The War of Art

I am not a religious person, nor am I a duallist: I don’t believe in souls, or afterlives, or creators, or ghosts. I am an empiricist and a scientist: I value data, and I value observation, and I value replicability.

This doesn’t mean I don’t occasionally find value in religious writing or spiritualism. I don’t take either literally, but the language can be useful to talk about concepts that are hard to quantify; I don’t take the practices as forging a connection to the divine, but they can be useful in calming the mind or quieting the body. The feeling of calm and connection I feel on a hike might as well be called a spiritual experience as anything else. My sense of well-being after a yoga session is valuable whether I believe in the mystical roots of the poses or not.

I say all of this to explain that The War of Art by Steven Pressfield is an important book, but not a book I can take literally. It personifies the distraction and neophobia that sabotages our creative endeavours as Resistance, and the creative urge as Angels or Muses: the eponymous War is between the inertia of the Ego and the dynamism of the Self, personified as these malign and benign spirits.

There’s a lot in this book that is valuable, and I would recommend it for the section on turning pro above all else. The attitude of mental toughness described is powerful, and if you are going to continue your work it is essential.

But the spritualism? The invocation of higher powers? Maybe that will work for you, but I found it off-putting. I’m not going to personify Resistance or the Muse because that doesn’t help me in my writing.

What’s important is turning up and doing the work. The War of Art is completely correct there.

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