Do Your Work: A Short and Sweet Recap of “The War Of Art”

Here is my recap and review of The War of Art by Steven Pressfield.

Step 1. Read this book.

Step 2. Do your work.

Full disclosure, this is actually the second time I have read this book, and also the second time I have written about it. (You can read my earlier musings on my personal blog here.) I read the book again because it is still true and helpful, and if you ever need a metaphorical kick in the butt to get yourself rolling in the direction of fulfilling your creative dreams, this book is a godsend. Steven Pressfield knows all about the myriad ways in which we all procrastinate on the projects that are most important to us. And frankly, he doesn’t care. He’s been there, too. But it’s all bull, he says. We still need to do our work.

So what does he mean by doing our work? The assumption that Pressfield makes in writing this book is that we all have a calling of sorts – work that we are meant to do. He also maintains that most of us tend to avoid doing our real work, and he lumps together the many ways in which we procrastinate and avoid our work under the all-encompassing title of “Resistance.” All destructive and self-destructive human tendencies derive, Pressfield argues, from the same, impersonal and universal force: resistance.

Cover of The War of Art by Steven Pressfield

Pressfield’s characterization of resistance is brilliant and illuminating. In his spare, clean prose, he makes clear that we all contend with resistance on a daily basis; it is just part of the human experience. In the first two sections of the book, he outlines numerous and various manifestations of resistance. He lays out his prescription in Book III so clearly that there can be no mistaking his meaning. At the end of the day, there are no excuses. Whether we were born to be singers or writers or astronauts or belly dancers or chefs or dog trainers or life coaches or scuba instructors, we have to do our work. Which sort of sucks because resistance makes this feel miserable some of the time. But if we want to leave our mark on the planet, if we want to live our biggest and happiest possible lives, then we have to do our work.

My only bone to pick with Pressfield is his emphasis on misery. He says that fighting resistance is a daily and miserable undertaking, and he sort of revels in this fact and lays on the military analogies pretty heavily.(Read: lots of references to muddy trenches and the sweat and blood of battle.) My feeling is that he misses a wee little bit of the joy that can come from pursuing our dreams whole-heartedly. And yet, this framing of the issues seems to work for him.

If you have ever procrastinated on a dream; if you have ever given up halfway through a project; if you have ever stress-eaten your way through a pint of ice cream because you couldn’t face the blank page or the white canvas or your unfinished screenplay, then this is the book for you. And if you want to change the world with your work, make sure to finish the book, because Book III of The War of Art is the best part. So go forth and read this book! And then, my friends: do your work.

Other posts on facing up to procrastination in writing and beyond:

Discipline & Doubt in Writing a Novel

Emergency Cleaning Your Whole House in the Shortest Time Possible

2 thoughts on “Do Your Work: A Short and Sweet Recap of “The War Of Art””

  1. There’s always part of me that thinks “Reading this book on procrastination is only letting me procrastinate from my real work more!!” But then I still buy/borrow/read them anyway…. so some writers sure found a good niche.

    Whether it’s academic writing or professional writing, writers’ block happens to everyone. It’s all the more frustrating because when I do get on a role, my writing is *so good* (my advisors and boss tell me so), and when I’m struggling to get through it’s just as obvious. Why can’t I just be an amazing academic/scientific writer ALL THE TIMES??

    1. Thanks for reading. I have felt the same way, about procrastinating through reading books on how to get past writer’s block. It’s also so true that writer’s block is universal, and universally sucky. One thought I had when reading your comment: for me, at least, writer’s block often springs from wanting my writing to be superb and feeling that it is falling short. In other words, my perfectionism is the SAME THING as my writer’s block, or at least is a major component/ingredient in it. In other words, are you being uber hard on yourself when you don’t feel “in the flow”? I could imagine it would be hard to produce amazing material if you expect brilliance every time, (because I don’t think that any of us can be amazing writers ALL the time. Which is deeply frustrating, I realize.) This may be completely off base; feel free to disregard this unsolicited thought on your writing process! More to the point, good luck with your writing NO MATTER WHAT. It’s brave to set words down on the page.

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