At the end of every year, I pick my favorite books from the ones I’ve read in the previous twelve months. When I came upon Steven Pressfield’s The War of Art a few years ago, I declared it one of my favorite books of the decade. It still is.
Whether you’ve discovered the book for yourself already or not, I am delighted to share Steven Pressfield’s answers to my questions. Here they are.
My enthusiasm for The War of Art comes from having a whole new understanding of the nature and role of resistance. How did you begin to recognize resistance and deal with it in your own life?
I first tried to write a novel when I was 24, quit my job, etc. (I told this story in The War of Art, but I’ll tell it again here.) I got 99% of the way through and I totally fell apart. Couldn’t finish it. Bottom line: divorce, heartbreak, causing terrible pain to people I love, years of wandering, working weird jobs, etc. It was very clear to me that SOMETHING was screwing me up; I just didn’t have a name for it.
Finally, finally, finally I realized that all my troubles stemmed from that one failure of courage (and a million other such failures thereafter.) I had to go back and do it over. Not that same book but another one. Along the way, I came to call that negative force in my mind “Resistance.” That’s what it felt like to me.
It seems to me that nurturing inspiration is a powerful way of dealing with resistance. How do you feed inspiration and what inspires you personally?
I’ve never thought about it that way, Barbara. That’s pretty cool. You may be onto something there! The positive force that actually produces Resistance as “an equal and opposite reaction” is an Idea—for a book, a movie, a business, whatever. That’s the baby that wants to be born. So the more you can feed that embryo, the stronger will be the mother-love and the urge to be born.
I realize, thinking about it (thanks to your question) that I really do cultivate my ideas, when I’m lucky enough to get them. I raise them in secret, inside myself, like little hothouse tomatoes.
One thing: I don’t talk about them. I don’t dilute their force by blabbing to everybody. The pregnant mom metaphor is pretty good. You gotta protect that “baby bump” and give it time to grow. Once it’s really growing, it produces an irresistible power to be born. Even Resistance is no match for it then.
How can a new writer or entrepreneur or musician put fear of rejection into perspective?
Great question, Barbara. I’m not so sure it’s all about fear of rejection. Fear of success may be the bigger issue. The bottom line for me (and I suspect for many other writers, artists and entrepreneurs) is that the pain of NOT taking that chance is greater than the pain of taking it. It’s like you have a choice of two forms of difficulty—the difficulty of facing your fears and doing the work you were born to do … and the difficulty of losing your mind, your wife and family, etc. I know that sounds pretty hard-core but I think it’s true.
People seem to flock to how-to formulas. Do you think it’s possible to live a creative life if we don’t leave room for mystery?
How-to formulas help, but they can also be a particularly insidious form of Resistance. We spend all our time studying “how,” and forget to actually “do.”
There’s a great quote from Plato, which I can’t remember even close to verbatim. He puts it in the mouth of Socrates, who says something like, “The skilled poet is no match for the divinely inspired fool.” In other words, it does all come down to the mystery, which is really not so mysterious at all—it’s just hearing the voice in your head or seeing the vision in your heart and believing it in enough that you find the courage to actually manifest that voice or that vision in the real world.
Want to explore further? Join me for my upcoming Outsmarting Resistance teleclass on Monday, October 19. One participant will receive an autographed copy of The War of Art.