An Artist’s Bookshelf – “The War of Art” by Steven Pressfield

This is the fourth book in an ongoing series where we talk about some of our favorite books that deal with art and the creative process.  These books were chosen because they have significantly changed my own perspective as a writer and as a human being

I believe these books will benefit any type of creative artist including writers, musicians, visual artists, photographers, or anyone else whose work is creatively inspired.

I hope that you will enjoy them as much as I have . . .

“The War of Art” by Steven Pressfield

190 pages

Available at your local bookstore and at

Follow Steven Pressfield on Twitter @SPressfield , on his Facebook Page, or you can visit him on his website Steven Pressfield Online.

war of art book review

If you’ve been a creative artist for a while, chances are you know what it’s like to hit the proverbial wall.  There you are working on your latest project and things are just clicking.  The coffee is hot, you’ve got the music cranked up, and everything is rainbows and unicorns — Then suddenly it’s gone.

No more words.  No more notes.  No more colors.  Nothing

Keep in mind we’re not talking about that time when the power went out and you lost your entire college term paper  — this is about that moment when your mind goes completely blank, your inspiration dries up, and for whatever reason, you just can’t seem to find a way to move forward.

It’s gone and you can’t help but wonder if it’s ever coming back.

The War of Art is not a book about becoming a better artist, it’s about what it takes to become (and remain) an artist.  It’s not about developing your talent or your creative vision.  Instead, it’s about the inner battle you are going to have to face every day when you sit down in front of that keyboard, pick up that instrument, or unpack those paints.

It’s about what Steven Pressfield calls “resistance”. In the book, he tells us that, “it’s not the writing part that’s hard. What’s hard is sitting down to write.” Resistance/procrastination/fear/excuses or whatever you want to call it is what keeps us from creating our life’s work. It is the obstacle in our way that we must overcome. It is our ultimate opponent.
It is ourself.

Resistance is the enemy of creativity

“What does Resistance feel like? First, unhappiness.  We feel like hell. A low-grade misery pervades everything. We’re bored, we’re restless. We can’t get no satisfaction. There’s guilt but we can’t put our finger on the source. We want to go back to bed; we want to get up and party. We feel unloved and unlovable. We’re disgusted. We hate our lives. We hate ourselves.”

“Procrastination is the most common manifestation of Resistance because it’s the easiest to rationalize.  We don’t tell ourselves, “I’m never going to write my symphony.” Instead we say, “I am going to write my symphony; I’m just going to start tomorrow.”

“Never forget: This very moment, we can change our lives. There never was a moment, and never will be, when we are without the poser to alter our destiny. This second, we can turn the tables on Resistance. This second, we can sit down and do our work.”

Fear and self-doubt are part of the creative process

“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.”

“If you find yourself asking yourself (and your friends), “Am I really a writer? Am I really an artist?” chances are you are. The counterfeit innovator is wildly self-confident. The real one is scared to death.”

“Resistance feeds on fear… Fear of failure. Fear of being ridiculous. Fear of throwing away the education, the training, the preparation that those we love have sacrificed so much for, that we ourselves have worked our butts off for.  Fear of launching into the void, of hurtling too far out there; fear of passing some point of no return.”

“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.”

“We fear discovering that we are more than we think we are. More than our parents/children/teachers think we are. We fear that we actually possess the talent that our still, small voice tells us. That we actually have the guts, the perseverance, the capacity. We fear that we truly can steer our ship, plant our flag, reach our Promised Land. We fear this because, if it’s true, then we become estranged from all we know.”

“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.”

If you don’t love it, don’t waste your time.

“We must do our work for its own sake, not for fortune or attention or applause.”

“The professional, though he accepts money, does his work out of love. He has to love it. Otherwise he wouldn’t devote his life to it of his own free will.”

“To labor in the arts for any reason other than love is prostitution.”

“The professional loves her work. She is invested in it wholeheartedly. But she does not forget that the work is not her. Her artistic self contains many works and many performances. Already the next is percolating inside her. The next will be better, and the one after that better still.”

“It’s better to be in the arena, getting stomped by the bull, than to be up in the stands or out in the parking lot.”

“If we were the last person on earth, would we still show up at the studio, the rehearsal hall, the laboratory?”

“The professional loves her work.  She is invested in it wholeheartedly.  But she does not forget that the work is not her.  Her artistic self contains many works and many performances.  Already the next is percolating inside her.  The next will be better, and the one after that better still.”

Just because it’s art doesn’t mean that it will be easy.

“The most important thing about art is to work. Nothing else matters except sitting down every day and trying.”

“This is the other secret that real artists know and wannabe writers don’t. When we sit down each day and do our work, power concentrates around us. The Muse takes note of our dedication. She approves. We have earned favor in her sight. When we sit down and work, we become like a magnetized rod that attracts iron filings. Ideas come. Insight accrete.”

“The professional dedicates himself to mastering technique not because he believes technique is a substitute for inspiration but because he wants to be in possession of the full arsenal of skills when inspiration does come.  The professional is sly.  He knows that by toiling beside the front door of technique, he leaves room for genius to enter by the back.”

Success is becoming what you already are

“The professional has learned that success, like happiness, comes as a by-product of work. The professional concentrates on the work and allows rewards to come or not come, whatever they like.”

“Our job in this lifetime is not to shape ourselves into some ideal we imagine we ought to be, but to find out who we already are and become it.”

“That’s why an artist must be a warrior and, like all warriors, artists over time acquire modesty and humility. They may, some of them, conduct themselves flamboyantly in public. But alone with the work they are chaste and humble. They know they are not the source of the creations they bring into being. They only facilitate. They carry. They are the willing and skilled instruments of the gods and goddesses they serve.”

“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.”

What do you think about “The War of Art”?

  • Do you think Steven Pressfield is right when he says that what holds us back is not our level of talent, but our ability to overcome our fears and self-doubt?
  • Do you agree that when it comes to becoming a successful artist, we are often our own worst enemy?
  • What type of “resistance” do you find yourself dealing with on a daily basis? How do you overcome it?

Tell us about your own creative journey!

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About the Author

Writer, teacher, and head custodian of the Skinny Artist community. His book “Getting Creative: Developing Creative Habits that Work” is all about finding the time (and energy) to live a more creative life.

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