Friday, March 8, 2013

Book Review: The War of Art: Break Through the Blocks and Win Your Inner Creative Battles

In my last post, I laid out an unexplained and underlying premise to this series.  I told you several books spurred me to seek out a more satisfying life.  You might ask, “more satisfying than what?”  A good question when you consider all I have to be grateful for.  I live in a nice town and neighborhood.  My beautiful wife, my child and family all love me.  My employer pays a very good wage, treats me well and I am proud that my admittedly humble work benefits people in developing communities that grow coffee beans. It would seem I suffer from a lack of gratitude and a certain degree of selfishness.  I feel bad about that, to a point.  When I’m not engaged in writing or designing material for role playing games on a regular basis, I feel a great deal of dissatisfaction.  The degree of despair created by denying the truth about my dissatisfaction comes down to a matter of self preservation and self love.  In the end, not doing these two things I want to do is an act of self destruction.  Accepting the “self” who creates games and writes about things that interest me is accepting who I am.  This may be juvenile or self absorbed but not writing and designing makes me unhappy. 

What I refer to when I say “more satisfying” is that I have avoided doing the very thing I have wanted to do most since I was a child.  It has been my heart’s desire to write books and tell stories from the time I was just a little boy.  My anxiety and fear overwhelmed me as a man in my early and mid twenties.  I put down my pen for more “sensible” things.   Anyone who understand the economics of writing know that most of us will never escape our day jobs.  I stopped playing and writing material for role playing games, a hobby I pursued since my early teens.  I thought D&D was for nerdy teenagers with nothing better to do.  I came back to it a few years ago and found that the game can be an incredible creative outlet on a number of levels when played by adults in an adult fashion.  I find it far more engaging than spending time watching TV. Forgiving myself for giving these things up has been difficult.  My fear, self doubt and insecurity were more than I could handle.  It kicked my butt for more than a decade.  I spent four years serving as a Marine infantryman.  I did some scary things just during our training.  Some how this dream of writing down my stories for others to enjoy unmanned me.  I never understood how this could be until I read The War of Art

Steven Pressfield wrote The War of Art for me.  He wrote it for you too.  He defines this fear and anxiety we have as “Resistance.”   Pressfield defines Resistance:

“Resistance cannot be seen, touched, heard or smelled. But it can be felt. It is experienced as a force field emanating from a work-in-potential. It's a repelling force. It's negative. Its intention is to shove the creator away, distract him, sap his energy, incapacitate him.”

The root of Resistance is fear.  Human beings allow this fear to dominate their lives and this prevents them from doing their work.  What work?  The work each individual most wants to do but is too afraid to do it.  How do you know what that is?  It is the thing you feel the most Resistance to.  A great deal of the book is about Resistance.  Pressfield describes what Resistance can do to you and how to overcome it. 

Resistance is manifested in many forms.  For me, “resistance” has manifested as compulsive over eating, chain smoking cigarettes, excessive video game playing, new age spiritual healing, psychoanalysis, obsessions with hobbies and ill considered casual relationships.  I looked to all these things for comfort when sitting down and doing my work was what I needed.  I was afraid of failing.  Afraid I was a fraud.  Afraid I might succeed and then fail the second outing and show everyone what a fraud I am.  

Here is a link to Steven Pressfield’s website about this book.  If you click on the link marked “excerpts” you can read about “resistance” more in depth.

“Resistance” is evil in Pressfield’s view.  It prevents us from doing the things that we have in our hearts to do and causes us to do things that hurt ourselves and others.  Thankfully, he offers a battle plan to defeat Resistance.  I do not know if this works for everyone but it works for me.  He suggests we “turn pro” and tells us how to do this.  First, he defines the parameters of “turning pro.”  

“What exactly are the qualities that define us as professionals?1.  We show up every day. 2.  We show up no matter what. 3.  We stay on the job all day. 4.  We are committed over the long haul. 5.  The stakes for us are high and real. 6.  We accept remuneration for our labor. 7.  We do not over identify with our jobs. 8.  We master the technique of our jobs. 9.  We have a sense of humor about our jobs.10. We receive praise or blame in the real world.”

He takes each of these points in turn and describes how we can attack each issue every day.  The big message is: Do The Work.  

When we act in the face of our fear and Do The Work amazing things occur.  We gain mastery and sovereignty over our selves.  Sun Tzu said that mastery of this sort is key to victory. I find this to be true in my experience.  Doing the work brings exhaustion, isolation and doubt.  There is no such thing as a free lunch.  Even though the work tests our mettle it also helps us to find our autonomy.  You may recall from the previous post, Dan Gilbert described autonomy as an important element of happiness.  By applying the techniques of “turning pro” described by Steven Pressfield, we have a blueprint for a achieving that self mastery and autonomy.

The final third of the War of Art describes the place where the inspiration for our work comes from.  Pressfield is a believer in “god” “angels” and “muses.”  He suggests that when we sit down and do our work in a humble and dedicated fashion that heaven whispers insights and ideas that help us to create great things.  

I disagree. I believe that we gain inspiration from parts of the human brain that we cannot consciously control and neuroscience does not yet fully understand.  I think the attitude and effort Pressfield recommends does help to activate this part of the brain humans can not otherwise consciously control.  There are other ways I can activate my creativity.  

The seat of creativity is the topic of the next book in this “treasure map” series.  

1 comment:

  1. Nice entry Travis. Being someone who suffered similarly until the last year or two I know your pain. I finally have a decent job, but it is in reality simply something I do to pay the bills. The fact I enjoy it is a plus, but what I really can't wait to do is get home and start typing.