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

When this book came across my desk, I looked at it skeptically, and then thought “Why not? It's short, and I've certainly been stumbling over blocks lately, trying to work on this novel.” The book is broken into thirds. In the first third, Pressfield defines “Resistance,” his catch-all term for the nebulous thing that keeps you from working and may in extreme cases lead you to waste your life. The second third is about “turning pro” as a way to overcome resistance, developing a professional attitude and approach to your work and getting over the blocks. The final third is a bunch of gibberish.

The book is actually pretty good until that last third, if you can get past the phrasing of Pressfield's main points. He comes across as pseudo-religious at times (and all that “gibberish” is junk about muses, divine inspiration, the holy calling of art, etc.) — but for the most part Pressfield gives out a lot of solid, practical advice.

Which mostly amounts to this: “Shut up and work, if you're going to make good art then you need to dedicate yourself and quit being such a wimp about it.”

It's a good message. What makes this a useful book is that it simply breaks down an attitude difference between “amateurs” and “professionals.” A pro works daily, even if s/he doesn't want to. A pro is disciplined and not easily distracted. And so on. But especially: “We do not overidentify with our jobs.” This is the biggest mistake I see people making. That's why they wear berets and only write when they're inspired, in coffeeshops, because they are such artistes. Barf.

In any case, the final third of this book is laughably bad. And throughout, really, it's pretty basic stuff. But Pressfield has an enaging way of writing and is pitiless in his honesty. How do you “break through the blocks and win your inner creative battles,” as the title promises? You quit whining and get back to work.

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