One of the best books I’ve ever read. In fact, I re-read it once or twice a year. It’s that good.
The War of Art speaks to every human out there aspiring to something, anything really. The Resistance, as Steven calls it, is an invisible force inside that has very much visible effect on us. It’s there to prevent you from building a project, writing a book, learning how to play a piano. Anything that would make you a happier, more fulfilled person.
The Resistance never sleeps. It’s working 24/7 to stop you and it has a lot of effective tricks up its sleeve. It’s on us to shine a light on these evil deeds, put an end to them and go where we want to go.
I didn’t capture a ton of quotes from this book. Not because there aren’t many, believe me there are. But only because I got so into it that I put down my phone, knowing this is one of those books I’ll read many times again.
Most of us have two lives. The life we live, and the unlived life within us. Between the two stands Resistance.
Have you heard this story: Woman learns she has cancer, six months to live. Within days she quits her job, resumes the dream of writing Tex-Mex songs she gave up to raise a family (or starts studying classical Greek, or moves to the inner city and devotes herself to tending babies with AIDS). Woman’s friends think she’s crazy; she herself has never been happier. There’s a postscript. Woman’s cancer goes into remission. Is that what it takes? Do we have to stare death in the face to make us stand up and confront Resistance? Does Resistance have to cripple and disfigure our lives before we wake up to its existence? How many of us have become drunks and drug addicts, developed tumors and neuroses, succumbed to painkillers, gossip, and compulsive cell-phone use, simply because we don’t do that thing that our hearts, our inner genius, is calling us to? Resistance defeats us. If tomorrow morning by some stroke of magic every dazed and benighted soul woke up with the power to take the first step toward pursuing his or her dreams, every shrink in the directory would be out of business.
The danger is greatest when the finish line is in sight. At this point, Resistance knows we’re about to beat it. It hits the panic button. It marshals one last assault and slams us with everything it’s got. The professional must be alert for this counterattack. Be wary at the end. Don’t open that bag of wind.
Self-doubt can be an ally.
If you find yourself asking yourself (and your friends), “Am I really a writer. Am I really an artist?” chances are you are. The counterfeit innovator is wildly self-confident. The real one is scared to death.
The more scared we are of a work or calling, the more sure we can be that we have to do it.
If it meant nothing to us, there’d be no Resistance.
The opposite of love isn’t hate; it’s indifference.
I worked for twenty-six months straight, taking only two out for a stint of migrant labor in Washington State, and finally one day I got to the last page and typed out:
I never did find a buyer for the book. Or the next one, either. It was ten years before I got the first check for something I had written and ten more before a novel, The Legend of Bagger Vance, was actually published. But that moment when I first hit the keys to spell out THE END was epochal. I remember rolling the last page out and adding it to the stack that was the finished manuscript. Nobody knew I was done. Nobody cared. But I knew. I felt like a dragon I’d been fighting all my life had just dropped dead at my feet and gasped out its last sulfuric breath. Rest in peace, motherfucker. Next morning I went over to Paul’s for coffee and told him I had finished. “Good for you,” he said without looking up. “Start the next one today.”
Another way of thinking of it is this: We’re not born with unlimited choices. We can’t be anything we want to be. We come into this world with a specific, personal destiny. We have a job to do, a calling to enact, a self to become. We are who we are from the cradle, and we’re stuck with it. Our job in this lifetime is not to shape ourselves into some ideal we imagine we ought to be, but to find out who we already are and become it.
Of any activity you do, ask yourself: If I were the last person on earth, would I still do it?
Creative work is not a selfish act or a bid for attention on the part of the actor. It’s a gift to the world and every being in it. Don’t cheat us of your contribution. Give us what you’ve got.