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A Belated Review of “The War of Art.” Yeah, Let’s Talk About Resistance.

Note from Josh: This is a guest post from Jenny McCoy from Workin’ On A Ramp. Jenny interviewed one of my favorite authors, Steven Pressfield. Steven wrote the incredible Gates of Fire, Tides of War, and The War of Art, among many others. Jenny wanted to run this piece on my blog instead of her own, and even though she should have kept it, I let her give me the post.

by Jenny McCoy

It took me three months to read a book about resistance.

Yes, my hand did hurt when the cookie jar slammed shut. But oh, the lessons learned were so worthwhile.

The force behind the jar? A free copy of Steven Pressfield’s The War of Art.

I received a copy to review in October and I eagerly placed it on my to-do list. The same list I often forget to do.

Steven Pressfield calls this resistance.

I call him brilliant. And this is why:

“There’s a secret that real writers know that wanna be writers don’t and the secret is this: It’s not the writing part that’s hard. What’s hard is sitting down to write. What keeps us from sitting down is Resistance.” – Steven

Just three pages in, Steven pinned down the intruder who frequently invades our creative pursuits, creating commotion in an otherwise peaceful neighborhood. In my house, the struggle goes something like this:

  • Exciting idea flitters through brain
  • I decide I must make it real and share it WITH THE WORLD!
  • Blank word doc with menacing cursor frightens me
  • I flee, choosing to catch up with the Kardashians or get real with the housewives in some U.S. metro area rather than write
  • Cursor continues to blink
  • Once vibrant ideas flicker and fade
  • Look at that, it’s time for bed! Idea can wait ’til tomorrow..

Of course, this is just one example of a perpetrator that has many forms. But with each page, Steven filled in many more composite sketches of the culprit that often binds our creative pursuits.

Rationalization, fear, excess of drugs or sex. Its guise varies, but its effect remains the same: it keeps us from sitting down to our life’s work. It assuages the void that would otherwise spring us into action.

Sound familiar? It did to me. In fact the topic hit home hard enough that I actually finished a book before starting five others – a rare occurrence. I place this quick but hard-hitting book alongside other well-respected, get-your-ass-in-gear must reads such as Hugh MacLeod’s “Ignore Everybody.”

As a 25-year-old copywriter and a relatively new blogger, The War of Art gave me a glimpse into my past and an acknowledgment of what can be improved in my present to attain a more rewarding tomorrow.

And now, I have a special treat for you. In addition to the free copy to review and an additional free copy to give away, Steven was nice enough to answer three questions for me. As you’ll notice, I only asked two. The last question is for you to ask. Leave a comment with a question you’d like to ask Steven and I’ll send over the top theme as question number three. Plus, by leaving a comment you’ll be eligible to win my extra copy of The War of Art.

JM: In light of recent events, if you were about to send “The War of Art” to the publisher on Friday, would you amend the references to Tiger Woods? If so, how would you address the contrast between his ability to overcome resistance on the golf course versus the role of resistance as a contributor to his crumbling personal life?

SP: I was just having breakfast with a friend this morning and we were talking about this very subject. Not Tiger (I’m going to stay away from any speculations about his personal life, as I certainly wouldn’t want him speculating about mine!) But about how it’s possible to be extremely disciplined and self-composed in one area of one’s life (usually the professional arena) and total blithering in others. I’m that way for sure. As hard-core as I can be as a writer, that’s how lame I am in many personal areas and even in such seemingly easy arenas as sports, diet and meditation. My friend and I were scratching our heads this morning: why can’t we transpose that rigorous self-command from one area to another? I don’t know. (I’m saying this to her as I’m shoveling the third piece of bacon into my craw. Arrrrggggh!)

JM: Since publishing The War of Art, have you received feedback from artists who have read your book, taken it to heart and made great changes in their lives?

SP: Actually it’s been pretty amazing. Some of the e-mails I’ve received are excruciatingly personal (in a good way) and so heartfelt they read like confessionals from AA. I’ve gotten letters that go on for pages, detailing incredible self-generated tragedies in people’s lives. This really doesn’t surprise me, as my own odyssey has been just as calamitous. What has surprised me (it probably shouldn’t have) is the volume of grateful feedback from people who are NOT in the arts.

Entrepreneurs particularly. Businessmen and women. I had never realized the extent to which Resistance operates, even in these bravest-of-the-brave, intrepid enterprisers. I’ve even gotten letters from mothers of servicemen, who have had to deal with their own fears for their sons and daughters. What’s interesting is how frequently (almost all the time in fact) the act that helps them most is not to flee from their fears but to plunge in with both feet, become really active and work hard to aid others in the same situation. It’s amazing how these mothers wade in ther and kick some butt!

About the author:

Jenny McCoy prefers writing to climbing ladders, but does a little of both. She once brought sexy back in a High School Musical bathing suit and her addiction to Venn diagrams is rivaled only by her love for Microsoft Paint masterpieces. Take a break from your work day and check out her (admittedly) wacky blog at WorkinOnARamp.com.

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Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Todd March 4, 2010, 7:48 am

    I’ve seen this one, but haven’t picked it up for some reason. I guess I’m going to have to do so ASAP.

    • Jenny March 4, 2010, 11:11 am

      Yes… you definitely do. It’s a fantastic and quick read that will make you want to get in gear.

  • Timothy March 4, 2010, 7:52 am

    How did the act of writing the War of Art change your approach to resistance/blocks, if at all? Did the “doing” result in any unanticipated “knowing”?

    • Jenny March 4, 2010, 11:11 am

      Great question. Thanks Tim!

      • Timothy March 4, 2010, 11:21 am

        And thanks to you for the great review and introduction to this book – it’s now on the reading list.

  • ami March 4, 2010, 8:22 am

    Oh boy, I need this book, and Jenny, your intro reads like a journal entry in my life. Sounds like a great motivator.

    • Jenny March 4, 2010, 11:12 am

      Sooo which season of Real Housewives do you like best? Seriously, pick up this book and it’ll highlight way more acts of resistance than you ever thought were possible.

  • Andy Fogarty March 4, 2010, 8:40 am

    Oh man this hit home, and I haven’t even read the book.
    I do well with ignoring what most people would consider distractions, but I have a great knack for turning what looks important to most into a time suck so I don’t have to face what really needs to get done.

    The funny thing is, I’m not scared of what needs to be done. It’s not even that I hate doing the work (most of the time).
    I think it’s simply because “I have to” do the work that messes with me.

    I’m an entrepreneur – it always feels weird calling myself that, but its true – and it’s mainly because I don’t like authority. When there’s something that “needs” to be done, it feels like a boss again. That’s when I usually find some other so-called productive task to take on. You know, the one that really doesn’t have to get done but seems like fun (sort of).

    Yea, I know this wasn’t question. I don’t really have one yet, but I’m sure I will after reading the book. I’ll be back after reading, guaranteed.

    • Jenny March 4, 2010, 8:01 pm

      Not a question, but great discussion topic. I feel your pain. My college roommates would always know when I had a paper or project due because I would start cleaning the apartment. And like you mentioned, usually the “big task” takes all of 30 minutes.. once you sit down to do it.

      Glad you’re going to read this book! It’s fantastic.

  • Conor March 4, 2010, 9:38 am

    Hi Jenny,

    Great article. I can relate to the struggle. I recently started devoting one hour every morning to writing straight after breakfast. I hope to expand this to two or three hours in time, but it’s a start 🙂

    My question for Steven:

    Do you recommend setting a fixed number of hours to write /create each day or to follow your body’s natural rhythms and create when they are working with you?

    Thanks.

    Conor

    • Jenny March 4, 2010, 11:13 am

      Thanks Connor! That’s great that you already have a routine in place!

  • Karol Gajda March 4, 2010, 10:05 am

    My friends Tanner and Chris recommended this book to me when it came out (Chris interviewed Steven back then) and it has been one of my favorites ever since. It’s awesome that so many more people are getting into it now. (Especially with Seth Godin devoting so much of Linchpin to it!)

    Question for Steven: Considering you were already a successful fiction author how difficult was it getting a publisher to accept a non-fiction (dare I say self help?) book from you? Did the Resistance ever keep you from even bothering to write the book? (I sure hope that wasn’t answered *in* War of Art. I last read it a year ago, and don’t have my notes with me here in India.)

    • Jenny March 4, 2010, 8:04 pm

      Good to see you over here Karol. I agree.. it’s great that more and more people are picking up this book. It’s funny because when I first began reading it, I took it to lunch with me and actually met the author of MorningCoach.com because of it. He stopped and mentioned that it was a great book and I mentioned how I received it for free to review on my blog.. then later I realized that umm, his site is pretty huge. Anyways, great question!

  • Srinivas Rao March 4, 2010, 10:14 am

    Thanks for sharing Jenny. I’ve been trying to figure out what book I’m going to read next and now I know 🙂

    • Jenny March 4, 2010, 8:07 pm

      Hey Srini! That’s great.. I’ll be interested to see your thoughts on it after you finish.

  • Barbara Sher March 4, 2010, 11:00 am

    I like this book, too, but like so many others, it doesn’t seem concerned with the sources of resistance. Why do we resist? All I could find was that it has something to do with our ‘dark side.’ (That’s from memory, so excuse if it’s not exactly what Pressman said.)

    I’ve spent many years coming up with ways to get around resistance. In fact, I’ve been called The Resistance Whisperer, and often write on my blog of that name. I’ve gotten great results. But when resistance is tenacious, there’s something under it, and that’s what’s always interested me.

    One thing I know doesn’t work — and I’ve been very clear about this for a very long time — is Positive Thinking. Another is toughing it out, battling resistance with determination, will power, self-discipline (aka ‘The Male, Military Model.’). A little respect is due Resistance. It’s much more powerful than our puny efforts to wrestle it to the ground. But, although we are weak, we are clever and tricky, and when it comes to ways of getting around resistance, I’ve seen a lot of great ideas, and I’ve produced a lot of good ones myself.

    I’ve found a number of things that do work. The one people pull out their pens to write down in my audiences is “Isolation is the dreamkiller,” and I have a cartoon booklet called ‘How To Get What You Really Want When You Have No Character, No Goals, And You’re Often in a Lousy Mood,” that advised readers to start a team or buddy system. That works like school worked: with structure and accountability.

    But even that is often not enough. When there’s a stone in your shoe, nothing works but to sit down, take your shoe off, and remove the stone. Toughing it out with self discipline isn’t the smart thing to do in my opinion. And no, my way doesn’t require years of analysis. If my teleclasses go as they usually do, I’ll be popping people out of resistance tonight and next week in less than 10 minutes.

    I even have a blog dedicated to the subject. (See my signature below) And a bunch of best-selling books. (See amazon.com) All of them offer real solutions, and if the resistance just won’t go away, they show you how to find that stone and get it out of your shoe.

    Commiserating about resistance is very pleasant, but I argue that not very many people show you how to find out why resistance is stopping you and how you can melt it every time it shows up.

    Barbara Sher
    http://www.geniuspress.com
    http://theresistancewhisperer.blogspot.com
    Twitter: @barbarasher

    • Jenny March 6, 2010, 9:51 pm

      Thanks for the information Barbara. I’ll definitely check out your site. Personally, I love the way Pressfield presents everything so simply. I think the concepts you bring up are very interesting but perhaps a little more in depth than many people want to/or are willing to go? I wouldn’t knock his book because of it because what I love about it is that he simply defines the issue and then gives real ways to fix it in your life. Regardless, thanks for stopping by and for sharing.

  • Bamboo Forest - PunIntended March 4, 2010, 11:22 am

    Interesting post. Resistance seems to be everywhere in life. If it weren’t, I guess we’d all automatically be our very best. I’ll keep this book in mind.

    • Jenny March 4, 2010, 8:07 pm

      Good point. Definitely do keep it in mind.. and maybe you’ll win the free copy?

  • Sanford March 4, 2010, 11:39 am

    I enjoy reading Mr Pressfield’s blog. Now I’ll have to get the book. Which is something I’ve been putting of for some reason. Hmm
    My question: Are you going to follow up with how resistance plays in the other areas of life?

    • Jenny March 4, 2010, 8:08 pm

      Oh the irony of resistance, right?

  • Laura Kimball March 4, 2010, 12:48 pm

    Wow, Jenny, this review, interview, and book really hit home with me. As a new blogger, young professional, and emotionally driven person, my resistance comes in the form of “I just don’t feel like doing…” I’m freaked out that it has a name now. This concept is blowing me away because now it has a name. It’s something tangible and something that I can stare in the face and say, “hi, let’s get over it.”

    Thanks for reading his book, Jenny, and sharing your thoughts here.

    I have not read the book, so maybe this is answered in the first two pages, but here’s my question for Steven: What made you realize that the resistance existed? What was the catalyst or your “ah-ha” moment that told you to write this topic about this book?

    And, did you encounter the resistance while writing the book? 🙂

    • Jenny March 4, 2010, 8:10 pm

      No problem! Yes.. it’s funny because I was equally freaked out. Especially when I read the chapter on rationalization. That one really hit home because I’m pretty amazing at rationalizing things. It was a wake up call for sure and I’m glad I got it. As a blogger it definitely has ample room to show up.. since many of us do this in our spare time. I know for me personally it’s easy to rationalize that “at least I have a blog.. I mean.. who says I need to post twice a week?” or things of that sort.

      Hope you pick up a copy of it 🙂

      • Laura Kimball March 4, 2010, 10:51 pm

        If I pick up a copy and start reading it, would reading “The War of Art” count as contributing to or conquering the resistance?

        I think I’d like to change my question to the above 😉

        • Jenny March 6, 2010, 9:56 pm

          Haha.. My brain hurts. It would help! But I’m not sure how logical my response is.

  • Sara March 4, 2010, 1:22 pm

    Josh — Thanks for letting Jenny do this interview on your site. I might have missed it otherwise. Now, I have another site to visit…YEAH.

    Jenny — This interview and commentary about the book was so much FUN!!! I loved the dialogue between you and Steven.

    You both made me really want to read this book, in part because I do deal with resistance, but also because you both allowed so much humor to emerge in the interview. I believe the best way to deal with whatever is holding you back is to learn to laugh at it. By doing this, you take away its power:~)

    • Jenny March 4, 2010, 8:13 pm

      Thanks Sara! That’s awesome.. I hope that everyone who reads this post will pick up a copy of the book. The interview was done by email, which is normally a difficult way to really feel someone’s personality, but I liked this his interview responses were very similar to the way he writes in his book. To the point, but still with plenty of sentences that make you stop, grab a pen and write them down. I agree, the occasional humor in his writing really makes you more alert and forces you to really narrow in on the message.

  • Tim March 4, 2010, 2:43 pm

    Hi Jenny:

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts on this book and your questions for Steven…I’ve been hearing good things about the War of Art for a long time. And I’ve experienced my share of resistance in various areas of my life, so I’m even more intrigued. I know I’m getting a little ahead of myself since I haven’t read War of Art, but I’d ask him if he has another book in the works and, if so, what is it about?

    BTW, Jenny I popped onto your blog last week and love your dance. I took a salsa dance lesson a couple weeks ago with a friend of mine and was horrible. I mean bad. I think I’m much better suited for freestyle dancing like in your vid. Thanks for a nice post and your groovin’ spirit. And thanks, Josh, for having Jenny as a guest.

    • Jenny March 6, 2010, 9:54 pm

      Thanks Tim! Haha! I’m glad you stopped by my little site. I always get a good laugh when people see that video and actually compliment me on being a “good” dancer. I did it as more of self-deprecating humor? But regardless.. can I entice you to be my first challenge participant? Ehh? Ehh?

  • Josh Hanagarne March 4, 2010, 6:51 pm

    My question:

    Steven, if you ever break the time travel machine out again to revisit Thermopylae, may I please join you? I am an exceedingly jolly travel companion, I promise.

  • Shane Arthur March 5, 2010, 8:11 am

    Jenny, I have something I’d like you to try. After you open your word processor and see the flashing cursor, TURN YOUR MONITOR OFF!

    You know where the keys on the keyboard are
    You know if you hit them they will be recorded

    This way, you free your eyes (thus your logical brain) from overthinking the whole process and blocking your creative brain.

    Give it a shot. Don’t worry about typos. Those get fixed afterward. Freeflow it, then turn the monitor back on, and see what happens.

    • Jenny March 6, 2010, 9:49 pm

      That’s a really great idea. Love it.. thanks!

  • Jenny March 6, 2010, 9:52 pm

    Thank you to everyone for submitting your comments and questions. Just a quick update on the winner – Shane you were the random commenter to get the free copy of the book!

  • Jenny March 6, 2010, 9:58 pm

    And the winner of the random question issss… Josh! Do you have inside connections on Random.org? This looks so rigged..

  • Annie March 7, 2010, 8:53 am

    Wow perfect timing to read this blog. Definitely going to pick up this book. WRITERS BLOCK. Everyone in my family is creative. Me I am great with my hands. SOOO I have been building a website and uhuhuhuhuh I found that writing what I know was harder than I thought. So my brick wall led to resistance. MY motivation “working for the man” really want to get back into business for myself!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Besides cranial sacral therapy is like the most challenging and exciting work for both involved. So here is to the lizard brain, I WANT TO CHANGE.

  • Barbara Sher March 7, 2010, 12:26 pm

    I think you’re right, Jenny. I’ve been working with resistance for so long that I forget that the whole concept that it exists and has a name feels like a revelation to many people.

    Thanks for the reminder.

  • Annie March 27, 2010, 7:19 pm

    I agree on the revelation Barbara, and when you try to work with resistance more comes your way. Friends are the biggest trial for me.