Derek Sivers

The War of Art - by Steven Pressfield

The War of Art - by Steven Pressfield

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Have you experienced a vision of the person you might become, the work you could accomplish, the realized being you were meant to be? 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. This book is about that. Read it.

my notes

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

Have you experienced a vision of the person you might become, the work you could accomplish, the realized being you were meant to be? 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.

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 that thing that our hearts, our inner genius, is calling us to? Resistance defeats us.

If tomorrow morning, every dazed and benighted soul woke up with the power to take the first step toward 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 businesses, not to mention pharmaceutical companies, hospitals, and the medical profession from top to bottom. Domestic abuse would become extinct, as would addiction, obesity, migraine headaches, and road rage.

Dad gets drunk, Mom gets sick, Janie shows up for church with an Oakland Raiders tattoo. It’s more fun than a movie. And it works: Nobody gets a damn thing done.

A victim act is a form of passive aggression. It seeks to achieve gratification not by honest work or a contribution made out of one’s experience or insight or love, but by the manipulation of others through silent (and not-so-silent) threat. The victim compels others to come to his rescue or to behave as he wishes by holding them hostage to the prospect of his own further illness/meltdown/mental dissolution, or simply by threatening to make their lives so miserable that they do what he wants.

Hitler wanted to be an artist. At eighteen he took his inheritance, seven hundred kronen, and moved to Vienna to live and study. He applied to the Academy of Fine Arts and later to the School of Architecture. Ever see one of his paintings? Neither have I. Resistance beat him. Call it overstatement but I’ll say it anyway: it was easier for Hitler to start World War II than it was for him to face a blank square of canvas.

Resistance comes when you do: Any act that rejects immediate gratification in favor of long-term growth, health, or integrity. Any act that derives from our higher nature instead of our lower.

Resistance seems to come from outside ourselves. We locate it in spouses, jobs, bosses, kids.

Resistance arises from within. It is self-generated and self-perpetuated.

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

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.”

At a big New York ad agency, our boss used to tell us: Invent a disease. Come up with the disease, he said, and we can sell the cure. Attention Deficit Disorder, Seasonal Affect Disorder, Social Anxiety Disorder. These aren’t diseases, they’re marketing ploys. Doctors didn’t discover them, copywriters did. Marketing departments did. Drug companies did.

Jerry Seinfeld observed of his twenty years of dating: “That’s a lot of acting fascinated.”

Resistance also told me I shouldn’t seek to instruct, or put myself forward as a purveyor of wisdom; that this was vain, egotistical, possibly even corrupt,

What does Resistance feel like? First, unhappiness. We feel like hell. A low-grade misery pervades everything. We’re bored, we’re restless.

We live in a consumer culture that’s acutely aware of this unhappiness and has massed all its profit-seeking artillery to exploit it. By selling us a product, a drug, a distraction.

The artist and the fundamentalist arise from societies at differing stages of development. The artist is the advanced model. His culture possesses affluence, stability, enough excess of resource to permit the luxury of self-examination. The artist is grounded in freedom. He is not afraid of it. He is lucky. He was born in the right place. He has a core of selfconfidence, of hope for the future. He believes in progress and evolution. His faith is that humankind is advancing, however haltingly and imperfectly, toward 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. He cannot find his way into the future, so he retreats to the past. He returns in imagination to the glory days.

His creativity is inverted. He creates destruction.

Fundamentalism and art are mutually exclusive. There is no such thing as fundamentalist art.

The truly free individual is free only to the extent of his own self-mastery.

Those who will not govern themselves are condemned to find masters to govern over them.

Individuals who are realized in their own lives almost never criticize others. If they speak at all, it is to offer encouragement.

Inside the Actors Studio: The host, James Lipton, invariably asks his guests, “What factors make you decide to take a particular role?” The actor always answers: “Because I’m afraid of it.” The professional tackles the project that will make him stretch. He takes on the assignment that will bear him into uncharted waters, compel him to explore unconscious parts of himself. Is he scared? Hell, yes. He’s petrified. (Conversely, the professional turns down roles that he’s done before. He’s not afraid of them anymore. Why waste his time?) So if you’re paralyzed with fear, it’s a good sign. It shows you what you have to do.

If you’re feeling massive Resistance, the good news is, it means there’s tremendous love there too. If you didn’t love the project that is terrifying you, you wouldn’t feel anything.

(Santa Barbara and Ojai, California): populated by upper-middle-class people with more time and money than they know what to do with, in which a culture of healing also obtains. The concept in all these environments seems to be that one needs to complete his healing before he is ready to do his work. This way of thinking is a form of Resistance. What are we trying to heal, anyway? The athlete knows the day will never come when he wakes up pain-free. He has to play hurt.

What better way of avoiding work than going to a workshop?

What I hate even worse is the word "support". Any support we get from persons of flesh and blood is like Monopoly money; it’s not legal tender in that sphere where we have to do our work.

"Who can get through the day without two or three juicy rationalizations. They’re more important than sex. Have you ever gone a week without a rationalization?"

Rationalization: a series of plausible, rational justifications for why we shouldn’t do our work.

A lot of them are true. But all this means diddly. Tolstoy had thirteen kids and wrote War and Peace. Lance Armstrong had cancer and won the Tour de France.

The working artist will not tolerate trouble in her life because she knows trouble prevents her from doing her work.

In order for a book (or any project or enterprise) to hold our attention for the length of time it takes to unfold itself, it has to plug into some internal perplexity or passion that is of paramount importance to us.

The more psychic energy we expend dredging and re-dredging the tired, boring injustices of our personal lives, the less juice we have to do our work.

Amateur comes from the Latin root meaning “to love.” The conventional interpretation is that the amateur pursues his calling out of love, while the pro does it for money. Not the way I see it. In my view, the amateur does not love the game enough. If he did, he would not pursue it as a sideline, distinct from his “real” vocation. 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.

Inspiration strikes every morning at nine o’clock sharp.

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: a diet of isolation, rejection, self-doubt, despair, ridicule, contempt, and humiliation.

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.

The amateur, on the other hand, overidentifies with his avocation, his artistic aspiration. He defines himself by it. He is a musician, a painter, a playwright. Resistance loves this. Resistance knows that the amateur composer will never write his symphony because he is overly invested in its success and overterrified of its failure. The amateur takes it so seriously it paralyzes him.

Now consider the amateur: the aspiring painter, the wannabe playwright. How does he pursue his calling? One, he doesn’t show up every day. Two, he doesn’t show up no matter what. Three, he doesn’t stay on the job all day. He is not committed over the long haul; the stakes for him are illusory and fake. He does not get money. And he overidentifies with his art. He does not have a sense of humor about failure.

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. The seeming detachment of the professional, the cold-blooded character to his demeanor, is a compensating device to keep him from loving the game so much that he freezes in action. Playing for money, or adopting the attitude of one who plays for money, lowers the fever.

The pro concentrates on technique. The professional masters how, and leaves what and why to the gods.

Professional respects his craft. He does not consider himself superior to it. He wants to be in possession of the full arsenal of skills when inspiration does come.

It wants us to stake our self-worth, our identity, our reason-for-being, on the response of others to our work. Resistance knows we can’t take this. No one can. The professional blows critics off. He doesn’t even hear them. Critics, he reminds himself, are the unwitting mouthpieces of Resistance

Critics: They can articulate in their reviews the same toxic venom that Resistance itself concocts inside our heads. That is their real evil. Not that we believe them, but that we believe the Resistance in our own minds, for which critics serve as unconscious spokespersons.

The professional recognizes his limitations: He gets an agent, gets a lawyer, gets an accountant. He knows she can only be a professional at one thing. He brings in other pros and treats them with respect.

Making yourself a corporation (or just thinking of yourself in that way) reinforces the idea of professionalism because it separates the artist-doing-the-work from the will-and-consciousness-running-the-show.

If we think of ourselves as a corporation, it gives us a healthy distance on ourselves. We’re less subjective. We don’t take blows as personally.

The most important thing about art is to work. Nothing else matters except sitting down every day and trying.

The ancients sensed powerful primordial forces in the world. To make them approachable, they gave them human faces. They called them Zeus, Apollo, Aphrodite. American Indians felt the same mystery but rendered it in animistic forms–Bear Teacher, Hawk Messenger, Coyote Trickster.

“Whatever you can do, or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius, magic, and power in it. Begin it now.”

None of us are born as passive generic blobs waiting for the world to stamp its imprint on us. Instead we show up possessing already a highly refined and individuated soul. Another way of thinking of it is this: We’re not born with unlimited choices. We can’t be anything we want to be. 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.

A hack, he says, is a writer who second-guesses his audience. When the hack sits down to work, he doesn’t ask himself what’s in his own heart. He asks what the market is looking for. The hack condescends to his audience. He thinks he’s superior to them. The truth is, he’s scared to death of them or, more accurately, scared of being authentic in front of them, scared of writing what he really feels or believes, what he himself thinks is interesting.

Of any activity you do, ask yourself: If I were the last person on earth, would I still do it?

Contempt for failure is our cardinal virtue.

If you were meant to cure cancer or write a symphony or crack cold fusion and you don’t do it, you not only hurt yourself, even destroy yourself. You hurt your children. You hurt me. You hurt the planet.

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.