“The War of Art” Quotes

I recently re-read “The War of Art” by Steven Pressfield. It’s about the creative process and how to become more productive. I highly recommend reading the whole thing. Here are the quotes I found most useful.

war of art“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.” (22)

“What finally convinced me to go ahead was simply that I was so unhappy not going ahead.” (30)

“Fundamentalism is the philosophy of the powerless, the conquered, the displaced and the dispossessed.” (34)

“Socrates demonstrated long ago, that the truly free individual is free only to the extent of his own self-mastery.” (37)

“The professional tackles the project that will make him stretch. He takes on the assignment that will bear him into uncharted waters, compel him to explore unconscious parts of himself.” (40)

“Resistance is directly proportional to love. If you’re feeling massive Resistance, the good news is, it means there’s tremendous love there too. If you didn’t love the project that is terrifying you, you wouldn’t feel anything. The opposite of love isn’t hate; it’s indifference.” (42)

“The professional has learned that success, like happiness, comes as a by-product of work. The professional concentrates on the work and allows rewards to come or not come, whatever they like.” (43)

“Not only do I not feel alone with my characters; they are more vivid and interesting to me than the people in my real life. If you think about it, the case can’t be otherwise.” (46)

“In order for a book (or any project or enterprise) to hold our attention for the length of time it takes to unfold itself, it has to plug into some internal perplexity or passion that is of paramount importance to us.” (46)

“It’s one thing to study war and another to live the warrior’s life.” – Telamon of Arcadia (61)

“The amateur does not love the game enough. If he did, he would not pursue it as a sideline, distinct from his “real” vocation. (63)

“The professional loves it so much he dedicates his life to it. He commits full-time.” (63)

“The Principle of Priority states (a) you must know the difference between what is urgent and what is important, and (b) you must do what’s important first.” (65)

“The artist committing himself to his calling has volunteered for hell, whether he knows it or not. He will be dining for the duration on a diet of isolation, rejection, self-doubt, despair, ridicule, contempt, and humiliation.” (68)

“The artist must be like that Marine. He has to know how to be miserable. He has to love being miserable. 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.” (68)

“We’re all pros already. 1) We show up every day 2) We show up no matter what 3) We stay on the job all day 4) We are committed over the long haul 5) The stakes for us are high and real 6) We accept renumeration for our labor 7) We do not overidentify with our jobs 8 ) We master the technique of our jobs 9) We have a sense of humor about our jobs 10) We receive praise or blame in the real world” (69-70)

“That’s when I realized I had become a pro. I had not yet had a success. But I had had a real failure.” (72)

“The professional, though he accepts money, does his work out of love. He has to love it. Otherwise he wouldn’t devote his life to it of his own free will.” (73)

“The writer is an infantryman. He knows that progress is measured in yards of dirt extracted from the enemy one day, one hour, one minute at a time and paid for in blood.” (74)

“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 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.” (75)

“The professional loves her work. She is invested in it wholeheartedly. But she does not forget that the work is not her. Her artistic self contains many works and many performances. Already the next is percolating inside her. The next will be better, and the one after that better still.” (88)

“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.” (90)

“Tomorrow morning the critic will be gone, but the writer will still be there facing the blank page. Nothing matters but that he keep working.” (92)

“The professional learns to recognize envy-driven criticism and to take it for what it is: the supreme compliment. The critic hates most that which he would have done himself if he had had the guts.” (93)

“I have a status meeting with myself every Monday. I sit down and go over my assignments. Then I type it up and distribute it to myself.” (98)

“The most important thing about art is to work. Nothing else matters except sitting down every day and trying.” (108)

“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. Insight accrete.” (108)

“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.” (112)

The muses poem:
“O Divine Poesy, goddess, daughter of Zeus, sustain for me this song of the various-minded man who, after he had plundered the innermost citadel of hallowed Troy, was made to stay grievously about the coasts of men, the sport of their customs, good and bad, while his heart, through all the sea-faring, ached with an agony to redeem himself and bring his company safe home. Vain hope – for them. The fools! Their own witlessness cast them aside. To destroy for meat the oxen of the most exalted Sun, wherefore the Sun-god blotted out the day of their return. Make this tale live for us in all its many bearings, O Muse.” – from Homer’s Odyssey (119)

“We’re not born with unlimited choices. We can’t be anything we want ot be. We come into this world with a specific, personal destiny. We have a job to do, a calling to enact, a self to become. We are who we are from the cradle, and we’re stuck with it.” (146)

“Our job in this lifetime is not to shape ourselves into some ideal we imagine we ought to be, but to find out who we already are and become it.” (146)

“If we were born to overthrow the order of ignorance and injustice of the world, it’s our job to realize it and get down to business.” (146)

“At some point it maxes out. Our brains can’t file that many faces. We thrash around, flashing our badges of status (Hey, how do you like my Lincoln Navigator?) and wondering why nobody gives a shit.” (149)

“For the artist to define himself hierarchically is fatal… The artist must operate territorially. He must do his work for its own sake.” (150-151)

“To labor in the arts for any reason other than love is prostitution.” (151)

“A hack, Robert McKee 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.” (152)

“The hack writes hierarchically. 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?” (152)

“The hack is like the politician who consults the polls before he takes a position. He’s a demagogue. He panders.” (152)

“It can pay off, being a hack. Given the depraved state of American culture, a slick dude can make millions being a hack. But even if you succeed, you lose, because you’ve sold out your Muse, and your Muse is you, the best part of yourself, where your finest and only true work comes from.” (153)

“The muse had me, I had to do it. To my amazement, the book succeeded critically and commercially better than anything I’d ever done, and others since have been lucky too. Why? My best guess is this: I trusted what I wanted, not what I thought would work. I did what I myself thought was interesting, and left its reception to the gods.” (153)

“Of any activity you do, ask yourself: If I were the last person on earth, would I still do it?” (158)

“If we were the last person on earth, would we still show up at the studio, the rehearsal hall, the laboratory?” (159)

“Contempt for failure is our cardinal virtue.” (160)

“We must do our work for its own sake, not for fortune or attention or applause.” (161)

“That’s why an artist must be a warrior and, like all warriors, artists over time acquire modesty and humility. They may, some of them, conduct themselves flamboyantly in public. But alone with the work they are chaste and humble. They know they are not the source of the creations they bring into being. They only facilitate. They carry. They are the willing and skilled instruments of the gods and goddesses they serve.” (163)

“Creative work is not a selfish act or a bid for attention on the part of the actor. It’s a gift to the world and every being in it. Don’t cheat us of your contribution. Give us what you’ve got.” (165)

If you liked the quotes, please buy the book here.

One Response to ““The War of Art” Quotes”

  1. [...] finished reading “Turning Pro” by Steven Pressfield. (See quotes from his other book here.) Here’s the parts I found most interesting, as always if you like the quotes, please buy the [...]

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