A while ago my friend Tim Miles gave me a gift. It was a book – THE WAR OF ART by Steven Pressfield. This is what it looks like:
It is a short and brilliant book. And if you are serious about writing, you should read it.
Pressfield writes in a refreshing, no-bullshit way about the creative process. He beautifully punctures some of the more romantic (and less helpful) notions that are sometimes associated with a life in the creative trenches. He tells it like it really is. For example: it’s bloody hard work. You need to treat your creative project, whatever it is, exactly as you would a job. He reserves special scorn for the “flame outs” who talk a good game but quickly lose their enthusiasm when the hard slog begins.
I was pleased (and yes, perhaps just a little smug) to discover that I was already doing an awful lot of the things that Pressfield urges his readers to do if they are serious about any creative endeavor. One thing I learned a long time ago: the most important quality that a writer needs is not a felicitous turn of phrase or a devilish way with metaphor. The thing you need most is stamina. Once the initial excitement of a project has worn off, once you are no longer quite so consumed with delight by your characters and their quirky foibles, you still need to haul your ass over to the computer and keep on typing. But damn, it’s hard.
Pressfield calls this inclination to avoid sitting down and doing the work RESISTANCE. It is the implacable force that prevents you from writing – you know, the one that suddenly gives you an urge to mow the lawn or switch on the television as soon as you have a moment to sit down and write. Often our excuses are linked to external factors beyond our control – our jobs, children, other commitments, etc. – but really, Pressfield says, it all comes from within ourselves. The good news is that once you know your enemy, it is much easier to defeat it.
I actually gave my copy of Pressfield’s book to a friend of mine, who now carries it with her wherever she goes. It’s that kind of book. (And since I no longer own a copy, I may inadvertently quote from it from time to time in these posts. It’s that kind of book, too.) You can dip into it anywhere and find little gems that may inspire you. One of my favorites is a quote from Somerset Maugham, which resonated particularly strongly with me.
He said: “I only write when inspiration strikes. Fortunately it strikes every morning at nine o’clock sharp.”
Nice point, beautifully made: don’t wait for inspiration to strike you. You have to go and search for it. And if you set a routine, and do the work, it will come. Perhaps not every day, but hang around long enough, it’ll show up.
So: go and buy this book. Really. It will help.
(Oh, and by the way. Check out the threads on Mr. Maugham there. I tell you what, writers don’t dress like they used to. He was sharp. Nice stripe/plaid action going on there.)
Next post: procrastination, and how to deal with it. (Assuming I ever get around to writing it, that is.)
You and the book are absolutely right. I am a master procrastinator and you’ve just given me my early morning focus talk. I keep meaning to make a “Butt in Chair” sign for my desk but inspiration hasn’t struck. 😉
Thanks for the recommendation — sounds like a good one!
Ah, but Mr. Maugham’s threads were English now, weren’t they??
Thanks, Amanda! According to a comment on my facebook page, Pressfield’s follow-up book, “Do the Work”, is also very good, but I haven’t read that one.
Jeanne – I couldn’t possibly comment!!
Pressfield’s follow-up book, “Do the Work” is another great one. It’s on my must-read once a year list. A great kick in the pants kind of book.