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The War of Art

Steven Pressfield (Grand Central: Apr 1, 2003), 192 pages.

Chapter One


Resistance cannot be seen, touched, heard, or smelled. But it can be
felt. We experience it as an energy field radiating from a
work-in-potential. It’s a repelling force. It’s negative. Its aim is to
shove us away, distract us, prevent us from doing our work.


Resistance seems to come from outside ourselves. We locate it in
spouses, jobs, bosses, kids. "Peripheral opponents," as Pat Riley used
to say when he coached the Los Angeles Lakers.

Resistance is
not a peripheral opponent. Resistance arises from within. It is
self-generated and self-perpetuated. Resistance is the enemy within.


Resistance will tell you anything to keep you from doing your work. It
will perjure, fabricate, falsify; seduce, bully, cajole. Resistance is
protean. It will assume any form, if that’s what it takes to deceive
you. It will reason with you like a lawyer or jam a nine-millimeter in
your face like a stickup man. Resistance has no conscience. It will
pledge anything to get a deal, then double-cross you as soon as your
back is turned. If you take Resistance at its word, you deserve
everything you get. Resistance is always lying and always full of shit.


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.


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."


Self-doubt can be an ally. This is because it serves as an indicator of
aspiration. It reflects love, love of something we dream of doing, and
desire, desire to do it. 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.


Are you paralyzed with fear? That’s a good sign.

Fear is good. Like self-doubt, fear is an indicator. Fear tells us what we have to do.

Remember our rule of thumb: The more scared we are of a work or calling, the more sure we can be that we have to do it.

Resistance is experienced as fear; the degree of fear equates to the
strength of Resistance. Therefore the more fear we feel about a
specific enterprise, the more certain we can be that that enterprise is
important to us and to the growth of our soul. That’s why we feel so
much Resistance. If it meant nothing to us, there’d be no Resistance.

Have you ever watched Inside the Actors Studio?
The host, James Lipton, invariably asks his guests, "What factors make
you decide to take a particular role?" The actor always answers:
"Because I’m afraid of it."

The professional tackles the
project that will make him stretch. He takes on the assignment that
will bear him into uncharted waters, compel him to explore unconscious
parts of himself.

Is he scared? Hell, yes. He’s petrified.

(Conversely, the professional turns down roles that he ‘s done before. He’s not afraid of them anymore. Why waste his time?)

So if you’re paralyzed with fear, it ‘s a good sign. It shows you what you have to do.


If Resistance couldn’t be beaten, there would be no Fifth Symphony, no Romeo and Juliet,
no Golden Gate Bridge. Defeating Resistance is like giving birth. It
seems absolutely impossible until you remember that women have been
pulling it off successfully, with support and without, for fifty
million years.


Aspiring artists defeated by Resistance share one trait. They all think like amateurs. They have not yet turned pro.

The moment an artist turns pro is as epochal as the birth of his first
child. With one stroke, everything changes. I can state absolutely that
the term of my life can be divided into two parts: before turning pro,
and after.

To be clear: When I say professional, I don’t mean
doctors and lawyers, those of "the professions." I mean the
Professional as an ideal. The professional in contrast to the amateur.
Consider the differences.

The amateur plays for fun. The professional plays for keeps.

To the amateur, the game is his avocation. To the pro it’s his vocation.

The amateur plays part-time, the professional full-time.

The amateur is a weekend warrior. The professional is there seven days a week.

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. Not the way I see it. In my view, 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.


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."

Maugham reckoned another, deeper truth: that by performing the mundane
physical act of sitting down and starting to work, he set in motion a
mysterious but infallible sequence of events that would produce
inspiration, as surely as if the goddess had synchronized her watch
with his.

He knew if he built it, she would come.