The War of Art – Book Summary

 Resistance – Defining the Enemy

  • Resistance is Invisible

    • We experience it as an energy field radiating from a work-in-potential. It’s a repelling force. It’s negative. Its aim is to shove us away, distract us, prevent us from doing our work.

  • Resistance is Internal

    • Resistance is not a peripheral opponent. Resistance arises from within. It is self-generated and self-perpetuated.

  • Resistance is Insidious

    • Resistance will tell you anything to keep you from doing your work. It will perjure, fabricate, falsify, seduce, bully, cajole.

    • It will pledge anything to get a deal, then double-cross you as soon as your back is turned. Resistance is lying and is always full of shit.

  • Resistance is Infallible

    • Like a compass, Resistance will unfailingly point to true North – meaning that calling or action it most wants to stop us from doing.

    • We can use this. We can navigate by Resistance, letting it guide us to that calling or action that we must follow before all others.

    • Rule of thumb: The more important a call or action is to our soul's evolution, the more Resistance we will feel toward pursuing it.

  • Resistance Never Sleeps

    • The warrior and the artist live by the same code of necessity, which dictates that the battle must be fought anew every day

  • Resistance is Fueled by Fear

    • Every ounce of juice it possesses comes from us. We feed it with power by our fear of it.

  • Resistance is Most Powerful at the Finish Line

    • The danger is greatest when the finish line is in sight. At this point, Resistance knows we are about to beat it

  • Resistance Recruits Allies

    • When a writer begins to overcome their Resistance, they may find that those close to her begin acting strange. They may become moody or sullen, they may accuse the awakening writer of "changing", of "not being the person they were". They are trying to sabotage her. The reason is that they are struggling, consciously or unconsciously, against their own Resistance. The awakening writer's success becomes a reproach to them. If she can beat these demons, why can't they?

    • The best and only thing that one artist can do for another is to serve as an example and as an inspiration

  • Resistance and Procrastination

    • Procrastination is the most common manifestation of Resistance because it is the easiest to rationalize. We don’t tell ourselves, "I'm never going to write my symphony." Instead we say, "I am going to write my symphony; I'm just going to start tomorrow."

    • Never forget: This very moment, we can change our lives. There was never a moment, and never will be, when we are without the power to alter our destiny. This second, we can turn the tables on Resistance. This second, we can sit down and do our work

  • Resistance and Sex

    • Sometimes Resistance takes the form of sex, or an obsessive preoccupation with sex. Why? Because sex provides immediate and powerful gratification. When someone sleeps with us, we feel validated and approved of, even loved. Resistance gets a big kick out of that. It knows it has distracted us with a cheap, easy fix and kept us from doing our work

    • Of course not all sex is a manifestation of Resistance. In my experience, you can tell by the measure of hollowness you feel afterward. The more empty you feel, the more certain you can be that your true motivation was not love or even lust, but Resistance

    • It goes without saying that this principle applies to drugs, shopping, masturbation, TV, gossip, alcohol, and the consumption of all products containing fat, sugar, salt, or chocolate

  • Resistance and Self-Medication

    • Depression and Anxiety may be real. But they can also be Resistance

    • When we drug ourselves to blot out our soul's call, we are being good Americans and exemplary consumers. We're doing exactly what TV commercials and pop materialist culture have been brainwashing us to do from birth

    • Instead of applying self-knowledge, self-discipline, delayed gratification, and hard work, we simply consume a product

  • Resistance and Victimhood

    • Casting yourself as a victim is the antithesis of doing your work. Don't do it. If you're doing it, stop

  • Resistance and Unhappiness

    • What does Resistance feel like? First, unhappiness. We feel like hell. A low grade misery pervades everything. We can't get any satisfaction. There's guilt but we can't put our finger on the source. We're disgusted. We hate our lives. We hate ourselves

    • As artists and professionals, it is our obligation to enact our own internal revolution, a private insurrection inside our own skulls. In this uprising we free ourselves from the tyranny of consumer culture

    • We unplug ourselves from the grid by recognizing that we will never cure our restlessness by contributing our disposable income to the bottom line of Bullshit Inc., but only by doing our work

  • Resistance and Fundamentalism

    • The paradox seems to be, as Socrates demonstrated long ago, that the truly free individual is free only to the extent of his own self-mastery. While those who will not govern themselves are condemned to find masters to govern them

  • Resistance and Criticism

    • If you find yourself criticizing other people, you are probably doing it out of Resistance

    • When we see others beginning to live their authentic selves, it drives us crazy if we have not lived out our own

  • Resistance and Self-Doubt

    • Self-doubt can be an ally. This is because it serves as an indicator of aspiration

    • The counterfeit innovator is wildly self-confident. The real one is scared to death

  • Resistance and Fear

    • Are you paralyzed with fear? That's a good sign. Fear tells us what we have to do

    • The professional tackles the project that will make him stretch

  • Resistance and Being a Star

    • Grandiose fantasies are a symptom of Resistance

    • The professional has learned that success, like happiness, comes as a by-product of work

  • Resistance and Rationalization

    • Rationalization is Resistance's right-hand man. Its job is to keep us from feeling the shame we would feel if we truly faced what cowards we are for not doing our work

    • It’s one thing to lie to ourselves. It’s another thing to believe it

    • Instead of showing us our fear, Resistance presents us with a series of plausible, rational justifications for why we shouldn’t do our work

  • Combating Resistance – Turning Pro

    • Professionals and Amateurs

      • Aspiring artists defeated by Resistance share one trait. They all think like amateurs. They have not yet turned pro

      • The amateur plays for fun. The professional plays for keeps

      • To the amateur, the game is his avocation. To the pro its his vocation

      • The amateur plays part-time, the professional plays full time

      • The amateur is a weekend warrior. The professional is there 7 days a week

      • The professional loves it so much he dedicates his life to it. He commits full time

    • A Professional

      • Somerset Maugham – "I write only when inspiration strikes, fortunately it strikes every morning at nine o'clock sharp"

      • By performing the mundane physical task of sitting down and starting to work, he set in motion a mysterious but infallible sequence of events that would produce inspiration

    • What a Writer's Day Feels Like

      • I wake up with a gnawing sensation of dissatisfaction. Already I feel fear. Already the loved ones around me are going to fade. I interact. I'm present. But I'm not

      • I go through the chores, the correspondence, the obligations of daily life. Again I'm there but not really. The clock is running in my head; I know I can indulge in daily crap for a little while, but I must cut if off when the bell rings

      • Principle of Priority – you must know the difference between what is urgent and what is important and you must do what is important first

      • Do I really believe that my work is crucial to the planet's survival? Of course not. But it's as important to me as catching the mouse is to the hawk

      • The years have taught me one skill: how to be miserable. I know how to shut up and keep humping

      • I go to sleep content, but my final thought is of Resistance. I will wake up with it tomorrow. Already I am steeling myself

    • How to be Miserable

      • The Marine Corps teaches you how to be miserable. This is invaluable for an artist

      • The artist will be dining for the duration on a diet of isolation, rejection, self-doubt, despair, ridicule, contempt, and humiliation

      • The artist must be like the Marine. He has to know how to be miserable. He has to love being miserable. He has to take pride in being more miserable than any other soldier or swabbie or jet jockey

    • We're all Pros Already

      • All of us are pros in one area: our jobs. What are the principles we can take from what we're already doing successfully in our work day life and apply it to our artistic aspirations? What qualities define us as professionals?

        • We show up every day. We might do it only because we have to, to keep from getting fired. But we do it

        • We show up no matter what. In sickness and in health, come hell or high water, we stagger into the factory

        • We stay on the job all day. Our minds may wander, but our bodies remain at the wheel. We pick up the phone when it rings, we help customers when he seeks our help. We don't go home till the whistle blows

        • We are committed over the long haul. Next year we may go to another job, another company, another country. But we're still working

        • The stakes for us are high and real. This is about survival, feeding our families and educating our children. Its about eating

        • We accept remuneration for our labor. We're not here for fun. We work for money

        • We do not over-identify with our jobs. We may take pride in our work, we may stay late and come in on weekends, but we recognize that we are not our job descriptions. The amateur defines himself by his avocation; Resistance loves this. Resistance knows that the amateur composer will never write his symphony because he is overly invested in its success and over terrified of its failure. The amateur takes it so seriously it paralyzes him

        • We master the technique of our jobs

        • We have a sense of humor about our jobs

        • We receive praise or blame in the real world

    • A Professional is Patient

      • Resistance outwits the amateur by using his own enthusiasm against him. It knows we can't sustain that level of intensity. We will hit the wall. We will crash

      • The professional, on the other hand, understands delayed gratification – he arms himself with patience, not only to give the stars time to align in his career, but to keep himself from flaming out in each individual work

      • He knows that each job, whether it’s a novel or a kitchen remodel, takes twice as long as he thinks and costs twice as much

    • A Professional Demystifies

      • She doesn’t wait for inspiration, she acts in the anticipation of its apparition

      • The sign of the amateur is over glorification of and preoccupation with the mystery

      • The professional shuts up. She doesn't talk about it. She does her work

    • A Professional Acts in the Face of Fear

      • The professional knows that fear never be overcome; there is no such thing as a fearless warrior or a dread-free artist

    • A Professional Accepts No Excuses

      • The professional knows that Resistance is like a telemarketer; if you so much as say hello, you're finished. The pro doesn’t even pick up the phone. He stays at work

    • A Professional is Prepared

      • She is prepared, each day, to confront her own self-sabotage

    • A Professional Does Not Show Off

      • He does not impose it as a means of drawing attention to himself

    • A Professional Dedicates Himself to Mastering Technique

      • Not because he believes technique is a substitute for inspiration but because he wants to be in possession of the full arsenal of skills when inspiration does come

    • A Professional Does Not Take Failure (Or Success) Personally

      • Resistance uses fear of rejection to paralyze us and prevent us, if not from doing our work, then from exposing it to public evaluation

      • The professional cannot take rejection personally because to do so reinforces Resistance

      • The battle is inside our own heads; we cannot let external criticism, even if it's true, fortify our internal foe. That foe is strong enough already

      • The professional gives an ear to criticisms, seeking to learn and grow. But she never forgets that Resistance is using criticism against her on a far more diabolical level

      • The professional cannot take humiliation personally

    • A Professional Self-Validates

      • An amateur lets the negative opinion of others unman him

      • The professional cannot allow the actions of others to define his reality. Tomorrow morning the critic will be gone, but the writer will still be there facing the blank page. Nothing matters but that he will keep working

      • Resistance wants us to stake our self-worth, our identity, our reason-for-being, on the response of others to our work. Resistance knows we can't take this. No one can

      • The professional learns to recognize envy-driven criticism and to take it for what it is: the supreme compliment. The critic hates most that which he would done himself if he had had the guts

    • A Professional Recognizes Her Limitations

      • She gets an agent, a lawyer, an accountant. She knows she can only be a professional at one thing. She brings in other pros and treats them with respect

    • You, Inc.

      • Making yourself a corporation (or just thinking of yourself in that way) reinforces the idea of professionalism because it separates the artist-doing-the-work from the will-and-consciousness-running-the-show

      • I have a meeting with myself every Monday. I sit down and go over my assignments. Then I type it up and distribute it to myself

    • No Mystery

      • There's no mystery to turning pro. It’s a decision brought about by an act of will

      • We make up our mind to view ourselves as pro and we do it, simple as that

  • Beyond Resistance – The Higher Realm

    • Approaching the Mystery

      • The most important thing about art is to work. Nothing else matters except sitting down every day and trying

      • Because when we sit down day after day and keep grinding, something mysterious starts to happen. A process is set into motion by which, inevitably and infallibly, heaven comes to our aid. Unseen forces enlist in our cause; serendipity reinforces our purpose

    • Life and Death

      • At one stroke in the doctor's office, he becomes aware of what really matters to him. Things that sixty seconds earlier had seemed all important suddenly appear meaningless, while people and concerns that he had till then dismissed at once take on supreme importance

    • Fear

      • Resistance feeds on fear

      • Fear of the consequences of following our heart, fear of poverty, fear of groveling when we try to make it on our own, and of groveling when we give up and come crawling back to where we started, fear of being selfish, of being rotten wives and disloyal husbands, fear of failing to support our families, fear of sacrificing their dreams for ours, fear of failure, fear of being ridiculous, fear of throwing away the education, the training, the preparation that those we love have sacrificed so much for, fear of launching into the void, of hurtling too far out there, fear of passing some point of no return, beyond which we cannot recant, cannot reverse, cannot rescind, but must live with this cocked-up choice for the rest of our lives, fear of insanity, fear of death

      • These are serious fears. But they're not the real fear, the Master Fear That is so close to us that even when we verbalize it we don't believe it: Fear That We Will Succeed. That we can access the powers we secretly know we possess. That we can become the person we sense in our hearts we truly are. This is the most terrifying prospect a human being can face, because it ejects him at one go from all the tribal inclusions his psyche is wired for and has been for fifty million years

    • The Artist and The Hierarchy

      • For the artist to define himself hierarchically is fatal – an individual who defines himself by his place in a pecking order will:

        • Compete against all others in the order, seeking to evaluate his station by advancing against those above him, while defending his place against those beneath

        • Evaluate his happiness/success/achievement by his rank within the hierarchy, feeling most satisfied when he's high and most miserable when he's low

        • Act toward others based upon their rank in the hierarchy, to the exclusion of all other factors

        • Evaluate his every move solely by the effect it produces on others. He will act for others, dress for others, speak for others, think for others

      • The artist cannot look to others to validate his efforts or his calling. The artist must operate territorially. He must do his work for its own sake

      • In the hierarchy, the artist faces outward. Meeting someone new he ask himself, "What can this person do for me? How can this person advance my standing?". In the hierarchy, the artist looks up and looks down. The one place he can't look is that place he must: within.

    • The Definition of a Hack

      • 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, wants, then gives it to them

      • I was starving as a screenwriter when the idea for "The Legend of Bagger Vance" came to me. Me and my agent both knew that first novels take forever and sell for nothing. 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 though was interesting, and left its reception to the gods

      • The artist can't do his work hierarchically. He has to work territorially

    • The Territorial Orientation

      • We have psychological territories: Stevie Wonder's is the piano, Schwarzenegger's is the gym, Bill Gates is Microsoft. What qualifies a territory?

      • A territory provides sustenance

        • The swimmer who towels off after finishing her laps feels a helluva lot better than the tired, cranky person who dove into the pool thirty minutes earlier

      • A territory sustains us without any external input

        • A territory is a closed feedback loop. Our role is to put in effort and love; the territory absorbs this and gives it back to us in the form of well-being. When experts tell us that exercise (or any other effort driven activity) banishes depression, this is what they mean

      • A territory can only be claimed alone

        • You can team up with a partner, you can work out with a friend, but you only need yourself to soak up your territory's juice

      • A territory can only be claimed by work

        • When Arnold Schwarzenegger hits the gym, he's on his own turf. But what made it his own are the hours and years of sweat he put in to claim it. A territory doesn't give, it gives back

      • A territory returns exactly what you put in

        • Territories are fair. Every erg of energy you put in goes infallibly into your account. A territory never devalues. A territory never crashes. What you deposited, you get back, dollar-for-dollar

    • The Artist and The Territory

      • Remember, as artists we don't know diddly. We're winging it every day. For us to try to second-guess our Muse the way a hack second-guesses his audience is condescension to heaven.

      • Instead let's ask ourselves like that new mother: What do I feel growing inside me? Let me bring that forth, if I can, for its own sake and not for what it can do for me or how it can advance my standing

    • The Difference Between Territory and Hierarchy

      • How can we tell if our orientation is territorial or hierarchical?

        • One way is to ask ourselves, if I were feeling really anxious, what would I do? If we would pick up the phone and call six friends, one after the other, with the aim of hearing their voices and reassuring ourselves that they still love us, we're operating hierarchically. We are seeking the good opinion of others

        • What would Arnold Schwarzenegger do on a freaky day? He wouldn't phone his buddies, he would head for the gym. He wouldn't care if the place was empty, if he didn't say a word to a soul. He knows that working out, all by itself, is enough to bring him back to his center. His orientation is territorial

        • Here's another test. Of any activity you do, ask yourself "If I were the last person on earth, would i still do this?"

          • If you're all alone on the planet, a hierarchical orientation makes no sense. There's no one to impress. So if you'd  still pursue this activity, congratulations. You're doing it territorially

          • If Arnold Schwarzenegger were the last man on earth, he'd still go to the gym. Stevie Wonder would still pound the piano. The sustenance they get comes from the act itself, not from the impression it makes on others

    • The Fruits of Our Labor

      • We must do our work for its own sake, not for fortune or attention or applause

    • Portrait of The Artist

      • The enemy of the artist is the small-time Ego, which begets Resistance, which is the dragon that guards the gold.

      • That's why an artist must be a warrior and, like all warriors, artists over time acquire modesty and humility

      • Some of them may conduct themselves flamboyantly in public. But alone with the work they are chaste and humble

    • The Artist's Life

      • Creative work is not a selfish act or a bid for attention on the part of the actor. It is a gift to the world and every being in it. Don't cheat us of your contribution. Give us what you got

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