The War of Art: Break Through the Blocks and Win Your Inner Creative Battles - by Steven Pressfield

Any act that rejects immediate gratification in favor of long-term growth, health, or integrity. Or, expressed another way, any act that derives from our higher nature instead of our lower. Any of these will elicit Resistance.

Like a magnetized needle floating on a surface of oil, Resistance will unfailingly point to true North -- meaning that calling or action it most wants to stop us from doing. We can use this. We can use it as a compass. We can navigate by Resistance, letting it guide us to that calling or action that we must follow before all others. Rule of thumb: The more important a call or action is to our soul's evolution, the more Resistance we will feel toward pursuing it.

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. This second, we can turn the tables on Resistance. This second, we can sit down and do our work.

The working artist will not tolerate trouble in her life because she knows trouble prevents her from doing her work. The working artist banishes from her world all sources of trouble. She harnesses the urge for trouble and transforms it in her work.

The paradox seems to be, as Socrates demonstrated long ago, that the truly free individual is free only to the extent of his own self-mastery. While those who will not govern themselves are condemned to find masters to govern over them.

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.

Grandiose fantasies are a symptom of Resistance. They're the sign of an amateur. The professional has learned that success, like happiness, comes as a by-product of work. The professional concentrates on the work and allows rewards to come or not come, whatever they like.

Rationalization is Resistance's spin doctor. It's Resistance's way of hiding the Big Stick behind its back. Instead of showing us our fear (which might shame us and impel us to do our work), Resistance presents us with a series of plausible, rational justifications for why we shouldn't do our work.

It is one thing to study war and another to live the warrior's life. -- Telamon of Arcadia, mercenary of the fifth century B.C.

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 Principle of Priority states (a) you must know the difference between what is urgent and what is important, and (b) you must do what's important first.

Characteristics of a Professional

  • The professional shows up every day

  • The professional stays on the job all day

  • The professional is committed over the long haul

  • For the professional, the stakes are high and real

  • The professional is patient

  • The professional seeks order

  • The professional demystifies

  • The professional acts in the face of fear

  • The professional accepts no excuses. The professional has learned better. He respects Resistance. He knows if he caves in today, no matter how plausible the pretext, he'll be twice as likely to cave in tomorrow.

  • The professional plays it as it lays

  • The professional is prepared. I'm not talking about craft; that goes without saying. The professional is prepared at a deeper level. He is prepared, each day, to confront his own self-sabotage. The professional prepares mentally to absorb blows and to deliver them. His aim is to take what the day gives him. He is prepared to be prudent and prepared to be reckless, to take a beating when he has to, and to go for the throat when he can. He understands that the field alters every day. His goal is not victory (success will come by itself when it wants to) but to handle himself, his insides, as sturdily and steadily as he can.

  • The professional does not show off

  • The professional dedicates himself to mastering technique

  • The professional does not hesitate to ask for help

  • The professional does not take failure or success personally

  • The professional does not identify with his instrument

  • The professional endures adversity. The professional reminds himself 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.

  • The professional self-validates

  • The professional reinvents himself. The professional does not permit himself to become hidebound within one incarnation, however comfortable or successful. Like a transmigrating soul, he shucks his outworn body and dons a new one. He continues his journey.

  • The professional recognizes his limitations

  • The professional is recognized by other professionals

Making yourself a corporation (or just thinking of yourself in that way) reinforces the idea of professionalism because it separates the artist-doing-the-work from the will-and- consciousness-running-the-show. No matter how much abuse is heaped on the head of the former, the latter takes it in stride and keeps on trucking. Conversely with success: You-the-writer may get a swelled head, but you-the-boss remember how to take yourself down a peg.

The essence of professionalism is the focus upon the work and its demands, while we are doing it, to the exclusion of all else.

When we sit down day after day and keep grinding, something mysterious starts to happen. A process is set into motion by which, inevitably and infallibly, heaven comes to our aid. Unseen forces enlist in our cause; serendipity reinforces our purpose. When we sit down and work, we become like a magnetized rod that attracts iron filings. Ideas come. Insights accrete.

Whatever you can do, or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius, magic, and power in it. Begin it now. -- Goethe

For the artist to define himself hierarchically is fatal: the artist cannot look to others to validate his efforts or his calling. The artist can't do his work hierarchically. He has to work territorially.

The Qualities of a Territory

  • A territory provides sustenance. Runners know what a territory is. So do rock climbers and kayakers and yogis. Artists and entrepreneurs know what a territory is. The swimmer who towels off after finishing her laps feels a helluva lot better than the tired, cranky person who dove into the pool thirty minutes earlier.

  • A territory sustains us without any external input. A territory is a closed feedback loop. 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. When experts tell us that exercise (or any other effort- requiring activity) banishes depression, this is what they mean.

  • A territory can only be claimed alone. You can team with a partner, you can work out with a friend, but you only need yourself to soak up your territory's juice.

  • A territory can only be claimed by work. When Arnold Schwarzenegger hits the gym, he's on his own turf. But what made it his own are the hours and years of sweat he put in to claim it. A territory doesn't give, it gives back.

  • A territory returns exactly what you put in. Territories are fair. Every erg of energy you put in goes infallibly into your account. A territory never devalues. A territory never crashes. What you deposited, you get back, dollar-for-dollar.

What's your territory?