war of art

I Need To (Fill In The Blank).

There is a slim volume called The War of Art on my night table. It was written by Steven Pressfield, a book author and a former Marine. Pressman believes in past lives and the muse, which don’t strike me as very Marine-like beliefs, but what do I know. This guy knows so much about Resistance (his capitalization) I can hardly believe he’s finished one sentence of one book. Here are a few choice bits.

There’s a secret that real writers know that wannabe writers don’t, and the secret is this: It’s not the writing part that’s hard. What’s hard is sitting down to write.

Resistance will tell you anything to keep you from doing your work. It will perjure, fabricate, falsify; seduce, bully, cajole. Resistance is protean. It will assume any form, if that’s what it takes to deceive you. It will reason with you like a lawyer or jam a nine-millimeter in your face like a stickup man.

The following is a list, in no particular order, of those activities that most commonly elicit Resistance:

1) The pursuit of any calling in writing, painting, music, film, dance, or any creative art, however marginal or unconventional.

2) The launching of any entrepreneurial venture of enterprise, for profit or otherwise.

3) Any diet or health regimen.

4) Any program of spiritual advancement.

5) Any activity whose aim is tighter abdominals.

6) Any course or program designed to overcome an unwholesome habit or addiction.

7) Education of every kind.

8)  Any act of political, moral, or ethical courage, including the decision to change for the better some unworthy pattern of thought or conduct in ourselves.

This list goes on. It feels like a dirty secret. While all the good humans proceed through the day completing tasks and fulfilling their potential and achieving their goals, I’m having a tawdry affair with Resistance. We’re in a steamy clutch before breakfast. R begs me not to carry my coffee mug up to my office. Stay and read the business section, R implores. You don’t pay enough attention to financial issues. It’s true. R knows me well. Later in the morning, out of the blue, R reminds me that the bathtub is dangerous. It’s only a matter of time before someone slips and dies. R always remembers the important stuff. We hop in the car and drive to Bed Bath & Beyond, certain of the urgency of this errand. While we’re out, R suggests, why not make a quick stop at the consignment store to look for that small table you need? Sometimes R wants to take me to bed in the middle of the day. You’ll feel so much better afterwards, R explains. Rested. Able to focus. I know that R is a cad and a liar. I also know that R is not mine alone. R gets around. It’s time to break it off. But how?

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  1. Posted December 7, 2011 at 12:52 pm | Permalink

    Not a believer in past lives or supernatural muses myself, but found some of Pressfield’s work useful.

    I find I have to confront the problems from multiple angles at once… this includes:

    *Noticing and solving logistical problems
    *Putting all my necessary tools in one place
    *Clearing a bare workspace
    *Focusing on one thing (book, song, or lyric) at a time
    *Staying disconnected (no Facebook; no cell phone)
    *Deliberately and strictly putting knowledge into actual plans and constant practice
    *Creating deadlines
    *Sabotaging my own bad habits; deliberately making slacking less convenient
    *Seeing through my own excuses
    *Constantly challenging myself to push harder
    *Daily reading

    And lots of other things that I’m forgetting, I’m sure. It’s a full-time battle.

    Keep us posted on how it goes, will you?

    • joan
      Posted December 7, 2011 at 7:46 pm | Permalink

      I will indeed keep you posted. Your list is, um, resonant. To say the least. All at once? You are a prince among men.

      • Posted December 9, 2011 at 12:31 pm | Permalink

        Thanks, Joan. But if you could see how badly I spent this morning, you’d agree that I’m no prince.

        The beautiful, uncomplicated periods are the ones where I actually sit down and do my damn work. It’s refreshing.

        The shitty periods are the ones that I complicate with all that thrashing and distraction and doubt and self-negotiation and a hundred other things. It gets thorny when I’ve allowed bad habits to grow.

        For me, winning that battle has been all about infrastructure within my home and within myself.

        Songwriting’s especially tough to buckle down on because mastery of it is so slippery and complex. It’s too open-ended! I tend to be overly analytic, so it really helps for me to set non-negotiable songwriting sessions. 3 to 4pm Friday, dead or alive. If the song is shit, the song is shit–keep moving at all costs. Otherwise I’ll endlessly think about songwriting, read about songwriting, think about reading about songwriting, read about creativity, think about creativity applied to songwriting… and then suddenly I’m under a headstone going “Whoa, where’d all the time go?”

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  1. By Different Kind of Lucky on December 8, 2011 at 1:50 pm

    [...] blog you know that despite my best intentions a few things have gotten in the way. Well, one thing. Me. The song is finally done and there’s even a line about good intentions in the chorus. This [...]

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