If you are a writer. If you are a blogger. If you have a social media account, then you have likely heard of a book called “The War of Art” by Steven Pressenfield. If you’ve never read this book but have only read reviews of this book, then you likely have already been mentally trained to favor this book as THE BOOK that every REAL WRITER MUST READ to take their writing to the next level. I know I did.
So I wanted this book a year ago and I got this book a year ago on sale at my local library for $1 dollar. And I read it, took notes on it, but didn’t write about it because I didn’t want to speak prematurely about THE BOOK until I was sure I really felt what I thought I was feeling about THE BOOK. You know?
But it’s been almost a year since the bandwagon of talk about “The Book” has traveled upward and onward to new places. So now I am really sure what I was feeling about the book is what I feel about the book.
Now I can write this post and say, honestly, I liked THE BOOK.
I like this book.
I find Pressenfield’s personal story as a formerly failed screenwriter who courageously continued to “do the work” of being a writer to be inspiring and encouraging. You can almost feel him working through his own writer-demons with this book, proving with each written page that the “work” of which he speaks is possible.
I like the idea of Resistance, or the idea that we are all called to do something great. I like the idea that we are, however, most resistant to do those great things because we are afraid. I like that and I believe that resistance as Pressenfield presents it is real. I believe that it’s ultimately resistance that makes artists not take their art seriously. It’s resistance, more than anything else, that makes a small life of comfort feel okay. It’s what makes it so hard for us to reach the finish line, not to quit.
This part, this part about resistance is my life story, so you can imagine how I felt in reading this. Likely like every writer, blogger, artist online who wrote about this book as being “their” story.
But then, something happened for me around the part where Pressenfield starts talking about what we need to do to defeat resistance.
“Go pro,” he says. This means showing up everyday and taking our pursuits and ourselves seriously.
And this is where that song by Carly Simon, “You’re so vain” started playing in my head. “I bet you think this book is about you,” I could hear this voice in my head saying as I tried to think about myself and my life and my sometimes not so serious pursuit of writing.
I am not a pro according to Pressenfield. I am not , in his estimation, serious enough about my craft. I accepted this in my first reading, and I started to think that this book is not really about me. But I kept reading anyway. And in reading I formed some opinions which may or may not be fair about Pressenfield’s ideas about defeating resistance.
I didn’t like Presenfield’s idea that being pro, defeating resistance, means that pursuing one’s art must trump all other worldly constraints. I guess since I am a mother, too, this idea can’t be my truth. If it were I guess I would just take Mr. Pressenfield’s words and cry myself in a corner about how my wordly constraints, namely my children, figure far too prominently in my life. But I don’t think that would be productive.
I do think that art is best purposed by those with the ways and means to as Mr. Pressenfield does, rise early and go to the mountains for inspiration, returning only for the dinner his wife has kindly prepared.
Except that’s not my life.
It may be Tiger Wood’s life, Lance Armstrong’s life, or Arnold Schwarzenegger’s life (three male “heroes” referenced SO many times in this book), but it’s not my life. I doubt it’s anyone’s life, let alone any woman’s life, especially so if that woman happens to have children.
I do rise early. But I can’t leave my children to go to the mountains. Even if wanted to. And unfortunately, I don’t ever come home to dinner, since I’m usually the stand in for “the wife” that Pressenfield relies on to make that little detail of his life “work.”
There were other parts of the book that I didn’t get, like the religious and philosophical “trip” that happens at the end of the book, but mainly it was this part about where real life and art should meet that got to me and made me even think that, after a year, it’s worthy to write this review.
The message of The War of Art, it’s central message, is, I think, worthwhile. But in order to make the “whole” of his message work, at least if you’re a woman or 21st century man with children (particularly in a place like America in which parenting is articulated as a purely personal effort) ,’you must take it all with a grain of salt.
He’s not really talking to you, you can tell yourself. “This part of the song is not about you.” And that’s okay.
History is littered with stories, after all, of excluded groups reading “great texts” in spite of their exclusion from those texts.
You can take to heart Pressenfield’s talk of resistance and think about it when, for instance, you feel a tug to not submit a pitch letter. You can think about how fear and ego block you from pushing yourself more as an artist. But you should also remember, when reading books like this one, that your life need not fit into a paradigm of his ideal in order for you to “do your work” as a writer, painter, etc.
I think since I am the dreaded, waste of time “hobbyist” writer that Pressenfield writes against I can say this, too: The work of art and family can be balanced and in real life there are no highly or lowly pursuits. From our children to our novels, in real life it’s all meaningful work that we must do. I think like this because if I don’t I’d be sad about the impossibility about this possibility.
In my world, in my song, this balance is not as either-or as Pressenfield presents it. Again, it is great and ideal that artists pursue their craft fully without distractions of family or society, but that is not possible for us all.
While I may not have been able to know this at 28, I know this now. I know, now, how to read “great” books and not hate them just because they aren’t written from my truths, my multiplicities as a woman, a writer, a woman writer, mother, a colored mother woman writer. Women, mothers, we need not reduce ourselves, I think, to one-dimensional versions of ourselves so that our art may ring purest. We can be multi-dimensional and still create and be artists and be wonderful. Is it harder to do this? Well, yes. But it’s not impossible. And I would dare to say that it is that it is still possible in spite of the challenges that will always make it (with it being pursuing our “art”) feel more worthwhile.
Have you read The War of Art? If you are a woman who read this book, how did you make sense of the book’s heavily masculine leaning? Or did you no see it as having a heavily masculine bent? Really, I want hear your thoughts even if you disagree with me.