no strength of its own; its power derives entirely from our fear of it. The pro keeps coming on. He beats Resistance at its own game by being even more resolute and even more implacable than it is.”

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