The War of Art: Winning the Inner Creative Battle by Steven Pressfield

First, I must apologize to the blogger who brought this book to my attention. I read a number of blogs and did not note where this recommendation came from. If you’re out there and happen to read this, let me know and I will give you proper acknowledgement. In the immortal words of Texas Governor and Presidential wannabe Rick Perry, “Oops.”

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With this blog, I hope to encourage women, especially those of us who are 50+, to go for our dreams. For me, that means writing my books, but yours may be different. When I share information, even if it’s aimed at writers, I think it may work for a broader spectrum of people. I think that The War of Art by Steven Pressfield is one of those books. It even seems natural, after writing last week about my current weight loss journey, to discuss The War of Art next…yes, I think it can help with weight loss, too.

Let’s face it. Regardless of our dream or vision for our lives, we will have challenges. We get on the scale and see a plateau. We work hard on a book and struggle to find a publisher or, if we self-publish, struggle to find readers. My late mother-in-law Jenny, a fine artist, gave up on trying to display her work and ended up making it only for herself.

Steven Pressfield also had his share of disappointments and even disasters as a writer. A film he made with great pride and excitement bombed. He was left in the lobby of an agent who had sent him out to wait, then forgot about him…and that happened when he was in his 40s, after years of having manuscripts go nowhere.

Yet this author of The Legend of Bagger Vance and other novels persevered. Not only did he succeed, but in The War of Art he tells us wannabes how to persevere as well.

The first phase of the book talks about Resistance. Often, when we are working toward a goal, we will find ourselves struggling to meet it. We get busy doing other things. We run out of money. We decide that our work sucks and we shouldn’t bother. Pressfield would argue that whenever we find ourselves straying from that goal, we are encountering our Resistance. Often that resistance gets stronger as we get closer to our goal.

Think of it, ladies. For those of you who have given birth, isn’t there a moment toward the end, just before that beautiful child comes into the world, where you say to yourself something like, “I can’t do this!”? It happened for me as my daughter was starting to move into the birth canal. I announced that I couldn’t give birth, and I was ready right then for the C-section. She came out a few minutes later. Though this metaphor is mine, I think the ultimate creative process — birth — carries within it these elements of resistance that Pressfield writes about.

Writing about weight loss last week, I mentioned my fear of success. Someone asked me recently, “Why do we do that?” What a great question! Pressfield discusses the fear of success at length in his book, a culprit for many a creative person. I cringe at the ways I’ve sabotaged success over the years — sending out queries with typos, not following up on leads, not accepting help that was offered.

So what’s the answer to the question of “Why do we do that?” I have no idea. If we want to handle our resistance and fear, though, what if we tweaked the question? Let’s switch the “why” to “how,” and we may be on to something.

“How do we do that?” We stop writing. We eat the whole darn pie and give up on our diets. We fill our lives with food/drink/sex/work and all other manner of methods to avoid doing what our souls would have us do. Then we can move on to, “How do we NOT do that?” This is what Pressfield’s second section is about.

The second section is a blueprint for professionalism. For a writer who deals with periodic discouragement such as myself, it means getting butt in chair and writing, even if we think it sucks, and especially if we think it sucks. If we’re going back to school, signing up for the next semester can give us a moment of peace. If we want to lose weight, then taking a walk or preparing a lovely but healthful meal helps us stay on track. We listen to our fears, our pain, and our desire for self-sabotage, but we make a decision to do the opposite. In other words, we, in the words of Dr. Phil, behave our way to success. When we do the work that our soul needs, we feel nourished inside. Easy? Hell, no. But I think of a song by Tim McGraw in which he sings, “Temptations may come, that ain’t no sin. You get stronger every time that you don’t give in.”

In part three, Pressfield gets more spiritual. He points out the mysterious thing that happens when we do what our soul longs for. Something happens. The story we struggle with starts to open up and characters start telling US what they’re going to do. After several weeks of a plateau, our body’s metabolism suddenly kicks into gear and we start losing weight. We want to sign up for that conference that we can’t afford, and we end up getting a scholarship or benefactor to help us pay for it.  Our wishful thinking alone doesn’t bring about change, but our longing combined with action creates opportunities.

I read The War of Art during a time of deep self-doubt. As I’ve worked on Blood and Loam, a novel that pushes every button I have inside of me, I wanted to quit. Pressfield reminded me that it’s just my resistance, and the more powerful the resistance, the more I need to finish. Oh, yeah, that again! So I sat down and went back to work…and I will finish the novel. If I need a little help, I’ll just go read The War of Art one more time.

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