Friday 20 January 2017

The War of Art

"Hitler wanted to be an artist.  Ever seen one of his paintings?  Neither have I.  Resistance beat him...It was easier for Hitler to start World War II than it was for him to face a blank square of canvas." (Steven Pressfield)

There is nothing more intimidating than a blank canvas to an artist or a blank sheet of paper to a writer.  Author Steven Pressfield, author of The War of Art, tells us how to overcome "creative block".  He maintains that everyone has a calling.  However, in pursuing your calling, you are often sabotaged by others, or more commonly, by yourself.  

Hitler wanted to be an artist.  He took his inheritance and moved to Vienna where he applied to The Academy of Fine Arts and later the School of Architecture.  Failing to get in to either school, he eventually gave up on his dream.  "Resistance beat him...It was easier for Hitler to start World War II than it was for him to face a blank square of canvas." (

"Resistance is the almost supernatural force which seeks to keep us from finding our true calling." (  The closer we are to finding our true calling, the fiercer the resistance becomes.  You could also define resistance as your "inner critic".  As a writer, you might be familiar with this mantra put forward by Matthew Webb:  "You're not really a writer.  You'll never finish this book.  You're not exceptional at anything."

The Resistance focusses on the enormity of the task that you have before you rather than dividing it up into manageable steps.  "Small victories over ourselves and over Resistance, have an accelerating effect."  For instance, after a few weeks, a 20 minute workout one day can form a daily habit.  Forming a good habit is a victory, but so too is breaking a bad habit.  Matthew Webber compares it to standing up to the classroom bully:  "the perception was far worse than the reality".  The more we conquer our bad habits, the more energy we have to tackle Resistance.

It is easy to be motivated about a new project.  However, it isn't always easy to stay motivated.  Before you know it, that list of chapters that you drafted for your new book is just collecting dust.  Matthew Webber suggests ways to get "re-motivated":

  • keep visual reminders near your desk (ex. family photos, religious art, reminders of past victories)
  • mark a wall calendar with your progress and milestones
  • build a YouTube playlist with motivational stories
  • start a visual log of your progress

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