The War of Art by Steven Pressfield

The War of Art by Steven Pressfield

The War of Art summary

Resistance is the universal enemy of the artist. Resistance will do anything and everything to keep you from doing what you were born on this earth to do. Your job isn’t to shape yourself into the ideal you imagine but to find out who you already are and become it by sharing your art.

The War of Art notes & quotes

Here are my notes and quotes on The War of Art by Steven Pressfield. My notes are casual and include what I believe are the essential concepts, ideas, and insights from the book, along with direct quotes from the author.

  • Writing is easy; sitting down to write is hard.
  • “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.”
  • “Resistance is the most toxic force on the planet. It is the root of more unhappiness than poverty, disease, and erectile dysfunction. To yield to Resistance deforms our spirit. It stunts us and makes us less than we are and were born to be.”
  • “How many of us have become drunks and drug addicts, developed tumors and neuroses, succumbed to painkillers, gossip, and compulsive cell-phone use, simply because we don’t do that thing our hearts, our inner genius, is calling us to?”
  • “Hitler wanted to be an artist. Resistance beat him. It was easier for him to start World War II than it was for him to face a blank square of canvas.”

Book One: Resistance—Defining the Enemy

  • Resistance is “any act that rejects immediate gratification in favor of long-term growth, health, or integrity.
  • ”Resistance is “self-generated and self-perpetuated. Resistance is the enemy within.”
  • “Resistance will tell you anything to keep you from doing your work.”
  • “Resistance is not out to get you personally.”
  • “The more important a call or action is to our soul’s evolution, the more Resistance we will feel toward pursuing it.”
  • Everyone experiences Resistance.
  • “fear doesn’t go away. The warrior and the artist live by the same code of necessity, which dictates that the battles must be fought anew every day.”
  • Resistance feeds on fear.
  • “The danger is greatest when the finish line is in sight.”
  • “Resistance by definition is self-sabotage.”
  • “The awakening artist must be ruthless, not only with herself but with others….The best and only thing that one can do for another is to serve as an example and an inspiration.”
  • “Procrastination is the most common manifestation of Resistance because it’s the easiest to rationalize.”
  • “The most pernicious aspect of procrastination is that it can become a habit. We don’t just put off our lives today; we put them off till our deathbed. Never forget:
  • This very moment, we can change our lives. There never was a moment, and never will be, when we are without the power to alter our destiny.”
  • “The working artist will not tolerate trouble in her life because she knows trouble prevents her from doing her work.”
  • “Creating a soap opera in our lives is a symptom of Resistance. Why put in years of work designing a new software interface when you can get just as much attention by bringing home a boyfriend with a prison record?”
  • “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.”
  • Then vice kicks in. “Beyond that, Resistance becomes clinical. Depression, aggression, dysfunction. Then actual crime and physical self-destruction.”
  • “We will never cure our restlessness by contributing our disposable income to the bottom line of Bullshit, Inc., but only by doing our work.”
  • “The artist and the fundamentalist both confront the same issue, the mystery of their existence as individuals.”
  • “We don’t know how to be free individuals.”
  • “The paradox seems to be, as Socrates demonstrated long ago, that the truly free individual is free only to the extend of his own self-mastery.”
  • “If you find yourself criticizing other people, you’re probably doing it out of Resistance. When we see others beginning to live their authentic selves, it drives us crazy if we have not lived out our own.”
  • Self-doubt is an indicator of aspiration.
  • “The counterfeit innovator is wildly self-confident. The real one is scared to death.”
  • “The more scared we are of a work or calling, the more sure we can be that we have to do it.”
  • “The more Resistance you experience, the more important your unmanifested art/ project/ enterprise is to you—and the more gratification you will feel when you finally do it.”
  • “Grandiose fantasies are a symptom of Resistance. They’re a sign of an amateur. The professional has learned that success, like happiness, comes as a by-product of work.”
  • Many believe they must complete their healing before they’re ready to do their work.
  • “This way of thinking….is a form of Resistance.”
  • “The part we create from can’t be touched by anything our parents did, or society did. That part is unsullied, uncorrupted; soundproof, waterproof, and bulletproof. In fact, the more troubles we’ve got, the better and richer that part becomes.”
  • “Rationalization is Restance’s right-hand man.”
  • “It’s one thing to lie to ourselves. It’s another thing to believe it.”
  • “Resistance presents us with a series of plausible, rational justifications for why we shouldn’t do our work….a lot of them a true.”
  • “Tolstoy had thirteen kids and wrote War and Peace.”

Book Two: Combatting Resistance—Turning Pro

  • “The professional loves it so much he dedicates his life to it. He commits full-time.”
  • “I wake up with a gnawing sense of dissatisfaction.”
  • “I know I can indulge in daily crap for a little while, but I must cut it off when the bell rings.”
  • Principle of Priority: a) Know the difference between urgent and important, and b) do what’s important first.
  • When you do a day’s work, you can tell yourself, “What I feel and say and do this night will not be coming from any disowned part or unresolved part of me, any part corrupted by Resistance.”
  • “The artist committing himself to his calling as 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.”

Qualities that define us as professionals:

  • We show up every day.
  • We show up no matter what.
  • We stay on the job all day.
  • We are committed over the long haul.
  • The stakes for us are high and real.
  • We accept remuneration for our labor.
  • We do not over-identify with our jobs.
  • We master the technique of our jobs.
  • We have a sense of humor about our jobs.
  • We receive praise and blame in the real world.
  • “Nothing is as empowering as validation, even if it’s for failure.”
  • “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.”
  • “Resistance gets us to plunge into a project with an overambitious and unrealistic timetable for its completion….The professional, on the other hand, understands delayed gratification.”
  • “A pro views her work as craft, not art.”
  • “Like Somerset Maugham she doesn’t wait for inspiration, she acts in the anticipation of its apparition.”
  • “The amateur believes he must first overcome his fear; then he can do it work. The professional knows fear can never be overcome.”
  • “The professional knows that Resistance is like a telemarketer; if you so much as say hello, you’re finished.”
  • The professional understands the field is level only in heaven.
  • “He is prepared each day to confront his own self-sabotage.”
  • The professional masters technique because “he wants to be in possession of the full arsenal of skills when inspiration does come.”
  • “The professional cannot take rejection personally…Editors are not the enemy; critics are not the enemy. Resistance is the enemy. The battle is inside our own heads.”
  • “The Bhagavad-Gita tells us we have a right only to our labor, not the fruits of our labor.”
  • “No matter what, I will never let Resistance beat me.”
  • “Humiliation, like rejection and resistance, is the external reflection of internal Resistance.”
  • “He himself, his creative center, cannot be buried….”
  • “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.”
  • “Tomorrow the critic will be gone, but the writer will still be there facing the blank page. Nothing matters but that he keep working.”
  • “The professional learns to recognize envy-driven criticism and to take it for what it is: the supreme compliment. The critic hates most that which he would have done himself if he had had the guts.”
  • “The professional does not permit himself to become hidebound within one incarnation, however comfortable or successful.”
  • Every Monday, I sit down and plan out my week ahead.
  • Thinking of ourselves as a corporation allows us to maintain a healthy distance from ourselves.
  • “Resistance has no power of its own; its power derives entirely from our fear of it.”
    The proper professional focuses on the work at hand to the exclusion of all else.

Book Three: Beyond Resistance—The Higher Realm

  • “As Resistance keeps us from becoming who we were born to be, equal and opposite powers are counterpoised against it. These are our allies and angels.”
  • “The most important part about art is work. Nothing else matters except sitting down every and trying.”
  • Sitting down each day and doing our work concentrates power around us.
  • “The last thing I do before I sit down to work is say my prayer to the Muse. I say it out loud, in absolute earnest. Only then do I get down to business.”
  • I use “the invocation of the Muse from Homer’s Odyssey, the T. E. Lawrence translation.”
  • Being unable to complete a manuscript felt like a compulsion to self-destruct. I could not finish what I had started.
  • When I finished my first novel, “Nobody knew I was done. Nobody cared. But I knew. I felt like a dragon I’d been fighting all my life had just dropped dead at my feet and gasped out its last sulfuric breath. Rest in peace, motherfucker.”
  • To the Greeks, the Universe was not indifferent. “The gods take an interest in human affairs, and intercede for good or ill in our designs.”
  • “Artists have invoked the muse since time immemorial. There is great wisdom to this.
  • There is magic to effacing our human arrogance and humbly entreating help from a source we cannot see, hear, touch, or smell.”
  • “the moment one definitely commits oneself, then providence moves too.”
  • “A whole stream of events issues from the decision, raising one’s favor all manner of unforeseen incidents and meetings and material assistance which no man would have dreamed would come his way.”
  • “Whatever you can do, or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius, magic, and power in it. Begin it now.” - Goethe
  • “Angels work for God. It’s their job to help us. Wake us up. Bump us along.
  • “When we conceive an enterprise and commit to it in the face of our fears, something wonderful happens.”
  • “Angel midwives congregate around us; they assist as we give birth to ourselves, to that person we were born to be, to the one whose destiny was encoded in our soul, our daimon, our genius.”
  • “Clearly some intelligence is at work, independent of our conscious mind and yet in alliance with it, processing our material for us and alongside us.”
  • “That is why artists are modest. They know they’re not doing the work; they’re just taking dictation.”
  • “I think the angels make their home in the Self, while Resistance has its seat in the Ego. The fight is between the two.”
  • “The Self wishes to create, to evolve. The Ego likes things just the way they are.”
  • “The Ego is the part of the psyche that believes in material existence.”
  • “The Self is our deepest being. The self is united to God. The Self is incapable of falsehood.”
  • “The ego doesn’t want us to evolve…Because the more awake we become, the less we need the Ego….The Ego hates it when the awakening writer sits down at the typewriter.”
  • “The Ego hates artists because they are the pathfinders and the bearers of the future.”
  • “Resistance feeds on fear…fear of failing to support our families, of sacrificing their dreams for ours.”
  • But the biggest fear is “Fear That We Will Succeed. That we can access the powers we secretly know we possess.”
  • “This is the most terrifying prospect a human being can face, because it ejects him at one go (he imagines) from all the tribal inclusions his psyche is wired for and has been for 50 million years.”
  • “We wind up in space, but not alone. Instead we are tapped into an unquenchable, undepletable, inexhaustible source of wisdom, consciousness, companionship. Yeah, we lose friends. But we find friends too, in places we never thought to look. And they're better friends, truer friends. And we're better and truer to them.”
  • “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.”
  • "Most of us define ourselves hierarchically and don't even know it….Drink this beer, get this job, look this way and everyone will love you….High school is the ultimate hierarchy.”
  • “There’s a problem with the hierarchical orientation, though. When the numbers get too big, the thing breaks down.”
  • “The individual in multitudes this vast feels overwhelmed, anonymous. He is submerged in the mass. He's lost.”
  • “We thrash around, flashing our badges of status…and wondering why nobody gives a shit.”
  • “But the artist cannot look to others to validate his efforts or his calling…The artist must operate territorially. He must do his work for its own sake.
  • “To labor in the arts for any reason other than love is prostitution.”
  • “When the heck sit down to work, he doesn't ask himself what's in his own heart. He asks what the market is looking for.”
  • He’s “scared of writing what he really feels or believes, what he himself thinks is interesting. He's afraid it won't sell.”
  • “Given the depraved state of American culture, a slick dude can make millions being a hack. But even if you succeed, you lose, because you've sold out your Muse, and your Muse is you, the best part of yourself, where your finest and only true work comes from.”
  • Why did The Legend of Bagger Vance succeed? “My Best guess is this: I trusted what I wanted, not what I thought would work. I did what I myself thought was interesting, and left its reception to the gods.”
  • “Our role is to put in effort and love; the territory absorbs this and gives it back to us in the form of well-being.”
  • “The artist and the mother our vehicles, not originators. They don't create the new life, they only bear it.”
  • “Of any activity you do, ask yourself: If I were the last person on earth, would I still do it?”
"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.”
  • “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.”

Related Resources

Here is a list of resources, including authors, books, websites, podcasts, and concepts mentioned in The War of Art, which might be helpful for further learning.

People

  • Dalai Lama
  • William Blake
  • Telamon of Arcadia
  • Xenophon

Books and Publications

  • The Odyssey by Home
  • Bhagavad Gita
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