Tag Archives: writing

‘The War of Art,’ by Steven Pressfield

The War of Art

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.

Someone suggested to me that I might enjoy Steven Pressfield’s The War of Art (and yes, I caught the reversal on Sun Tsu’s The Art of War… eventually). I’ve been struggling with my work in progress (it’s coming, but I’m fighting for every inch of ground), and I thought, what could it hurt?

It’s a remarkable book. I’m still not entirely sure what to think about it, though.

It might save you the cost of purchase if I give you the basic message right here – the only way to succeed as a writer is to become a professional. Sit yourself down at your desk at the same time every day, and work at your craft. Don’t listen to the negative voices in your head. Especially don’t listen to the ones that say, “I’ll just skip it today.”

But the value of the book is (of course) in the reader’s journey. In polished, powerful prose Pressfield (author of The Legend of Bagger Vance, Gates of Fire, and other bestselling books) analyses the writer’s problem (we have an enemy, which he calls “Resistance,” and we must learn to tread it under our feet). And he tells the story of his own evolution from a blocked, self-pitying wannabee to a fulfilled professional (anyone can do it, he says, which I think is an exaggeration. Not for me, of course, but for you other folks).

What troubles me about the book is its religious nature. When Pressfield talks about his Muse, he’s not being metaphorical. He lays out a whole theory of reality and consciousness (based on Jung), and says he believes that his muse actually exists. He prays to her each time he sits down to write.

On the negative side, he condemns all forms of Fundamentalism. “Fundamentalism and art,” he says, “are mutually exclusive.”

I take that kind of personally. I think you could call the medieval Roman Catholic Church fundamentalist, by his definition, and they did pretty well on the art front. The Puritans themselves gave us Milton and Bunyan.

So I’m uncomfortable with Pressfield’s religious statements. Speaking as a fundamentalist, I worry that he may have sold his soul to a devil, or be possessed in some way.

So I can’t wholeheartedly recommend The War of Art. As a motivational book, it’s excellent (I had a pretty good writing day the day I finished reading it). But spiritually I found it hazardous.

Also, cautions for language.

Plans: How to make God laugh

I have to get back in the habit of blogging five times a week, even when I don’t have a book to review or some link to share. I think I won’t go back to talking about my personal pains and neuroses, or at least not as much. Anyway, I’m presently enjoying one of the most pleasant periods I’ve enjoyed in some time. I’m done with grad school – nothing left but getting the document in the mail. I’m still adjusting to the freedom. And I’m coming up on two months since my surgery, so my incision’s largely healed up and I’m suffering more from the stiffness caused by learning to walk straight and unsupported again, than from post-procedure discomfort. I don’t recall ever feeling so stiff as I did last week, but then I’m calling on muscles I’ve permitted to dog it for more than two years.

My obvious next project is to start the next Erling book. Don’t have a title yet (I do know the title of the next book, assuming things fall out as I plan), but I know the period of history I need to cover. The days of purely imaginative Erling novels (West Oversea, Hailstone Mountain) are over. Now we get back to established fact, and the epic face-off between Erling and King Olaf Haraldsson, who was destined to be Norway’s patron saint.

But I wasn’t sure how to approach this stretch of the story. Part of the problem is that it’s going to involve the lowest moment in Erling’s life. You’ve got to finesse that kind of plot point with great care.

Last night, driving home from work, my mind sparked across one of those synaptic gaps that puts two things you’ve been thinking about separately into bed together. And I figured out – I think – a way to approach this book. So I sat down and wrote about a thousand words.

This is what we writers call “a start.”

Oh yes, it’s time to start playing Viking in earnest again. Next event – we’re helping with the Icelandic horse exhibit at the Minnesota Horse Expo at the state fairgrounds in St. Paul, April 22 and 23. I plan to be there both days, if my body fail me not.

What Makes Good Writing?

Barnabas Piper offers the one key component to good writing: playing baseball. (Double-check me on that.)

On that topic, Stephen King says in his widely praised book On Writing, “If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot. . . . If you don’t have the time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write.”

He also says, “Description is what makes the reader a sensory participant in the story. Good description is a learned skill, one of the prime reasons why you cannot succeed unless you read a lot and write a lot. It’s not just a question of how-to, you see; it’s also a question of how much to. Reading will help you answer how much, and only reams of writing will help you with the how. You can learn only by doing.”

Interview with Jeffrey Overstreet

Raven's Ladder by Jeffrey OverstreetFilm critic and author Jeffrey Overstreet has written three fantasy novels in the last few years, two of which I’ve read. They are fantastic (perhaps that goes without saying). He writes this series, Auralia’s Colors, not to depict any historic people or setting, but “to capture the questions that keep me up at night.” The third one, Raven’s Ladder, is shown on the left and is being released this month.

I have found that wonderfully hopeful, powerfully redemptive, and gorgeous. His new world has an appealing natural magic which is hard to describe, like the difficulty Tolkien’s elves in Lothlórien describing their handiwork to the hobbits. It wasn’t magic to them, but the hobbits it was.

I asked Jeffrey some questions about writing and publishing these books.

1. You’ve been a critical writer for many years now.  Do you think you’ve always had the writing spirit/muse/curse?

I’m hard-wired to tell stories. When I was five years old, I already felt compelled to make books. I’d take fairy-tale storybooks and painstakingly copy the text onto piles of scrap paper. Then I’d illustrate those pages with crayon or watercolors.

Soon after I read The Hobbit – around age seven – I stopped copying stories and started writing my own. And sure, those first stories sounded a lot like The Hobbit. But they became more unusual and distinct as the years went on. My first “series” was a four-story epic set in a world that resembles Pixar’s A Bug’s Life. In fact, when I saw that movie decades later, I laughed at the incredible similarities. (Where Pixar had nasty grasshoppers, I had wicked wasps.) Continue reading Interview with Jeffrey Overstreet