Book review: The War of Art

Hi all! Found this review of Steven Pressfield’s excellent 2003 book The War of Art in my files and I thought I’d share it. Enjoy!
Writers take note. Steven Pressfield has named your enemy.In magical traditions, sorcerers claim power with names – names of entities, names of enemies – and conceal their own true names from those who might harm them. Pantheistic religions have hundreds of gods, gods for everything under the sun. Diana, Goddess of the Hunt. Ganesh, Lord of Obstacles. Various patron saints of you-name-it. Even if you don’t believe in prayer as such, it’s hard to argue with the psychological effect of having an anthropomorphic image to represent a principle. It lets you sum up a universe of outside influences with just a single word.It helps, too, to have a focus for your aggression. I once heard of a camp cook who worked the tree-planting circuit in BC. He was an alcoholic. He used to keep a bottle of liquor, sealed, on the shelf at eye level in front of him, and he’d curse at it from the first moment he rose til the last before he slept. “You’ll not get me, you dirty filthy whore,” he’d say, and remain stone cold sober for the duration of his contract before going gloriously blotto once the work was complete.

So if you’re a writer, it might help to know – or to decide – that the trickster god that fights to keep you from your work is named Resistance.

Pressfield’s book, The War of Art, is about Resistance: what it is, what it does, and how to fight it. In a series of short little chapters, he lays out not a recipe or a strategy but a very simple policy: don’t let Resistance be your master. The individual chapters are quite wonderful. Different readers will respond to different chapters; there’s sure to be something here that will ring true for you. Pressfield’s crowning achievement, though, isn’t any of his chapters, or the way the book is organized into sections, or his catchy title. It’s the simple fact that he has given a name and a personality to the force that keeps us from writing. Surfing the net instead of writing? Resistance. Putting off the project you really want to write? Resistance. Keeping your office too messy for you to work? Resistance. The demon Resistance is there for you to fight… and he wasn’t there before a gifted, driven writer charted his dimensions. It doesn’t matter if you agree with Pressfield or not. Pretend you do, and you’ll have an enemy for life. And then you’ll be able to fight him.


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