The War of Art

✍️ Author: Steven Pressfield

Rating: 8.5/10

Book Summary

This book gives an in-depth and direct explanation of what “resistance” is. Aimed at the artist, but it applies to all of us. Whatever we want to do is our art.  

The importance of this book cannot be overstated. I believe that reading this book will unlock a new lease of life for many. So many of us are held back by our Resistance. It comes from within. It aims to ‘kill,’ as the author explains. 

The beauty of Resistance is that it tells us precisely what we need to do. The stronger the Resistance, the more important it is that we DO go that way. That we do follow that path. 

FULL SUMMARY

This book gives an in-depth and direct explanation of what "resistance" is. Aimed at the artist, but it applies to all of us. Whatever we want to do is our art. 

The importance of this book cannot be overstated. I believe that reading this book will unlock a new lease of life for many. So many of us are held back by our Resistance. It comes from within. It aims to 'kill,' as the author explains. 

The beauty of Resistance is that it tells us precisely what we need to do. The stronger the Resistance, the more important it is that we DO go that way. That we do follow that path. 

Resistance is most lethal on the counterattack. We know the counterattack is the best and often last-ditch attempt to reverse the result. 

Counterattack teams in football, rugby, and other sports are well documented. The same goes for battles in wars. 

You MUST be aware of the resistance counterattack. Just as you get closer to your goal, it attacks back with a fierce determination and often wins. 

You'll find something from this book. It will be different for everyone. It's time to do what you were meant to do—no more waiting. No more letting Resistance win. 

I'm not a huge fan of some parts of this book that tries to connect it to religion or God, but it can make sense to understand ourselves. Are we here to just 'live', or are we here for a purpose? What is your purpose? That dull inner voice that comes out sometimes that dreams, that believes you can become this thing you dream of. That's likely where you need to go. 

For this summary, I've pulled out my favourite passages from the book, and I'll often add my own thoughts that I feel may be useful. 

 

The book passages are below in standard text and I've underlined things that stand out to me

My notes are in bold with the ✏️  next to them

 

✏️ NOTES & QUOTES

We're not alone if we've been mowed down by Resistance; millions of good men and women have bitten the dust before us.

 

I looked everywhere for the enemy and failed to see it right in front of my face.

 

Look in your own heart. Unless I'm crazy, right now a still, small voice is piping up, telling you as it has ten thousand times before, the calling that is yours and yours alone. You know it. No one has to tell you. And unless I'm crazy, you're no closer to taking action on it than you were yesterday or will be tomorrow.

 

In other words, any act that rejects immediate gratification in favor of long-term growth, health, or integrity

 

Resistance cannot be seen, touched, heard, or smelled. But it can be felt. We experience it as an energy field radiating from a work-in-potential. It's a repelling force. It's negative. Its aim is to shove us away, distract us, prevent us from doing our work.

✏️  As I work within the Live Like Louise community I can sense the resistance from people's posts. The auto-negativeity even when they are making huge strides on their journey. That is their resistance pushing back.

 

  •     Resistance arises from within. It is self-generated and self-perpetuated. Resistance is the enemy within
  •     Resistance will tell you anything to keep you from doing your work. It will perjure, fabricate, falsify; seduce, bully, cajole.
  •     Resistance is always lying and always full of shit.
  •     Resistance is a force of nature. It acts objectively.
  •     We can use this. We can use it as a compass. We can navigate by Resistance, letting it guide us to that calling or action that we must follow before all others. Rule of thumb: The more important a call or action is to our soul's evolution, the more Resistance we will feel toward pursuing it.

✏️  What I love about this explaination is that resistance is our guide. This makes it a lot easier for us because when we do feel it growing we know we are on the right path. We keep fighting.

 

Fear doesn't go away.

✏️  the "auto" fears or as the Stoics called them proto-emotions don't ever go away. They are automatic. You can't control them but you can control how you react after them. 

 

Resistance's goal is not to wound or disable. Resistance aims to kill.

 

Resistance has no strength of its own. Every ounce of juice it possesses comes from us. We feed it with power by our fear of it. Master that fear and we conquer Resistance

 

The danger is greatest when the finish line is in sight. At this point, Resistance knows we're about to beat it. It hits the panic button. It marshals one last assault and slams us with everything it's got.

✏️  I love this part. It's so true. I've seen it 100s of times with LLL members who work hard, are near their goal then put the foot off the gas. They think the job is done and revert back to the start. It's very common. 

 

The professional must be alert for this counterattack. Be wary at the end. Don't open that bag of wind.

 

The reason is that they are struggling, consciously or unconsciously, against their own Resistance. The awakening writer's success becomes a reproach to them. If she can beat these demons, why can't they?

 

Often couples or close friends, even entire families, will enter into tacit compacts whereby each individual pledges (unconsciously) to remain mired in the same slough in which she and all her cronies have become so comfortable. The highest treason a crab can commit is to make a leap for the rim of the bucket.

✏️  This is when people will keep you from changing. They will tell you "Hey, you don't need to workout tonight, sit down and have a drink". "Do you really need to start your own business? It's very risky" "I wouldn't do that if I were you..." so many ways in which our group of friends or family do this. Everyone must remain in the same position so that nobody feels uncomfortable. Resistance is having a party at this point, it loves it. 

 

The awakening artist must be ruthless, not only with herself but with others

 

Procrastination is the most common manifestation of Resistance because it's the easiest to rationalize. We don't tell ourselves, "I'm never going to write my symphony." Instead we say, "I am going to write my symphony; I'm just going to start tomorrow."

✏️  People often use perfectionism too. They hide behind it. There is never the perfect time to start, just start. Just do it. "I'll do it when I get more time" HINT: you won't get more time. You have all the time there is. 

 

Creating soap opera in our lives is a symptom of Resistance

✏️  Classic. Drama is created so resistance can party. 

 

People aren't sick, they're self- dramatizing.

✏️  Catastrophizing. The stoics also mention this. Turn a atom into a mountain. 

 

Casting yourself as a victim is the antithesis of doing your work. Don't do it. If you're doing it, stop.

 

Remember our rule of thumb: The more scared we are of a work or calling, the more sure we can be that we have to do it.

✏️  I really really love this. Sometimes you're scared to post that article or do that workout or send that job application or ask that person out. You feel scared, nervous and it's an overwhelming feeling. However, remember that means that it's the RIGHT thing to do. Once you know that, the feeling turns from being a negative into a positive. 

 

Here's the trick: We're never alone. As soon as we step outside the campfire glow, our Muse lights on our shoulder like a butterfly. The act of courage calls forth infallibly that deeper part of ourselves that supports and sustains us.

✏️  Key point for me. I work alone 16 hours a day but I never feel alone. I get asked if it's something I enjoy and it is. I know what I want to achieve and I have my daily tasks to complete to get me there. I enjoy social interaction but enjoy creating unique, meaningful deep work too. You don't get that being a social butterfly. 

 

The Bhagavad-Gita tells us we have a right only to our labor, not to the fruits of our labor.

✏️  Just like the Stoic archer. You can do your best and shoot the best shot possible but you don't have control if it hits or not. Be content with the action you take, don't only think the action is worthwhile if you get something out of it. The road to misery

 

Doctors estimate that seventy to eighty percent of their business is non-health-related.

 

The victim compels others to come to his rescue or to behave as he wishes by holding them hostage to the prospect of his own further illness/meltdown/mental dissolution, or simply by threatening to make their lives so miserable that they do what he wants.

 

Casting yourself as a victim is the antithesis of doing your work. Don't do it. If you're doing it, stop.

 ✏️  Agree with this

 

What does Resistance feel like? First, unhappiness. We feel like hell. A low-grade misery pervades everything. We're bored, we're restless. We can't get no satisfaction. There's guilt but we can't put our finger on the source. We want to go back to bed; we want to get up and party. We feel unloved and unlovable. We're disgusted. We hate our lives. We hate ourselves.

 

We know what the clan is; we know how to fit into the band and the tribe. What we don't know is how to be alone. We don't know how to be free individuals.

 

The paradox seems to be, as Socrates demonstrated long ago, that the truly free individual is free only to the extent of his own self-mastery. While those who will not govern themselves are condemned to find masters to govern over them.

 

If you find yourself criticizing other people, you're probably doing it out of Resistance. When we see others beginning to live their authentic selves, it drives us crazy if we have not lived out our own.

✏️  Bang on. If you're truly absorbed in your work and improving all apsects of your life you don't have time to critizise others. 

 

Individuals who are realized in their own lives almost never criticize others. If they speak at all, it is to offer encouragement. Watch yourself. Of all the manifestations of Resistance, most only harm ourselves. Criticism and cruelty harm others as well.

 

The counterfeit innovator is wildly self-confident. The real one is scared to death.

 

So if you're paralyzed with fear, it's a good sign. It shows you what you have to do.

 

Do you understand? I hadn't written anything good. It might be years before I would, if I ever did at all. That didn't matter. What counted was that I had, after years of running from it, actually sat down and done my work.

 

Any support we get from persons of flesh and blood is like Monopoly money; it's not legal tender in that sphere where we have to do our work. In fact, the more energy we spend stoking up on support from colleagues and loved ones, the weaker we become and the less capable of handling our business.

✏️  This hits home hard. You cannot rely on others. Nobody is coming to save you. 

 

Resistance presents us with a series of plausible, rational justifications for why we shouldn't do our work.

 

Defeating Resistance is like giving birth. It seems absolutely impossible until you remember that women have been pulling it off successfully, with support and without, for fifty million years. ([

 

The amateur is a weekend warrior. The professional is there seven days a week.

 

The word amateur comes from the Latin root meaning "to love." The conventional interpretation is that the amateur pursues his calling out of love, while the pro does it for money. Not the way I see it. In my view, the amateur does not love the game enough. If he did, he would not pursue it as a sideline, distinct from his "real" vocation.

 

What's important is the work. That's the game I have to suit up for. That's the field on which I have to leave everything I've got.

 

The Marine Corps teaches you how to be miserable. This is invaluable for an artist.

 

The artist committing himself to his calling has volunteered for hell, whether he knows it or not. He will be dining for the duration on a diet of isolation, rejection, self-doubt, despair, ridicule, contempt, and humiliation.

 

We show up every day. We might do it only because we have to, to keep from getting fired. But we do it. We show up every day. 2) We show up no matter what. In sickness and in health, come hell or high water, we stagger in to the factory. We might do it only so as not to let down our co-workers, or for other, less noble reasons. But we do it. We show up no matter what.

 

We stay on the job all day.

 

We are committed over the long haul.

 

The stakes for us are high and real.

 

We accept remuneration for our labor.

 

We do not overidentify with our jobs.

 

The amateur, on the other hand, overidentifies with his avocation, his artistic aspiration. He defines himself by it. He is a musician, a painter, a playwright. Resistance loves this. Resistance knows that the amateur composer will never write his symphony because he is overly invested in its success and overterrified of its failure. The amateur takes it so seriously it paralyzes him. 8) We master the technique of our jobs. 9) We have a sense of humor about our jobs.

 

We receive praise or blame in the real world.

 

One, he doesn't show up every day. Two, he doesn't show up no matter what. Three, he doesn't stay on the job all day. He is not committed over the long haul; the stakes for him are illusory and fake. He does not get money. And he overidentifies with his art. He does not have a sense of humor about failure. You don't hear him bitching, "This fucking trilogy is killing me!" Instead, he doesn't write his trilogy at all.

 

I was crushed. Here I was, forty-two years old, divorced, childless, having given up all normal human pursuits to chase the dream of being a writer; now I've finally got my name on a big-time Hollywood production starring Linda Hamilton, and what happens? I'm a loser, a phony; my life is worthless, and so am I.

 

quit. Hell, no! "Then be happy. You're where you wanted to be, aren't you? So you're taking a few blows. That's the price for being in the arena and not on the sidelines. Stop complaining and be grateful." That was when I realized I had become a pro. I had not yet had a success. But I had had a real failure.

 

To clarify a point about professionalism: The professional, though he accepts money, does his work out of love. He has to love it. Otherwise he wouldn't devote his life to it of his own free will.

✏️  I agree with this. You really love the work you do when you spend 7 days a week on it. It doesn't feel like work. You don't HAVE to do it, but you do. That's when you can distiguish between the real pros and the amatauers only in it for the glory. 

 

Remember what we said about fear, love, and Resistance. The more you love your art/calling/enterprise, the more important its accomplishment is to the evolution of your soul, the more you will fear it and the more Resistance you will experience facing it.

 

Resistance loves pride and preciousness. Resistance says, "Show me a writer who's too good to take Job X or Assignment Y and I'll show you a guy I can crack like a walnut."

 

The professional, on the other hand, understands delayed gratification. He is the ant, not the grasshopper; the tortoise, not the hare. Have you heard the legend of Sylvester Stallone staying up three nights straight to churn out the screenplay for Rocky? I don't know, it may even be true. But it's the most pernicious species of myth to set before the awakening writer, because it seduces him into believing he can pull off the big score without pain and without persistence.

✏️  Damn right. One day at a time. One day of good work at a time. Knowing that things will pay off down the line, marginal gains day to day. Slow and steady. Festina Lente. 

 

The professional arms himself with patience, not only to give the stars time to align in his career, but to keep himself from flaming out in each individual work. He knows that any job, whether it's a novel or a kitchen remodel, takes twice as long as he thinks and costs twice as much. He accepts that. He recognizes it as reality.

✏️  Love that. Arm yourself with patience. The best weapon you can hold. 

 

The amateur believes he must first overcome his fear; then he can do his work. The professional knows that fear can never be overcome. He knows there is no such thing as a fearless warrior or a dread-free artist.

 

He knows that once he gets out into the action, his fear will recede and he'll be okay.

 

The professional has learned better. He respects Resistance. He knows if he caves in today, no matter how plausible the pretext, he'll be twice as likely to cave in tomorrow.

 

The professional knows that Resistance is like a telemarketer; if you so much as say hello, you're finished. The pro doesn't even pick up the phone. He stays at work.

✏️  One reason why I have over 600 missed calls on my phone haha

 

When people say an artist has a thick skin, what they mean is not that the person is dense or numb, but that he has seated his professional consciousness in a place other than his personal ego.

 

Fear of rejection isn't just psychological; it's biological. It's in our cells.

 

I had a dear friend who had labored for years on an excellent and deeply personal novel. It was done. He had it in its mailing box. But he couldn't make himself send it off. Fear of rejection unmanned him.

 

The battle is inside our own heads. We cannot let external criticism, even if it's true, fortify our internal foe. That foe is strong enough already.

✏️  You can't let anyone in to your head. It has to be safeguarded at all costs. 


 

The professional endures adversity. He lets the birdshit splash down on his slicker, remembering that it comes clean with a heavy-duty hosing. He himself, his creative center, cannot be buried, even beneath a mountain of guano. His core is bulletproof. Nothing can touch it unless he lets it.

 

The professional keeps his eye on the doughnut and not on the hole. He reminds himself it's better to be in the arena, getting stomped by the bull, than to be up in the stands or out in the parking lot. 

 

An amateur lets the negative opinion of others unman him. He takes external criticism to heart, allowing it to trump his own belief in himself and his work. Resistance loves this.

 

The professional cannot allow the actions of others to define his reality. Tomorrow morning the critic will be gone, but the writer will still be there facing the blank page. Nothing matters but that he keep working. Short of a family crisis or the outbreak of World War III, the professional shows up, ready to serve.

 

The professional blows critics off. He doesn't even hear them. Critics, he reminds himself, are the unwitting mouthpieces of Resistance and as such can be truly cunning and pernicious. They can articulate in their reviews the same toxic venom that Resistance itself concocts inside our heads. That is their real evil. Not that we believe them, but that we believe the Resistance in

 

our own minds, for which critics serve as unconscious spokespersons.

 

The pro keeps coming on. He beats Resistance at its own game by being even more resolute and even more implacable than it is.

 

Why have I stressed professionalism so heavily in the preceding chapters? Because the most important thing about art is to work. Nothing else matters except sitting down every day and trying.

✏️  one day at a time! You turn up every day, you complete the tasks at hand. One. at. a. time. 

 

Because when we sit down day after day and keep grinding, something mysterious starts to happen. A process is set into motion by which, inevitably and infallibly, heaven comes to our aid. Unseen forces enlist in our cause; serendipity reinforces our purpose.

 

I felt it though, big-time. I experienced it as a compulsion to self-destruct. I could not finish what I started. The closer I got, the more different ways I'd find to screw it up. I worked for twenty-six months straight, taking only two out for a stint of migrant labor in Washington State, and finally one day I got to the last page and typed out: THE END. 

 

Before I met Paul, I had never heard of the Muses. He enlightened me. The Muses were nine sisters, daughters of Zeus and Mnemosyne, which means "memory." Their names are Clio, Erato, Thalia, Terpsichore, Calliope, Polyhymnia, Euterpe, Melpomene, and Urania. Their job is to inspire artists. Each Muse is responsible for a different art. There's a neighborhood in New Orleans where the streets are named after the Muses. I lived there once and had no idea; I thought they were just weird names.

 

"Eternity is in love with the creations of time" means, to me, that in some way these creatures of the higher sphere (or the sphere itself, in the abstract) take joy in what we time-bound beings can bring forth into physical existence in our limited material sphere.

    ✏️  Really like this idea. It means what we do is very interesting to them like a play

 

It may be pushing the envelope, but if these beings take joy in the "creations of time," might they not also nudge us a little to produce them? If that's true, then the image of the Muse whispering inspiration in the artist's ear is quite apt.

 

The timeless communicating to the timebound.

 

It needed a corporeal being, a human, an artist (or more precisely a genius, in the Latin sense of "soul" or "animating spirit") to bring it into being on this material plane. So the Muse whispered

 

in Beethoven's ear. Maybe she hummed a few bars into a million other ears. But no one else heard her. Only Beethoven got it.

 

First, Divine Poesy. When we invoke the Muse we are calling on a force not just from a different plane of reality, but from a holier plane. Goddess, daughter of Zeus. Not only are we invoking divine intercession, but intercession on the highest level, just one remove from the top. Sustain for me. Homer doesn't ask for brilliance or success. He just wants to keep this thing going. This song. That about covers it. From The Brothers Karamazov to your new venture in the plumbing-supply business.

 

I have learned a deep respect for one of Goethe's couplets: "Whatever you can do, or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius, magic, and power in it. Begin it now."

✏️  Love this. 

 

Angels are like muses. They know stuff we don't. They want to help us. They're on the other side of a pane of glass, shouting to get our attention. But we can't hear them. We're too distracted by our own nonsense. Ah, but when we begin. When we make a start.

✏️   Like angels in dragon ball z. I'm not religious so this helps with understanding it visually. 

 

When we conceive an enterprise and commit to it in the face of our fears, something wonderful happens. A crack appears in the membrane. Like the first craze when a chick pecks at the inside of its shell. Angel midwives congregate around us; they assist as we give birth to ourselves, to that person we were born to be, to the one whose destiny was encoded in our soul, our daimon, our genius.

 

When I finish a day's work, I head up into the hills for a hike. I take a pocket tape recorder because I know that as my surface mind empties with the walk, another part of me will chime in and start talking.

 

The moment a person learns he's got terminal cancer, a profound shift takes place in his psyche. At one stroke in the doctor's office he becomes aware of what really matters to him. Things that sixty seconds earlier had seemed all- important suddenly appear meaningless, while people and concerns that he had till then dismissed at once take on supreme importance.

 

Maybe, he realizes, working this weekend on that big deal at the office isn't all that vital. Maybe it's more important to fly cross-country for his grandson's graduation. Maybe it isn't so crucial that he have the last word in the fight with his wife. Maybe instead he should tell her how much she means to him and how deeply he has always loved her.

 

The Ego, Jung tells us, is that part of the psyche that we think of as "I." Our conscious intelligence. Our everyday brain that thinks, plans and runs the show of our day-to-day life.

 

What happens in that instant when we learn we may soon die, Tom Laughlin contends, is that the seat of our consciousness shifts. It moves from the Ego to the Self.

 

This is how Tom Laughlin's foundation battles cancer. He counsels his clients

 

not just to make that shift mentally but to live it out in their lives. He supports the housewife in resuming her career in social work, urges the businessman to return to the violin, assists the Vietnam vet to write his novel.

 

Have you ever wondered why the slang terms for intoxication are so demolition-oriented? Stoned, smashed, hammered. It's because they're talking about the Ego. It's the Ego that gets blasted, waxed, plastered. We demolish the Ego to get to the Self.

 

when suburban kids take Ecstasy and dance all night at a rave, they're seeking the Self.

 

These are serious fears. But they're not the real fear. Not the Master Fear, the Mother of all Fears that's so close to us that even when we verbalize it we don't believe it. Fear That We Will Succeed. That we can access the powers we secretly know we possess. That we can become the person we sense in our hearts we truly are. This is the most terrifying prospect a human being can face, because it ejects him at one go (he imagines) from all the tribal inclusions his psyche is wired for and has been for fifty million years.

✏️  This is interesting. Even if it's not true this is good to believe in as it gives you a purpose. Many global leaders thought this exact thing. That they had a true calling and they worked hard on it. Napoleon said he knew he was meant to lead France. 

 

We come into this world with a specific, personal destiny. We have a job to do, a calling to enact, a self to become. We are who we are from the cradle, and we're stuck with it.

✏️  To lead Wales? Ha!

 

A territory provides sustenance. Runners know what a territory is. So do rock climbers and kayakers and yogis. Artists and entrepreneurs know what a territory is. The swimmer who towels off after finishing her laps feels a helluva lot better than the tired, cranky person who dove into the pool thirty minutes earlier.

2) A territory sustains us without any external input. A territory is a closed feedback loop. Our role is to put in effort and love; the territory absorbs this and gives it back to us in the form of well-being. When experts tell us that exercise (or any other effort- requiring activity) banishes depression, this is what they mean.

3) A territory can only be claimed alone. You can team with a partner, you can work out with a friend, but you only need yourself to soak up your territory's juice.

4) A territory can only be claimed by work. When Arnold Schwarzenegger hits the gym, he's on his own turf. But what made it his own are the hours and years of sweat he put in to claim it. A territory doesn't give, it gives back.

5) A territory returns exactly what you put in. Territories are fair. Every erg of energy you put in goes infallibly into your account. A territory never devalues. A territory never crashes. What you deposited, you get back, dollar-for-dollar. What's your territory?

 

Here's another test. Of any activity you do, ask yourself: If I were the last person on earth, would I still do it? If you're all alone on the planet, a hierarchical orientation makes no sense. There's no one to impress. So, if you'd still pursue that activity, congratulations. You're doing it territorially.

✏️  Hmmm but if there was NOBODY on earth would writing be pointless? I suppose writing to yourself like Marcus Aurelius wouldn't be. Art may not be as it's somethign you take personal pleasure in. But most work and business is service to others.....

 

Now: What about ourselves as artists? How do we do our work? Hierarchically or territorially? If we were freaked out, would we go there first? If we were the last person on earth, would we still show up at the studio, the rehearsal hall, the laboratory?

 

To labor in this way, the Bhagavad-Gita tells us, is a form of meditation and a supreme species of spiritual devotion. It also, I believe, conforms most closely to Higher Reality. In fact, we are servants of the Mystery. We were put here on earth to act as agents of the Infinite, to bring into existence that which is not yet, but which will be, through us.

 

Are you a born writer? Were you put on earth to be a painter, a scientist, an apostle of peace? In the end the question can only be answered by action. Do it or don't do it.

 

Twitter @scottflear

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