There’s a secret that real writers know that wannabe writers don’t, and the secret is this: It’s not the writing part that’s hard. What’s hard is sitting down to write. — Steven Pressfield
I underlined the above quote in Steven Pressfield’s book The War of Art because it almost identically matched something I could finally articulate about a year ago when I wrote, “Writing is not lonely but avoiding it is.”a>
Pressfield’s book is full of insights like this – either things I have realized myself or things I know but hadn’t yet put into words. It’s invaluable as a tool for reinforcing the truths we, as artists, live with every day and encouraging us to be strong in the face of “resistance,” his term for what keeps us from the page. For this, I really loved the book.
But to be honest, there are parts of this book that make my stomach ache. For example, in a chapter entitled “Resistance and Healing” he says, “Personal life has nothing to do with work.” I fundamentally disagree with that statement. I understand what he’s intending to say – that we can’t let our personal struggles get in the way of our writing, and I agree with him there. But to sever our personal lives from our entirely, I think that’s impossible for one, and I also think it’s harmful. Part of what makes us who we are as writers is our personal story, the one that has scarred us and exulted us again and again. To cut that from ourselves, would be, I fear, to deaden our writing.
So overall, I really appreciate Pressfield’s reminders of things that many of us who are writers know – that we have to write no matter what, that there is no mystery beyond showing up to the page, that a professional writer knows that the only thing that gets us to work is sheer will. These are things it never huts me to hear again and again, and for new writers, I suspect they are profound insights that will drive them.
Still, though, I hesitate to recommend this book wholeheartedly because of the kind of rigidness that Pressfield puts into his statements. I know that people seem to like this pundit-type style, where someone makes pronouncements that they simply must follow, but that style always makes me nervous because nothing works for everyone. In this case, it’s this voice that’s so ironic since Pressfield states quite directly that the only thing that makes a writer professional is to do what the writer needs to do. In that case, we may all be best to hold Pressfield’s work at arms length, appreciate it as a touchstone for the ideas we all know but not glorify it as writing gospel. I think I’ll leave the writing itself for that space.
Have you read The War of Art? What did you think of it? Feel free to link to your review here if you’d like