On Tuesday, Scrawlers sent an email to its users announcing its first contest, The War of Art Contest. One lucky writer will win a copy of today’s recommendation, The War of Art by Steven Pressfield.
Pressfield contends that everyone is creative, particularly in creating a subconscious (and likely conscious) level of resistance to their ability to achieve their creative goals. Not a pretty picture, huh? The War of Art confronts this issue and explores ways of getting around self-generated resistance. You might recognize this in yourself already – procrastination, justification, being a “thinker” and not a “doer.” Pressfield argues many people go through these sorts of self-defeating phases because they’re afraid of failure, or very possibly afraid of success. He pushes the reader to push themselves, to break their own cycle of creative blockage and push forward. In fact, the cover image could serve as a pictoral thesis statement: a single, beautiful flower, life pushing itself through a block of cold, hard stone. The achievement of creativity over everything which should prevent it from blossoming.
If that’s too abstract, Pressfield sums up his book with a great two-sentence thesis statement right at the top of the book: “It’s not the writing part that’s hard. What’s hard is sitting down to write.” If you’ve ever tried to get serious about your writing craft, you know this is true.
This book is on my shelf as one of the Three White Books – three books on writing craft with white covers: The War of Art, The Elements of Style by William Strunk and E.B. White, and The Art of Fiction by John Gardner. This was the first book I had to read in my MFA program; Terry Davis made it the opening text for a class in Form & Technique in Prose and his recommendation of such a life-changing book is part of what makes me respect him so much as a writer, teacher and mentor (he also has around a thousand other great qualities, the least of which are not his charm and love of good story). In that classroom, I found myself in the unfortunate position of being the only student who said how much they enjoyed the book and got something out of it.
My clear recollection is being at home reading the book, really getting into it, and suddenly realizing I knew who Steven Pressfield was; he wrote The Legend of Bagger Vance, a film I’d studied in a Film & Religion course at the University of Wyoming. The film (and novel) uses the teachings of the Bhagavad Gita to help the main character focus and overcome his obstacles in a game of golf. The thing about this approach, however, is that it is all in the undertones, in the disguised way the Bagger Vance character coaches the young golf protege. There’s nothing overt about the spiritual or religious context, and I was not aware of Bhagavad Gita teachings until the post-film screening discussion. However, I recognized Pressfield was using the same sort of teachings in The War of Art and to great success, I might add. When I brought this up in class, those who had immediately dismissed the book dismissed it even further, hating that religion was being put upon them.
I found that unfortunate. This is a book to help writers break through their struggles to be as creative as they can be, and those fellow students wouldn’t have even known it used Bhagavad Gita teachings if I hadn’t said anything. To automatically dismiss it because their may be theology involved is willful ignorance, and if anything, that experience made me enjoy and appreciate the book even more.
I encourage you to write a story at Scrawlers and enter The War of Art Contest. If you don’t win a copy of The War of Art, it’s still worth seeking out on your own.