Resisting the War on Resistance. BOOK REVIEW of “The War of Art: Break Through the Blocks and Win Your Inner Creative Battles”

I don’t usually write about what I disagree with, but I think it’s time for me to express my opposition to cultural metaphors and myths that feed the growing epidemic of stress, anxiety, powerlessness, and feelings of inadequacy that so many people are experiencing today.

war of-art-steven-pressfield

What better place to start resisting than with a best-selling book that has 309 5-star reviews and declares something as untrue as  “Resistance is Evil?” 

If resistance is characterized as evil…no wonder our culture destroys the confidence and self-respect of anyone who dares to be different, express dissenting ideas, or disagree with dominant values.  

Today, I’ve decided to resist openly and honestly. I’m not going to be “nice” or “quiet” just to not make waves.  Our cultural obsession with the idea that self-control and battling one’s inner resistance is the only way to “break through” procrastination or creative blocks must be challenged.  

My intention is not to simply criticize by attacking his ideas I hope to inspire deeper thinking on the claim that “resistance is evil” and encourage people to ask questions of their own before accepting the ideas as truth.  So along with my resistance, I offer an alternative.

I believe resistance is more effective when served constructively.  It’s not enough to point out what isn’t fully accurate. Thoughtful resistance that has any hope of being well-received by the force being resisted needs to offer a creative and sustainable alternative as well.

Here’s my attempt at that.  Hope you find it helpful.

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The content of the book “The War of Art: Break Through the Blocks and Win Your Inner Creative Battles” makes it abundantly clear that the author did little to actively resist or challenge his own ideas while writing it. From the first page, Steven Pressfield makes one outrageous and inaccurate claim after another.  

Was he trying to shock people?  If shock was the intention, I suppose I could understand it.  But from the tone of the whole book, it seemed to me he really believes what he is saying and truly cannot see an alternative way to look at inner resistance.

So, if he reads this, I hope he takes it in the spirit offered and is willing to consider that a metaphor other than WAR might apply to the inner conflict he and so many others experience when trying to write or create art of any kind. 

QUOTES FROM THE BOOK:

— “Resistance is the most toxic force on the planet. It is the root of more unhappiness than poverty, disease, and erectile dysfunction.” 
 

— “Resistance is evil.” 
 

— “Resistance is the enemy within.”

These quotes are so utterly and completely misguided, I can hardly believe this book got published. Unfortunately they are the premises upon which the entire book is written.

ALTERNATIVE VIEWS OF RESISTANCE

Here are several other ways to look at resistance. And yes, you can quote me.  To my knowledge I have not read or heard anyone else say these exact quotes. 

— Resistance IS NOT inherently evil. Resistance is VALUABLE.  Resistance is our GIFT.  It’s the source of our Free will. Without resistance we would all be obedient little robots. 

— Resistance is a vital component of your ability to think for yourself.   Inner resistance is what enables you to challenge YOUR OWN thoughts and ideas and not believe every thought you think.

— Inner Resistance makes courage possible. Without it, you would not be able to feel fear and act anyway.

— Resistance helps prevent you from automatically believing everything you hear or see. 

— Resistance prevents you from automatically following every order or command you are given. Even the ones you give yourself. 

— Resistance is often trying to PROTECT and defend your rights, not HURT you. 

— Resistance is REQUIRED to develop your ability to think both creatively and critically. 

— Inner Resistance may seem evil, but in fact, is often coming from our inner wisdom trying to get our attention nonverbally to let us know that we are not yet ready to do the thing we are intending to do.  It has the potential to give us useful information if we listen and not immediately jump into war with it. It is often NOT our “enemy within.” 

 

THE POTENTIAL VALUE OF RESISTANCE

When we listen more deeply, resistance (even when it comes to writing or any other creative task we want to perform) can be felt and heard as the voice of our inner wisdom challenging and encouraging us to:

  1. Become less rigid in our idea of what we think we have to do to become a good writer or whatever you are trying to get yourself to do. Creative work is challenging and can be an opportunity to learn more about ourselves and become more flexible and agile in all aspect of our lives.
     
  2. Use our inner creativity to DESIGN ways to inspire ourselves to write and to increase the quality of our ideas.
     
  3. Try listening to our inner wisdom instead of assuming our logical self is always right. The part of our brain that sets goals and tries to “tell” us what to do is not always right. Our inner controlling self is not inherently superior to our emotional and physical selves.

Writing is a process. If Steven Pressfield wrote this book by forcing himself to sit down and start writing at 9 am every day – well, no wonder it is so biased, oversimplistic and promotes strategies that not only may not be helpful, they could be downright oppressive to the creative soul.   

Good writing requires doing much more than sitting down at a computer at 9 am every day. Good writing requires a healthy combination of: 

  • Nurturing your ideas 
    • Thinking and experimenting and trying out your ideas.  Do they hold up when you put them into practice?  
  • Challenging your ideas
    • Reading and listening to other people’s ideas on the same topic. Particularly reading ideas that are contrary to your own. 
       
    • Listening to “resistance” to your ideas. 
       
    • Actively considering the possibility that ideas that are completely opposite of yours might have some seeds of validity that could ENRICH your point of view.

Resistance challenges us to think deeper, and use our reasoning and discerning skills before we accept other people’s ideas and adopt their suggestions. Resistance enables us to filter out ideas that either aren’t true or simply don’t fit us. Without resistance, we become easy targets for any claim that simply “feels right” or “sounds good.”  Willingness to resist and get past our comfort zone empowers us to challenge outdated cultural myths and metaphors no matter how intuitively right they seem.

Most Inner Resistance is worth listening to. If you listen and respond respectfully it often melts and may even evolve into an ally.  It may give you information that can greatly improve your strategies. Resistance is uncomfortable, but war is not usually the most effective response to resistance.  In fact, the most honest feedback and resistance often comes from the people who are closest to us and love us the MOST.  If they didn’t care, why would they bother to risk giving us their honest feedback?  

The same is true of our inner resistance.  If you look and listen deeper, your inner resistance could be your best friend.  It could be the most honest source of feedback you have to challenge you to question your assumptions, redesign your strategies, or rethink your own ideas.  What if you could not only SUCCEED but ALSO enjoy the creative process in all its mysteries and unpredictability?  What if you could nurture it and NOT have to FORCE or BATTLE or CONQUER yourself at every turn?  

What if your resistance holds the keys to creative bliss and you can’t get there because you are too busy fighting it?

The more you fight resistance, the more it goes underground and becomes even stronger.

— Resistance is what fueled the American Revolution. If England had LISTENED and allowed us to have a voice in our own taxation, we might still be part of England. 

— Resistance is how we respond to disrespect and tyranny – even when we are disrespecting ourselves.

— Resistance is how we respond to abuse – and trying to force ourselves to do things can become a form of self-abuse.

Clearly, Steven Pressfield’s military background not only taught him to devalue his inner resistance, it seems to have weakened his ability to see life with any metaphor other than war.  It seems to have robbed him of his ability to embrace the gifts of resistance.

I hope that somehow he finds a way to see inner resistance as a healthy part of developing the miracle we humans have of being able to learn, change, and grow as a result of conflict, tension, and struggle.  Our “opposable mind”  separates us from animals and makes it possible to resist ourselves and change our own behavior rather than simply follow built in “instincts”.  Resistance is a central ingredient to the ability to learn. Our ability to resist what we have learned so that we can UNLEARN untruths is one of the most wondrous aspects of being human.

ALTERNATIVE METAPHORS FOR ART

When you take the time to consider the potential value of resistance and to ask the question, is war REALLY the best or only metaphor for art?  You open your mind to see that the process of creating art does NOT have to be war.  It can be so much more satisfying and enriching than that.

— Art can be a “dance” with life and the “gardening” of high quality ideas. 

— Art can be an adventure in getting to know ourselves and cultivating self-respect, self-confidence, and humility. 

— Art can teach us self-leadership, conflict resolution and inner consensus-building. 

— Art can challenge and inspire us to cultivate inner alignment instead of trying to dominate ourselves.

 

WAR IS THE REAL SELF-DEFEATING STRATEGY

Who is winning when you go to war with yourself?  Who loses?  Both sides ARE YOU!  When you “defeat” one part of yourself…that is the REAL act of self-sabotage. Thinking you having an enemy inside is a recipe for depression, anxiety, frustration, and wasting ridiculous amounts of energy fighting that could have been spent listening and learning.

Steven, if you read this piece of resistance to the ideas in your book, I wonder:  Would you even consider rethinking the war metaphor for art?  or would you actively consider the possibly of another way to experience the process of creation?

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I wonder if the people who love the book would read this or be inspired to consider new possibilities?  If you were like me and felt something was “off” and felt outnumbered by the vast outpouring of people agreeing with and praising the war metaphor, I hope reading this helps you strengthen your own point of view and conviction to think for yourself – even when it seems like an overwhelming majority disagrees with you.  If you feel more empowered to keep listening to yourself,it was worth taking 4 hours out of my life to write this. 

 

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8 thoughts on “Resisting the War on Resistance. BOOK REVIEW of “The War of Art: Break Through the Blocks and Win Your Inner Creative Battles”

  1. Pingback: Where do I start? 12 Ways to Get Unstuck, Decide Where to Start and Agilize What’s Bothering You | Ariane Benefit, M.S.Ed

  2. Just came across this blog & this article…

    I also had some reservations when I read this book a few yrs ago. Some of his ideas seemed really wonky. It’s kept me from buying his other books on the subject.

    Your ideas are interesting & positive. I’ll keep them in mind.

    FYI, the author’s name is Steven PressFIELD , not Pressman, as stated in the article.

    • Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts AND for pointing my error in his name. All fixed now. You also inspired me to update and edit the article. And so the iterative dance of writing unfolds. Your comments felt like you stepped on to dance floor with me and helped me become an even better dancer! It was great to share this “dance” with you! : )

  3. Got some feedback on Linked In…

    sharon bean

    Ariane, I agree with you. Please forgive me but he reminds me of the movie “Yes Man” with Jim Carrey. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uRv4CoXQoAQ

    Sandy Guderyon

    Hi Ariane, I would have to say that I agree with you. Sometimes, when something ‘not good’ is proposed to us, we feel a resistance to it, and for good reason. I feel it can be a protective tool to help us, at least at times. Thank you for airing your comments.

  4. Thank you for the investment of your time and sweat over this, Ariane! You’ve put it so succinctly, what I felt when I tried to read that book. I *think* I still own a copy (got it due to a friend’s rave) but, let me tell you – if/when I locate my copy, I’m going to Burn It in a ritual fire! It is so diametrically opposed to my view of me, us, and the world, that I refuse to propagate those ideas, even at ‘used book prices’.

    Bright Blessings ~ KMJ

    • Yeah…this book is definitely not neurodiverse-friendly. What gets me is that he states things like they are proven facts and are right for everyone. Maybe we need a neurodiverse-friendly seal of approval system for books.

      Like :

      ” Warning: This book presents opinion as fact and offers no contrasting viewpoints. It assumes everyone has a similar brain and value system and does not consider neurodiversity at all. Enter at your own risk.”

      I think some people are so conditioned to the “war” “attack” “no excuses” metaphor they can’t even imagine that at least half the world prefers a less violent approach and often prefer “gaming” or “dance” as a metaphor for strategizing. Many people also prefer to figure out ways to inspire their own writing rather than to make it a dreaded boring routine.

      Thanks for sharing your views!

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