My book notes on “War of Art” - Hard hitting book and reminder to DoTheWork and defeat resistance.
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. What keeps us from sitting down is Resistance.
Resistance is the most toxic force on the planet.
Most of us have two lives. The life we live, and the unlived life within us. Between the two stands Resistance.
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.
If tomorrow morning by some stroke of magic every dazed and benighted soul woke up with the power to take the first step toward pursuing his or her dreams, every shrink in the directory would be out of business. Prisons would stand empty. The alcohol and tobacco industries would collapse, along with the junk food, cosmetic surgery, and infotainment businesses, not to mention pharmaceutical companies, hospitals, and the medical profession from top to bottom. Domestic abuse would become extinct, as would addiction, obesity, migraine headaches, road rage, and dandruff.
Call it overstatement but I’ll say it anyway: it was easier for Hitler to start World War II than it was for him to face a blank square of canvas.
In other words, any act that rejects immediate gratification in favor of long-term growth, health, or integrity. Or, expressed another way, any act that derives from our higher nature instead of our lower. Any of these will elicit Resistance. Now: what are the characteristics of Resistance?
Resistance cannot be seen, touched, heard, or smelled. But it can be felt. We experience it as an energy field radiating from a work-in-potential. It’s a repelling force. It’s negative. Its aim is to shove us away, distract us, prevent us from doing our work.
Resistance is not a peripheral opponent. Resistance arises from within. It is self-generated and self-perpetuated. Resistance is the enemy within.
Resistance is always lying and always full of shit.
RESISTANCE IS IMPLACABLE
RESISTANCE IS INFALLIBLE
We’re wrong if we think we’re the only ones struggling with Resistance. Everyone who has a body experiences Resistance.
Henry Fonda was still throwing up before each stage performance, even when he was seventy-five. In other words, fear doesn’t go away.
RESISTANCE PLAYS FOR KEEPS Resistance’s goal is not to wound or disable. Resistance 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.
The danger is greatest when the finish line is in sight. At this point, Resistance knows we’re about to beat it. It hits the panic button. It marshals one last assault and slams us with everything it’s got.
RESISTANCE IS MOST POWERFUL AT THE FINISH LINE
Procrastination is the most common manifestation of Resistance because it’s the easiest to rationalize. We don’t tell ourselves, “I’m never going to write my symphony.” Instead we say, “I am going to write my symphony; I’m just going to start tomorrow.”
Never forget: 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.
It goes without saying that this principle applies to drugs, shopping, TV, gossip, alcohol, and the consumption of all products containing fat, sugar, salt, or chocolate.
If the level of drama drops below a certain threshold, someone jumps in to amp it up. 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.
Attention Deficit Disorder, Seasonal Affect Disorder, Social Anxiety Disorder. These aren’t diseases, they’re marketing ploys. Doctors didn’t discover them, copywriters did. Marketing departments did. Drug companies did.
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.
Maybe we believe (or wish we could) that some of our spouse’s power will rub off on us, if we just hang around it long enough.
And if we’re the supported partner, shouldn’t we step out from the glow of our loved one’s adoration and instead encourage him to let his own light shine?
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.
What makes it tricky is that we live in a consumer culture that’s acutely aware of this unhappiness and has massed all its profit-seeking artillery to exploit it. By selling us a product, a drug, a distraction.
We overthrow the programming of advertising, movies, video games, magazines, TV, and MTV by which we have been hypnotized from the cradle. We unplug ourselves from the grid by recognizing that we will never cure our restlessness by contributing our disposable income to the bottom line of Bullshit, Inc., but only by doing our work.
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.
Remember our rule of thumb: The more scared we are of a work or calling, the more sure we can be that we have to do it.
So if you’re paralyzed with fear, it’s a good sign. It shows you what you have to do.
The professional concentrates on the work and allows rewards to come or not come, whatever they like.
As the characters arise, each embodies infallibly an aspect of that dilemma, that perplexity. These characters might not be interesting to anyone else but they’re absolutely fascinating to us.
Do you understand? I hadn’t written anything good. It might be years before I would, if I ever did at all. That didn’t matter. What counted was that I had, after years of running from it, actually sat down and done my work.
It’s one thing to lie to ourselves. It’s another thing to believe it.
Rationalization is Resistance’s spin doctor.
Defeating Resistance is like giving birth. It seems absolutely impossible until you remember that women have been pulling it off successfully, with support and without, for fifty million years.
The professional loves it so much he dedicates his life to it. He commits full-time.
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.
I’m keenly aware of the Principle of Priority, which states (a) you must know the difference between what is urgent and what is important, and (b) you must do what’s important first.
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. I’m done with my chores now. It’s time. I say my prayer and head out on the hunt.
The years have taught me one skill: how to be miserable. I know how to shut up and keep humping.
The Marine Corps teaches you how to be miserable. This is invaluable for an artist.
He has to take pride in being more miserable than any soldier or swabbie or jet jockey. Because this is war, baby. And war is hell.
The amateur, on the other hand, overidentifies with his avocation, his artistic aspiration. He defines himself by it. He is a musician, a painter, a playwright. Resistance loves this. Resistance knows that the amateur composer will never write his symphony because he is overly invested in its success and overterrified of its failure. The amateur takes it so seriously it paralyzes him.
If we show our poem to our friend and our friend says, “It’s wonderful, I love it,” that’s not real-world feedback, that’s our friend being nice to us. Nothing is as empowering as real-world validation, even if it’s for failure.
I was crushed. Here I was, forty-two years old, divorced, childless, having given up all normal human pursuits to chase the dream of being a writer; now I’ve finally got my name on a big-time Hollywood production starring Linda Hamilton, and what happens? I’m a loser, a phony; my life is worthless, and so am I.
My friend Tony Keppelman snapped me out of it by asking if I was gonna quit. Hell, no! “Then be happy. You’re where you wanted to be, aren’t you? So you’re taking a few blows. That’s the price for being in the arena and not on the sidelines. Stop complaining and be grateful.” That was when I realized I had become a pro. I had not yet had a success. But I had had a real failure.
The more you love your art/calling/enterprise, the more important its accomplishment is to the evolution of your soul, the more you will fear it and the more Resistance you will experience facing it. The payoff of playing-the-game-for-money is not the money (which you may never see anyway, even after you turn pro). The payoff is that playing the game for money produces the proper professional attitude.
The more you love your art/calling/enterprise, the more important its accomplishment is to the evolution of your soul, the more you will fear it and the more Resistance you will experience facing it. The payoff of playing-the-game-for-money is not the money (which you may never see anyway, even after you turn pro). The payoff is that playing the game for money produces the proper professional attitude. It inculcates the lunch-pail mentality, the hard-core, hard-head, hard-hat state of mind
Resistance outwits the amateur with the oldest trick in the book: It uses his own enthusiasm against him. Resistance gets us to plunge into a project with an overambitious and unrealistic timetable for its completion. It knows we can’t sustain that level of intensity. We will hit the wall. We will crash.
He knows that any job, whether it’s a novel or a kitchen remodel, takes twice as long as he thinks and costs twice as much. He accepts that. He recognizes it as reality.
A pro views her work as craft, not art.
The professional masters how, and leaves what and why to the gods.
The amateur believes he must first overcome his fear; then he can do his work. The professional knows that fear can never be overcome. He knows there is no such thing as a fearless warrior or a dread-free artist.
The professional conducts his business in the real world.
The field is level, the professional understands, only in heaven.
The professional is sly. He knows that by toiling beside the front door of technique, he leaves room for genius to enter by the back.
It would never occur to him, as it would to an amateur, that he knows everything, or can figure everything out on his own.
Fear of rejection isn’t just psychological; it’s biological. It’s in our cells.
The Bhagavad-Gita tells us we have a right only to our labor, not to the fruits of our labor. All the warrior can give is his life; all the athlete can do is leave everything on the field.
I’m human. This hurt. I wasn’t a kid either; I was in my forties, with a rap sheet of failure as long as your arm. The professional cannot let himself take humiliation personally. Humiliation, like rejection and criticism, is the external reflection of internal Resistance.
He reminds himself it’s better to be in the arena, getting stomped by the bull, than to be up in the stands or out in the parking lot.
Tiger’s mother, Kultida, is a Buddhist. Perhaps from her he had learned compassion, to let go of fury at the heedlessness of an overzealous shutter-clicker.
She gets an agent, she gets a lawyer, she gets an accountant. She knows she can only be a professional at one thing. She brings in other pros and treats them with respect.
Making yourself a corporation (or just thinking of yourself in that way) reinforces the idea of professionalism because it separates the artist-doing-the-work from the will-and-consciousness-running-the-show. No matter how much abuse is heaped on the head of the former, the latter takes it in stride and keeps on trucking. Conversely with success: You-the-writer may get a swelled head, but you-the-boss remember how to take yourself down a peg.
The ancient Spartans schooled themselves to regard the enemy, any enemy, as nameless and faceless. In other words, they believed that if they did their work, no force on earth could stand against them.
The next few chapters are going to be about those invisible psychic forces that support and sustain us in our journey toward ourselves. I plan on using terms like muses and angels. Does that make you uncomfortable? If it does, you have my permission to think of angels in the abstract. Consider these forces as being impersonal as gravity. Maybe they are. It’s not hard to believe, is it, that a force exists in every grain and seed to make it grow? Or that in every kitten or colt is an instinct that impels it to run and play and learn.
Similarly the call to growth can be conceptualized as personal (a daimon or genius, an angel or a muse) or as impersonal, like the tides or the transiting of Venus. Either way works, as long as we’re comfortable with it. Or if extra-dimensionality doesn’t sit well with you in any form, think of it as “talent,” programmed into our genes by evolution.
As Resistance works to keep us from becoming who we were born to be, equal and opposite powers are counterpoised against it. These are our allies and angels.
Because when we sit down day after day and keep grinding, something mysterious starts to happen. A process is set into motion by which, inevitably and infallibly, heaven comes to our aid. Unseen forces enlist in our cause; serendipity reinforces our purpose. This is the other secret that real artists know and wannabe writers don’t. When we sit down each day and do our work, power concentrates around us. The Muse takes note of our dedication. She approves. We have earned favor in her sight. When we sit down and work, we become like a magnetized rod that attracts iron filings. Ideas come. Insights accrete.
I do the same thing. The last thing I do before I sit down to work is say my prayer to the Muse. I say it out loud, in absolute earnest. Only then do I get down to business.
In my little house I had no TV. I never read a newspaper or went to a movie. I just worked.
Nobody knew I was done. Nobody cared. But I knew. I felt like a dragon I’d been fighting all my life had just dropped dead at my feet and gasped out its last sulfuric breath.
Next morning I went over to Paul’s for coffee and told him I had finished. “Good for you,” he said without looking up. “Start the next one today.”
The Muses were nine sisters, daughters of Zeus and Mnemosyne, which means “memory.” Their names are Clio, Erato, Thalia, Terpsichore, Calliope, Polyhymnia, Euterpe, Melpomene, and Urania. Their job is to inspire artists. Each Muse is responsible for a different art. There’s a neighborhood in New Orleans where the streets are named after the Muses.
The Greek way of apprehending the mystery was to personify it. The ancients sensed powerful primordial forces in the world. To make them approachable, they gave them human faces. They called them Zeus, Apollo, Aphrodite. American Indians felt the same mystery but rendered it in animistic forms–Bear Teacher, Hawk Messenger, Coyote Trickster.
“Eternity is in love with the creations of time” means, to me, that in some way these creatures of the higher sphere (or the sphere itself, in the abstract) take joy in what we time-bound beings can bring forth into physical existence in our limited material sphere. It may be pushing the envelope, but if these beings take joy in the “creations of time,” might they not also nudge us a little to produce them? If that’s true, then the image of the Muse whispering inspiration in the artist’s ear is quite apt.
The catch was this: The work existed only as potential–without a body, so to speak. It wasn’t music yet. You couldn’t play it. You couldn’t hear it.
So the Muse whispered in Beethoven’s ear. Maybe she hummed a few bars into a million other ears. But no one else heard her. Only Beethoven got it.
I’ll take Xenophon at his word; before I sit down to work, I’ll take a minute and show respect to this unseen Power who can make or break me.
I admire particularly the warning against the second crime, to destroy for meat the oxen of the most exalted Sun. That’s the felony that calls down soul-destruction: the employment of the sacred for profane means. Prostitution. Selling out.
Sustain for me. Homer doesn’t ask for brilliance or success. He just wants to keep this thing going.
“Whatever you can do, or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius, magic, and power in it. Begin it now.” —W. H. Murray, The Scottish Himalayan Expedition
Kabbalists believe that above every blade of grass is an angel crying “Grow! Grow!” I’ll go further. I believe that above the entire human race is one super-angel, crying “Evolve! Evolve!” Angels are like muses. They know stuff we don’t. They want to help us. They’re on the other side of a pane of glass, shouting to get our attention. But we can’t hear them. We’re too distracted by our own nonsense. Ah, but when we begin. When we make a start. When we conceive an enterprise and commit to it in the face of our fears, something wonderful happens. A crack appears in the membrane. Like the first craze when a chick pecks at the inside of its shell. Angel midwives congregate around us; they assist as we give birth to ourselves, to that person we were born to be, to the one whose destiny was encoded in our soul, our daimon, our genius.
When I finish a day’s work, I head up into the hills for a hike. I take a pocket tape recorder because I know that as my surface mind empties with the walk, another part of me will chime in and start talking. The word “leer” on page 342 . . . it should be “ogle.” You repeated yourself in Chapter 21. The last sentence is just like that one in the middle of Chapter 7.
This is why artists are modest. They know they’re not doing the work; they’re just taking dictation. It’s also why “noncreative people” hate “creative people.” Because they’re jealous. They sense that artists and writers are tapped into some grid of energy and inspiration that they themselves cannot connect with.
Of course, this is nonsense.We’re all creative.We all have the same psyche. The same everyday miracles are happening in all our heads day by day, minute by minute.
Faced with our imminent extinction, Tom Laughlin believes, all assumptions are called into question. What does our life mean? Have we lived it right? Are there vital acts we’ve left unperformed, crucial words unspoken? Is it too late?
Is it possible, Tom Laughlin asks, that the disease itself evolved as a consequence of actions taken (or not taken) in our lives? Could our unlived lives have exacted their vengeance upon us in the form of cancer? And if they did, can we cure ourselves, now, by living these lives out?
Dreams come from the Self. Ideas come from the Self. When we meditate we access the Self. When we fast, when we pray, when we go on a vision quest, it’s the Self we’re seeking. When the dervish whirls, when the yogi chants, when the sadhu mutilates his flesh; when penitents crawl a hundred miles on their knees, when Native Americans pierce themselves in the Sun Dance, when suburban kids take Ecstasy and dance all night at a rave, they’re seeking the Self. When we deliberately alter our consciousness in any way, we’re trying to find the Self. When the alcoholic collapses in the gutter, that voice that tells him, “I’ll save you,” comes from the Self.
We fear discovering that we are more than we think we are.
Evaluate his every move solely by the effect it produces on others. He will act for others, dress for others, speak for others, think for others. But the artist cannot look to others to validate his efforts or his calling.
I learned this from Robert McKee. A hack, he says, is a writer who second-guesses his audience. When the hack sits down to work, he doesn’t ask himself what’s in his own heart. He asks what the market is looking for. The hack condescends to his audience. He thinks he’s superior to them. The truth is, he’s scared to death of them or, more accurately, scared of being authentic in front of them, scared of writing what he really feels or believes, what he himself thinks is interesting. He’s afraid it won’t sell. So he tries to anticipate what the market (a telling word) wants, then gives it to them.
The artist and the mother are vehicles, not originators. They don’t create the new life, they only bear it. This is why birth is such a humbling experience.
When Krishna instructed Arjuna that we have a right to our labor but not to the fruits of our labor, he was counseling the warrior to act territorially, not hierarchically. We must do our work for its own sake, not for fortune or attention or applause.
Every breath we take, every heartbeat, every evolution of every cell comes from God and is sustained by God every second, just as every creation, invention, every bar of music or line of verse, every thought, vision, fantasy, every dumb-ass flop and stroke of genius comes from that infinite intelligence that created us and the universe in all its dimensions, out of the Void, the field of infinite potential, primal chaos, the Muse. To acknowledge that reality, to efface all ego, to let the work come through us and give it back freely to its source, that, in my opinion, is as true to reality as it gets.
It may help to think of it this way. 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.