THE WAR OF ART SUMMARY

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What You’ll Gain from this Book

If you honestly feel that you’re not really happy with yourself and you would rather be someone else, or if what you’re currently doing is sucking the life out of you, then this is the book for you.  If you’re an artist who is not practicing your art, an entrepreneur who didn’t start your startup, a scientist who is not figuring things out on a laboratory, an activist or social entrepreneur who is not working on social problems, or just someone who keeps putting off going to the gym, giving up that pack of cigarette, or making that proposal, then this is the book for you.  This book will help you to start, or persevere on the path of the empowering and creative life that is your birthright, which you gave up when society (translation: the people around you) conspired and told you to get real or to get a “real” job.  This book will teach you how to fight your battles by first knowing your enemy, which Pressfield calls Resistance—“a destructive force inside human nature that rises whenever we consider a tough, long-term course of action that might do for us, or others something that’s actually good,“ and by taking that first small step now, not tomorrow.

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Nugget

“Are you a born writer? Were you put on earth to be a painter, a scientist, an apostle of peace? In the end the question can only be answered by action.  Do it or don’t do it.  It may help to think of it this way. If you were meant to cure cancer or write a symphony or crack cold fusion and you don’t do it, you not only hurt yourself, even destroy yourself.  You hurt your children. You hurt me. You hurt the planet.  You shame the angels who watch over you and you spite the Almighty, who created you and only you with your unique gifts, for the sole purpose of nudging the human race one millimeter farther along its path back to God.  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

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Summary of Summary

INTRODUCTION

•          Resistance is the arch enemy of creativity.  It is a destructive force inside human nature that rises whenever we consider a course of action that might do for us or others something that’s actually good.

•          We have two lives: the life we live, and the unlived life within us.  What separates our two lives is Resistance.

BOOK ONE RESISTANCE

Defining the Enemy

  • Resistance is an inveterate liar and will do whatever it takes to persuade us to stay away from our life’s work, or at least to distract us, or convince us to do it tomorrow.
  • Like a magnetized needle floating on a surface of oil, Resistance will unfailingly point to true North—meaning that calling or action it most wants to stop us from doing.
  • Henry Fonda was still throwing up before each stage performance, even when he was seventy-five.
  • The tale of Odysseus teaches us that Resistance is strongest at the finish line.
  • When a writer begins to overcome her Resistance—she may find that those close to her will resent her awakening and will oppose her efforts.

BOOK TWO COMBATING RESISTANCE

Turning Pro

  • While the amateur plays for fun, the professional plays for keeps.  While the amateur is a weekend warrior, the professional shows up daily. 
  • A professional does not wait for inspiration before working; he just works and sure enough, inspiration comes.
  • Pressfield’s training in Marine Corps taught him how to be miserable, which is invaluable for an artist.
  • These are the qualities of a professional: 1. we show up every day; 2.we show up no matter what; 3.we stay on the job all day; 4.we are committed over the long haul; 5.the stakes for us are high and real; 6.we accept remuneration for our labor; 7.we do not overidentify with our jobs; 8.we master the technique of our jobs; 9.we have a sense of humor about our jobs; and 10.we receive praise or blame in the real world.
  • In the real world, there is no such thing as poetic justice: adversity, injustice, bad hops and rotten calls are hazards of the trade that we must deal with.
  • Pressfield advocates working and incorporating as a corporation because it separates the artist-doing-the-work from the will-and-consciousness-running-the-show.

BOOK THREE BEYOND RESISTANCE

The Higher Realm

  • There are invisible psychic forces that support us toward our craft.  We can opt to give these forces a personality and call it our daimon, genius, angel, or muse, or we can also consider these forces as impersonal laws such as gravity. 
  • Goethe: Whatever you can do, or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius, magic, and power in it. Begin it now.
  • A hack is a writer who second-guesses his audience. When the hack sits down to work, he doesn’t ask himself what’s in his own heart. The hack condescends to his audience.
  • Lord Krishna to Arjuna in the Bhagavad Gita: We have a right to our labor but not to the fruits of our labor, and that we must do our work for its own sake, not for fortune, attention, or applause
  • According to King Leonidas, contempt for death is the cardinal virtue of a warrior.  Contempt for failure is the cardinal virtue of an artist.

Summary

Introduction

  • The book starts by exposing Resistance as the arch enemy of creativity.  It is what Freud termed the Death Wish, “a destructive force inside human nature that rises whenever we consider a tough, long-term course of action that might do for us or others something that’s actually good.”
  • According to Pressfield, we have two lives: the life we live, and the unlived life within us.  What separates our two lives is Resistance.  “Have you ever brought home a treadmill and let it gather dust in the attic? Ever quit a diet, a course of yoga, a meditation practice? Have you ever bailed out on a call to embark upon a spiritual practice, dedicate yourself to a humanitarian calling, commit your life to the service of others? Have you ever wanted to be a mother, a doctor, an advocate for the weak and helpless; to run for office, crusade for the planet, campaign for world peace, or to preserve the environment? Late at night have you experienced a vision of the person you might become, the work you could accomplish, the realized being you were meant to be? Are you a writer who doesn’t write, a painter who doesn’t paint, an entrepreneur who never starts a venture? Then you know what Resistance is.”
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Book One Resistance

Defining the Enemy

                         The enemy is a very good teacher.                                                                           -The Dalai Lama    

 

RESISTANCE’S GREATEST HITS

Resistance opposes any act that progresses from our lower to higher nature, or any act that eschews immediate gratification in favor of long-term growth, success, or happiness, such as, but not limited to the following activities: 1) the pursuit of any calling in writing, painting, music, film, dance, or any creative art, however marginal or unconventional; 2) the launching of any entrepreneurial venture or enterprise, for profit or otherwise; 3) education of every kind; 4) any act of political, moral, or ethical courage, including the decision to change for the better some unworthy pattern of thought or conduct in ourselves; 5) the undertaking of any enterprise or endeavor whose aim is to help others, etc.                  

RESISTANCE IS INSIDIOUS

Resistance is an inveterate liar and will do whatever it takes to persuade us to stay away from our life’s work, or at least to distract us, or convince us to do it tomorrow.  It has no scruples whatsoever, it will offer heaven, earth, and anything in between to entice our gullibility. Nothing is above it and will resort to anything, fair or foul to dissuade us—it will perjure, fabricate, falsify, seduce, bully, cajole us into submission.  It is amorphous and will take on any form and reason with us like a lawyer or stick a 9 mm. in our face like a highwayman. 

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RESISTANCE IS INFALLIBLE

Pressfield maintains that “Like a magnetized needle floating on a surface of oil, Resistance will unfailingly point to true North—meaning that calling or action it most wants to stop us from doing.  We can use this. We can use it as a compass. We can navigate by Resistance, letting it guide us to that calling or action that we must follow before all others.  Rule of thumb: The more important a call or action is to our soul’s evolution, the more Resistance we will feel toward pursuing it.”

RESISTANCE NEVER SLEEPS

Pressfield reveals that “Henry Fonda was still throwing up before each stage performance, even when he was seventy-five. In other words, fear doesn’t go away. The warrior and the artist live by the same code of necessity, which dictates that the battle must be fought anew every day.”

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RESISTANCE IS STRONGEST AT THE FINISH LINE

Odysseus was almost home when disaster struck, he laid down for forty winks because they were close enough to see the smoke from their families’ cooking fires on shore.  His men cut up the bag which contained the adverse winds because they believed that the bag contained gold.  The winds blew forth and drove their ships back from whence they came and suffered more privations and deaths until it was Odysseus alone who successfully came home.  The perils are worst near the finish line when Resistance gives everything it has to dissuade the professional, who should be wary of that bag of wind.

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RESISTANCE RECRUITS ALLIES

Pressfield holds that “When a writer begins to overcome her Resistance—in other words, when she actually starts to write—she may find that those close to her begin acting strange. They may become moody or sullen, they may get sick; they may accuse the awakening writer of “changing,” of “not being the person she was.” The closer these people are to the awakening writer, the more bizarrely they will act and the more emotion they will put behind their actions.  They are trying to sabotage her.  The reason is that they are struggling, consciously or unconsciously, against their own Resistance. The awakening writer’s success becomes a reproach to them. If she can beat these demons, why can’t they?  Often couples or close friends, even entire families, will enter into tacit compacts whereby each individual pledges (unconsciously) to remain mired in the same slough in which she and all her cronies have become so comfortable. The highest treason a crab can commit is to make a leap for the rim of the bucket. The awakening artist must be ruthless, not only with herself but with others.”

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RESISTANCE AND SEX

Pressfield suggests that an obsessive preoccupation with sex is a manifestation of Resistance because it gives us a quick fix when someone sleeps with us because through it, we feel validated and accepted.  It distracts us and keeps us from contemplating or doing our life’s work.  However, not all sex is within the purview of Resistance, and the more incomplete and empty you feel afterwards, the greater the probability that your real motivation was not love but Resistance. This also holds true for drugs, TV, gossip, alcohol, shopping, masturbation, and the excessive consumption of fat, sugar, salt, or chocolate.

Book Two Combating Resistance

Turning Pro

                 It is one thing to study war and another to live the warrior’s life.                                                                                                           -Telamon of Arcadia,           mercenary of the fifth century B.C.    

 

PROFESSIONALS AND AMATEURS

Pressfield points out the distinction between amateurs and professionals.  The latter term does not refer to doctors, lawyers, or other professionals, but refers to an ideal or way of life, not a way of doing our livelihood.  While the amateur plays for fun, the professional plays for keeps.  To the former, the game is his avocation, to the latter, it’s his vocation. While the amateur is a weekend warrior, the professional shows up daily. 

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“The word amateur comes from the Latin root meaning “to love.” The conventional interpretation is that the amateur pursues his calling out of love, while the pro does it for money.”  This is not how Pressfield sees it because according to him, “the amateur does not love the game enough. If he did, he would not pursue it as a sideline, distinct from his “real” vocation.  The professional loves it so much he dedicates his life to it.  He commits full-time.  That’s what I mean when I say turning pro.  Resistance hates it when we turn pro.”

A PROFESSIONAL

A professional does not wait for inspiration before working; he just works and sure enough, inspiration comes.  Showing up for work, not waiting for inspiration, is the job description of the pro.  Working will set into motion a sequence of events leading to inspiration.  Pressfield narrates a story to drive home this point.  “Someone once asked Somerset Maugham if he wrote on a schedule or only when struck by inspiration. “I write only when inspiration strikes,” he replied. “Fortunately it strikes every morning at nine o’clock sharp.” That’s a pro. In terms of Resistance, Maugham was saying, “I despise Resistance; I will not let it faze me; I will sit down and do my work.”

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HOW TO BE MISERABLE

Pressfield had so many different jobs before heeding the call of his muse.  His training in the Marines served him well as an artist, and he avers that “The Marine Corps teaches you how to be miserable.  This is invaluable for an artist.  Marines love to be miserable. Marines derive a perverse satisfaction from having colder chow, crappier equipment, and higher casualty rates than any outfit of dogfaces, swab jockeys or flyboys, all of whom they despise. Why? Because these candy-asses don’t know how to be miserable.  The artist committing himself to his calling has volunteered for hell, whether he knows it or not. He will be dining for the duration on a diet of isolation, rejection, self-doubt, despair, ridicule, contempt, and humiliation. The artist must be like that Marine. He has to know how to be miserable. He has to love being miserable. He has to take pride in being more miserable than any soldier or swabbie or jet jockey. Because this is war, baby. And war is hell.”

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WE’RE ALL PROS ALREADY

Being a professional means that we must also learn from our previous life as an amateur on our day jobs, in order to approximate the work ethic required of a professional.  These are the qualities of a professional: 1. we show up every day; 2.we show up no matter what; 3.we stay on the job all day; 4.we are committed over the long haul; 5.the stakes for us are high and real; 6.we accept remuneration for our labor; 7.we do not overidentify with our jobs; 8.we master the technique of our jobs; 9.we have a sense of humor about our jobs; and 10.we receive praise or blame in the real world.

A PROFESSIONAL ACTS IN THE FACE OF FEAR

Pressfield advocates a healthy and realistic approach in dealing with fear.  He would have us note that “The amateur believes he must first overcome his fear; then he can do his work. The professional knows that fear can never be overcome. He knows there is no such thing as a fearless warrior or a dread-free artist.  What Henry Fonda does, after puking into the toilet in his dressing room, is to clean up and march out onstage. He’s still terrified but he forces himself forward in spite of his terror. He knows that once he gets out into the action, his fear will recede and he’ll be okay.”

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A PROFESSIONAL PLAYS IT AS IT LAYS

Pressfield reminds us that the playing field is level only in heaven.  In the real world, there is no such thing as poetic justice: adversity, injustice, bad hops and rotten calls are hazards of the trade that we must deal with.  If we persevere however, good breaks and lucky bounces will also pay our game a visit.  Visits of Murphy’s Law should be expected, but it is not a permanent guest in our craft.

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YOU, INC.

Pressfield advocates working and incorporating as a corporation.  “For a writer to incorporate himself has certain tax and financial advantages. But what I love about it is the metaphor… Making yourself a corporation (or just thinking of yourself in that way) reinforces the idea of professionalism because it separates the artist-doing-the-work from the will-and-consciousness-running-the-show. No matter how much abuse is heaped on the head of the former, the latter takes it in stride and keeps on trucking. Conversely with success: You-the-writer may get a swelled head, but you-the-boss remembers how to take yourself down a peg.  If we think of ourselves as a corporation, it gives us a healthy distance on ourselves. We’re less subjective. We don’t take blows as personally. We’re more cold-blooded; we can price our wares more realistically. Sometimes, as Joe Blow himself, I’m too mild-mannered to go out and sell. But as Joe Blow, Inc., I can pimp the hell out of myself. I’m not me anymore.  I’m Me, Inc. I’m a pro.”

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Book Three Beyond Resistance

The Higher Realm

The first duty is to sacrifice to the gods and pray them to grant you the thoughts, words, and deeds likely to render your command most pleasing to the gods and to bring yourself, your friends, and your city the fullest measure of affection and glory and advantage.                                                    –Xenophon,                                        The Cavalry Commander    
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ANGELS IN THE ABSTRACT

There are invisible psychic forces that support us toward our craft.  We can opt to give these forces a personality and call it our daimon, genius, angel, or muse, or we can also consider these forces as impersonal laws such as gravity.  Regardless of how we see it, it works either way, and these forces are our allies in pursuing our vocation.

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THE MAGIC OF MAKING A START

Pressfield shares this powerful quote from W. H. Murray of the Scottish Himalayan Expedition:  “Concerning all acts of initiative (and creation) there is one elementary truth, the ignorance of which kills countless ideas and splendid plans: that the moment one definitely commits oneself, then providence moves too. All sorts of things occur to help one that would not otherwise have occurred. A whole stream of events issues from the decision, raising in one’s favour all manner of unforeseen incidents and meetings and material assistance which no man would have dreamed would come his way. I have learned a deep respect for one of Goethe’s couplets: “Whatever you can do, or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius, magic, and power in it. Begin it now.”

THE HIERARCHICAL ORIENTATION

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“Most of us define ourselves hierarchically and don’t even know it. It’s hard not to. School, advertising, the entire materialist culture drills us from birth to define ourselves by others’ opinions. Drink this beer, get this job, look this way and everyone will love you.  What is a hierarchy, anyway?  Hollywood is a hierarchy. So are Washington, Wall Street, and the Daughters of the American Revolution.  High school is the ultimate hierarchy. And it works; in a pond that small, the hierarchical orientation succeeds. The cheerleader knows where she fits, as does the dweeb in the Chess Club. Each has found a niche. The system works.”

THE DEFINITION OF A HACK

Pressfield knew the definition of a hack from Robert McKee, who quipped that a hack is “a writer who second-guesses his audience. When the hack sits down to work, he doesn’t ask himself what’s in his own heart. He asks what the market is looking for.  The hack condescends to his audience. He thinks he’s superior to them. The truth is, he’s scared to death of them or, more accurately, scared of being authentic in front of them, scared of writing what he really feels or believes, what he himself thinks is interesting. He’s afraid it won’t sell. So he tries to anticipate what the market (a telling word) wants, then gives it to them… The hack is like the politician who consults the polls before he takes a position. He’s a demagogue. He panders.”

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Pressfield attributes the success of The Legend of Bagger Vance to his decision to write what he thinks he should write rather than what he thinks his readers would want, considering that first novels sell poorly, especially a novel about golf, which is hardly a popular topic.  His honesty to his self, paid off, his decision to trust what he wanted rather than condescend to what the reader want led to his string of subsequent successful titles.  He can’t overemphasize the importance of writing territorially rather than hierarchically.

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THE FRUITS OF OUR LABOR

Pressfield reiterates the instruction given by Lord Krishna to Arjuna in the Bhagavad Gita that we have a right to our labor but not to the fruits of our labor, and that we must do our work for its own sake, not for fortune, attention, or applause. “We were put here on earth to act as agents of the Infinite, to bring into existence that which is not yet, but which will be, through us. Every breath we take, every heartbeat, every evolution of every cell comes from God and is sustained by God every second, just as every creation, invention, every bar of music or line of verse, every thought, vision, fantasy, every dumbass flop and stroke of genius comes from that infinite intelligence that created us and the universe in all its dimensions, out of the Void, the field of infinite potential, primal chaos, the Muse. To acknowledge that reality, to efface all ego, to let the work come through us and give it back freely to its source, that, in my opinion, is as true to reality as it gets.”

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THE SUPREME VIRTUE

“Someone once asked the Spartan king Leonidas to identify the supreme warrior virtue from which all others flowed. He replied: “Contempt for death.”  For us as artists, read “failure.” Contempt for failure is our cardinal virtue. By confining our attention territorially to our own thoughts and actions—in other words, to the work and its demands—we cut the earth from beneath the blue-painted, shield-banging, spear-brandishing foe.”

To Recap

INTRODUCTION

•          Resistance is the arch enemy of creativity.  It is a destructive force inside human nature that rises whenever we consider a course of action that might do for us or others something that’s actually good.

•          We have two lives: the life we live, and the unlived life within us.  What separates our two lives is Resistance.

BOOK ONE RESISTANCE

Defining the Enemy

  • Resistance is an inveterate liar and will do whatever it takes to persuade us to stay away from our life’s work, or at least to distract us, or convince us to do it tomorrow.
  • Like a magnetized needle floating on a surface of oil, Resistance will unfailingly point to true North—meaning that calling or action it most wants to stop us from doing.
  • Henry Fonda was still throwing up before each stage performance, even when he was seventy-five.
  • The tale of Odysseus teaches us that Resistance is strongest at the finish line.
  • When a writer begins to overcome her Resistance—she may find that those close to her will resent her awakening and will oppose her efforts.

BOOK TWO COMBATING RESISTANCE

Turning Pro

  • While the amateur plays for fun, the professional plays for keeps.  While the amateur is a weekend warrior, the professional shows up daily. 
  • A professional does not wait for inspiration before working; he just works and sure enough, inspiration comes.
  • Pressfield’s training in Marine Corps taught him how to be miserable, which is invaluable for an artist.
  • These are the qualities of a professional: 1. we show up every day; 2.we show up no matter what; 3.we stay on the job all day; 4.we are committed over the long haul; 5.the stakes for us are high and real; 6.we accept remuneration for our labor; 7.we do not overidentify with our jobs; 8.we master the technique of our jobs; 9.we have a sense of humor about our jobs; and 10.we receive praise or blame in the real world.
  • In the real world, there is no such thing as poetic justice: adversity, injustice, bad hops and rotten calls are hazards of the trade that we must deal with.
  • Pressfield advocates working and incorporating as a corporation because it separates the artist-doing-the-work from the will-and-consciousness-running-the-show.

BOOK THREE BEYOND RESISTANCE

The Higher Realm

  • There are invisible psychic forces that support us toward our craft.  We can opt to give these forces a personality and call it our daimon, genius, angel, or muse, or we can also consider these forces as impersonal laws such as gravity. 
  • Goethe: Whatever you can do, or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius, magic, and power in it. Begin it now.
  • A hack is a writer who second-guesses his audience. When the hack sits down to work, he doesn’t ask himself what’s in his own heart. The hack condescends to his audience.
  • Lord Krishna to Arjuna in the Bhagavad Gita: We have a right to our labor but not to the fruits of our labor, and that we must do our work for its own sake, not for fortune, attention, or applause
  • According to King Leonidas, contempt for death is the cardinal virtue of a warrior.  Contempt for failure is the cardinal virtue of an artist.

Click here to download the PDF version of this summary: https://romelbaja.home.blog/book-summaries/

Know more about Steven Pressfield, or order his books on this link: https://stevenpressfield.com/about/

Published by romelbajarumination

I'm an entrepreneur, blogger, online marketer, and Youtube content creator. I love reading, visual arts, organic farming, mushroom cultivation, basketball, Netflix, among other things. Follow me on Pinterest, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, LinkedIn, Tumblr, and Reddit.

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