Summary and Analysis of The War of Art: Break Through the Blocks and Win Your Inner Creative Battles
Life gets busy. Has The War of Art been gathering dust on your bookshelf? Instead, pick up the key ideas now.
We’re scratching the surface here. If you don’t already have the book, order the book or get the audiobook for free to learn the juicy details.
Steven Pressfield’s Perspective
Steven Pressfield is a bestselling author that’s published a dozen books. His career spanned 27 years. He has written historical fiction, non-fiction, movie screenplays, and advertising copy during this time. His first novel, The Legend of Bagger, was published in 1995. It was such a success that Matt Damon and Will Smith were featured in a movie with the same title five years later.
The former marine and graduate of Duke University points to having used some of the strategies within the book to achieve the success he now enjoys after over 30 years of abject failure. His novels of the ancient world, including the non-fiction The Warrior Ethos, are required reading at West Point, Annapolis, and in the Marine Corps. His current book is A Man at Arms, an epic tale of a reluctant hero, the Roman Empire, and the rise of a new faith. Overall, all of Pressfield’s works paint him as the kind of guy you could bump into and strike up a fascinating conversation from the get-go.
Have you ever wanted to embark on something creative but found yourself unable to actually sit down and get to it? What’s more, do you ever find yourself waking up thinking about your goals only to shrug and put it off for a later date?
Well, the good news is that you are in good company. Many people with big dreams will often struggle with going past powerful inner blocks, including procrastination, self-doubt, fear, and destruction.
Steven Pressfield’s The War of Art: Break Through the Blocks and Win Your Inner Creative Battles is a book dedicated to helping creatives like you overcome creative barriers to produce valuable and satisfying work.
Pressfield invokes some of the 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
The most common forms of failure that most will experience in their lifetime are those related to exercise and diet. Specifically, most of us will often bring home a piece of exercise equipment or pay for a gym membership only to not commit to the workout.
Quitting is just not 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 refers to as “Resistance.”
Resistance is a toxic force that brings poverty, disease, and overall dysfunction. It deforms your spirit and effectively 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 interesting example of just how everyone is prone to Resistance is the tale of Hitler. At 18, he expressed his desire to be an artist. He subsequently spent the 700 Kronen he had received as an inheritance to move to Vienna to study. He even applied at the Academy of Fine Arts and later to the School of Architecture. Despite having made the first steps towards this dream, he became subject to Resistance and eventually started World War II instead of gracing the world with his art. An additional example is that of Henry Fonda. Even after years of taking 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 Get’s Stronger As You Get Closer to the Goal
Resistance comes in at the onset of you taking action towards your dream and stays with you throughout the journey. In fact, Resistance becomes even worse as you get closer to achieving your goal.
The story of Odysseus best captures this idea. The tale points to how he was so close to finally getting his way home. At some point in his journey, he could see his home Ithaca. He could see where his family had even set fires on the shores from afar. Feeling safe, he ends up laying down to get some rest and dreams of going home to be with his family in just a few hours.
However, his men betray him and greedily steal his bag and manage to release strong winds given to Odysseus from King Aeolus. These winds blow Odysseus’s ship even further, which delays his return home. This is a great 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 the love one has for their dream. It lies to you that you are, in fact, on the right path to achieving the goal you set out. It paralyzes you and prevents you from actually going for what you 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 that they do not have an 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 can simply not afford to work at the dream 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 to winning this battle. Like 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 that you’ve got to show up every day. It also means that you are constantly trying different techniques as you chase perfection.
Showing up and seeking to perfect means that there are days that you are going to fail at something. It also means that you are exposing yourself to judgment from the real world when you are unable to achieve what you are seeking. What’s more, you end up subjecting yourself to feedback that might not always be positive.
Pressfield infers from his own experience with failure. Specifically, he reminisces to when he and his then partner Ron Shusett wrote the screenplay for a movie called King Kong Lives for Dino DeLaurentiis. They were sure that the movie would be a hit. They invited everyone they knew to the premiere and even rented out a place for the big celebration after that. Unfortunately, nobody came. There was literally one guy in line, and their friends and family complained at horrific scenes within the movie.
Even worse, the movie got extremely 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. You’ve got to look past these obstacles if you are to create the unique experience you see for yourself.
To achieve this unique path, you’ve got to stay away from excuses. You must 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 simply not afford.
As you confront the obstacles, you’ve got to handle yourself sturdily and steadily. Take each day as a battle and the excuses the stumbling blocks you’ve got to get over if you are to win.
It would be best if you accepted that you do not know everything. You’ve got to have a teachable spirit and be willing to take instruction.
Further, you’ve got to accept feedback even when it’s negative. You’ve got to have the mental fortitude to accept this feedback. Fearing rejection will only take you further away from actually achieving your goal. As a professional, you’ve got to be okay with putting yourself out there and accept all that comes with the expose. 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 that you’ve got to commit to showing up daily.
Consider having a daily routine where you start your work 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’ve got to add hard work and dedication. These should open you up to the positive forces outside your control that will help you work past the Resistance.
StoryShot #7: Be Open to Working Territorially and Not Hierarchically
Whether or not we are aware of it, most creatives will define themselves hierarchically. It is literally impossible to avoid this in today’s society, as we are conditioned to a materialistic culture. The way society is structured. In response, we attach value to ourselves by what we wear, where we work, what car we drive, and who we love. Basically, hierarchies surround us.
Unfortunately, these hierarchies can no longer hold in the world. If, as a creative, you end up defining 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 end up chasing 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. Great examples include Stevie Wonder, whose territory was the piano, and Arnold Schwarzenegger, settling for the gym as his territory.
To claim your territory, consider putting work towards the niche. The latter should be 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. What that means is that the amount of work you put in will be equal to just how good you get. Basically, territories are fair and what you deposit is exactly what you withdraw, dollar-for-dollar.
To decipher whether you are working territorially or hierarchically, look around to see if your work and environment leave you anxious. What’s more, if you constantly seek validation, you are probably working in a hierarchy.
StoryShot #8: Take Action Today
Moving forward, you want to 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 own internal revolution, which is, in fact, a private insurrection that will have you reprogramming how you conduct yourself when it comes to your creative work.
Final Summary and Review
Overall, the War of Art aims to help creatives overcome procrastination, paralysis, and constant distraction. The main idea is that everyone has a devious enemy within themselves called Resistance that sabotages the dreams they have. The Resistance is what’s responsible for the fear, self-doubt, excuses, and bad habits, among others.
The three biggest lessons from The War of Art are that you’re not the only one who struggles with Resistance. What’s more, you’ve got to treat your dream as a full-time job. Finally, you’ve got to commit to a territory and work at it enough as you could potentially 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’ve got to show up daily and work hard.
- The universe supports your creativity through Muses, who you can tap for creative juices.
- Professionals shouldn’t concern themselves with the hierarchy. Instead, you ought to focus on the territory.
- Resistance can be a good thing insofar as it assures that you are in pursuit of a worthwhile cause.
- Treat your dream like a full-time job, not a simple hobby. Don’t just tinker around for a few hours occasionally and expect to reach the level of skill that will have you 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 an 8.5/10.
Above all, this book is a great read. Without a doubt, the book is a page-turner and easily scores 4.3 / 5.
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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What did you learn from the summary of The War of Art? What was your favorite takeaway? Is there an important insight that we missed? Comment below or tweet to us @storyshots.