I have always enjoyed the creative process of developing a new course, training seminar, or workshop. So, this book, The War of Art: Break Through the Blocks and Win Your Inner Creative Battles, by Steven Pressfield, spoke to many of my experiences. Two key topics from this week’s assigned readings provided insights into why it is difficult for some, including myself, to complete projects. The issues that impacted me the most were based on the definitions and examples of resistance and being an amateur versus a professional. However, before I start with the focus points, I want to provide one insight that stood out to me about the overall tone of Pressfield’s writing style.
Pressfield, an ex-Marine, has a tone or writing style in the book that reminds me of a drill sergeant. Why is this important? Several statements he makes leave little room for “gray” areas. And this is relevant because when it comes to the creative process and what some people have to overcome to birth their artistic creations, there is a tremendous difference in the obstacles encountered based on their starting point. But I’m getting ahead of myself – and I will develop this gray area further in my essay.
In his book, Pressfield zeroes in on one main reason creatives are challenged when it comes to their work – whether it’s an artist, entrepreneur, or even losing weight. The main reason is resistance. Although the entire book goes into great detail surrounding the many facets of resistance that can creep into our lives, in this essay, I will address only three aspects, self-sabotage, rationalization, and healing.
Pressfield calls resistance the enemy within. This enemy manifests in our life in the form of self-sabotage. I was able to identify with this type of resistance readily. Self-sabotage can come in the form of overextending myself on less critical projects rather than focusing on the projects I most want to do. (I must ponder this more to gain more clarity.) He also states that sabotage can come from others. It is too easy to allow others to sabotage or distract you, especially when the task or project is challenging – like writing.
Another aspect of resistance that can be in the form of a good excuse is rationalization. According to Pressfield, resistance can be hard to identify because it uses “rationalization as its right-hand man.” One example Pressfield gives for rationalization is when people think they have to heal first before they begin the creative process. In terms of healing, Pressfield juxtaposes the healing that the upper middle class thinks they need – because they can spend all sorts of money to indulge themselves – with the recovery he discovered after decades of running and hiding behind a cab driver job. When he sat down and started typing, he found his voice again and knew he had turned a corner. On this point, Pressfield and I agree that writing can be a healing tool. But he makes an interesting statement in this section, “the part that needs healing is our personal life…Personal life has nothing to do with work.” There it is – an example of a drill sergeant-like statement. There is no gray area, you either allow your healing to take precedence and not work on your project, or you put your issues aside and get on with the work at hand.
Logically, I understand what Pressfield is saying. Many people can compartmentalize their emotions and keep moving. However, some cannot separate artistic work from personal issues. Some people have deep-seated emotional problems that block their creativity. It is necessary to deal with those emotional issues to unleash their inner creative self. For example, I spent years teaching and ministering to women behind bars. It was always amazing to see phenomenal artistic creativity in the form of poetry, paintings, singing, short stories, and spoken word emanating from the women. Talent that the world would never see because, for many, the emotional issues and challenges had broken them and contributed to their bondage. So not everyone can turn the corner so easily to break through their roadblocks to blossom into their full artistic creativity.
To end the section on resistance, I must bring in a related point from Stephen King. He has a slightly different approach from Pressfield to the creative process of writing. In his book, On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft, he discusses writing and creating a toolbox to flex the “writing muscle” to build strength. This implies several things. Writers should start where they are, even if they are not entirely healed or an expert. And a toolbox is built based on the life experiences and lessons learned while fine-tuning your craft. King and Pressfield seemingly agree on writing despite personal issues. The differences may be somewhat nuanced depending on how one unpacks their statements – but the point is this – writing itself is deeply personal, and the process is a lonely journey. We all approach projects that cause us to be reflective, creative, artistic, etc., differently.
The last point of discussion from the book is how Pressfield views an amateur versus a professional. On page 62, Pressfield is clear an “amateur is one who plays for fun and a professional is one who plays for keeps.” Until I read Austin Kleon’s book, Show Your Work! I had the same concept of an amateur. Kleon writes on page 12 that “online, everyone – artist and curator, master and apprentice, expert and amateur has the ability to contribute something.” “The real gap is between doing nothing and doing something. Amateurs know that contributing something is better than contributing nothing.” I suspect this was very freeing for many because it is a refreshing way to view amateurs, particularly considering how technology has leveled the competitive landscape. I’ll end with Kleon’s brilliant definition of an amateur. “Amateur is an artist who supports himself with outside jobs which enable him to paint…A pro is someone whose wife works to enable him to paint.”
 Steven Pressfield, The War Of Art: Break Through the Blocks and Win Your Inner Creative Battles, (New York: Black Irish Entertainment LLC, 2002), 8.
 Ibid., 19.
 Ibid., 53.
 Ibid., 79.
 Ibid., 49.
 Ibid., 49.
 Stephen King, On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft, (New York: Scribner, 2000), 114.
 Austin Kleon, Show Your Work!, 10 Ways to Share Your Creativity And Get Discovered, (New York: Workman Publishing Co., Inc., 2014), 16.
 Ibid., 161.