Wednesday, November 25, 2009

The War of Art - words of wisdom from Steven Pressfield

"Remember our rule of thumb: The more scared we are of a work or calling, the more sure we can be that we have to do it." - Steven Pressfield, The War of Art

It's a pretty good sign that you've got a great book in your hands when you can't stand reading it without a pen close by.  The War of Art is one of those books. It's a quick read with lots of wisdom packed into its pages.

Steven Pressfield has been reaching out to bloggers, and I got a chance to lob a few questions his way...

1. I've only read part of the book so far, but in the part I've read, you approach the idea of "life's work" and "resistance" from the perspective of someone who knows his life's work is to write. What about those people who have a lot of creative talents and they're not sure what to focus on for their life's work? What suggestions do you have for them?

Remember that old Lovin' Spoonful song, Heather?

Did you ever have to make up your mind?
To say yes to one and leave the other behind?
It's not often easy, not often kind.
Did you ever have to make up your mind?

It's really hard when one is multi-talented and pulled in multiple directions.  It was easier for me because I can't do much of anything except write.  What I would say is this:

If we find that we're pulled in multiple creative directions--start a business, write a screenplay, move to India and work for the Mother Teresa Foundation--the key question to ask ourselves is, "Which one am I most afraid of?"  Put another way: "Which one elicits the most powerful Resistance?"

I say in The War of Art that Resistance can help us in a weird way in that it can tell us what we have to do.  If Resistance is our enemy (and it is) and if it wants us NOT to tackle Project X, then... 

2. What advice do you have for parents trying to foster creativity in their children? Can we do things to help them grow into adults who give in to resistance less? 

That's a great question.  I'm not a parent so I can only answer theoretically.  One thing I heard once that made a lot of sense to me was on a disk called "An Interview with the Coach," which was an interview of Dan Sullivan of Strategic Coach by Joe Polish of the Genius Network Interview series.  It's worth tracking down, this disk, by logging onto "Strategic Coach" or "Genius Network."

What Dan Sullivan was saying was that our schools don't teach the entrepreneurial mind-set.  And they should.  Instead our schools regiment our children.  They prepare them to be cogs in a machine, to work for organizations, etc.  Nobody teaches us the skills of self-motivation, self-discipline, self-validation that are necessary to succeed as an artist or an entrepreneur or anybody who follows his or her own heart and who values the work for its own sake and for the joy it brings us, rather than just chasing a paycheck.

I think a parent should identify in her own mind the virtues that she'd like to teach her children and then teach them just like she would anything else--i.e., reward them when they appear spontaneously, reinforce them in all ways, talk equal-to-equal to the child about the reasons why these qualities are virtues and why they'll pay off.  And be alert to counter-conditioning, to nip it in the bud or to amplify it in the proper way.  For instance, if your kid is on the football team and the coach is hammering him to work hard, be tough, fight till the bitter end (all good things, in my opinion), amplify this by highlighting for your child the difference between externally-enforced motivation (what the coach is doing) and internally-enforced motivation (what the child will need when he goes out on his own.)

What virtues and what skills am I talking about?  They're the virtues of self-reliance (see the famous essay by Emerson): patience, kindness to oneself, self-motivation, self-discipline, self-validation, generosity toward others, ability to endure hardship, delayed gratification, the talent of listening to one's own heart and trusting one's own intuition. 

3. Do you think the proliferation of blogs and social media networks is fostering more creativity in our culture or less? (ie. Do you think this is offering more writers and artists the opportunity to try out their craft or is it just giving us more opportunity for resistance?) 

Great question, Heather!  To me, the qualities of mind that produce really good work (and also, in my opinion, produce happiness) are focus, concentration, the ability to go deep, and perseverance over time.  Things like Facebook and Twitter promote the exact opposites--shallowness, distractability, short attention spans, etc.

That being said, the one person in ten thousand who starts a blog and really goes deep with it may take the skills that she develops from this pursuit and use them at the next level--starting a business or non-profit, writing a novel, getting a Ph.D.

Note: I've got an extra copy of The War of Art, so if you're interested in it, leave a comment by Monday, Nov. 30 and I'll pick a winner.


Bailey said...

The book is on my wishlist (there are ONLY books on my list) this Christmas, so hopefully someone will choose to wrap it up for me!

LadyMissSusan said...

Wow! That really gives me a lot to think about. Would love to win this book and read more. Thanks for the introduction Heather.

Linnea said...

Oh, I love this, especially what he had to say about children. (Insightful words for one who isn't a parent!) I also like the suggestion that we ask ourselves which direction elicits the most powerful resistance. Gives me lots to think about.

andrea said...

I keep my copy of The War of Art in my nightstand, for quick inspiration! It was given to me by an artist friend in Seattle who knows how easily I can be drawn away from the easel and into the world of distractions (like now! -- but yours is always a good one, Heather). I like that you asked him about kids and fostering creativity. Lately I've been thinking about the "hothouse" idea and how valuable it can be for a creative child. My parnets were almost anti-creativity, but my brothers and I would sit down and draw companionably for hours and that was super important. My kids have grown up in a creative hothouse and one has flourished into an amazing musician while the other has found his passion on the stage and has a genius for comic timing. It makes me SO much ahppier than if they'd become accountants or lawyers!

Kelly said...

I love how you are always exploring these types of things and putting so much thought into what you do and how you do it.

The part about teaching kids about certain virtues and skills made me think of a book I bought my nephews - the 7 habits of happy kids. It uses stories to illustrate the 7 habits (of effective people) for kids, teaching them about choices, independence, integrity, mutual benefit, creative cooperation, etc. I haven't read all the stories, but I like what I've read so far. Maddie may still be in the appropriate age range. There's another for teens but I haven't read it. They are by the son of Stephen Covey (the original "7 habits" author).


Donna McAleer said...

Love your blog name and thoughtful questions. If you are multi-talented and pulled in multiple directions, you owe it to yourself to take a side trip in a different direction. You many not be able to do everything at once, but trying new things gets me of my comfort zone and helps to spark creativity.

As for children, I believe in the importance of exposure--sports, art, music, language, travel, getting dirty and cooking. And spending lots of time outside Each plant seeds for future growth.

Anonymous said...

This is a book I haven't seen - would love to have a copy.

Very thoughtful posts.

Dale Cook said...

What about things you feel you were meant to do and it it brings no feelings of resistance? I love to paint. Does that mean I should stop? (PS I would love to have a copy too)

Mark Ryan, Fort Wayne, IN said...

I got a copy of this book a few years ago and got a second to use as a loaner because I feared losing my own copy. This book is loaded with truth, not just for writers, but for anyone in a creative field, or any field for that matter. It is more about living the life you choose to live without the worst fears of all - the ones you create inside - and finding your passion, potential and place in this universe.

Should you quit doing something just because you don't experience resistance? Absolutely not. But don't quit and walk away the minute you might. The War of Art speaks to creative heroism on a very personal level in persevering through all the little excuses and popular beliefs that can be as fatal to a creative soul as a round through the heart. To take this anaolgy further, The War of Art can teach you to take the fire, duck and fight through the challenges you're going to experience and be better for the experience.

Maybe your creative field is visual art, or performing art or writing or maybe it is a field like medicine, business, service, mechanics or welding... or something entirely different. No matter what it is that you do, reading and taking Mr. Pressfield's advice to heart is invaluable and can only serve to make you better, more focused and passionate about your life and work, critics be damned.

I'd loan you my spare copy,(seriously) but it's already out.