The War of art - Steven pressfield
notes and quotes
Procrastination is the greatest enemy of happiness and accomplishment. Resistance is the destructive force within human nature that arises whenever we consider a tough, long-term course of action that might bring about positive changes. Resistance is any excuse or form of distraction that allows one not to work on their vacation.
Show up, put in the work, and go home. That’s all that counts. You overcome Resistance.
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.
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 two lives. The life we live, and the unlived life within us. Between the two stands Resistance. Are you a writer who doesn't write, a painter who doesn't paint, an entrepreneur who never starts a venture? Then you know what Resistance is.
Look in your own heart. Unless I'm crazy, right now a still small voice is piping up, telling you as it has ten thousand times, the calling that is yours and yours alone. You know it. No one has to tell you. And unless I'm crazy, you're no closer to taking action on it than you were yesterday or will be tomorrow. You think Resistance isn't real? Resistance will bury you.
It was easier for Hitler to start World War II than it was for him to face a blank square of canvas
Book 1: Resistance
Activities that commonly elicit Resistance:
- Writing, Painting, Music, Film, Dance or any other creative art;
- The launching of an entrepreneurial venture;
- Any diet or health regimen;
- Any program of spiritual advancement;
- Any activity whose goal is tighter abs;
- Anything designed to overcome negative habits or addictions;
- Education of any kind;
- Any act of political, moral, or ethical courage;
- The undertaking of any enterprise whose goal is to help others;
- Any commitment of the heart;
- The taking of any stand in the face of an adversity.
Resistance is invisible, like an invisible force field. It radiates from the work that you have to accomplish. It is the hesitance you feel before sitting down to work on an essay or your magnum opus.
Internal¸ self-generated and self-perpetuated. Spouses, jobs, and bosses might seem like the main sources, but these are mere “Peripheral opponents”. It arises from within.
Insidious, always lying and full of shit. It will tell you anything to keep you from doing your work.
Implacable an engine of destruction with only a single goal. It will not rest or stop. This is its nature, It’s all it knows.
Impersonal, it doesn’t care who you are. Resistance is a force of nature and should be considered akin to the law of gravity and inertia. It’s nothing personal, it’s just business.
Infallible, inevitably pointing to the one thing we most want or need to accomplish. If you keep feeling a strong urge to avoid writing, writing is what you should do above everything else!
Universal, everybody experiences Resistance, even if it seems like you’re the only one dealing with it.
Resistance Never Sleeps. No matter how long you practice an art, fear and Resistance don’t go away. The battle must be fought anew every day.
It Plays For Keeps. It doesn’t aim to wound or disable; it intends to kill. It wants to destroy our genius and soul, the unique gift that only we can bring into the world. When we fight resistance, we should fight to the death.
Resistance is Fueled By Fear. Resistance has no strength on its own, everything it possesses comes from us. We feed it with our fear. Master that fear and we conquer Resistance.
Resistance only operates Against A Higher Calling. If you want to throw your life away, Resistance will give you a free pass. However, if You want to pursue a calling in the arts or business, expect Resistance to fight you every step of the way.
Resistance Is Most Powerful At The Finish Line. When the end is in sight, Resistance realizes he is close to losing. Therefore, he puts all his effort into one final assault. Be wary at the very end.
Finally, Resistance Recruits Allies. When you’re finally making progress, you might find that those around you start acting strangely. They will try to sabotage you, even if unknowingly. The reason is that they are struggling against their own Resistance. Someone close to them beating Resistance becomes an insult to them. People often make pledges to remain mired in the same lack of progress that they have become comfortable in. This is the ultimate expression of the crab bucket mentality and should be avoided at all cost. The awakening artist must be ruthless, not only with herself but with others. The best and only thing that one artist can do for another is to serve as an example and an inspiration.
Procrastination is the most common manifestation of Resistance. 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." There never was a moment, and never will be, when we are without the power to alter our destiny. This second, we can turn the tables on Resistance. This second, we can sit down and do our work.
It's easier to get busted in the bedroom with the faculty chairman's wife than it is to finish that dissertation on the metaphysics of motley in the novellas of Joseph Conrad. Anything that draws attention to ourselves through pain-free or artificial means is a manifestation of Resistance. The working artist will not tolerate trouble in her life because she knows trouble prevents her from doing her work. The working artist banishes from her world all sources of trouble. She harnesses the urge for trouble and transforms it in her work.
Depression and anxiety may be real. But they can also be Resistance. When we drug ourselves to blot out our soul's call, we are being good Americans and exemplary consumers. Instead of applying self-knowledge, self-discipline, delayed gratification, and hard work, we simply consume a product.
Casting yourself as a victim is the antithesis of doing your work. Don't do it. If you're doing it, stop.
What finally convinced me to go ahead was simply that I was so unhappy not going ahead. I was developing symptoms. As soon as I sat down and began, I was okay.
What does Resistance feel like?
First, unhappiness. We’re bored and restless. We want to go back to bed.
Second, you become unalleviated. You turn to dope, adultery and web surfing.
Beyond that; depression, aggression, dysfunction, crime, and self-destruction.
Sounds like life, I know. It isn't. It's Resistance.
As artists and professionals it is our obligation to enact our own internal revolution, a private insurrection inside our own skulls. We unplug ourselves from the grid by recognizing that we will never cure our restlessness by contributing our disposable income to the bottom line of Bullshit, Inc., but only by doing our work.
An artist is grounded in freedom. He is not afraid of it and is convinced that humankind is advancing towards a better world. The fundamentalist entertains no such notion. In his view, humanity has fallen from a higher state. The truth is not out there awaiting revelation; it has already been revealed. The word of God has been spoken and recorded by His prophet, be he Jesus, Muhammad, or Karl Marx. Fundamentalism is the philosophy of the powerless, the conquered, the displaced and the dispossessed.
The fundamentalist cannot stand freedom, since he cannot find his way into the future.
The paradox seems to be, as Socrates demonstrated long ago, that 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
If you find yourself criticizing other people, you're probably doing it out of Resistance. When we see others beginning to live their authentic selves, it drives us crazy if we have not lived out our own. Individuals who are realized in their own lives almost never criticize others.
lf-doubt can be an ally. This is because it serves as an indicator of aspiration. The counterfeit innovator is wildly self-confident. The real one is scared to death.
Fear is good. Like self-doubt, fear is an indicator. Fear tells us what we have to do. Remember our rule of thumb: The more scared we are of a work or calling, the more sure we can be that we have to do it.
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.
Grandiose fantasies are a symptom of Resistance. They're the sign of an amateur.
It is a commonplace among artists and children at play that they're not aware of time or solitude while they're chasing their vision. The hours fly. The sculptress and the tree-climbing tyke both look up blinking when Mom calls, "Suppertime!"
The athlete knows the day will never come when he wakes up pain-free. He has to play hurt.
Resistance is fear. But Resistance is too cunning to show itself naked in this form. Why? Because if Resistance lets us see clearly that our own fear is preventing us from doing our work, we may feel shame at this. And shame may drive us to act in the face of fear.
Tolstoy had thirteen kids and wrote War and Peace. Lance Armstrong had cancer and won the Tour de France three years and counting.
Book Two: Combatting Resistance, Turning Pro
The amateur plays for fun. The professional plays for keeps.
To the amateur, the game is his avocation. To the pro it's his vocation.
The amateur plays part-time, the professional full-time.
The amateur is a weekend warrior. The professional is there seven days a week.
The professional loves it so much he dedicates his life to it. He commits full-time.
That's what I mean when I say turning pro. Resistance hates it when we turn pro.
"I write only when inspiration strikes, fortunately it strikes every morning at nine o'clock sharp."
- Somerset Maugham
In terms of Resistance, Maugham was saying, "I despise Resistance; I will not let it faze me; I will sit down and do my work. "
The Marine Corps teaches you how to be miserable. This is invaluable for an artist
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 artist must be like that Marine. He has to know how to be miserable. He has to love being miserable. He has to take pride in being more miserable than any soldier or swabbie or jet jockey. Because this is war, baby. And war is hell.
The qualities that define us as professionals:
We show up every day;
We show up no matter what, come hell or high water;
We stay on the job all day, we don’t go home until the whistle blows;
We are committed over the long haul;
The stakes are high and real, this is about survival;
We accept payment for our work, we’re not here for fun;
We do not over-identify with our jobs. You’re not an accountant, a painter, or an entrepreneur; you’re simply someone that does accountancy, paints, or runs a business. An amateur takes it so seriously it paralyzes him;
We master the technique of our jobs;
We have a sense of humor about our jobs;
We receive praise or blame in the real world.
An amateur won’t say, “This fucking trilogy is killing me!”. Instead, he never writes it at all. An amateur possesses none of the qualities.
The professional, though he accepts money, does his work out of love. He has to love it. Otherwise he wouldn't devote his life to it of his own free will. The professional has learned, however, that too much love can be a bad thing.
The writer is an infantryman. He knows that progress is measured in yards of dirt extracted from the enemy one day, one hour, one minute at a time and paid for in blood.
Resistance loves pride and preciousness. Resistance says, "Show me a writer who's too good to take Job X or Assignment Y and I'll show you a guy I can crack like a walnut."
What are the aspects of a professional:
Patient. He understands delayed gratification. He is the tortoise, not the hare. The professional arms himself with patience. He conserves his energy. He prepares his mind for the long haul. He sustains himself with the knowledge that if he can just keep those huskies mushing, sooner or later the sled will pull in to Nome.
Seeks order. Your workplace must be clean and neat.
Demystifies. A pro does not look for magical inspiration. Instead, it leaves it up to the gods. He just starts chugging along, confident in the belief that it will appear eventually. The professional shuts up. She doesn't talk about it. She does her work.
Acts in the face of fear. The amateur believes he must first overcome his fear; then he can do his work. The professional knows that fear can never be overcome.
Accepts no excuses. A pro knows that if he caves today, he’ll be twice as likely to cave in tomorrow. No matter what, a pro works. He doesn’t even consider skipping a day. He works.
Plays it as it lays. He accepts the world as it is, including all the obstacles that might be arrayed in his way. Bitching never solved anything.
Prepared. He is prepared, each day, to confront his own self-sabotage.
Does not show off.
Dedicates himself to mastering technique. The professional respects his craft. He does not consider himself superior to it. He recognizes the contributions of those who have gone before him. He apprentices himself to them. 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.
Does not hesitate to ask for help. Nearly every great artists or athlete has or had a mentor. It would never occur to any of them, as it would to an amateur, that they know everything or that they can figure everything out on their own.
Distances herself from her instrument. She does not identify with her art or craft. It is simply something she does, not something she is.
Does not take success or failure personally. He has seated his professional consciousness in a place other than his personal ego. Resistance knows this and uses it against us. It uses fear of rejection to paralyze us and prevent us, if not from doing our work, then from exposing it to public evaluation. The professional cannot take rejection personally because to do so reinforces Resistance. The professional loves her work. She is invested in it wholeheartedly. But she does not forget that the work is not her.
Endures adversity. He can never let it himself take it personally. The professional keeps his eye on the doughnut and not on the hole. He reminds himself it's better to be in the arena, getting stomped by the bull, than to be up in the stands or out in the parking lot.
Self-Validates. The pro 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.
Recognizes her Limitations. She knows she can only be pro at one thing.
Reinvents himself. The professional does not permit himself to become hidebound within one incarnation, however comfortable or successful
Recognized by other professionals. A gun recognizes another gun.
Thinking of yourself as a corporation reinforces the idea of professionalism because it separates the artist-doing-the-work from the will-and-consciousness-running-the-show. The You-Boss makes a planning for the You-Employee. And no matter what, You-Employee had better finished up those quarterly sales numbers or You-Boss is going to chew you out. Make a planning, but not by you to you. Rather, act as a different person.
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.
There's no mystery to turning pro. It's a decision brought about by an act of will. We make up our mind to view ourselves as pros and we do it. Simple as that.
Book Three: Beyond Resistance, Higher Realm
Resistance works to keep us from becoming who we were born to be, equal and opposite powers are counterpoised against it. These are our allies and angels.
“…the most important thing about art is to work. Nothing else matters except sitting down every day and trying.”
When we sit down each day and do our work, power concentrates around us. Ideas come. Insights accrete.
Eternity is in love with the creations of time. -William Blake
Concerning all acts of initiative (and creation)there is one elementary truth, the ignorance of which kills countless ideas and splendid plans: that the moment one definitely commits oneself, then providence moves too.
"Whatever you can do , or dream you can , begin it. Boldness has genius, magic, and power in it. Begin it now." – Goethe
When we conceive an enterprise and commit to it in the face of our fears, something wonderful happens.
When we make a beginning, we get out of our own way and allow the angels to come in and do their job. They can speak to us now and it makes them happy. It makes God happy
The moment a person learns he's got terminal cancer, a profound shift takes place in his psyche. At one stroke in the doctor's office he becomes aware of what really matters to him. Things that sixty seconds earlier had seemed all-important suddenly appear meaningless, while people and concerns that he had till then dismissed at once take on supreme importance. Maybe, he realizes, working this weekend on that big deal at the office isn't all that vital. Maybe it's more important to fly cross-country for his grandson's graduation. Maybe it isn't so crucial that he have the last word in the fight with his wife. Maybe instead he should tell her how much she means to him and how deeply he has always loved her.
The Self speaks for the future. That's why the Ego hates it.
The Ego hates the Self because when we seat our consciousness in the Self, we put the ego out of business.
The Ego doesn't want us to evolve. The Ego runs the show right now. It likes things just the way they are.
The instinct that pulls us toward art is the impulse to evolve, to learn, to heighten and elevate our consciousness. The Ego hates this. Because the more awake we become, the less we need the Ego.
The Ego hates it when the awakening writer sits down at the typewriter. The Ego hates it when the aspiring painter steps up before the easel.
Resistance feeds on fear. We experience Resistance as fear. But fear of what?
Fear of the consequences of following our heart. Fear of bankruptcy, fear of poverty, fear of insolvency. Fear of groveling when we try to make it on our own, and of groveling when we give up and come crawling back to where we started.
Fear of being selfish, of being rotten wives or disloyal husbands; fear of failing to support our families, of sacrificing their dreams for ours. Fear of betraying our race, our 'hood, our homies.
Fear of failure. Fear of being ridiculous. Fear of throwing away the education, the training, the preparation that those we love have sacrificed so much for, that we ourselves have worked our butts off for.
Fear of launching into the void, of hurtling too far out there; fear of passing some point of no return, beyond which we cannot recant, cannot reverse, cannot rescind, but must live with this cocked-up choice for the rest of our lives. Fear of madness. Fear of insanity. Fear of death.
However, they’re not the real fear. The real fear is the Fear That We Will Succeed. We fear discovering that we are more than we think we are, since it expels us from our tribes, going against 50 million years of evolution.
A hack is someone that doesn’t ask himself what’s in his own heart. He asks what the market is looking for.
Provides sustenance. Engaging in the work makes one feel better.
Sustains us without external input. It is a closed feedback loop. IF we put in effort and love, it gives it back in the form of well-being.
It can only be claimed alone. You only need yourself to soak up your territory’s juices.
It can only be claimed by work. A territory doesn’t give, it gives back. You need to put in the hours first before it can give back.
It returns exactly what you put in it.
What’s your territory? The gym? A typewriter? The headquarters of your business? Your text-editor filled with code? Your sketchbook?
As the mother-to-be bears her child within her, so the artist or innovator contains her new life. No one can help her give it birth. But neither does she need any help. When the artist works territorially, she reveres heaven. She aligns herself with the mysterious forces that power the universe and that seek, through her, to bring forth new life. By doing her work for its own sake, she sets herself at the service of these forces.
Instead let's ask ourselves like that new mother: What do I feel growing inside me? Let me bring that forth, if I can, for its own sake and not for what it can do for me or how it can advance my standing.
What would Arnold Schwarzenegger do on a freaky day? He wouldn't phone his buddies; he'd head for the gym. He wouldn't care if the place was empty, if he didn't say a word to a soul. He knows that working out, all by itself, is enough to bring him back to his center. His orientation is territorial.
Of any activity you do, ask yourself: If I were the last person on earth, would I still do it?
Someone once asked the Spartan king Leonidas to identify the supreme warrior virtue from which all others flowed. He replied: "Contempt for death." For artists, read “Failure”.
Are you a born writer? Were you put on earth to be a painter, a scientist, an apostle of peace? In the end the question can only be answered by action. Do it or don't do it
INVOCATION OF THE MUSE, BY HOMER (TRANSLATED BY T.E. LAWRENCE)
O Divine Poesy
Goddess-daughter of Zeus,
Sustain for me
This song of the various-minded man,
Who after he had plundered
The innermost citadel of hallowed Troy
Was made to stray grievously
About the coasts of men,
The sport of their customs good or bad,
While his heart
Through all the seafaring
Ached in an agony to redeem himself
And bring his company safe home.
Vain hope – for them!
For his fellows he strove in vain,
Their own witlessness cast them away;
To destroy for meat
The oxen of the most exalted sun!
Wherefore the sun-god blotted out
The day of their return.
Make the tale live for us
In all its many bearings,
Muses, I praise thee.
Grant me the vision to craft words of power that sear into the mind’s eye.
Let my ears hear words that are true and pure.
Let my inspiration be a mighty steed that carries me forward.
I pledge to you that I shall fight Resistance and strive to bring glory to the tales you would have me tell.
Let the work begin.