A reader emailed me last week about the War of Art, the book I recommended a few posts back. She was on board with what Steven Pressfield had say until she came to page 26, where the author went off on a tear about how depression and seasonal affective disorder were all constructs of Madison Avenue (you know, seeing as how they created these so-called “illnesses” so they could peddle medications) and symptoms of Resistance–in other words, not real at all. As a sufferer of SAD, she immediately felt alienated by the book and wanted to know what I thought.
Okay, here’s what I think. First of all, I’m sorry she had to read that page just as autumn is full upon us and a big chunk of the population (me included) is feeling the effects of the dwindling sunlight. I think that Steven Pressfield is a great writer, has a lot of smart things to say about writing, and is on target 89% of the time. When it comes to mental illness, however, he does not know what he is talking about.
I’m going to address the topic of medication, mental illness, and creativity in a later post, but I did want to talk right now to anyone else who read page 26 and were turned off. First of all, I apologize for not posting a disclaimer right off the bat. I didn’t because I disregarded that page so completely that I forgot that it was even there. When I first picked up the book I started to read the page, could see where it was going, and then I just moved on. It didn’t exist for me.
I’ve always compartmentalized when it comes to any kind of advice book. I remember the parts that will help me and the parts that don’t are of no importance. If I don’t agree with it, then I figure it’s not right for me.
Years ago I was having some chronic pain issues, the kind that doctors declared Incurable and Requiring Physical Therapy For Eternity, and then I read John Sarno’s The Mindbody Prescription. That book changed my life. The pain disappeared when I followed his advice. And yet there were some sections of it that didn’t sit well with me. Instead of writing him off, though, I just … ignored those parts. I recommended the book to friends, some of whom were similarly turned off, because Sarno is weirdly enamored with Freud, or he seems to harbor major grudges against the medical establishment. I urged them to do what I did–ignore and pick out any parts that could be helpful. The ones who were convinced were all, to a person, helped.The one holdout friend still has pain. Is this solely because he refused to consider anything Dr. Sarno had to say? I can’t know for sure, but it seems awfully possible.
You don’t have to buy into anyone’s line of thinking wholeheartedly for him or her to help you. Some pretty goofy people can enlighten you in ways you’d never expect. That goes for real life as well as books. Or this blog, for that matter. If whatever I’m yammering on about fails to resonate, then it’s all wrong for you. I’m not perfect and I don’t know your situation. I would encourage you to return (well, obviously) because maybe I’ll hit the mark for you at a later date. Or not! Maybe we’re all wrong for each other? In that case I will give you a brave smile and watch you as you back away into the sunset. I’m waving a handkerchief at you!
All this said, don’t the War of Art if it hits you the wrong way. If you’re a vulnerable, struggling writer, you need to curate what you let in. You want to internalize only what will help your work. Nothing else. Whatever’s harmful or leaves you confused or dismayed should not exist for you. If you spend too much time getting angry about whatever you disagree with, you are now officially spending too much creative energy on something that doesn’t deserve it.
So if page 26 pisses you off, any page 26–ignore it, get a Sharpie and go to town, or just rip it out. And then move on.