Battling your creative barriers: The War of Art by Steven Pressfield

the war of art by steven pressfield on the brave art lab

The War of Art is a call to arms for anyone wrestling with a creative block; a rallying call to those stalled in their creative endeavours; and excellent inspiration to just keep fighting the creative fight.

Part One is all about Resistance.

Pressfield calls Resistance “the enemy.” It’s what’s keeping us from reaching our full potential as an artist or writer or musician. Resistance takes many forms but Pressfield notes that procrastination is the most common manifestation of resistance.

As I have mentioned elsewhere, procrastination is my own personal worst enemy, and Pressfield calls it the single greatest obstacle to forward movement. It’s not time, ability, talent, or means that is preventing you from reaching your creative potential. It is procrastination. Procrastination is the root of all evil.

Pressfield makes an excellent point when he says that the worst thing about procrastination is that it’s not a denial that you will do something. A denial is a decision, and once you have decided not to do something, you can move on to other things. No, procrastination doesn’t deny that you will finish that novel or write that song, it says only that you will do it later, but later never comes.

Part Two is the meat of the book, where Pressfield tells us to sit down and get to work. Part Two is called Combatting Resistance, and the gist of these chapters is “turning pro.” He discusses the difference between amateurs and pros, and stresses that we need fight the amateur mind-set. He reminds us that we are already pros in our day-to-day jobs: we show up every day no matter what; we stay on the job all day; we’re committed.

Now all we have to do is apply these ‘pro’ characteristics to our creative work. He makes it sound so easy…

In Part Three, Pressfield talks about dreams, and life and death, and self and ego. This part is called Beyond Resistance, and in this chapter he talks about the higher realm, “the invisible psychic forces that support and sustain us.” He is referring to angels and god, but he does say that if this way of thinking makes you uncomfortable, you can refer to these forces as muses, or daimons or genii or talent.

My favourite section in Part Three is where Pressfield discusses Territory vs Hierarchy. In order to succeed, you can’t think hierarchically: you can’t compare yourself to those above or below you on whatever scale you are using to judge yourself and others. You have to ask yourself: are you only doing this to impress others and to climb a ladder, or are you doing it because you love it?

Ultimately, he asks the question: if you were the last person on earth, would you still show up and do your creative work? Would you still write or paint or make music, even if it was just for you?

The War of Art is a short book. If you were hoping to procrastinate a bit longer by reading it, it will, unfortunately, only take you an hour or so to finish. Then, you’ll have no excuse but to get to work.

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