Excerpts on the Artist’s Way from The War of Art by Steven Pressfield

The fol­low­ing excerpts on the artist’s bat­tle­fied are from The War of Art by Steven Press­field, who wrote Gates of Fire (NYTimes Best­seller) and The Leg­end of Bag­ger Vance (NYTimes Bestseller).

(The bold on text is my own. )

A Pro­fes­sional

Some­one once asked Som­er­set Maugham if he wrote on a sched­ule or only when struck by inspi­ra­tion. “I write only when inspi­ra­tion strikes,” he replied. “For­tu­nately it strikes every morn­ing at nine o’clock sharp.”

That’s a pro.

[…] Maugham reckoned…that by per­for­maing the mun­dane phys­i­cal act of sit­ting down, start­ing to work, he set in motion a mys­te­ri­ous but infal­li­ble sequence of events that would pro­duce inspi­ra­tion, as surely as if the [muse] had syn­chro­nized her watch with his.

Ibid. p 64


We’re All Pros Already

All of us are pros in one area: our jobs.

We get a pay­check. We work for money. We are professionals.

Now: Are there prin­ci­ples we can take from what we’re already suc­cess­fully doing in our worka­day life and apply to our artis­tic aspi­ra­tions? What exactly are the qual­i­ties that define us as professionals?

1. 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 every day.

2. We show up no mat­ter what. In sick­ness and in health…we stag­ger in to the fac­tory. We might do it only so as not to let down our co-workers, or for other, less noble rea­sons. But we do it. We show up no mat­ter what.

3. 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 assist the cus­tomer when he seeks our help. We don’t go home till the whis­tle blows.

4. We are com­mit­ted over the long haul. Next year we may go to another job, another com­pany, another coun­try. But we’ll still be work­ing. Until we hit the lot­tery, we are part of the labor force.

5. The stakes for us are high and real. This is about sur­vival, feed­ing our fam­i­lies, edu­cat­ing our chil­dren. It’s about eating.

6. We accept remu­ner­a­tion for our labor. We’re not here for fun. We work for money.

7. We do not overi­den­tify 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, on the other hand, overi­den­ti­fies with his avo­ca­tion, his artis­tic aspi­ra­tion. He defines him­self by it. He is a musi­cian, a painter, a play­wright. Resis­tance [,the force which dis­suades the artis­tic aspi­rant,] loves this. Resis­tance knows that the ama­teur com­poser will never write his sym­phony because he is overly invested in its suc­cess and overt­er­ri­fied of its fail­ure. The ama­teur takes it so seri­ously it par­a­lyzes him.

8. We mas­ter the tech­nique of our jobs.

9. We have a sense of humor about our jobs.

10. We receive praise or blame in the real world.

Now con­sider the ama­teur: the aspir­ing painter, the wannabe play­wright. How does he pur­sue his calling?

One, he doesn’t show up every day. Two, he doesn’t show up no mat­ter what. Three, he doesn’t stay on the job all day. He is not com­mit­ted over the long haul; the stakes for him are illu­sory and fake. He does not get money. And he overi­den­ti­fies with his art. He does not have a sense of humor about fail­ure. You don’t hear him bitch­ing, “This fuck­ing tril­ogy is killing me!” Instead, he doesn’t write his tril­ogy at all.


The ama­teur has not mas­tered the tech­niques of his art. Nor does he expose him­self to judg­ment in the real world. If we show our poem to our friend and our friend says, “It’s won­der­ful, I love it,” that’s not real-world feed­back, that’s our friend being nice to us. Noth­ing is as empow­er­ing as real-world val­i­da­tion, even if it’s for failure.

The first pro­fes­sional writ­ing job I ever had, after sev­en­teen years of try­ing, was on a movie called King Kong Lives. I and my partner-at-the-time, Ron Shusett ( a bril­liant writer and pro­ducer who also did Alien and Total Recall) ham­mered out the screen­play for Dino DeLau­ren­tiis. We loved it; we were sure we had a hit. Even after we’d seen the fin­ished hilm, we were cer­tain it was a block­buster. We invited every­one we knew to the pre­miere, even rented out the joint next door for a post-triumph blowout. Get there early, we warned our friends, the place’ll be mobbed.

Nobody showed. There was only one guy in line besides our guests and he was mut­ter­ing some­thing about spare change. In the the­ater, our friends endured the movie in mute stu­pe­fac­tion. When the lights came up, they fled like cock­roaches into the night.

Next day came the review in Vari­ety: “…Ronald Shusett and Steven Press­field; we hope these are not their real names, for their par­ents’ sake.” When the first week’s grosses came in, the flick barely reg­is­tered. Still I clung to hope. Maybe it’s only tank­ing in urban areas, maybe it’s play­ing bet­ter in the burbs. I motored to an Edge city mul­ti­plex. A youth manned the pop­corn booth. “How’s King Kong Lives?” I asked. He flashed thumbs-down. “Miss it, man. It sucks.”

I was crushed. Here I was, forty-two years old, divorced, child­less, hav­ing given up all nor­mal human pur­suits to chase the dream of being a writer; now I’ve finally got my name on a big-time Hol­ly­wood pro­duc­tion star­ring Linda Hamil­ton, and what hap­pens? I’m a loser, a phony; my life is worth­less, and so am I

My friend Tony Kep­pel­man snapped me out of it by ask­ing if I was gonna quit. Hell, no! “Then be happy. You’re where you wanted to be, aren’t you? So you’re tak­ing a few blows. That’s the price for being in the arena and not on the side­lines. Stop com­plain­ing and be grateful.”

That was when I real­ized I had become a pro. I had not yet had a suc­cess. But I had had a real failure.

Ibid. pg 69–71


The Magic of Mak­ing a Start

Con­cern­ing all acts of ini­tia­tive (and cre­ation) there is one ele­men­tary truth, the igno­rance of which kills count­less ideas and splen­did plans: that the moment one def­i­nitely com­mits one­self, then prov­i­dence moves too. All sorts of things occur to help one that would not oth­er­wise have occurred. A whole stream of events issues from the deci­sion, rais­ing in one’s favour all man­ner of unfore­seen inci­dents and meet­ings and mate­r­ial assis­tance which no man would have dreamed would come his way. I have learned a deep respect for one of Goethe’s cou­plets: “What­ever you can do, or dream you can, begin it. Bold­ness has genius, magic , and power in it. Begin it now.”

W.H. Mur­ray, The Scot­tish Himalayan Expe­di­tion (as quoted in The War of Art by Steven Press­field, p 122)

The Artist’s Life

Are you a born writer? Were you put on earth to be a painter, a sci­en­tist, an apos­tle of peace? In the end the ques­tion can only be answered by action.

Do it or don’t do it.

It may help to think of it this way. If you were meant to cure can­cer or write a sym­phony or crack cold fusion and you don’t do it, you not only hurt your­self, even destroy your­self. You hurt your chil­dren. You hurt me. You hurt the planet.

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

Ibid. p 165


The Magic of Keep­ing Going

When I fin­ish a day’s work, I head up into the hills for a hike. I take a pocket tape recorder because I know that as my sur­face mind emp­ties with the walk, another part of me will chime in and start talking.

The word “leer” on page 342… it should be “ogle.”

You repeated your­self in Chap­ter 21. The last sen­tence is just that one in the mid­dle of Chap­ter 7.

That’s the kind of stuff that comes. It comes to all of us, every day, every minute. These para­graphs I’m writ­ing now were dic­tated to me yes­ter­day; they replace a prior, weaker open­ing to this chap­ter. I’m unspool­ing the new improved ver­sion now, right off the recorder.

This process of self-revision and self-correction is so com­mon we don’t even notice. But it’s a mir­a­cle. And its impli­ca­tions are staggering.

Ibid. p 124


It is one thing to study war and another to live the warrior’s life.

Tela­mon of Arca­dia, mer­ce­nary of the fifth cen­tury B.C. (as quoted in The War of Art by Steven Pressfield)

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