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“The War of Art”

Disclaimer: This is not an objective review. Not by a long shot.

In the first section of “The War of Art,” Steven Pressfield lays out his theory that any person engaged in a creative pursuit battles not so much the external world, but an invisible force that originates within. This force feeds on their fears and pursues its own goal: to prevent them from doing their work. He calls this force Resistance and over the course of a couple dozen short, breezy chapters describes its tactics, from distraction to addiction to illness to death.

In his chapter titled, “Resistance Plays for Keeps,” Pressfield writes:

Resistance’s goal is not to wound or disable. Resistance aims to kill. 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 means business. When we fight it, we are in a war to the death.

Steven Pressfield, “The War of Art”

He’s more blunt in his following book, “Do the Work”:

It will kill you. It will kill you like cancer.

Steven Pressfield, “Do the Work”

This sounds dramatic, but Pressfield’s concept of Resistance grew out his own struggles as a writer. He blew up a marriage, gave up writing, and eventually found himself a broke, homeless, suicidal alcoholic because that was easier than facing the empty page every day.

Thankfully, the section ends with a promise that Resistance can be defeated. Pressfield turned his corner by locking himself away and writing every day. At the end, he had written something that in his own words wasn’t great, but it was done. He’d beaten Resistance.

The second section introduces the concepts of The Amateur, The Professional, and “going pro.” In Pressfield’s world, Amateurs are the wishers and daydreamers who get derailed by Resistance; the dogged Professionals who “do the work” do not. The remainder of this section shares various methods and processes for fighting Resistance. It’s practical, real-world stuff that doesn’t pack the same emotional gut punch as Book One, but if you buy into the premise of Resistance and see it in yourself, this is the most important part of the book.

The final section drifts through some heady musings on creativity, angels, and god that’s hit or miss depending on where you stand with those ideas, but closes with a paragraph that may be the most important bit of whole book:

Creative work is not a selfish act or a bid for attention on the part of the actor. It’s a gift to the world and every being in it. Don’t cheat us of your contribution. Give us what you’ve got.

Steven Pressfield, “The War of Art”

Like most of the book, it’s simple on its face, but contains a profound and hugely empowering idea. Pressfield’s sparse text makes for a fast read but contains hard-won insight into the creative process and a deep empathy for those who pursue it.


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