When I was about eight years old and my best friend’s mom would get mad at her, she would threaten to send her to “Tough Love”. Tough Love was supposedly a place where bad children were sent to learn discipline by way of extremely long hikes, sleep deprivation, and going to the bathroom outdoors -basically, camping. Even now if you want to motivate me to change my behavior, threaten me with camping. Just the mention of it has me gasping, clutching my invisible pearls and subtly shaking my head, “No.” To two chubby suburban eight year old girls, who were never big fans of physical exertion, Tough Love sounded like torture in the woods. My parents employed the time honored technique of, “Wait till your father gets home!”, so I had not heard of the horror that was Tough Love. I asked my friend, Diana, if Tough Love was a real place. She said, “I don’t know, but I’m not taking any chances!”
But it turns out, tough love (actual tough love, not the mythical camp for chunky girls who sass their parents) is sometimes exactly what we need. I don’t know about you, but I can get stuck in a certain mindset- and it’s never a happy, positive, “I can do anything!” mindset. Why is that? Anyway, it helps when someone can look at me and say, “Look, I care about you, but I am not going to listen to you whine. You know what you have to do- shut up, do the work, and get going,”
Enter the book, The War of Art by Steven Pressfield. It’s like a pocket-sized swift kick in the ass that you didn’t even know you needed. Like it’s namesake, The Art of War by Sun Tzu, the book is broken down into small chunks and is a quick read. But don’t think it’s small size means lack of substance. I’ve highlighted something on almost every page.
The entire premise of the book is that we are each fighting a war against Resistance. What is Resistance? It’s that internal voice that tells us that we cannot possibly succeed, so don’t even bother trying. Pressfield defines it like this:
Resistance is not a peripheral opponent. Resistance arises from within. It is self-generated and self-perpetuated. Resistance is the enemy within.
He goes on to say:
Most of us have two lives. The life we live, and the unlived life within us. Between the two stands Resistance.
Who hasn’t been there at some point? Without quoting the entire book, Pressfield goes on to describe the internal struggle with Resistance and how, left unchecked, it can defeat us. I love that he never shies away from telling us that art is still work. It seem to be a huge misconception that art just sort of “is” and springs forth from thought. I guess in a way it does, but no more then anything else. Getting something down on paper or canvas or computer still requires method, planning, and work.
My favorite section is called “Turning Pro” where the author describes the difference between being a “professional” and an “amateur”.
The amateur has not mastered the technique of his art. Nor does he expose himself to judgement in the real world. If we show our poem to our friend and our friend says, “It’s wonderful, I love it,” that’s not real-world feedback, that’s our friend being nice to us. Nothing is as empowering as real-world validation, even if it’s for failure.
Ouch. But completely true. He follows with a story about his writing a movie that was a universal flop and being pretty down about it. His friend asked him if he was going to give up. Pressfield said of course not. His friend replied, “Then be happy. You’re where you wanted to be, aren’t you? So you’re taking a few blows. That’s the price for being in the arena and not on the sidelines. Stop complaining and be grateful.” See what I mean? Tough love.
So many things spoke to me in this book, but I think this next one effected me the most. If there were a way to add little stars, circles and flashing arrows to a Kindle highlight, I would do it for this passage. There is something oddly freeing about knowing your fears will always be there.
The amateur believes he must first overcome his fear; then he can do his work. The professional knows that fear can never be overcome. He knows there is no such thing as a fearless warrior or a dread-free artist.
I really can’t recommend it highly enough for anyone (not just artists) who need that little extra something to get moving.
Housekeeping note: The design page is updated with the book jacket pictures. You may have noticed the blog has a new look this week. While I really like it, I can’t figure out how to resize the font in the header so the word “Design” isn’t quite so lonely. If anyone knows how to fix it, I would so appreciate if you could clue me in! Thanks for reading and have a great week!