The War of Art – A Book Recommendation

The War of Art is a self-help book for creatives with an emphasis on writers. It is long on the analysis of the many guises our inner, nay-saying nag hides behind and of the various schemes this self-saboteur resorts to in its endless efforts to get us to quit on our dreams.

The book is short on the solution for dealing with this irritating little imp Pressfield names, Resistance. How short? Two words short: Turn Pro!

He, of course, elaborates on the advice. The gist of it being, Do the work, day in and day out. Put in the hours every day, rain or shine. Place yourself at the Muse’s call without fail, in sickness or health and with no thought to success or failure.

Amateurs dabble. Only Professionals truly love the work enough to give their life to it.

It’s all very inspiring without ever getting saccharine. The book is a breezy read with most chapters being no more than a page long. Occasionally, when referencing an episode from his colorful life, Pressfield becomes verbose enough to push a chapter to three whole pages!

There is much to recommend this book. Below is a sample I found particularly encouraging and refreshingly counter-intuitive to all the mercenary ‘writing-to-market’ admonishments so overly prevalent in the indie-publishing world.

 I learned this from Robert McKee.  A hack, he says, is a writer who second-guesses his audience. When the hack sits down to work, he doesn’t ask himself what’s in his own heart. He asks what the market is looking for.

The hack condescends to his audience. He thinks he’s superior to them. The truth is, he’s scared to death of them or, more accurately, scared of being authentic in front of them, scared of writing what he really feels or believes, what he himself thinks is interesting. He’s afraid it won’t sell. So he tries to anticipate what the market (a telling word) wants, then gives it to them.

He writes what he imagines will play well in the eyes of others. He does not ask himself, What do I myself want to write? What do I think is important? Instead he asks, What’s hot, what can I make a deal for? 

The hack is like the politician who consults opinion polls before he takes a position. He’s a demagogue. He panders.

It can pay off, being a hack. Given the depraved state of American culture, a slick dude can make millions being a hack. But even if you succeed, you lose, because you’ve sold out your Muse, and your Muse is you, the best part of yourself, where your finest and only true work comes from.

I was starving as a screen writer when the idea for  The Legend of Bagger Vance  came to me. It came as a book, not a movie. I met with my agent to give him the bad news. We both knew that first novels take forever and sell nothing. Worse, a novel about golf, even if we could find a publisher, is a straight shot to the remainder bin.

But the Muse had me. I had to do it. To my amazement, the book succeeded critically and commercially better than anything I’d ever done, and others since have been lucky too. Why? My best guess is this: I trusted what I wanted, not what I thought would work. I did what I myself thought was interesting, and left its reception to the gods…


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