I’m not a big lover of self-help books. My favourite quote of all times regarding this topic is from a movie called “School for Scoundrels,” and goes something like this:
“How can you help yourself, when your self sucks?“
My attitude towards “The War of Art” is not much different. I actually bought it as a gift for an artist that I know, realising shortly after that giving a book on creativity to an artist is about as useful as giving a book on parenting to an grandmother… or something to that effect.
So I started reading it myself. I call this a “mid-book-review,” because I don’t like reviewing whole books, rather I prefer writing what comes up from however many pages I read. Also, the first half of The War of Art is quite monotonous and, I would say, masochistic to read.
The first 70 or so pages are all about the barriers or resistance we encounter before we create. Essentially nearly every page describes another type of resistance: drugs, jealous people, procrastination, etc. If I were to read this book for myself, I would feel more and more beads of guilty sweat streaming down my back. My god, how badly I’ve been treating myself over these years trying to produce a thesis.
There must be some pedagogical law that guilt is not the best teacher. But ok… after reading about ca. 30 guilt-inducing types of resistance, I skipped this part and went straight to the good stuff. How to be a professional artist.
Now, I haven’t read much—this is a mid-book review after all—but I think the gist of being a professional is discipline. Getting up early, going to your office (wherever that may be), and producing. But that’s not all.
My artist-aquaintance is actually a tremendous producer. She produces paintings like a factory. But she does not get paid. And that I think is the other side of being a professional artist—the paycheque.
From what I can see, The War of Art is meant well. It’s meant as a kick in the ass. But, just like all self-help books, it does not actually do the kicking, rather it’s you that’s meant to kick yourself… easier for some than others.
What is needed then is a framework, a recipe that people can follow to indeed transform into the professional artists they are meant to be. I have not yet found anything resembling that in this book. Instead, just like, I guess, the book, whose title it was inspired by, The Art of War, it is a collection of advice and up to the reader to follow and consult it again and again over the years. When the productivity is falling… what is that resistance? Ah yes, time to kick my ass again.
But I still have to finish the book before I can give a final judgement. If, incidentally, this final judgement is not printed on my blog, then you know how much, or rather, how little there was to say about the final 70, or so, pages…
Some eternal truths, I’ve learned myself, from producing what seem like countless pages for my thesis, include:
- After a while you enter the zone. It takes around 30 mins to 1 hour then your set to go. I can work for hours on end after that.
- The more your practice, the easier it is to enter a zone. Ever since I started blogging, I’ve essentially been writing creatively for several hours a day. And I can produce a piece of text fairly quickly, and get into the zone after a few mins already. And I notice the same when you draw on a daily basis or do whatever art you want to do. It all eventually gets easier, and that’s why a daily discipline is important.
- Balance is vital. Nothing sucks as much as working your ass off, not quite finishing what you planned (perfectionist), and the only reward there is is the lonely tv, the only thing still “awake” in the middle of the night. Instead, people and experiences are the reward. These experiences also recharge you way more than a workaholic lifestyle ever could. Breaks are, as paradoxical as it may seem, vital to becoming a true workaholic—one who gets intoxicated by his work, sometimes referred to as loving his work.
- Little triggers matter. The greatest trigger ever? Feedback. Packaging your work into little chunks which people can evaluate really helps here. And getting feedback really forces you to create better work.
- It’s all about the paycheque. You could say this doesn’t apply to a thesis, but it does. A thesis is a piece of work that will be a reference for future job-applications for a long time. It will also help in managing future creative projects that do pay. So it really helps to factor that into the schedule: you are producing, not for the art itself, but because you want to achieve something. What that is is up to you and varies from project to project, but ultimately financial reward—direct or indirect—is a great motivator, not to mention fuel for the engine allowing for the creation of more things.
Some, not all, of these tips come from the only self-help book that did not make me feel guilty. Neil Fiore’s “The Now Habit“.
For now, my recommendation is: if you want to create, just do it. Don’t waste time, build up a daily discipline, reward the little successes, get lots of feedback along the way, and always remember to get paid. And if you want to learn, then learning from doing is usually a better choice than learning about learning.