What is "The War of Art"?
Updated: Feb 19
About a decade and a half ago, I dated an Italian car designer.
It was fun, a pleasant distraction while the economy melted down around us. We talked car design; we talked screenwriting; we talked about what it was like to create in media where form inevitably followed function.
I lent him Steven Pressfield’s “The War of Art," a brilliant little book about how Resistance is the artist's greatest enemy.
“Resistance," as Pressfield notes, "is the most toxic force on the planet. It is the root of more unhappiness than poverty, disease, and erectile dysfunction. To yield to Resistance deforms our spirit. It stunts us and makes us less than we are and were born to be...Its target is the epicenter of our being: our genius, our soul, the unique and priceless gift we were put on Earth to give and that no one else has but us.”
Resistance is a lot like gravity. With everyone (and everything) being naturally pulled down, it can often take a monumental force to overcome the gravitational pulls of inertia and fear and rise up, especially when tackling something new, unfamiliar, creative, and worthwhile.
The creative's job isn't so much to create a heartbreaking work of staggering genius as it is to just show up to the page or canvas or screen and see what happens. Without ego.
Back to the Italian car designer.
In the death throes of our situationship, I wanted my book back.
And expressed it as such.
But to do so meant seeing him at his place, and I didn't want to cross turf lines.
He then texted me that if I didn’t meet him, he’d throw the book away.
My heart sank.
Simultaneously, I felt unchallenged (I could always buy another copy) and horrified (why on Earth would you destroy a book?).
I decided not to pick it up.
It took more than 15 years to realize this, but that was Resistance in action.
Both his threat and my negligence in not picking up a new copy of the book until 2022 are examples of Resistance. Resistance doesn't want you to create; it wants you to destroy by not creating. It wants you to stay stuck, negative.
And while I may have written a lot since 2022, had I had this guide with me, I may not harbored so much self-loathing about why my work wasn't good enough; I may have also created even more, vivacious, and joy-filled work because I had just shown up over and over and over.
So, what's the antidote to Resistance?
Well, it's showing up over, over, and over again or, as Pressfield notes, "turning pro."
Turning pro is about treating our creativity as though it was our day jobs. For better or for worse, that means:
We show up every day
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
We master the technique of our jobs
We have a sense of humor about our jobs
We receive praise or blame in the real world
I find that when I treat my writing like it is a job (as opposed to an occasional dalliance), I feel a lot better about myself. Even dribbling out a crappy rough draft (and not breaking the chain) gives me a sense of peace and makes me easier to be around.
The more I live, the more I realize that doing the work means more than money, Facebook likes, awards, and praise received for the work. Sure, they're nice; but to be in the zone when hours melt by, to be in the flow state of creation, makes me feel alive.
It's worth battling Resistance over.