The War of Art - By Steven Pressfield

Date read: 
January 6, 2014
See My Collection of 50+ Book Notes

My Thoughts

One of the best books on work and craftsmanship out there. Resistance is the enemy. Whenever we procrastinate, Resistance wins. Resistance is what keeps us from achieving our dreams. The only way to beat Resistance is to simply get to work. No bullshit, just work.

Summary Notes

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


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. It radiates from the work that you have to accomplish.
  • Internal¸ self-generated and self-perpetuated.
  • Insidious, always lying and full of shit. It will tell you anything to keep you from doing your work.
  • Implacable. It will not rest or stop.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Resistance Never Sleeps. No matter how long you practice an art, fear and Resistance don’t go away.
  • It Plays For Keeps. It doesn’t aim to wound or disable; it intends to kill.
  • Resistance is Fueled By Fear. Resistance has no strength on its own, everything it possesses comes from us.
  • Resistance only operates Against A Higher Calling. If you want to throw your life away, Resistance will give you a free pass.
  • 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.
  • 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. This is the ultimate expression of the crab bucket mentality and should be avoided at all cost.

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."

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.

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 Resistance feels 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.

If you find yourself criticizing other people, you're probably doing it out of Resistance. Individuals who are realized in their own lives almost never criticize others.

Doubt serves as an indicator of aspiration. The counterfeit innovator is wildly self-confident. The real one is scared to death.

Fear is good. Fear is an indicator. Fear tells us what we have to do. 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.

The athlete knows the day will never come when he wakes up pain-free. He has to play hurt.

Tolstoy had thirteen kids and wrote War and Peace. Lance Armstrong had cancer and won the Tour de France three years and counting.

Combatting Resistance, Turning Pro

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.

"I write only when inspiration strikes, fortunately it strikes every morning at nine o'clock sharp."
- Somerset Maugham

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.

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.

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."

The aspects of a professional:

  • Patient. He understands delayed gratification. 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. 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.
  • 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.
  • Does not hesitate to ask for help. Nearly every great artists or athlete has or had a mentor.
  • 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. 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. 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.

Beyond Resistance, Higher Realm

“…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

"Whatever you can do , or dream you can , begin it. Boldness has genius, magic, and power in it. Begin it now." – Goethe

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 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?

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

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