The War of Art

by Steven Pressfield.
Have you read it?

I read it straight through last night.
(That might seem like some kind of feat, but it’s an easy read – so much white space! Interestingly, he doesn’t feel the need to fill his page. Once he’s said what he wants to say on a topic, he stops saying it.)

It’s divided into three sections:
Resistance: defining the enemy
Combating Resistance: turning pro
Beyond Resistance: the higher realm

The first section is concerned with defining the force he calls Resistance, which is the antagonistic force within each of us which tries to stop us doing what we’re supposed to be doing – for writers, writing.

What I know #writing Steven Pressfield, The War of Art

This frequently takes the form of procrastination, but can also disguise itself, he says, as golf, sex, fear, depression and – perhaps most problematic of all – the voice of reason.

To combat this, he says in part two, we turn pro. I wasn’t entirely sure whether he meant literally giving up our jobs for it, but certainly a change of attitude is involved.
If something is your job, you show up, come hell or high water (particularly if you’re not eligible for paid sick leave) and you get it done. You don’t hover nervously wondering if your work (when you eventually produce some) is really good enough compared to others in your field (what if the other plumbers are better than me???)
You don’t go waffling on about how yours “is a high and lonely destiny” either.
You just get on with it.

What stood out to me most was his emphasis on being able to be miserable.
“The Marine Corps teaches you how to be miserable.
“This is invaluable for an artist…
“The artist must be like that Marine. He has to know how to be miserable. He has to love being miserable. He has to take pride in being more miserable than any soldier or swabbie or jet jockey. Because this is war, baby. And war is hell.” (Pressfield, 2002, p.68)

BEST OF THE MARINE CORPS - May 2006 - Defense Visual Information Center

If you wait til writing is the easy option, you will never write.
No excuses.
I got up half an hour early this morning in order to write this. In my own small way (warm dressing gown, hot tea, blue sky outside the window) I am being miserable.
I am sure the Marines could make themselves more miserable with the materials to hand, but hey, I’m not a Marine.
Plus it’ll be miserable enough in here come winter. (For those of you in the Northern Hemisphere, New Zealand houses don’t have central heating. Or that much insulation. We just put on more clothes.)

The third section is all about the unseen reality supporting us, which Pressfield peoples with a bewilderingly syncretistic array of beings: angels from the Talmud, the Nine Muses from the Greek pantheon, Krishna from the Bhagavad-Gita, “God” (unspecified), Nature, a good slosh of Jungian psychology and the ancient common ground of dreams and visions.

La danza d'Apollo con le Muse - Guilo Romano - Stengel

A bit of a mixed bag, which makes for something of an unfocussed read, but he has some good points to make about doing what we do because it’s what we do, not because we’re comparing ourselves to someone else – what he calls territorial vs hierarchical thinking.

This is a good book to read, albeit not a precisely argued one – you’ll pick up nuggets of useful wisdom in amongst his diatribes on fundamentalists being less evolved humans than artists and how doing what you’re supposed to do in this world can cure cancer (and apparently everything else).

So there you have it, people: just get on with it.

If you’re prepared to make the sacrifices, make them without complaining. If you aren’t, stop wasting your time and give up now.

Disclaimer: no-one gave me a copy to review, nor did I part with my hard-earned for it. I borrowed a copy from the library. You may consider that this makes me a cheapskate who won’t support their fellow artists; I consider that this makes me an unbiased reviewer.

The Censor

Chapter One of The Artist’s Way deals with “Recovering a Sense of Safety”.

One of the concepts Cameron introduces – or perhaps, more aptly, puts a name to – is the Censor. This is the voice in your head that tells you you’re a no-good talentless hack and it would be best for the literate world if you gave up right now and never strung two words together again.

Or something like that.

For some people, that voice belongs to a particular person in their past – or, God help them, their present – who is continually running them down and pissing on their dreams.

For others of us, it’s just the voice we all have in our heads – not that little helpful one which tells you when you’re about to do something really stupid, the other one. The vitriolic one.

But it can still help to put a face to the foe. If you have any artistic ability, you can render one yourself; the rest of us have to go hunting for one.

And when I tried to put a face to my nasty little voice, this is approximately what I found:

Muammar al-Gaddafi at the AU summit

Yup. That’s what the voice in my head looks like.

I don’t know what that says about me (any budding psycho*ists want to chip in?) but there it is.

It’s a good face to sneer back at (yes! we sneer in the face of destructive criticism!) but for some reason the person who had this face doesn’t seem attached to it in my mind. No ‘oh yes, and where’s your loyal populace then?’ retorts seem pertinent (although they could definitely be construed as impertinent).

The fruity dress sense? Well, that’s a different kettle of medals.

To be honest, I have still to work through all of the 10 exercises attached to the chapter. This time I think I’ll have a stab at some of the ones I didn’t try first time round.

I have til Thursday before I run out of month.

But I’m not weaselling.

Weasel Poupette


The Artist's Way

How many of you have worked through Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way?

How many of you have started it and never finished? Judging by that modern confessional, the Internet, quite a few. Well, far be it from me to judge – I only made two weeks.

I didn’t intend to abandon it, but Life Intervened (as it does) and though I carried on with the Morning Pages for a while, eventually I decided I needed the sleep more.

Please understand: giving up half an hour’s sleep of a morning is no laughing matter for a night-owl. This was Sacrifice, and when the fire failed to fall from on high, I hauled my sacrifice back off the altar and went on with life.

Elijah never moaned about the early mornings.
But just recently, I had a Good Idea.

(At least, I hope it will turn out to be a Good Idea. The proof of the pudding is in the eating, after all.)

There are twelve weeks in the course of the Artist’s Way.
There are twelve months in the year.

Why not spread out the exercises and so forth over a month, instead of over a week? That way, if Life Intervening causes you to miss one or two Morning Page sessions, well, it’s not the end of the world.

Plus you have more time to think up (and enact) some really epic Artist Dates, should you wish.

The only downside to this plan is the fact that January is mostly dead and gone. (Much longer and I’ll be going through its pockets for loose change.)

But to change perspective: I’ve got just as much time as I would if I was doing it by weeks.

In any case, I’d better get on with it.
Stay tuned for developments – don’t let me weasel out of it again!

Weasel Poupette
The Weasel weaselling out. Don’t be swayed by the pleading little eyes!