At some point, most creative people realise that something needs to change. The book ‘The Art of War’ by Steven Pressfield, can help explain what old behaviours and mindsets are holding you back. Essentially it is a self-help book for amateur artists and writers battling with inner self-doubt and fear. There is a diamond of an idea about learning to overcome resistance and ‘turning pro’ as the book asks, “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.”
When I tried to read ‘The Art of War’ for the first time, several years ago, I struggled to get past Steven Pressfield’s zany unconventional rhetoric. However, I am pleased I gave the book a second chance. In this first part of the book, Pressfield tries to define resistance in its every form. Although I found this first part the hardest, there were several parts I related to.
“Most of us have two lives. The life we live, and the unlived life within us. Between the two stands resistance.”
Pressfield explains that instead of getting rid of fear for good, it takes a prolonged time of compressing hard work. Pressfield’s gem in the middle is that artists and writers need to realise that fear will always be there. The trick is a better understanding of it and learning to live it.
The War of Art in part two and three presses home the resolve needed to recognise and overcome amateur mindsets and distractions. Combating resistance means learning what the term ‘professional’ means and making changes to your work routine. As a professional, the ground rules have to change. The artist needs to show their highest level of discipline and keep professional hours. Pressfield explains;
“It is one thing to study war and another to live the warriors’ life.”
“I write only when inspiration strikes, fortunately, it strikes every morning at 9 o’clock sharp.”“I turn up everyday day in and day out, no excuses.”“Turning pro is like kicking a drug habit or stopping drinking. It’s a decision, a decision to which we must recommit every day.”“Pros who sit down, roll up their sleeves and do it every day.”“The qualities that define us as professionals?1) We show up every day.2) We show up no matter what.3) We stay on the job all day. Our minds may wander, but our bodies remain at the wheel.6) We accept remuneration for our labor. We’re not here for fun. We work for money.7) We do not overidentify with our jobs.8) We master the technique of our jobs.”
As a creative person, I know it is too easy to overthink the consequences of each and every action. However, the work you could accomplish will only get done when you overcome your resistance. Pressfield’s book explains that only through true love for the activity and by having success as a by-product, can you do the work and achieve your goals.
Dealing with criticism and knowing fear will always be there are just of couple of things we need to learn to live with. If it were easy, someone else would have already done it. In fact, fear can be used as a guide to let you know that you’re doing something important.
It is challenging at times to see beyond some of Pressfield’s turn of phrase. However, it is certainly worth the effort. Procrastination is a creative killer. This book, along with a handful of other intriguing like-minded books, can arm the artistic person with the tools and skills to give them a chance against an unrestrained and undisciplined mind. Making it in my view one of the essential books for all artists and writers to read.