Summary and Analysis of The War of Art: Break Through the Blocks and Win Your Inner Creative Battles
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Steven Pressfield’s Perspective
Steven Pressfield is a bestselling author who has published a dozen books. He has written historical fiction, non-fiction, movie screenplays, and advertising copies. He published his first novel, The Legend of Bagger Vance, in 1995. It was such a success that it was adapted into a blockbuster starring Matt Damon and Will Smith.
Pressfield is a former marine and graduate of Duke University. He used some strategies within the book to achieve the success he now enjoys after over 30 years of abject failure. Pressfield’s novels of the ancient world, including the non-fiction The Warrior Ethos, are required reading at West Point, Annapolis, and in the Marine Corps. Overall, all of Pressfield’s works paint him as the kind of guy you could bump into and strike up a fascinating conversation.
Introduction to Steven Pressfield’s The War of Art
Have you ever wanted to embark on something creative but found yourself unable to sit down and get to it? Do you ever wake up thinking about your goals, only to shrug and put it off for a later date? Well, the good news is that you’re in good company. Many people with big dreams will struggle to push past powerful inner blocks, including procrastination, self-doubt, fear, and destruction.
Steven Pressfield’s The War of Art is a book dedicated to helping creative like yourself overcome creative barriers to produce valuable and satisfying work.
Pressfield invokes lessons from his artistic journey and those from other artists throughout history to inspire and guide creatives looking to get out of a creative block.
Here’s a breakdown of the key takeaways from the book.
StoryShot #1: Resistance is What’s Standing in the Way of Your Success
Exercise and diet are the most common forms of failure that most will experience. Most of us will bring home a piece of exercise equipment or pay for a gym membership, only to skip the workout.
But quitting isn’t just restricted to exercise and diet. Most will also fail at being a parent, doctor, or advocate.
If you’ve ever experienced an internal battle that prevents you from achieving a goal you’ve set for yourself, you have experienced what Pressfield calls “Resistance.”
Resistance is a toxic force that brings poverty, disease, and dysfunction. It deforms your spirit and keeps you from accomplishing your dreams.
Resistance is not limited to just a few individuals. Almost everyone will, at some point, go through a period when they are unable to commit to a goal they’ve set.
An example of how everyone is prone to Resistance is the story of Hitler. At 18, he expressed his desire to be an artist. He later spent the 700 Kronen he had received as an inheritance on moving to Vienna to study. He even applied at the Academy of Fine Arts and later to the School of Architecture. According to Pressfield, Hitler took the first steps toward his dream but was ultimately subject to Resistance and began World War II instead of gracing the world with art. An additional example is Henry Fonda. Even after years of talking on multiple stages, the accomplished actor still had stage fright.
Resistance targets your core. It aims to kill the very essence of your being. What’s unique and priceless about you no longer thrives, and as such, you never live out your truth.
StoryShot #2: Resistance Gets Stronger as You Get Closer to the Goal
Resistance comes in at the onset of you acting towards your dream and stays with you throughout the journey. Resistance becomes even worse as you get closer to achieving your goal.
The story of Odysseus best captures this idea. The tale goes that Odysseus was so close to home on his journey that he could see his home, Ithaca, and where his family had set fires on the shore. Feeling safe, he laid down to rest and dreamt of being with his family in just a few hours.
However, his men betrayed him and greedily stole his bag, releasing the strong winds given to Odysseus by King Aeolus. The winds blew Odysseus’s ship off course, delaying his return home. This is an excellent example of how Resistance will show up as you get closer to your dream.
Resistance will often manifest itself in different ways, including fear, procrastination, and criticism. Of these, self-doubt is the greatest enemy. It can serve as an indicator of aspiration because it reflects our love for our dreams. It lies to us, making us believe we are on the right path to achieving our goals. Lastly, it paralyzes us and prevents us from going for what we set out to achieve.
StoryShot #3: To Move Past Resistance, You’ve Got to Move Past Being an Amateur
Individuals who can move past Resistance are those who accept they are amateurs. These individuals accept where they are when it comes to their skill levels. This doesn’t mean they have no interest in improving their skills.
To beat Resistance, you cannot go at your goals half-assed. Part-time pursuits will not get you to the level that you want. You’ve got to be a professional who takes on their goal full-time. You’ve got to have the necessary dedication to achieve perfection within your field of choice.
You cannot afford to work on your dream only when inspiration strikes. You cannot let Resistance faze you. Commit to showing up every single morning. That way, each day, you fight Resistance. Eventually, the juices will flow as easily, which will be the beginning of you honing your skills.
Think of it this way. You are in a constant battle with Resistance. You cannot let rejection, despair, or self-doubt get in your way of winning this battle. Like Steven Pressfield, commit to showing up every day, no matter how unmotivated you feel.
StoryShot #4: To Become a Professional, You’ve Got to Learn from Failure
If you are anything like the rest of us, you probably dread the possibility of failure. But being a professional means you have to show up every day. It also means you are constantly trying different techniques as you chase perfection.
There will be days when you fail at something when you strive for perfection. It also means exposing yourself to judgment from the world when you cannot achieve something. What’s more, you’ll subject yourself to feedback that might not always be positive.
A good example of Pressfield’s failure was his collaboration with Ron Shusett when they wrote the screenplay for the movie King Kong Lives for Dino DeLaurentiis. They were sure the film would be a hit. They invited everyone they knew to the premiere and even rented out a place for a big celebration after that. Unfortunately, nobody came. There was literally one guy in line, and their friends and family complained about horrific scenes within the movie.
Even worse, the movie got bad press. Still, he emphasizes that they remained optimistic that the movie would gain some traction. Unfortunately, this wasn’t the case, and it still failed. This is a great example of how you should be willing to take a few blows on your way to professionalism.
You also have to be patient and willing to settle for delayed gratification. Sylvester Stallone is the perfect example of this takeaway, especially the story of how he committed so much time to writing the screenplay for Rocky. He was willing to take the pain, persistence, and patience required to achieve greatness.
StoryShot #5: As a Professional, Avoid Excuses, Take Constructive Criticism, and Accept Help
Showing up every day despite your mind and body protesting takes a toll on you. But you’ve got to look past these obstacles to create the unique experience you see for yourself.
To achieve this unique path, stay away from excuses. Learn to conduct the business that will lead you to your dream, regardless of the obstacles. Excuses take you further from your dream, which you can’t afford.
As you confront the obstacles, handle yourself sturdily and steadily. Take each day as a battle and the excuses for the stumbling blocks you’ve got to overcome if you are to win.
You also need to accept that you don’t know everything. You’ve got to have a teachable spirit and be willing to take instruction.
Furthermore, you’ve got to accept feedback even when it’s negative. Develop the mental fortitude to accept this feedback. Fearing rejection will only take you further away from achieving your goal. As a professional, you must put yourself out there and accept all that comes with exposure. Overall, be okay with validating yourself.
StoryShot #6: To Invoke Your Muse, You’ve Got to Work Hard and Remain Dedicated
It might seem like Resistance is constantly out to get you. Fortunately, some forces want to see you succeed, too.
Pressfield calls these forces the “angels in the abstract.” Think of these as forces working to provide you with inspiration and motivation. Your end of the deal is committing to showing up daily.
Consider starting your daily routine by thanking your Muses. In doing so, you essentially invoke the Muses to help you stay focused and inspired. Still, a simple daily ritual or affirmations will not work the magic. You have to add hard work and dedication. These will open you up to positive forces outside your control that will help you work past the Resistance.
StoryShot #7: Be Open to Working Territorially and Not Hierarchically
Whether we are aware of it or not, most creatives will define themselves hierarchically. It is challenging to avoid this in today’s materialistic society. It’s the way our society is structured. We attach value to ourselves by what we wear, where we work, what car we drive, and who we love. Hierarchies surround us.
Unfortunately, these hierarchies can no longer hold in the world. If, as a creative, you define yourself based on these hierarchies, you place yourself in a pecking order. You end up competing against everyone within this set order. You compare your work, success, and achievements with everyone else within the rank.
This is detrimental because you attach your satisfaction and happiness to everyone else. Ultimately, you chase a rank instead of producing masterpieces for yourself.
Simply put, hierarchies force you into a box. Instead of working hierarchically, consider working territorially. Choose a territory and perfect it. Significant examples include Stevie Wonder, whose territory was the piano, and Arnold Schwarzenegger, settling for the gym as his territory.
To claim your territory, work within a niche where you feel sustenance. It should provide you with the fuel and challenges to improve your life.
Your territory returns exactly what you put in. This means that the amount of work you put in will equal how good you get. Territories are fair and what you deposit is precisely what you withdraw, dollar-for-dollar.
To determine whether you are working territorially or hierarchically, look around to see if your work and environment leave you anxious. What’s more, if you are constantly seeking validation, you are probably working in a hierarchy.
StoryShot #8: Take Action Today
Moving forward, start with self-reflection. Retrospection should help you determine what you were born to do. This requires being honest with yourself about what makes your heart flicker. Be sure to write it down and take the first steps towards achieving this goal.
Something you ought to remember is that creative work shouldn’t be selfish or self-serving. Your creativity is your gift to the world. Seeing as it is your contribution to the world, it would be unfair to cheat the world with less than stellar work. As such, commit to moving past the Resistance with enough work and discipline.
Enact your internal revolution, which is a private insurrection that will have you reprogramming how you conduct yourself in your creative work.
Final Summary and Review of The War of Art
Steven Pressfield’s The War of Art aims to help creatives overcome procrastination, paralysis, and constant distraction. The main idea is that everyone has a devious enemy called Resistance, which sabotages their dreams. The Resistance is responsible for fear, self-doubt, excuses, and bad habits, among other things.
The three biggest lessons from The War of Art are:
- You’re not the only one who struggles with Resistance.
- Treat your dream as a full-time job.
- Commit to a territory and work at it. This gives you the potential to change the world.
Altogether, the takeaways are:
- Resistance is the negative energy that stands between you and your dreams.
- Resistance takes many forms, including self-doubt, procrastination, and constantly seeking validation.
- To defeat Resistance, you have to show up daily and work hard.
- The universe supports your creativity through Muses, which you can tap into for creative juices.
- Professionals shouldn’t worry about the hierarchy. Instead, focus on the territory.
- Resistance can be a good thing because it assures you are in pursuit of a worthwhile cause.
- Treat your dream like a full-time job, not a hobby. Don’t just occasionally tinker for a few hours and expect to reach the level of skill that allows you to stand out from the ranks.
- Turn into a pro, accept no excuses, endure adversity, and never take failure personally. Resistance will have you fearing feedback, doubting your progress, and standing in the way of you asking for help.
The War of Art brings some much-needed tough love to creative and business people who have had to grapple with some creativity block as they work towards their dreams. Good examples from Pressfield’s creative journey and that of countless other creative minds from history are used to support the concepts therein.
Above all, this book is a great read. Without a doubt, the book is a page-turner and easily scores 4.3 / 5.
This is an unofficial summary and analysis.
This article was first published in April 2022. It was updated in May 2022.
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The War of Art Quotes
– Steven Pressfield #TheWarOfArt
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– Steven Pressfield #TheWarOfArt
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– Steven Pressfield #TheWarOfArt
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