The War in the Art
Updated: Sep 24, 2020
As an author, writing only gets more difficult as I get deeper into the story. The difficulty is found in discovering the characters and what makes them real to me and why the reader should even believe a word I type; deciphering what makes the symbols I inscribed on a dead piece of wood worth however much they paid for it and the time they spent staring at it. It only becomes harder when the reader is able to conjure up the same people in their head as I’ve convinced them of existing.
They are able to develop their own interpretation of that character and an expectation of what they should be. The difficulty of writing comes from that specifically, living up to that expectation of what they want from the story and from their favorite characters. From what you’ve already written, you have to carry on and be sure the character doesn’t stray away from the stable lives and personalities that their unstable fans and readers want out of them. That pain alone is the specific pain that comes from staring at a blank page.
You must live up to the expectation that you already set for yourself, which on its own is a good and a bad thing. The only problem is that where one war is won the other is lost. You can not always fulfill the plans you had for the character and the expectation of the reader at the same time. There are compromises that have to be made and as a writer, you have to pick if you will be sacrificing your vision or the reader’s expectation and you’ll also have to decide which character to do which sacrificing on. That’s what makes the most successful main characters ever, the author was able to sacrifice neither their vision or the reader’s expectation because they sacrificed just about every other character instead. Not a bad compromise, but someone had to get voted off of the island there.
Those compromises and struggles of writing are the exact reasons as to why I am choosing to read “The War of Art” by Steven Pressfield. There is a sort of mental resistance and the fear accompanying it that keeps me away from this keyboard so often. I am afraid of ruining all of the work I’ve done already by writing one bad sentence from one reader’s one favorite character. I could be cut throat and just say “who cares? They bought the book anyway” but I could only say that if I actually cared about the money. While writing, money and other monetary gain from it seems so secondary and just inessential.
Above all, there is a story to tell. The problem is is that there are a million different ways to tell the story. To be brash and terse, eloquent and long-winded, short and vulgar...the list can go on and on but while you have a predetermined story to tell you might not have a set way of telling and instead you just fumble around in the dark until you find that light switch that just illuminates everything you do from there on out. That’s how I write and it does make things quite exciting at times. The piece by the published author Steven Pressfield provides insight into fighting through the daily mental battle of writing that feels more like walking on glass than the beautiful sunset and coffee like it is portrayed in our culture so often.
Pressfield implies that every action generating a good cause that requires work, will elicit resistance from those that are attempting that action. Actions such as arts, diets, spiritual advancement, overcoming habit, education of any kind, political change, undertaking of an enterprise, just generally anything that stands face to face with adversity will require struggle and a unique brand of work. He mentions that just by facing the adversity and the self doubt that is tagged along with it, you’re more likely to be what you’re questioning if you are or not. When questioning if you’re truly a writer or not, you think so highly of writing and what it means and what it takes to be a writer, that you certainly are one!
Resistance is the love for whatever you are doing. You care so much about what you’re doing that you don’t believe you’re doing it well enough, causing an everlasting need to be better. Resistance is unfortunately accompanied with a slew of symptoms, with one being fantasies of what you can be. They are said to be the sign of an amateur. In video games, it’s a sign of going the right way when you encounter the most resistance. While an amateur, like myself, has head in the stars at all times, loving the idea of what he’s doing, the professional has learned that success comes as a byproduct of work. The professional concentrates on the work and allows rewards to come or not come, when the time is right.
Professionals and amateurs are different in more ways than we think. While conventionally it’s thought as amateurs do it for love while professionals do it for money, the truth is not the same as that preconceived notion. In reality, the amateur simply does not love what he does enough to do it as a vocation, seven days a week. Instead, the amateur sidelines it for something else that makes money, however money is not what makes a professional-a professional; it is only commitment. The professional has sacrificed money and an economically stable life in order to pursue a more satisfying and virtuous feeling through their craft.
It causes pain in me knowing that the difference between the professional and amatuer is one of commitment and sacrifice. The pain is not physical, it is mental. It gives me cognitive dissonance, as I’ve learned that the goal of college and life is to pursue a stable life and job, allowing me to support a family. There is a voice in the back of my head that tells me to abandon all of that and simply pursue the virtue I find from art. I can silence that voice and I always have, yet once I get to college and decide that my major is philosophy, I learn that the virtuous desire is the only one worth pursuing. Aristotle teaching me that money is only an external advantage and not a good relating to my own soul. The stoics and Epictetus telling me that virtue is the only good thing in my control. If I make choices according to nature and feed what my soul needs, then I will live a happy life. One can only imagine that pain, the one telling you that what you’re doing is wrong and you’ve known all along what is necessary, however, that same thing you deem as necessary is not generally going to support you in the things that are not under my control (according to the stoics).
From my perspective, resistance is framed in the disguise of realism. I cannot commit myself to writing because in the stage of life that I am in right now, it doesn’t seem realistic or wise. If I dropped out of college today and did nothing but write my stories 8 hours a day and 7 days a week, then they would be done within a month. The only problem is that it is not guaranteed that anyone will like them or purchase them. Like I mentioned earlier, money is not the goal but when it is something done full time then I will need something to survive off of and my parents aren’t going to love me being cooped up in my room in their house waiting for a book to get picked up for the rest of my life.
I need to be more realistic and that is not optimal for me being so young. I need to schedule myself for the future that I plan to have. That means comfortably completing more and more every single day while pursuing a job that would allow me to live comfortably, as well as compliment my writing. “I write only when inspiration strikes. Fortunately it strikes every morning at nine ’o clock sharp,” - Somerset Maugham. Speaking from a personal standpoint, I don’t have a scheduled write time. It is mainly whenever I think about the characters and how they’re doing. Lucky for me, I think of them all the time. So throughout my day I’ll write a little on my phone waiting for the bus, a little in class when I’m zoned out during a lecture, and a lot at my desk at night when I finally get to relax. My war is won through a hundred small battles throughout the day.
Pressfield makes a point by stating that we are all professionals already. We work for money, we show up everyday no matter what, and we stay on job all day. We are committed over the long haul, the stakes for us are high, we do not overidentify with our jobs, we master our technique, we have a sense of humor about our jobs, and we receive praise or blame in the real world. We are already professionals, however the key is to apply our professional habits to our artistic passions. That garners success on its own. Professionals have things figured out, amateurs just need to figure out that they are professionals.
Stepping out of your comfort zone and becoming something that you love requires a certain boldness on its own before any skill. It is strength itself that allows the artist or entrepreneur to take control of their lives. “I have learned a deep respect for one of Goethe’s couplets: ‘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 Experience. The comfort zone is one of stability and when you step out, you must hope that the life you live can balance itself.
Before reading Pressfield, I did attempt the lifestyle of the professional artist one summer of my junior year in high school. I was not in school, did not have a job, or any true responsibilities. I spent my time painting, writing, making memories, and making music about those memories. I started a business called Panoptic that dealt with all domestic chores that someone may need done around the house. I made friends that I never thought I would like, much less connect with. Granted, that entire summer I made maybe a total of $240. But as predicted by the stoics, my life was complete. I did everything I felt I needed to, when something called out to me I passionately followed it. I was virtuous and lived my truest life at the time. I completed hundreds of pages of writing, bountiful paintings, and 3 albums worth of songs that I wrote and produced in detail. I’ve never been as happy as I was in those three months, and when September came, I went right back to school to study 6 subjects that I would never care about.
I must not be the only one, ‘tis the life of every artistic student forced to go to high school and pressured to go to college. While my body is in this dorm room, my mind, opinion, pursuit, and desire will reside in my work as an artist. As one that has something to share with the world and if not the world, myself. Pressfield rightfully suspected the struggles of someone like me and I’m glad that I came across his novel to discover that I am not the only one. I’ve been a professional before and I am a professional now. As of now, I will have the resistance mentioned by Pressfield as the bane of my existence, but lucky for me, I also have time.