The War of Art Mini-Course, Part 1
Shawn Coyne: Hi and welcome to The War of Art Mini-Course. My name is Shawn Coyne and I am the longtime publisher of The War of Art by Steven Pressfield. Now, before I bring Steve in to discuss the big ideas behind the book, I’d love to give you some context. Number one: To date, The War of Art has sold 613,752 copies in the United States alone. Number two: The War of Art is that rare kind of book that has been both what publishers like to call frontlist bestseller—and that means it’s been on all the traditional bestseller lists like the New York Times Bestseller List and the Wall Street Journal Bestseller List—but it’s also what they like to call a perennial backlist best seller. What that means is that The War of Art has been in the top five books on creativity at Amazon.com for 14 straight years and counting. Many of those weeks have been spent at number one. Now, number three: Oprah Winfrey is a very big fan of the book and she had Steven Pressfield on her “Super Soul Sunday” show to discuss how we came up with the central idea of the book—and the central idea of the book is the notion that there is an evil force in the universe called Resistance. So, let’s get started.
Shawn Coyne: So Steve, in The War of Art, at the very beginning of the book, you wrote this: “Most of us have two lives. The life we live, and the unlived life within us. Between the two stands Resistance.” What do you mean by that?
Steven Pressfield: Let’s say we’re working in a cubicle, Shawn, somewhere, and we have a novel that we want to write, a movie that we want to make, or a startup that we want to, um, inaugurate. That’s our unlived life. And um, we may be a lawyer working for a firm that specializes in, um, making movies and we want to make movies ourselves, but we find ourselves as a lawyer working for that, for that firm. Our unlived life is living inside us at the same time that we’re living our regular life. And what stops us is the question, why don’t we sail to Tahiti, why don’t we, uh, become Mother Teresa, why don’t we write that novel? What stops us is Resistance—Resistance with a capital “R.”
Shawn Coyne: Alright. So, so what is Resistance? How do you, how do you define it?
Steven Pressfield: Well, if you’ve ever—and we all have done this—if you’ve ever bought a treadmill, watched it gather dust in the attic, then you know exactly what Resistance is. If you’ve ever joined a gym and found that you don’t wind up going there, if you’ve ever tried to go on a diet and found out that you were gaining weight, um, if you’ve ever tried to break an unwholesome habit, if you’ve ever tried to stop drinking or stop using drugs, or stop being addicted to Twitter and find that you can’t do it, the force that stops you, that’s Resistance. It’s interior self-sabotage.
Shawn Coyne: Okay. All right. Well, okay, so the title of your book is The War of Art. So, um, that’s interesting—
Steven Pressfield: You know what, Shawn? Let me break it on you for a minute.
Shawn Coyne: Okay.
Steven Pressfield: Let me break in on this question and just, um, uh, get into a little bit how, how I experienced Resistance in the, in the beginning when it sort of dawned on me that there was such a thing.
Shawn Coyne: Okay.
Steven Pressfield: As a writer, as a writer you sit down every morning at the blank page and off of that blank page—and every writer that’s listening to this knows exactly what I’m talking about—there radiates, this lethal repelling force coming off that page that says, do anything else you can think of, but don’t sit down here at this, at this typewriter, this keyboard. And so this force kicked my butt for years. I’ll talk about that a little later. But that’s how you experienced it as a writer and it’s very clear to you, you know, uh, another, um . . . It was a sentence or a couple of sentences at the very start of The War of Art, too, that went something like this, that there’s a secret that real writers know that wanna be writers don’t know. And the secret is this: it’s not the writing that’s hard. It’s the sitting down to write—and what keeps us from sitting down is Resistance.
Shawn Coyne: Oh, I get it. I get it. So Resistance is sort of like this, this dark force that uses procrastination and all kinds of other things to get us to stop what we know deep down we should be doing.
Steven Pressfield: Exactly.
Shawn Coyne: Alright. So now you . . . The title of your book is The War of Art, which I think is . . . I love it. And so why did you, why did you title it The War of Art, because art is usually sort of seen as this very ethereal and beautiful thing that comes from, you know, maybe the collective unconscious and it sort of comes down upon us and release it? I think few people look at it as a war. Why? Why did you use the word war?
Steven Pressfield: Well, that’s a great question, Shawn, and anybody who is not an artist thinks that art is ethereal, but anybody who has actually tried to paint, or make a movie, or choreograph a dance, or write a screenplay knows that it is a war and the war is inside your head. On the one side of the war is the dream that you have, the positive creative dream, that novel that you want to write, that movie that you want to make, that startup that you want to get going, and against that, standing against that with an equal and opposite strengths is Resistance—is this force that’s trying to stop you from doing that. And, um, I can tell you in my own story, when I was in my twenties, I, uh, quit advertising. I was working in advertising in New York to write a novel and I got 99.9 percent of the way through it and I choked. I imploded the whole thing, including my marriage. Bump be da bump be da bump . . . and wound up, you know, driving my Chevy van, 13 different times back and forth across the United States, all just running away from writing. And at the time I had no conception that there was this force of Resistance and when, uh, but, but it was there staring me in the face and that was what, when I finally could put a name to it, recognize it for what it was. That was when I was able to turn the corner and, uh, actually do my work.
Shawn Coyne: Alright. So one last thing before we stop the first episode here, and I think this is an important question to ask. Okay . . . You’ve been talking about writers and artists. Is that the only . . . Are those the only people who faced Resistance or is Resistance a universal concept for politicians for businessmen, etc., etc., or is it just for creative people?
Shawn Coyne: Uh, that’s another great question. And I know when I, when I first sat down to write The War of Art, I thought, uh, nobody’s going to be interested in this. This is, if any, but if anything, this will only appeal to writers and, um, maybe I’m the only crazy one in the world who has this experience inside his head and I found over the last 14 years, uh, since we published a book, you and I, that uh, I’ve gotten thousands and thousands of letters and Resistance is universal. Um . . . All . . . Any . . . Resistance kicks in anytime we seek to move from a lower soul state to a higher soul state, so in the case of an artist, it means going from doing nothing or doing something that’s failing to doing something good. It also means, um, aspiring to a higher moral level or higher ethical level in, in your life. So, um, oddly enough—this probably won’t be on any actors that are listening to this—I thought, you know, would actors have Resistance? I just couldn’t . . . But I’ve gotten a million letters from actors . . . You’re an actor, Shawn, so you probably know about this.
Shawn Coyne: I’m not anymore.
Steven Pressfield: I’ll tell you another one that . . . This is going to piss off all the photographers that are listening to this. I thought, How hard is photography? You point a camera and you click it, you know, but I’ve gotten a million letters from . . . And I mean, and some of them are heartbreaking letters, you know, where people will tell you, pour out their souls of how they became drug addicts, they divorced three wives, dah da da dah da da dah you know, all because they couldn’t face kind of the blank, um, unexposed film. Um, let me say one other thing here, Shawn, before we get off of, uh, um, lesson number one here, episode number one. Resistance is universal. Einstein experienced Resistance. Mother Teresa, experience Resistance. The Dalai Lama wakes up with Resistance every morning. It’s, it’s an objective force of nature, just like gravity. It’s just like the transit of Venus across the night sky. And . . . If it is, it is lethal to what any artist is trying to do. You must overcome this, find your own way to overcome this. And I will say this: if you are an aspiring writer, artist, filmmaker, or whatever it is, you will never, never achieve your artistic or entrepreneurial goals unless you recognize the reality of this negative, lethal diabolical force, and devise your own method of overcoming it.