The War of Art

on May 3, 2007

THE WAR OF ART is a little inspirational book by Steven Pressfield. As people who know me know, whenever I read something, it’s all I think about for a time, so since I read this book yesterday (it’s short!) I’ve been thinking about it. And I realized that even though it’s short, it’s hefty and worth reading again.

I bought it because I’m giving a workshop at RWA National in Dallas called NO PLOTTERS ALLOWED. I gave the workshop in Reno in 2005 with Patti Berg and we had so much fun! Unfortunately, Patti won’t be in Dallas 🙁 so I’m on my own this time.

The workship is subtitled: “How to conquer writers block for those who can’t, won’t or don’t plot.” But in truth, whether you plot or not is irrelevent as to whether you experience writers block. There are three types of blockage:

1) Story

2) Craft

3) Personal

Story blockage is when you hit a brick wall in the story and you don’t know what comes next. Craft blockage is when you know what you WANT to do, but you can’t seem to get it on paper the way you want. Both of these are easily overcome, the first by a variety of exercises including brainstorming, playing “what if”, revising, among others. The second by learning the skills necessary to improve the craft (and bring out your natural talent) so you can do what you know you can do. These two problems are primarily what I address in my workshop.

But the hardest block to break through is the personal. It can be everything from family problems, an unsupportive spouse, extensive commitments, a day job, etc. But all of these can be summed up with one word FEAR. And in THE WAR OF ART is a must read for EVERYONE who has at any time met resistence in their writing because of an external or internal force. (Hmm, Natalie? You need this book.)

In his forward, Robert McKee says that resistance is essential procrastination, which is true except that resistance is so much more. As Pressfield says, resistance is EVIL. It wants you to fail. It wants you to doubt. It feeds on your fear. And we let it.

Now, Pressfield goes through all the faces of resistance. Resistance is infalliable. Resistance is invisible. Internal, insidious and universal. Resistance feeds on fear and uses everything it can to keep you from achieving your goals. My favorite is Resistance and Rationalization: “Rationalization is resistance’s spin doctor.”

I have often said that once you face your fear, you can achieve your goals. The analogy that resistance is responsible for hiding our fears from ourselves using rationalization really hit home.

The second part of the book is about combating resistance and the result is that you turn pro. Once you recognize that resistance is at work in your life, one you recognize your fear, once you stop rationalizing, you are a professional. (I’m going to write a blog soon about Pressfield’s view of what it means to be professional because I think it’s fantastic. And it applies to everyone, not just writers.)

Anyway, back to fear. Even I can change my mind. I never believed in Fear of Success. I thought that was a bunch of crap. I thought all fear boiled down to Fear of Failure because that was MY fear. Why it took me so long to finish a book. Why I procrastinated. Why I needed outside validation that I had talent.

But even this dog can learn something, and Pressfield changed my mind on this with his argument that the Mother of all Fears is “so close to us that even when we verbalize it we don’t believe it. Fear That We Will Succeed.”

I read that and was going to skip the chapter because really, I didn’t believe it. But as all his chapters are short, I read on. And this line convinced me he was onto something: “We know that if we embrace our ideals, we must prove worthy of them. And that scares the hell out of us.”

I really thought about that. And now I believe that this is a valid fear. I still think my personal fear is failure. For example, right now I fear that my next book won’t be as good as the last. A good friend of mine, a mentor, told me that this fear is common among writers. That we not only need to write a book “as good” as the last, but better. And that is a fear that sometimes seems insurmountable. And that fear can lead to writers block–either craft (we don’t know how to say what we want to say because we want to do it BETTER) or story (the ideas just aren’t coming.) But ultimately, it’s personal. It’s between us and resistance, and when we’re blocked, resistance is winning.

In writing my currently untitled book, resistance was winning. I hemmed and hawed and worried that the story wasn’t as strong as my last, that the book was too sexy/not sexy enough/too scary/not scary enough. I dragged my feet. I procrastinated by doing “research.” And then Tuesday I said, enough. The book needs to be written. I’m the only one who can write it. And I wrote 23 pages Tuesday night, and 11 more yesterday, and in one minute I’m shutting off the Internet and putting in my time today. Because I’m a professional, I recognized my fear, and I’m not listening anymore.

So what do YOU do when faced with resistance? How do you conquer your fear so you can write today?