The War of Art

The War of Art

Author
Steven Pressfield
Year
2012
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Review

An empowering, beautiful and poignant take on resistance… the force that creates the gap between intention and action. The final third of the book didn’t feel as practical and precise as the first two. I left the book feeling like I’d just spent two hours with a palm reader… who said a bunch of stuff, some of which hit but most didn’t, and I left a little put off by the mention of higher powers and spirits.

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Key Takeaways

The 20% that gave me 80% of the value.

  • All that matters is that on this day, for this session, you overcome resistance.
  • Resistance is what stands between the life we live, and the un-lived life within us
  • Yielding to resistance deforms our spirit → makes us less that we could be
  • Resistance is invisible but it can be felt. It’s the force that prevents us from doing our work.
  • Resistance is internal. Self-generated, Self-perpetuated.
  • Resistance will tell you anything to keep you doing your work. It will assume any form, if that’s what it takes to deceive you.
  • Resistance never sleeps, the battle must be fought anew every day
  • Be ruthless with others once you make your break
  • You can turn the table on resistance.
  • Casting yourself as a victim is the antithesis of doing your work.
  • Unplug yourself from the grid → do your work instead
  • This is the despair of freedom. You are free only to the extent of your own self-mastery.
  • Self-doubt can be an ally of resistance.
  • Any support you get from anyone else is monopoly money → you have to do your work.
  • Rationalisation is the right hand man of resistance → it keeps us from feeling shame → from seeing ourselves for the cowards we are for not doing work
  • If resistance couldn’t be beaten there’d be no Fifth Symphony
  • Commit full-time. Dedicate your life to it. Turn pro.
  • Resistance hates it when you turn pro
  • I know I can indulge in daily crap for a little while, but I must cut if off when the bell rings.
  • You have to know how to be miserable
  • Show up everyday, and stay till the end
  • If you’re not going to quit, be happy. You’re where you want to be.
    • Taking the blows is the price for being in the arena. Stop complaining and be grateful.
  • Be patient: understand delayed gratification
  • You won’t tolerate disorder, you’re on a mission. Eliminate chaos.
  • Concentrate on the technique
  • Accept no excuses
  • Respect resistance, don’t cave in today or you’ll be twice as likely to cave in tomorrow.
  • Be prepared each day to confront your own self-sabotage. Be ready to absorb blows and to deliver them.
  • You dedicate yourself to mastering technique, so you’re ready when inspiration / opportunity comes
  • A professional can’t take rejection personally because to do so would reinforce resistance.
    • Nobody is the enemy but resistance.
  • Humiliation, rejection and criticism are external reflection of internal resistance.
  • Maintain your sovereignty over the moment!
    • No matter what happens outside your agency, you have a job to do
    • Control your reaction, don’t take it personally, don’t use it as an excuse to fail.
    • Don’t allow the actions of others to define your reality
    • Nothing matters but that you keep working
  • Make up your mind, and turn pro.
  • Nothing else matter except sitting down every day and trying, because when we do we’re helped by allied forces (the muse)
  • Invoke the muse (Steven says a payer before work)
  • He wrote ten books before he got a buyer for one.
  • He remembered the feeling of finishing his first book. He felt like he’d killed a dragon that had he’d been fighting his whole life. Nobody else noticed or cared. His friend advised him to start the next one today
  • Angels know their stuff, they want to help us. You have to have to make a start to communicate with them.
  • If you were the last person on earth, would you still do it?
  • Do it or don’t do it
  • Creative work isn’t a selfish act. It’s a gift to the world and every being in it.
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Deep Summary

Longer form notes, typically condensed, reworded and de-duplicated.

What I do

  • Routine is filled with rituals and superstitions.
  • He sits down for a writing session, and writes until tired
    • Typos are the sign of tiredness
    • He can usually do 4 hours
    • He stops when he hits the point of diminishing returns
  • All that matters is that on this day, for that session, he overcame resistance. That’s the measure of success.
    • The metric isn’t the number of pages, or their quality
    • Committing time and hitting it with all he’s got is the measure of success

What I know

  • It’s not the writing part that’s hard, what’s hard is sitting down to write.
    • Writers know this, wannabe writers don’t
  • What keeps us from sitting down is resistance
  • Resistance is what stands between the life we live, and the un-lived life within us
  • Resistance is a toxic force.
  • Yielding to resistance deforms our spirit → makes us less that we could be
  • Millions have been mowed down by resistance

Book One: Resistance: Defining the Enemy

  • Resistance typically stops us being…
    • Creative
    • Entrepreneurial
    • Diet
    • Exercise
    • Education
    • Commitment
    • Making a stand
  • Resistance is invisible but it can be felt. A repelling force, it prevents us from doing our work.
  • Resistance is internal. Self-generated, Self-perpetuated.
  • Resistance will tell you anything to keep you doing your work. It will assume any form, if that’s what it takes to deceive you. It’s always lying and always full of shit.
  • Resistance can’t be reasoned with, it’s one objective is to prevent us from doing our work.
  • Resistance is indifferent to you.
  • The more important the call to action, the more resistance will rise to it
  • Resistance never sleeps, the battle must be fought anew every day
  • Resistance is fuelled by fear. Master the fear and you can conquer resistance.
  • Resistance only works in one direction, usually when you’re on the right path
  • Be ruthless with others once you make your break, serve as inspiration for others. Don’t go back to help them.
  • How to spot procrastination: ‘I’m not going to do this, we say we’re going to do it tomorrow’
  • This very moment you can change your life. You can turn the table on resistance.
  • Creating a soap opera in our lives is a symptom of resistance. Nobody gets anything done.
  • Casting yourself as a victim is the antithesis of doing your work.
  • Unplug yourself from the grid, you won’t cure your restlessness by contributing your disposable income to the bottom line of Bullshit Inc → do your work instead
  • This is the despair of freedom. You are free only to the extent of your own self-mastery.
  • Self-doubt can be an ally of resistance.
  • Being paralysed with fear is good. Fear tells us what we have to do.
  • Personal life has nothing to do with work
  • You’ll feel good once you start. Even after years of running, you’ll feel good if you actually sit down and do your work
  • Any support you get from anyone else is monopoly money, you have to do your work.
  • Rationalisation is the right hand man of resistance → it keeps us from feeling shame → from seeing ourselves for the cowards we are for not doing work
    • They may look legitimate
  • If resistance couldn’t be beaten there’d be no Fifth Symphony, no Romeo and Juliet. It seems impossible to beat it until your remember that many have been beating it.

Book Two: Combatting Resistance: Turning Pro

  • Aspiring artists think like amateurs they haven’t turned pro
  • Your life will change when you turn pro
    • For fun vs for keeps
    • Avocation vs vocation
    • Part-time vs full-time
    • Weekend warrior vs seven days a week
  • Commit full-time. Dedicate your life to it. Turn pro.
  • Resistance hates it when you turn pro
  • I write only when inspiration strikes. Fortunately it strikes every morning at 9am sharp.
  • I know I can indulge in daily crap for a little while, but I must cut if off when the bell rings!
  • Principle of Priority:
    • you must know the difference between what is urgent and important
    • you must do what is important first
  • You have to know how to be miserable
  • Take the principles from your job:
    • Show up everyday - no matter what - and stay on the job all day
    • You’re committed over the long haul
    • The stakes for us are high and real
    • We accept remuneration for our labour
    • We are not our job descriptions
    • We master the technique
    • We have a sense of humour
    • We receive praise or blame in the real world
  • If you’re not going to quit, be happy. You’re where you want to be. Taking the blows is the price for being in the arena. Stop complaining and be grateful.
  • For the love of the game. A professional accepts money but does it for the love.
  • A professional is…
    • Patient: understands delayed gratification. Conserves energy.
    • Seeks order: you are on a mission, you won’t tolerate disorder. Eliminate chaos.
    • Demystifies: concentrate on the technique, master the how
    • Act in the face of fear: overcome your fear and do your work
    • Accept no excuses: respect resistance, don’t cave in today or you’ll be twice as likely to cave in tomorrow.
      • Resistance is like a telemarketer… as soon as you say hello you’re finished. The pro doesn’t pick up the phone to resistance, he stays at work.
    • Play as it lays. Adversity, injustice… the professional understands the field isn’t level
    • Prepared each day to confront their own self-sabotage. Be ready to absorb blows and to deliver them.
  • Dedicates himself to mastering technique. Be ready when inspiration comes
  • Doesn’t hesitate to ask for help
  • A professional can’t take rejection personally because to do so would reinforce resistance. Nobody is the enemy but resistance.
  • Endures adversity. Humiliation, rejection and criticism are external reflection of internal resistance.
  • His core is bulletproof. Nothing can touch it unless he lets it.
  • Maintain your sovereignty over the moment!
    • No matter what happens outside your agency, you have a job to do
    • Control your reaction, don’t take it personally, don’t use it as an excuse to fail.
    • Don’t allow the actions of others to define your reality
    • Nothing matters but that you keep working
  • Make yourself a company. So you can be the boss and the worker.
    • You can distance yourself from things
  • Beat resistance at its own game by being even more resolute and implacable than it is
  • Make up your mind, and turn pro.

Book Three: Beyond Resistance. The higher realm

  • Nothing else matter except sitting down every day and trying, because when we do we’re helped by allied forces (the muse)
  • Invoke the muse (Steven says a payer before work)
  • Speaks about a level of focus and detachment so complete that missed Watergate completely because he was working
  • He wrote ten books before he got a buyer for one.
  • He remembered the feeling of finishing his first book. He felt like he’d killed a dragon that had he’d been fighting his whole life. Nobody else noticed or cared. His friend advised him to start the next one today
  • Invoking the Muse → calling on a godly force (the daughter of Zues)
  • Angels know their stuff, they want to help us. You have to have to make a start to communicate with them.
    • Starting allows you to get out of your own way and allow the angels in
  • The magic of starting + the magic of keeping going
    • Subconscious organisation and rewriting
    • Something is process your material alongside you
  • Angels make their home in the self, resistance has its seat in the ego.
    • The self wishes to create, to evolve. The ego likes things the way they are.
    • The evolution is life-threatening to the ego. The ego produces resistance and attacks the awaiting artist.
    • Fear of success then is what drives resistance, the fact that we can be more that we are
  • We’re born with personality. We don’t have unlimited choices.
  • Animals define themselves with territory or hierarchy
    • Hierarchy seems to be the default. Doesn’t work when you’re in a city of millions.
      • Compete against others
      • Evaluate happiness, success or achievement by the rank
      • Act toward others based upon rank in the hierarchy
      • Evaluate your only move by the effect it produces on others
    • In a hierarchy you’re looking out and not in
  • An artist has to do work territorially. What your territory? (the gym, the office, the piano?)
    • Provides a sustenance
    • Sustains without external input
    • Can only be claimed alone
    • Can only be claimed by work
    • Returns exactly what you put in
  • If you were the last person on earth, would you still do it?
  • Do it or don’t do it
  • Creative work isn’t a selfish act. It’s a gift to the world and every being in it.