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Read This: The War of Art

I love books about writing. I love reading books about writing, because then I can spend a nice portion of each day reading about writing, and at the end of the day I feel like I’ve sort of written because after all I’ve been thinking and isn’t thinking the first step to actually writing?  And I mean once I finish the book I’m going to start writing, DUH, but first I have to finish the book, obviously. You can’t start writing when you haven’t finished the book ABOUT THE THING YOU’RE GOING TO START. That is just so clear. That is a rule I read somewhere. Or maybe I made it up. Which is another thing that is like writing! Oh, I am really getting stuff done.

There are a few books, however, whose value goes beyond providing a few hours of procrastination. One of my favorites is The War of Art, by Steven Pressfield. You may already have a copy, because this book is a well-loved classic, but if you don’t I am doing you an enormous favor, and you can thank me later. Or now; you may thank me now.

You’re welcome.

In The War of Art, Steven Pressfield identifies the blocks to creativity that plague anyone who wants to take a creative leap. (This book isn’t just for writers, by the way.) He dubs it Resistance, which, as he describes it, is a force that’s both inside and outside us. It’s evil, simply put, and it aims to keep us from becoming our best selves. From the book:

“Resistance is the most toxic force on the planet. It is the root of more unhappiness than poverty, disease, and erectile dysfunction. To yield to Resistance deforms our spirit. It stunts us and makes us less than we are and were born to be.”

Yowza. There’s no question that Steven Pressfield has a flair for the dramatic (he is a best-selling novelist, after all), but you have to admit, that’s pretty motivating. The next time you put off writing (or painting, or jogging, whatever) just think about the fact that you’re letting evil triumph that day. See if you don’t get to work.

The author describes Resistance in all its pernicious forms: procrastination, drama, delusions of greatness, fear. If you’re anything like me, these will be eerily familiar. Once you’re well acquainted with all the disguises Resistance can take, he devotes the second part of his book to telling you how to combat it. (In short: become a professional. A professional is someone who works despite the Resistance. Think of yourself like a Jedi master. There you go.)

The third part of “The War of Art” is called “Beyond Resistance,” and here he goes even deeper about muses and angels and it gets pretty metaphysical. But then, we were just discussing Resistance as a cosmic dark force, so it’s not like we already had our feet firmly planted on Earth.

You don’t have to believe in angels (or forces in the universe) to get something out of this book. It’s all a metaphor, or it’s not–your choice. Whether you’re battling different aspects of your own consciousness or forces working outside yourself, the battle is still raging. You’ll still going need a strong defense.

The War of Art is a short book, which for me is a bonus. Each page or so is a different section, and some sections are only a couple of sentences long. Even if you’re reading it only to delay getting to work, you’re not going to be able to delay for long. And better still, it’s the kind of book you can dip into time and again, whenever you need some inspiration. I always seem to have it around, wherever I happen to be working. It helps me battle the Resistance. I hope it helps you as well.

And you? Do you have any favorite books about writing? Spill.

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