The War of Art by Steven Pressfield

The War of Art, by Steven Pressman, explains how to break through creative block to start and complete artistic projects. Mr. Pressman identifies the primary stumbling block to creating as “resistance”; it’s not doing the actual task, like writing, that’s the problem, it’s sitting down to write. Resistance takes many forms, usually through the use of rationalization to justify postponing a writing project. Curiously though, overcoming resistance in one part of your life (like writing) does not automatically guarantee overcoming resistance in another part of your life (like personal), nor does it make it easy.

Although the “intended” audience is for people in the arts, readers include entrepreneurs, or the “boldest of the bold”, seemingly people who would need no instructions on how to get started on anything. Also, the book is aimed at people who are both already professionals (and wish to stay so), or people who are struggling to become professionals, but not at people who intend to remain amateurs.

Pressman also has the view that despite people generally functioning best with “support”, or as a group, doing things as a group can be a hindrance, as group activities (like meetings where strategies for doing work and projects are discussed) can impede getting started. Thus, part of “resistance” is the conflict people feel internally when they set out to do something on their own, instead of as part of a group. It becomes necessary for the individual to ignore the desire to act as part of a group, and confront the task on his or her own. And, although Pressman views the creative urge as being external, or coming from outside oneself, the desire to become a professional is internal; a simple act of will.

One could argue that Pressman goes too far in describing “resistance” in personal terms, like labeling it a thing that is literally evil. Of course, the other side of the coin is the description was not meant to be taken literally, just written that way for emphasis of the negative quality of “resistance”, and how much it interferes with getting started. Still, some would say there is nothing wrong with procrastination, as besides being a basic human impulse, it is also a useful impulse (at times). Remember the saying “better safe than sorry”? Procrastination can help people avoid acting rashly, impulsively, and immediately, especially before a situation is understood (like “going off half-cocked”). If you’re looking for simple, well-known techniques for conquering procrastination, like dividing a large task into many small, short, easily done tasks, or using a timer to divide a large task into small 10 or 15-minute blocks, those techniques are in other books.

Do not expect The War of Art to be a book about specific cognitive techniques for retraining your mind to avoid or get through urges to procrastinate. The book is more the author’s personal reflections on his experiences in procrastination, and how he overcomes it. Perhaps the best lesson that can be learned is procrastination is a personal behavior, and that you are responsible for it.

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