The War of Art is one of my favorite books that I read in 2020. If you work on creative pursuits, I highly recommend it.
If you read the reviews, it's highly polarizing. It offers no frameworks, only personal accountability.
The War of Art thoroughly examines the many excuses creatives use to avoid doing their most important work. It redefines professionalism for those working independently outside traditional corporate structures. Pressfield also philosophizes about the role of ego and muses in finding greater meaning and fulfillment. And he includes amusing anecdotes from his experiences in the Hollywood film industry machinary.
The War of Art is a motivating book that highlights the internal obstacles and resistance that hold people back from doing their most important work. Pressfield argues that there is an invisible, internal force he calls "Resistance" that acts to prevent people from achieving their creative or professional goals. He frames the creative process as an internal war against Resistance, one that requires discipline, commitment and daily courage. Pressfield provides practical strategies for overcoming this force, such as establishing a consistent routine, pushing through moments of uncertainty, and cultivating self-compassion. The core message is that doing fulfilling work requires us to identify and continually battle the inner force of Resistance. The War of Art empowers readers to stay focused, summon their willpower, and win the war within.
The core concept Pressfield introduces is Resistance - the invisible, insidious force that prevents people from doing their most important, meaningful work. Resistance is the root cause of procrastination, distraction, and lack of motivation. Pressfield personifies Resistance, characterizing it as an active, cunning adversary that operates inside every person.
Resistance takes on many forms and will hijack anything it can to keep you from focusing on your art, including negative self-talk, perfectionism, BUSY-ness, addictions, self-doubt, and more. Resistance feeds on fear, especially fear of failure and fear of succeeding because that would mean having to double down on doing your work. Pressfield stresses that Resistance is within us, not an external force, and it aims to thwart human purpose and potential.
The insidious thing about Resistance is that it is everywhere and takes endless shapes. For example, you may be reading this summary right now as a way to avoid doing your most important work. Resistance got you to click here instead of focusing on your life's work. It keeps us endlessly distracted, discouraged, and off-track from doing work that matters. Resistance is the root cause behind lack of motivation and giving in to distraction. By naming and understanding this force, we can start to combat it and make progress on our creative goals.
Pressfield contrasts amateurs versus professionals. Pros show up consistently day after day to do the work, whereas amateurs are inconsistent. Pros accept money for their skills and love their craft so much they would do it for free. Pros persist even through rejection and criticism. They play all seven days of the week, not just when inspiration strikes. Their dedication to developing their gifts sustains them through hard times and creative blocks.
Importantly, the pro is not defined solely by their profession. They have a multifaceted life with loved ones, hobbies, interests and passions outside their main work. Pros are able to laugh at the absurdities and frustrations of their chosen field.
By publishing their work, pros open themselves up to public criticism and praise. They learn to operate under the worst conditions and welcome new challenges. Pros evolve beyond waiting for inspiration or approval from others. They take full responsibility for making their contributions to the world.
Turning pro requires extreme commitment, resilience and a mindset shift from dabbling or having potential to actually producing work consistently. It means embracing your vocation completely and making it part and parcel of your identity.
The Muse & The Ego
The muse is real. The pro shows up every day to sharpen their skills for when the muse arrives. The ego is real. The pro works to dissolve the ego by finding and making peace with who they really are.
Pressfield explores two mystical forces that shape creativity: the muse and the ego. He validates the reality of the muse as an inexplicable source of inspiration. Pros diligently practice their craft every day - not just for external rewards, but also to be ready when the muse arrives. They understand creativity contains mystical dimensions beyond conscious control.
He also examines the reality of the ego. The ego is the self-centered part of us concerned with image, recognition and status. It hijacks our work for its own aims of validation. Pros strive to know themselves deeply in order to find authenticity beyond ego. They create from a place of humility, service and giving back.
By developing self-awareness, pros make peace with who they actually are, flaws and all. This self-acceptance quiets the ego. Without grasping for vanity, they become conduits for the muse. Surrendering ego allows creativity to flow freely from a subconscious, universal source of inspiration. Pros maintain spiritual practices to dissolve ego further and welcome the mystical muse.
The pro mindfully balances expressing unique talents through ego with surrendering to the transcendent muse. By facing these two forces, they produce genuine work that serves higher principles beyond themselves.
Fear is the mind-killer. Just kidding. That's not in this book. Just seeing if you were still paying attention.
The book is under 200 pages and easy to read in an afternoon.
The Audible version of the audiobook is even more fun and read by the author.