March 22, 2012

Humble Review: The War of Art

I just read this phenomenal book called The War of Art , which I find myself recommending to anyone I know who has felt any kind of calling (be it mastering capoeira, penning your first novel, name the craft here: ___________). I first heard about it by way of this article I read about my girl crush, Esperanza Spalding . If she was moved by it, I knew I probably would be too.

So, while still in the midst of a certain nameless tome that was well-written but which was losing my interest, I stopped midway and picked up Steven Pressfield’s book. My only regret was that I purchased the Nook version (and while I have surprised myself in enjoying the convenience of an eReader), this is the kind of book I strongly recommend buying in hardcopy format, because if you’re like me, you’re going to want to dog-ear and highlight the bejesus out of it.  (Yes, I'm fully aware that I'm a pathetic sap who loves self-help books.)

While Pressfield’s main craft is novel writing (he has published numerous books, including, among others, The Legend of Bagger Vance), the overall theme of this particular book is to “overcome Resistance” in pursuit of “the unlived life within,” which is applicable to any sort of craft or pursuit. This thing called Resistance rises in the face of any kind of achievement we’re striving toward and it consistently and unabashedly tries to prevent us from working toward these goals. Pressfield says of the evil-force of Resistance, though, that it “is directly proportional to love. If you’re feeling massive Resistance, the good news is, it means there’s tremendous love there too. If you didn’t love the project that is terrifying you, you wouldn’t feel anything. The opposite of love isn’t hate; it’s indifference.”

On a personal level, I was particularly struck by one passage where Pressfield talks about experiencing nervousness before embarking on one's craft. This happens to me pretty much every time I sit down to write, and I used to think: What the hell is wrong with me? I’m doing something I love here. Shouldn’t I feel drunken relaxed and swimming in confidence?  (I admire you if you're one of those people who is drunken relaxed and self-confident all the time -- but I can't relate.)  To my surprise, Pressfield says that such jitters are actually a good thing and that these feelings are normal. He writes:

                   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. . . . Fear doesn’t go

                  The warrior and the artist live by the same code of necessity, which
                 dictates that the battle must be fought anew every day. . . . The more
                 you love your art/calling/enterprise, the more important its
                 accomplishment to the evolution of your soul, the more you will fear it
                 and the more Resistance you will experience facing it.

Now I no longer feel like such a freak. These feelings are normal, and they are clearly not a bad thing. When we’re participating in something we love so passionately, it can feel overwhelming and nervewracking, although hopefully not so much that it is paralyzing. Admittedly, as a Type A perfectionist, the pressure I feel to make things just so the first time around can sometimes paralyze me a bit.  While this is something I acknowledge and am continually working on, what I've learned is that with creative pursuits, in particular, the attainment of “perfection” can be better achieved through consistency, which is why you'll see that some of my blog posts seriously flawed and riddled with typos and misquotes. After all, being 110% is not what creativity is all about, right?

Another interesting aspect about Pressfield's approach to the craft is his emphasis on the importance of spirituality in relation to the craft.  Though he is not necessarily a religious man, he openly admits that he is a spiritual one, and writes about the necessity in calling upon such spiritual forces when embarking on your craft. I found this intriguing, because, while I don't "call upon spiritual forces" before I sit down to write, I have always believed that creative endeavors were synergistically spiritual. Spirituality is broad and open-ended, in that sense.

To get to the root of self, beyond the ego is, in essence a spiritual pursuit. Personally, I feel a sense of spiritual enlightenment when I’m writing, or practicing yoga, or taking a walk through the woods. In his book, Pressfield explains that in order to get beyond the ego and to the self, a recognition of – although not dwelling on – spiritual forces is important. Whether you are spiritual or not, I thought this was a point worth contemplating.

If you are like me, who simply likes to be inspired and to be given the opportunity to look at things from a different perspective, this short, 166-pager is more than worth a read.  And I would even venture to say -- corny as it sounds -- that the book might even be a life-changer. 

Image: Pinterest


Cheri said...

Fantastic blog, Sarah! Your views and snip-its of lessons learned hit home for me. I really think that we are quite similar and I could probably stand to learn a few things from this book. Adding it to my to-read list!

Sarah said...

Thank you, Cheri -- that's so nice! I have been enjoying your blog as well. And, yes, I think you'd really enjoy the book!