The War of Art – part one

the-war-of-artI just started reading the War of Art by Steven Pressfield. The premise of the book is that if you have an unfulfilled passion for something, if you want to live a creative life, succeed in a business, capture some giant goal, but always seem to fall short or, worse yet, fail to ever start, you are not having a problem achieving the thing, you are having a problem overcoming the resistance you have to realizing your dream.

Based on the cover copy, the forward, and the opening chapter, this is a powerful book. I've struggled with the discipline of writing lately. I have the novella I'm in the middle of and I haven't worked on it for a couple of months. Months! I've been creative - some art projects and poetry, but if I am ever to realize my creative potential as a novelist, working on other things than my current novel is a little bit of a waste of precious time.

It's not that I'm blocked. I fell into a couple of weeks of copywriting assignment and even though I always had a reason why I couldn't find the time to work on my novella, I knocked out 500 polished words a day on the virtues of a cycling company's products every evening.  Sure, they were paid assignments but no one pays a novelist to work every day (do they?). You only get rewarded after you've done the work. And even then, there's no guarantee how rewarding that pay-off will be. So realistically, I need to work on my fiction as if it were a copywriting assignment; professionally, every day, with some sense that it must be done as if there were a reader just waiting every day for the book I'm working on to arrive. And then I don't. And then I feel guilty. And then I come up with reasons why I didn't or couldn't get to what I know I need to get to if I'm ever going to have a chance.

The book addresses the state I find myself in. It is uncomfortably direct. It hits as if it were someone you admire, who is professional, who is accomplished in the field you want to be part of, and who came to your office and called you an amateur who doesn't know how to work and will never make it. It's scary direct. It's the kind of kick-in-the-pants I've been looking for.

This will be a multi-part review. I want to absorb the book's message. I want to process it as it comes, as Pressfield intended. I want to make sure I get as much out of the book as possible. I don't want to rush past something because I assume I understand it. So as I work the book and see how it impacts my creative life, I will write about my experience. That starts with the impact of the opening chapters.

A couple of nights ago I read the chapter on the way resistance manifests itself to keep you from doing the work you need to do to reach your goals. Pressfield wants you to closely examine the thing that's keeping you from your potential as an artist and the ways it manifests itself. I resonated strongest with three of his examples. I know that he is leading us somewhere, presumably to his system or psychology for overcoming resistance and getting to the work or being a professional creative but i'm not going to get ahead of myself. I am examining the way I resist working on my story.

Procrastination: Oh boy, am I a master and telling myself that I will get to it. I am a master at making plans, to write starting tomorrow. Or that I just need to (fill in anything from run this errand to finish this show/series) before I start. Or that I need to work more on the outline. I can always come up with something that comes before the writing can start. If I were being true to what I really want to accomplish with my life, I would put writing first every day. I would wake up, write until I feel satisfied with my progress, then begin the rest of my day.

Comparison to others: I read a lot too. It's one thing to look up to idols and admire the work of others. It's another to look at the work of others and say to yourself that you don't measure up. I need to get comfortable with the idea that only by working and improving will my writing reach the point where it can stand on its own in the world. I need to accept that my work will be it's own thing and it does me no good to measure against an idol, say, Stephen King. I need to allow myself to accept that there are tens of thousands of novels written and my work, my voice, my ideas expressed as fiction, have just as much a right to exist in the world as any other.

Consumerism: Too many times to count I've reached the end of a day where I worked my day job, spent time with family, cycled with friends, taken in some kind of entertainment, only to bemoan the fact that I couldn't find the time to write. I'd then evaluate the day and realize I gave several hours of my life to the creative works of other people; television shows, movies, news radio. By definition, this makes me a consumer and not a creator. I need to turn that equation around because if I spend my whole life in consumption mode and never reach this goal of mine to exist as a novelist, I will be pissed.

Many more of Pressfield's examples of resistance resonated with me. I only hope that his intend is to use this section of the book like the military uses boot camp; to tear the recruit down so he can be built back up as a warrior ready to face the war ahead (the war to overcome resistance and reach your potential as an artist).

Until the next chapter...

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