I love reading booking on doing creative work and how to do it. I find it even more humbling that every single book has a thin line of theme that seems to say doing your work for the sake of work for extreme long period of years cannot fail, but create the art an artist envisions.
The War of Art by Steven Pressfield is one such book that talks about the resistance and ultimately creating art. It is inspiring.
##What not to do
What’s hard is sitting down to write. What keeps us from sitting down is Resistance. Most of us have two lives. The life we live, and the unlived life within us. Between the two stands Resistance. Resistance is the most toxic force on the planet. It is the root of more unhappiness than poverty, disease, and erectile dysfunction. To yield to Resistance deforms our spirit. It stunts us and makes us less than we are and were born to be.
In other words, fear doesn’t go away. The warrior and the artist live by the same code of necessity, which dictates that the battle must be fought anew every day.
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.”
The working artist will not tolerate trouble in her life because she knows trouble prevents her from doing her work. The working artist banishes from her world all sources of trouble. She harnesses the urge for trouble and transforms it in her work.
A victim act is a form of passive aggression. It seeks to achieve gratification not by honest work or a contribution made out of one’s experience or insight or love, but by the manipulation of others through silent (and not-so-silent) threat. The victim compels others to come to his rescue or to behave as he wishes by holding them hostage to the prospect of his own further illness/meltdown/mental dissolution, or simply by threatening to make their lives so miserable that they do what he wants. Casting yourself as a victim is the antithesis of doing your work. Don’t do it. If you’re doing it, stop.
In this uprising we free ourselves from the tyranny of consumer culture. 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.
To combat the call of sin, i.e., Resistance, the fundamentalist plunges either into action or into the study of sacred texts. He loses himself in these, much as the artist does in the process of creation. The difference is that while the one looks forward, hoping to create a better world, the other looks backward, seeking to return to a purer world from which he and all have fallen.
Individuals who are realized in their own lives almost never criticize others. If they speak at all, it is to offer encouragement. Watch yourself. Of all the manifestations of Resistance, most only harm ourselves. Criticism and cruelty harm others as well.
Fear is good. Like self-doubt, fear is an indicator. Fear tells us what we have to do. 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.
We feel comfortable with the tribe around us; it makes us nervous going off into the woods on our own. Here’s the trick: We’re never alone. As soon as we step outside the campfire glow, our Muse lights on our shoulder like a butterfly. The act of courage calls forth infallibly that deeper part of ourselves that supports and sustains us.
The concept in all these environments seems to be that one needs to complete his healing before he is ready to do his work … What are we trying to heal, anyway? … The part we create from can’t be touched by anything our parents did, or society did. That part is unsullied, uncorrupted; soundproof, waterproof, and bulletproof. In fact, the more troubles we’ve got, the better and richer that part becomes. The part that needs healing is our personal life. Personal life has nothing to do with work. Besides, what better way of healing than to find our center of self-sovereignty? Isn’t that the whole point of healing?
Have you ever been to a workshop? These boondoggles are colleges of Resistance. They ought to give out Ph.D.’s in Resistance. What better way of avoiding work than going to a workshop? But what I hate even worse is the word support. Seeking support from friends and family is like having your people gathered around at your deathbed. It’s nice, but when the ship sails, all they can do is stand on the dock waving goodbye … In fact, the more energy we spend stoking up on support from colleagues and loved ones, the weaker we become and the less capable of handling our business.
Rationalization is Resistance’s right-hand man. Its job is to keep us from feeling the shame we would feel if we truly faced what cowards we are for not doing our work.
He writes what he imagines will play well in the eyes of others. He does not ask himself, What do I myself want to write? What do I think is important? Instead he asks, What’s hot, what can I make a deal for? The hack is like the politician who consults the polls before he takes a position. He’s a demagogue. He panders.
##What to do
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.
A dream like that is real support. It’s a check you can cash when you sit down, alone, to do your work. P.S. When your deeper Self delivers a dream like that, don’t talk about it. Don’t dilute its power. The dream is for you. It’s between you and your Muse. Shut up and use it.
Be a professional
The amateur plays for fun. The professional plays for keeps. To the amateur, the game is his avocation. To the pro it’s his vocation. The amateur plays part-time, the professional full-time. The amateur is a weekend warrior. The professional is there seven days a week … The professional loves it so much he dedicates his life to it. He commits full-time.
Qualities of a professional
Do the important
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. What’s important is the work. That’s the game I have to suit up for.
Exposure to the real world
The amateur has not mastered the technique of his art. Nor does he expose himself to judgment in the real world. 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.
The professional arms himself with patience, not only to give the stars time to align in his career, but to keep himself from flaming out in each individual work … He conserves his energy. He prepares his mind for the long haul. He sustains himself with the knowledge that if he can just keep those huskies mushing, sooner or later the sled will pull in to Nome.
The professional cannot live like that. He is on a mission. He will not tolerate disorder. He eliminates chaos from his world in order to banish it from his mind. He wants the carpet vacuumed and the threshold swept, so the Muse may enter and not soil her gown.
She understands that all creative endeavor is holy, but she doesn’t dwell on it. She knows if she thinks about that too much, it will paralyze her. So she concentrates on technique. The professional masters how, and leaves what and why to the gods. The professional shuts up. She doesn’t talk about it. She does her work.
The professional has learned better. He respects Resistance. He knows if he caves in today, no matter how plausible the pretext, he’ll be twice as likely to cave in tomorrow. The professional knows that Resistance is like a telemarketer; if you so much as say hello, you’re finished. The pro doesn’t even pick up the phone. He stays at work.
Standing on the shoulders of giants
The professional respects his craft. He does not consider himself superior to it. He recognizes the contributions of those who have gone before him. He apprentices himself to them.
The professional dedicates himself to mastering technique not because he believes technique is a substitute for inspiration but because he wants to be in possession of the full arsenal of skills when inspiration does come. 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.
The professional cannot take rejection personally because to do so reinforces Resistance. Editors are not the enemy; critics are not the enemy. Resistance is the enemy. The battle is inside our own heads. We cannot let external criticism, even if it’s true, fortify our internal foe. That foe is strong enough already.
Because the most important thing about art is to work. Nothing else matters except sitting down every day and trying … 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.
Concerning all acts of initiative (and creation) there is one elementary truth, the ignorance of which kills countless ideas and splendid plans: that the moment one definitely commits oneself, then providence moves too. All sorts of things occur to help one that would not otherwise have occurred. A whole stream of events issues from the decision, raising in one’s favour all manner of unforeseen incidents and meetings and material assistance which no man would have dreamed would come his way.
Clearly some intelligence is at work, independent of our conscious mind and yet in alliance with it, processing our material for us and alongside us. This is why artists are modest. They know they’re not doing the work; they’re just taking dictation. It’s also why “non creative 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.
The artist must operate territorially. He must do his work for its own sake. To labor in the arts for any reason other than love is prostitution.
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. The new mom weeps in awe at the little miracle in her arms. She knows it came out of her but not from her, through her but not of her … By doing her work for its own sake, she sets herself at the service of these forces.
work territorial, not hierarchical
Here’s another test. Of any activity you do, ask yourself: If I were the last person on earth, would I still do it? If you’re all alone on the planet, a hierarchical orientation makes no sense. There’s no one to impress. So, if you’d still pursue that activity, congratulations. You’re doing it territorially … If we were the last person on earth, would we still show up at the studio, the rehearsal hall, the laboratory?
On closing note, I would like to leave you with this video by Ira Glass who once again spoke about the universal “secret” about doing great work - the most important possible thing you can do is to do a lot work!
What other resources inspires you to find and create the work that you love?