The War of Art by Steven Pressfield: Summary & Notes

Rated: 8/10

Available at: Amazon

ISBN: 1936891026

Related: The Power of Habit, Atomic Habits

Summary

A book about the challenges of creative endeavors, and the forces that aim to stop us.

I now have "Resistance is the enemy" among the motivational quotes I keep on the wall next to my desk.

This book positions Resistance as the force that prevents us from starting, the force that prevents us from pursuing the things we want, and offers strategies for countering. Above all, the identification of this force as a third party is a mind shift that is enormously beneficial. Name the enemy, and your ability to counter it goes up.

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Notes

Introduction

What I Know

  • It’s not the writing part that’s hard. What’s hard is sitting down to write.

The Unlived Life

  • Most of us have two lives. The life we live, and the unlived life within us. Between the two stands Resistance.

Book One: Resistance

  • Any act that rejects immediate gratification in favor of long-term growth, health, or integrity.

Resistance Is Invisible

  • Resistance cannot be seen, touched, heard, or smelled. But it can be felt. We experience it as an energy field radiating from a work-in-potential. It’s a repelling force. It’s negative. Its aim is to shove us away, distract us, prevent us from doing our work.

Resistance Is Internal

  • Resistance is the enemy within.

Resistance Is Infallible

  • Rule of thumb: The more important a call or action is to our soul’s evolution, the more Resistance we will feel toward pursuing it.

Resistance Only Opposes in One Direction

  • Resistance obstructs movement only from a lower sphere to a higher.

Resistance Is Most Powerful At The Finish Line

  • The danger is greatest when the finish line is in sight.

Resistance and Procrastination

  • Procrastination is the most common manifestation of Resistance because it’s the easiest to rationalize.

Resistance and Procrastination: Part Two

  • 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.
  • Never forget: This very moment, we can change our lives. 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.

Resistance and Sex

  • Not all sex is a manifestation of Resistance. In my experience, you can tell by the measure of hollowness you feel afterward. The more empty you feel, the more certain you can be that your true motivation was not love or even lust but Resistance.

Resistance and Unhappiness

  • 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.

Resistance and Criticism

  • 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.

Resistance and Self-Doubt

  • If you find yourself asking yourself (and your friends), "Am I really a writer? Am I really an artist?" chances are you are.
  • The counterfeit innovator is wildly self-confident. The real one is scared to death.

Resistance and Fear

  • Resistance is experienced as fear; the degree of fear equates to the strength of Resistance. Therefore 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.

Resistance and Love

  • Resistance is directly proportional to love. If you’re feeling massive Resistance, the good news is, it means there’s tremendous love there too.

Resistance and Being a Star

  • Grandiose fantasies are a symptom of Resistance. They’re the sign of an amateur. The professional has learned that success, like happiness, comes as a by-product of work.

Resistance and Rationalization

  • Rationalization is Resistance’s right-hand man. Its job is to keep us from feeling the shame we would feel if we truly faced what cowards we are for not doing our work.

Resistance and Rationalization: Part Two

  • What’s particularly insidious about the rationalizations that Resistance presents to us is that a lot of them are true.
  • What Resistance leaves out, of course, is that all this means diddly. Tolstoy had thirteen kids and wrote War and Peace.

Book Two: Combating Resistance - Turning Pro

A Professional

  • Someone once asked Somerset Maugham if he wrote on a schedule or only when struck by inspiration. "I write only when inspiration strikes," he replied. "Fortunately it strikes every morning at nine o’clock sharp."
  • That’s a pro.

What A Writer’s Day Feels Like

  • Principle of Priority, which states (a) you must know the difference between what is urgent and what is important, and (b) you must do what’s important first.

For the Love of the Game

  • To clarify a point about professionalism: 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. Too much love can make him choke.
  • Remember what we said about fear, love, and Resistance. The more you love your art/calling/enterprise, the more important its accomplishment is to the evolution of your soul, the more you will fear it and the more Resistance you will experience facing it.
  • The payoff of playing-the-game-for-money is not the money (which you may never see anyway, even after you turn pro). The payoff is that playing the game for money produces the proper professional attitude.

A Professional is Patient

  • 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. We will hit the wall. We will crash.
  • The professional, on the other hand, understands delayed gratification. He is the ant, not the grasshopper; the tortoise, not the hare.
  • 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.

A Professional 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. He knows there is no such thing as a fearless warrior or a dread-free artist.

A Professional Dedicates Himself to Mastering Technique

  • 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. 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.

A Professional Distances Herself from Her Instrument

  • The pro stands at one remove 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. She assesses it coolly, impersonally, objectively.

A Professional Does Not Take Failure (or Success) Personally

  • 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. It takes tremendous strength of character to do this, because our deepest instincts run counter to it.
  • The professional cannot take rejection personally because to do so reinforces Resistance. Editors are not the enemy; critics are not the enemy. Resistance is the enemy.
  • The battle is inside our own heads. We cannot let external criticism, even if it’s true, fortify our internal foe. That foe is strong enough already.
  • She does not forget that the work is not her.
  • The professional self-validates. She is tough-minded. In the face of indifference or adulation, she assesses her stuff coldly and objectively. Where it fell short, she’ll improve it. Where it triumphed, she’ll make it better still. She’ll work harder. She’ll be back tomorrow.

A Professional Endures Adversity

  • 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.

A Professional Self-Validates

  • The critic hates most that which he would have done himself if he had had the guts.

Book Three: Beyond Resistance - The Higher Realm

Approaching the Mystery

  • This is the other secret that real artists know and wannabe writers don’t. When we sit down each day and do our work, power concentrates around us. The Muse takes note of our dedication. She approves. We have earned favor in her sight. When we sit down and work, we become like a magnetized rod that attracts iron filings. Ideas come. Insights accrete.

Fear

  • 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.
  • We fear discovering that we are more than we think we are. More than our parents/children/teachers think we are. We fear that we actually possess the talent that our still, small voice tells us. That we actually have the guts, the perseverance, the capacity.
  • We know that if we embrace our ideals, we must prove worthy of them. And that scares the hell out of us. What will become of us? We will lose our friends and family, who will no longer recognize us.
  • Of course this is exactly what happens. But here’s the trick. We wind up in space, but not alone. Instead we are tapped into an unquenchable, undepletable, inexhaustible source of wisdom, consciousness, companionship. Yeah, we lose friends. But we find friends too, in places we never thought to look. And they’re better friends, truer friends. And we’re better and truer to them.

The Authentic Self

  • We come into this world with a specific, personal destiny. We have a job to do, a calling to enact, a self to become. We are who we are from the cradle, and we’re stuck with it.
  • Our job in this lifetime is not to shape ourselves into some ideal we imagine we ought to be, but to find out who we already are and become it.

The Artist and the Hierarchy

  • The artist must operate territorially. He must do his work for its own sake.

The Artist and the Territory

  • 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.

The Difference Between Territory and Hierarchy

  • How can we tell if our orientation is territorial or hierarchical? One way is to ask ourselves, If I were feeling really anxious, what would I do?
  • What would Arnold Schwarzenegger do on a freaky day? He wouldn’t phone his buddies; he’d head for the gym.
  • Here’s another test. Of any activity you do, ask yourself: If I were the last person on earth, would I still do it?

The Artist’s Life

  • Creative work is not a selfish act or a bid for attention on the part of the actor. It’s a gift to the world and every being in it. Don’t cheat us of your contribution. Give us what you’ve got.