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Friday, June 18, 2010

The War of Art by Steven Pressfield


The War of Art: Break Through the Blocks and Win Your Inner Creative Battles
Steven Pressfield
Grand Central Publishing, 2002

I came across this book by lucky chance.  After helping a customer find some books in the self-improvement section we engaged in some idle chit-chat.  She soon turned to focusing on deciding between the two books she was interested in and I started straightening the books nearby.

The name on the spine of a book--Steven Pressfield--caught my eye.  Is this the same Pressfield who wrote The Gates of Fire, a novel that's been on my reading list for some time now?  Yep.  Sure is.

According to the blurbs on the back of the book, The War of Art can help me write a novel, finish a creative piece already started, start a business, start dieting/exercising today, and run a marathon someday.  Who could resist such promises?

I opened the book and skipped over the foreword, as I always do when its written by someone other than the author, and went to Pressfield's first words, the 28-line chapter entitled, "What I Do," which describes what seems to be a typical writing day for him.  I was hooked.

I was hooked by the non-apologetic and non-self-conscious outline of what he does when sitting down to write: from putting on his lucky LARGO nametag, to looking at his good luck talismans, to saying a prayer (the Invocations of the Muse from Homer's Odyssey, specifically the translation by T. E. Lawrence), to his writing process itself.  Someone who can share that intimate detail in such a no-nonsense manner must, I thought, have some down-to-earth knowledge to share as well.

So I took the book home.

Creativity fascinates me: understanding it, nurturing it, expressing it, sharing it, getting in touch with what may block it, etc.  There are some pretty sugary books out there about creativity.  That's not to say they're "bad" (I don't believe in labeling books as "bad"), they're just not helpful for me or they're another rendition of how-to-book-as-cheerleader, which I have enough of, thank you.

The War of Art is about what gets in the way of creativity (or your most cherished dreams) and what you can do about it.  What gets in the way can be summed up with one word: RESISTANCE.  Resistance is more than just procrastination, its the force or forces behind procrastination.  Its your own inner self-sabotage.

The book is divided into three sections:
Book One: RESISTANCE: Defining the Enemy
Book Two: COMBATING RESISTANCE: Turning Pro
Book Three: BEYOND RESISTANCE: Higher Realm

Each section is full of short chapters ranging from three lines to a few pages, at most.  Its one of those books that you can read through quickly nodding here and there as you recognize yourself in the pages and stopping only to mark an especially insight provoking idea that you'll want to go back to.  I read it in a burst, knowing that I'd go back and re-read it slowly, marking it up as I go, and then keeping it on the shelve next to my writing desk.  At eye level.

I read The War of Art the day after I took it home.  My next day back at the bookstore I stopped to help a young man who said he'd called the day before, purchased a book over the phone and that it was being held for him.  My colleague who rang up the book for him had also wrapped it, since he'd mentioned it was a gift.  The young man was pleased that someone had been so thoughtful as to wrap the book for him, but he'd wanted to write an inscription in it.  I told him I'd be happy to re-wrap the book for him if he didn't feel pressured about writing the inscription on the spot.  He said he knew exactly what he was going to write and that he'd really appreciate it being re-wrapped.

Do you want to guess what book it was?

I laughed as he unwrapped the book to reveal that it was none other than The War of Art.  I enthusiastically told him that I had just read the book.  He laughed too, then, and immediately launched in to telling me how powerfully the book had impacted him, how he felt like it helped him get on track with many of the things he'd been wanting to do.  He was getting it as a gift for a friend who was just graduating from high school in the hope that it would impact his friend as powerfully.

A good book from a good friend.  Powerful stuff.

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