Steven Pressfield wrote The Gates of Fire, one of the best novels I’ve ever read. Like Bernard Cornwell, Pressfield has earned my trust. History comes alive in his hands. And, yes, Pressfield has written books not nearly as good as “Gates” or as successful as The Legend of Bagger Vance. But he has earned my ‘reader’s’ trust for the commitment and integrity of his work. He adores his subject matter, its detail, its nuance, and he invites me to adore it with him.
Of all Pressfield’s work, though, nothing has struck me as hard as The War of Art, for in this work, he does more than give me rich character and plot. He sides with me in what I desire to do beyond all other accomplishments: to write. He helps me see that my commitment to writing is a commitment to the truth of who I am.
I may not be the most talented writer, but I show up, and I write, and that is my gift. I learn that my enemy, in Pressfield’s terms, is ‘Resistance,’ and Pressfield helps me identify and combat that enemy. He tells me that I won’t always win but that the fight is worth more than just success or failure. Words like ‘practical,’‘compelling,’ ‘challenging,’ ‘courageous,’even ‘spiritual’ make up my response to “War.” It is a book free from artistic pretense, though it accepts that the artist is a different kind of person. It invokes the Muses but it isn’t about how we are their darlings. It assumes that its reader is someone with something to create, no matter what kind of thing that may be, and it invites that reader into the soul of the struggle to create, to overcome anything that might stand in the way of that creation being made manifest. It identifies and sides with who you are.
It isn’t craft so much as it is commitment, not a ‘how to’ but a ‘you must’ book. It acknowledges the market place but does not kowtow to it. What will sell is not Pressfield’s concern. That an artist creates and continues to do so against all obstacles is his concern. And I have run into many people who say, “Yeah, I’ve got a great idea for a novel. I just need to write it.” The period between those two sentences is the plain on which that battle is fought and most often lost. And the cost of losing that battle? It isn’t about what gets produced. It’s about the soul of the person who has the desire to create something. If you are an artist, Pressfield is trying to save your soul. And, Pressfield preaches to your soul, offering little comfort but much aid.
If you want to feel special because you want to create, read a different book. If creating something is precious and pretty and fragile to you, read something else. If you struggle to create or want to enrich your soul, read this book and get to work.