Last week, I received a lovely package in the mail from Callie Oettinger, Steven Pressfield’s publicist: a copy of the sequel to THE WAR OF ART, Steven’s monumental work on creativity, called TURNING PRO. Anyone who knows me knows this: THE WAR OF ART is one of only two books on the process of writing that I keep near at hand as I work (the other is Betsy Lerner’s THE FOREST FOR THE TREES). These aren’t books on the nuts-and-bolts of sentence construction or tense or storytelling; no, these are books on the theory, the drive, behind the sentences. Why writers do what they do. And THE WAR OF ART is to writing what wandering around the Agora with Socrates must have been to philosophy — an education.
The basic tenet behind THE WAR OF ART is the constant battle between the artist and a force called the Resistance . . . the sum total of every shred of procrastination, self-doubt, self-sabotage, and even self-loathing to be found in our creative hearts. As artists, we all hear the call of the Muses, but the Amateur finds ways to reject it, blaming all and sundry for NOT being able to complete that novel, short story, script, sculpture, still life, what have you; the Professional strikes back and finds ways to overcome the foe, which is also himself. TURNING PRO expands upon this.
THE WAR OF ART spoke to me; it’s one of the only books that’s ever caused me to talk aloud to the printed page like some movie goers do to the screen. TURNING PRO shouted at me; it roared and shook like an angry Zeus, taking me to task for straying from the Muses’ path. And I said nothing, for everything it told me about myself was the god’s honest truth.
You’ll have to read TURNING PRO to make full sense of what I’m about to say, but it needs must be said: my sins are legion. I have allowed my addictions to take over my writing space. These addictions have turned the time I should spend in the presence of my daimon, listening to the Muses and following their call, into time wasted — frittered away in pursuit of my drug of choice: the internet and its lure of instant gratification. I use grief as a crutch and the fear of homelessness as an excuse to crawl into bed with Resistance. I’ve allowed myself to fall into bad habits, into despair, into a death-spiral of anger and loathing that sap my creativity and cause me to consider everything through the cere-cloth of hopelessness. I was a Pro. Now, I am the rankest sort of Amateur.
“But,” I can hear people say, “you’ve been struck by a vicious series of blows — the illness and long decline of both parents, the looming spectre of poverty and homelessness. Cut yourself some slack.” Slack, though, is another word for allowing Resistance to flourish. Slack is akin to removing a piece of armor before going into battle, then cursing the gods when the first blow is directed at that unarmored spot. I’ve been hit, sure, but what TURNING PRO taught me is that the Professional acknowledges it as a good hit from a worthy foe, gets up, dusts himself off, and goes back into the fray. It’s the Amateur who slinks away to lick his wounds, who feels the need to cut himself some slack because the battle’s gotten too intense. It is good to be reminded of this.
The greatest take-away from both THE WAR OF ART and TURNING PRO is this: the creative person, be they a writer, artist, designer, etc., exists in a state of constant warfare. Not only with external forces like economic necessity, family dynamics, social interactions and the like, but — more importantly — with an insidious enemy lurking inside themselves: self-doubt, addictions, depression, grief, anger . . . anything that subverts you from the path that the gods have set you upon, that the Muses call you to follow. Each day is a fight — some days you’ll lose; others you’ll break even. And some days, you’ll taste the blood and sweat of Victory. What Steven Pressfield has done in both THE WAR OF ART and TURNING PRO is imparted upon his readers the wisdom of Telamon of Arcadia, that eternal warrior who crops up in his fiction. Pressfield shows us the Enemy, shows us the weapons, sketches out the battlefield, and sounds the Call to Arms. It is up to us as individuals to chose our place in the phalanx, to don our armor and take up the spear. We choose to overlap our shields with his. But, if we step forward, the Gods expect nothing less than our best.
My armor needs mending, but I will stand with Telamon, regardless . . .