The War of Art

The War of Art, by Steven Pressfield

Or: How To Overcome Resistance and Write Your Novel!

“The Principle of Priority states (a) you must know the difference between what is urgent and what is important, and (b) you must do what’s important first.” ― Steven Pressfield, The War of Art: Break Through the Blocks & Win Your Inner Creative Battles

I’ve never attended boot camp, but listening to George Guidall narrate Steven Pressfield’s book: The War of Art: Break Through the Blocks & Win Your Inner Creative Battles, it feels like I have. The War of ArtPressfield doesn’t hold back, nor does he try to be nice, when he explains why many writers, including myself, often choose to do just about anything other than write. Actually, he doesn’t only target writers, he targets artists, actors, musicians, entrepreneurs…anyone attempting to accomplish something that takes time, effort, and most likely, doesn’t come with the immediate gratification of a paycheck. Those things our heart call us to do. Things like:

  • Writing a novel
  • Painting a masterpiece
  • Opening that restaurant
  • Learning a new language
  • Learning how to play the piano

How many adults have you heard bemoan the fact they gave up taking piano lessons? “There just wasn’t time!” or “Sports got in the way.” Yet in their hearts they know (as do you and I) the true answer: there was plenty of time, but they chose to do other things.

For me, the timing of reading Pressfield’s book (or rather listening, via my account) was perfect. I’m at the beginning of writing a new novel. Looming ahead of me is the knowledge that it could take me six months or six years to complete—I won’t know until I write it. Because it’s fiction, I can’t submit it until it’s completed and then there’s no guarantee a publishing house will pick it up. Or, if I self-publish, that it will be successful.

Why am I crazy enough to attempt such a feat? Because I have this story and these characters in my head, and I want to write about them—even if I’m the only one who ever reads what I write. Now that’s love. However, just like a good love story, there are plenty of bumps in the road, plenty of misdirection, plenty of activities (I call them my “To do’s”) that keep me from finding true love (i.e. writing my novel). Those “To do’s” are what Pressfield calls, resistance. Moreover, every day, he says, no matter how long we’ve been writing, we must overcome resistance anew!

What are my resistances?

  • Paying bills
  • Cleaning house
  • Calling an old friend
  • Cooking, reading, exercising, organizing…
  • Making sure everyone’s needs are fulfilled before I sit down and write!

How do I know these things are resistance? Because as I do them, in the back of my mind I’m telling myself, “As soon as I finish this, I’m going to write.” However, in my gut, I know I’m lying. I know I’ll find other “To do’s”, other things that “need” to be done (because they won’t take much time, and besides, they’re important and this novel is going to take years to write anyway, so I should do the quick things first—right?) and by the end of the day I’ll be so tired I’ll start telling myself, “Tomorrow, I’ll write. I won’t have any more chores to do or reasons not to write. I’ll wake up, I’ll get my coffee, and I’ll sit down at my computer and write. Right? All I’ll do is write.”

We writers make very good liars.

It’s not that I don’t want to write. It’s that I fear it. I fear I may get halfway through writing my novel and discover it sucks! I fear no one will ever read it. I fear I will spend my life writing, but never make a good living at it. I fear, I fear… Oh yes, I have so many fears. As do most artists. But listen up—here’s what Pressfield has to say about fear:

“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.”

“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. That’s why we feel so much Resistance. If it meant nothing to us, there’d be no Resistance.” 

CompassPressfield also talks about fear being like an arrow on a compass that always points north. Whatever that arrow is pointing at, is what we need to be doing—prioritizing—in order to make ourselves happy. For me, north on my compass is writing. Specifically, writing my novel.

More importantly, it’s clear to me that I can write every day and still have time to pay the bills, send a care package to my college kid, call my mom, organize my desk, etc. All I have to do is wake up every morning and overcome resistance! Say no to the cleaning, the organizing, the to do list full of chores, the email, the twitter—you name it—until I’ve put in three to four hours working on my novel. It’s not the word count, it’s doing the time! Which, come to think of it, leaves me plenty of time to write a new blog post. (Yes, I worked on my novel before I started writing this post.)

Having trouble finding time to work on your novel? Read “The War of Art: Break Through the Blocks & Win Your Inner Creative Battles” by Steven Pressfield.



4 thoughts on “The War of Art, by Steven Pressfield

  1. Holly Bowne says:

    I could really relate to this whole concept of resistance. I’m currently in resistance mode over editing my novel. I wrote it, but now I must clean it up! I especially liked this quote:

    “The more scared we are of a work or calling, the more sure we can be that we have to do it.”

    Good stuff!


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