Written on

Books I Love - The War of Art by Steven Pressfield

The War of Art is one of my favorite non-fiction book, it helped me recognize why I put off doing my work and how to fix it easily. I recommend this book to anyone doing creative work where you often second guess yourself and don't ship things.

Rating: 10/10, would definitely read again.

This book is written by Steven Pressfield who is an author of both fiction and non-fiction works. After reading this book, out of curiosity, I read his fiction works like Gates of Fire which delivers spectacularly on the grit and discipline of the Spartan warriors.

Book Summary

It’s not the writing part that’s hard. What’s hard is sitting down to write.

This book is a quick read on why we put off doing our work and how to procrastinate less. Pressfield expresses these by telling us about his own problems while writing his books and how he overcomes them. This will be a good read for anyone who has a creative pursuit but can't seem to fill the gap of becoming a pro.

The War of Art is divided into three parts,

  • Defining our enemy, Resistance
  • Dealing with Resistance by Turning Pro
  • Beyond Resistance, the self

My Notes


Pressfield uses the term Resistance to label the thing that distracts and prevents anyone from doing their work. He argues that Resistance comes to us whenever we attempt to improve our long-term growth, health, or integrity.

What keeps us from sitting down (to do our work) is Resistance.

Resistance cannot be seen, touched, heard, or smelled. But it can be felt. We experience it as an energy field radiating from a work-in-potential. It’s a repelling force. It’s negative. Its aim is to shove us away, distract us, prevent us from doing our work.

  • Resistance is Invisible
  • Resistance is Infallible
  • Resistance Creates Self-Doubt
  • Resistance Never Sleeps
  • Resistance Causes Procrastination
  • Resistance Creates Unhappiness

Resistance never goes away, even if you complete one project, it comes to the next one with twice as much strength.

There is however one thing we can do to deal with resistance, turning pro.

Turning Pro

Here are the characteristics of a professional:

  • The amateur plays for fun. The professional plays for keeps.
  • To the amateur, the game is his avocation. To the pro it’s his vocation.
  • The amateur plays part-time, the professional full-time.
  • The amateur is a weekend warrior. The professional is there seven days a week.

Someone once asked Somerset Maugham if he wrote on a schedule or only when struck by inspiration. “I write only when inspiration strikes,” he replied. “Fortunately it strikes every morning at nine o’clock sharp.” That’s a pro.

Some qualities that define us as a professional:

  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.

There’s no mystery to turning pro. It’s a decision brought about by an act of will. We make up our minds to view ourselves as pros and we do it. Simple as that.

Muses, Beyond Resistance

In this part, Pressfield goes to the metaphysical by using terms like muses and angels to dramatize how we get inspired to do our work. I quite like the idea of muses watching over us and calling us to do our best work. But it's not for everyone.

When we sit down, day after day and keep grinding, something mysterious starts to happen. A process is set into motion by which, inevitably and infallibly, heaven comes to our aid. Unseen forces enlist in our cause; serendipity reinforces our purpose.

This is the other secret that real artists know and wannabe writers don’t. When we sit down each day and do our work, power concentrates around us. The Muse takes note of our dedication. She approves. We have earned favor in her sight. When we sit down and work, we become like a magnetized rod that attracts iron filings. Ideas come. Insights accrete.

Clearly, some intelligence is at work, independent of our conscious mind and yet in alliance with it, processing our material for us and alongside us.

This is why artists are modest. They know they’re not doing the work; they’re just taking dictation. It’s also why “noncreative people” hate “creative people.” Because they’re jealous. They sense that artists and writers are tapped into some grid of energy and inspiration that they themselves cannot connect with.

Of course, this is nonsense. We’re all creative. We all have the same psyche. The same everyday miracles are happening in all our heads day by day, minute by minute.

The Ego and the Self:

  • The Self wishes to create, to evolve. The Ego likes things just the way they are.
  • The Ego is that part of the psyche that believes in material existence.
  • The Self believes all beings are one. If I hurt you, I hurt myself.

Creative work is not a selfish act or a bid for attention on the part of the actor. It’s a gift to the world and every being in it. Don’t cheat us of your contribution. Give us what you’ve got.