Book — The War of Art

Showing Up

It is not a matter of “how much” I produced or “how good” is the outcome as long as the focus remains on the long term. The craftsman — the pro — is the one that shows up everyday.

He persists and devotes himself to the craft.

How many pages have I produced? I don't care. Are they any good? I don't even think about it. All that matters is I've put in my time and hit it with all I've got. All that counts is that, for this day, for this session, I have overcome Resistance.

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 over them.

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 that mouse is to the hawk circling outside my window. He's hungry. He needs a kill. So do I.

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.

The professional has learned that success, like happiness, comes as a by-product of work. The professional concentrates on the work and allows rewards to come or not come, whatever they like.

Friends sometimes ask, "Don't you get lonely sitting by yourself all day?" At first it seemed odd to hear myself answer No. Then I realized that I was not alone; I was in the book; I was with the characters. I was with my Self.

Resistance

It's not the writing part that's hard. What's hard is sitting down to write. What keeps us from sitting down is Resistance.

Some things about Resistance

  • It is the space between our life and the the unlived life within us.
  • Derives from any act that rejects immediate gratification in favor of long-term growth, health, or integrity.
  • It will tell you anything to keep you from doing your work.
    • It will perjure, fabricate, falsify; seduce, bully, cajole. Resistance is protean.
    • It cannot be reasoned with. It understands nothing but power.
    • It is an engine of destruction, programmed from the factory to prevent us from doing our work.
  • Resistance is fear. But it is too cunning to show itself naked in this form, then it brings in Rationalization.
    • A series of plausible, rational justifications for why we shouldn’t do our work.
  • The more important a call or action is to our soul's evolution, the more Resistance we will feel toward pursuing it. Therefore, the more scared we are of a work or calling, the more sure we can be that we have to do it.
  • It aims to kill. Its target is the epicenter of our being: our genius, our soul, the unique and priceless gift we were put on earth to give and that no one else has but us.
  • Resistance has no strength of its own. Every ounce of juice it possesses comes from us. We feed it with power by our fear of it.

This very moment, we can change our lives. There never was 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.

What does Resistance feel like?

First, unhappiness. We feel like hell. A low-grade misery pervades everything. We're bored, we're restless. We can't get no satisfaction. There's guilt but we can't put our finger on the source. We want to go back to bed; we want to get up and party. We feel unloved and unlovable. We're disgusted. We hate our lives. We hate ourselves.

Trouble, critics and self-made conditions

The working artist will not tolerate trouble in her life because she knows trouble prevents her from doing her work. The working artist banishes from her world all sources of trouble.

Trouble is a faux form of fame or attention. It's easier to get busted in the bedroom with the faculty chairman's wife than it is to finish that dissertation on the metaphysics of motley in the novellas of Joseph Conrad.

Entire families participate unconsciously in a culture of self-dramatization. […] Dad gets drunk, Mom gets sick, Janie shows up for church with an Oakland Raiders tattoo. It's more fun than a movie. And it works: Nobody gets a damn thing done.

If you find yourself criticizing other people, you're 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.

How many of us have become drunks and drug addicts, developed tumors and neuroses, succumbed to painkillers, gossip, and compulsive cell-phone use, simply because we don't do that thing that our hearts, our inner genius, is calling us to? Resistance defeats us.

The acquisition of a condition lends significance to one's existence. An illness, a cross to bear. Some people go from condition to condition; they cure one, and another pops up to take its place. The condition becomes a work of art in itself, a shadow version of the real creative act the victim is avoiding by expending so much care cultivating his condition.

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.

Artists and fundamentalists

Who am I? Why am I here? They're not easy because the human being isn't wired to function as an individual. We're wired tribally, to act as part of a group. Our psyches are programmed by millions of years of hunter-gatherer evolution. We know what the clan is; we know how to fit into the band and the tribe. What we don't know is how to be alone. We don't know how to be free individuals.

The artist and the fundamentalist both confront the same issue, the mystery of their existence as individuals, but fundamentalism and art are mutually exclusive.

The artist is the advanced model. His culture possesses affluence, stability, enough excess of resource to permit the luxury of self-examination. The artist is grounded in freedom. He is not afraid of it. […] He believes in progress and evolution.

The fundamentalist entertains no such notion. In his view, humanity has fallen from a higher state. The truth is not out there awaiting revelation; it has already been revealed. The word of God has been spoken and recorded by His prophet, be he Jesus, Muhammad, or Karl Marx.

His creativity is inverted. He creates destruction.

The fundamentalist cannot stand freedom. He cannot find his way into the future, so he retreats to the past. He returns in imagination to the glory days of his race and seeks to reconstitute both them and himself in their purer, more virtuous light. He gets back to basics. To fundamentals.

Pro

The artist committing himself to his calling has volunteered for hell: a diet of isolation, rejection, self-doubt, despair, ridicule, contempt, and humiliation.

  1. Shows up every day.
  2. Shows up no matter what.
  3. Stays on the job all day.
  4. Commits over the long haul.
  5. Stakes for him are high and real.
  6. Accepts remuneration for labor.
  7. Does not overidentify with his jobs.
  8. Masters the technique of the job.
  9. Has a sense of humor about his jobs.
  10. Receives praise or blame in the real world.

Knows how to be miserable. This is a great asset because it's human, the proper role for a mortal. It does not offend the gods, but elicits their intercession.

The professional understands delayed gratification. He is the ant, not the grasshopper; the tortoise, not the hare.

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

The professional conducts his business in the real world. Adversity, injustice, bad hops and rotten calls, even good breaks and lucky bounces all comprise the ground over which the campaign must be waged. The field is level, the professional understands, only in heaven.

The pro concentrates on technique. The professional masters how, and leaves what and why to the gods.

The professional respects his craft. He does not consider himself superior to it. He recognizes the contributions of those who have gone before him. He apprentices himself to them.

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 keep working.

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

Muse

We can't be anything we want to be. We come into this world with a specific, personal destiny. We have a job to do, a calling to enact, a self to become. We are who we are from the cradle, and we're stuck with it. Our job in this lifetime is not to shape ourselves into some ideal we imagine we ought to be, but to find out who we already are and become it.

[it is our calling, you owe it not just to you, but to the world] 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.

[working territorially] I trusted what I wanted, not what I thought would work. I did what I myself thought was interesting, and left its reception to the gods. The artist can't do his work hierarchically. He has to work territorially.