June 16, 2013

'The War of Art': Overcome Resistance and Write Your Screenplay

If you're like most screenwriters I know (myself included), you have a shelf full of books on the art and craft of writing. These books do everything from leading us on the hero's journey, to breaking down the two, three, five or more act structure of a well-designed screenplay, and engendering sympathy with your protagonist early on. But I've found one book that stands head and shoulders above the rest, and it doesn't have a thing to do with crafting story-arcs or "sympathetic" characters. It has to do with Resistance, every artist's greatest enemy. Click below to find out more about the book that might change the way you look at your craft.

The novelist Somerset Maugham was once asked whether or not he wrote according to a schedule, or only when struck by inspiration. His answer: "I write only when inspiration strikes. Fortunately it strikes every morning at nine o'clock sharp."

The writer Steven Pressfield, in his book The War of Art, defines the artist's (and specifically the writer's) biggest enemy: Resistance. To Pressfield, Resistance (always capitalized) is the force that keeps us from achieving our goals, that sabotages our best instincts:

Resistance will tell you anything to keep you from doing your work. It will perjure, fabricate,falsify; seduce, bully, cajole...Resistance has no conscience...Resistance is like the Alien or the Terminator or the shark in Jaws. It understands nothing but power. It is an engine of destruction, programmed  from the factory with one object in mind: to prevent us from doing our work.

jawsAccording to Pressfield, author of the novel The Legend of Bagger Vance, later turned into the iffy Matt Damon movie, Resistance is the force that urges us to procrastinate, to clean the kitchen, answer emails, make coffee or sharpen pencils: anything except get our work done. And work is the most important thing. Pressfield goes so far as to say that the more we just show up, the more the muse is likely to visit. In other words, the habit of writing cultivates writing; the more and more consistently a writer writes, the easier it will become.

He says that Resistance will be generated by "any act that rejects immediate gratification in favor of long-term growth, health, or integrity." The battle against Resistance isn't only fought on the page. Here he discusses another point in the creative process:

Are you writing a novel? Be careful with your baby. Don’t talk about it. Are you recording a new album, planning a new product launch, gestating a new philanthropic venture? Keep your mouth shut. Talking too soon is bad luck. It’s bad karma.

No less a personage than Robert McKee, screenwriting guru of all gurus, says of the book, "As I closed The War of Art, I felt a surge of positive calm. I now know I can win this war. And if I can, so can you."

What do you think? Have you read The War of Art? Would you? How much do you think, if anything, can really be taught about the creative drive, whether you're a writer, director, cinematographer, or costume designer? Do you encounter Resistance in your own life, and how do you combat it to create your work?

Link: The War of Art by Steven Pressfield

Your Comment

18 Comments

I have listened to the audio book more than a few times. It is not a magic bullet, but it does help you understand the habits that need to be formed before consistently great work can be done. The idea that you should get in the habit of setting an appointment for yourself to work everyday at the same time makes a lot of sense. I'm still working on that. I also recommend "Turning Pro". It adds very nicely to The War Of Art.

June 16, 2013

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Gregg Stepp

June 16, 2013

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kev

Excellent book. Applicable to any creative endeavour. The simple fact is that most of the time creative projects get done by doing a lot of work. As a lazy assed human, you will use the strength of your imagination to avoid doing it, by believing stories about inspiration and being gifted ideas fully formed and instantly applied. Nope. It's hard work and you are bullshitting yourself that. Do some fucking work, dammit!

So that's what I got out of it. It seems most applicable to editing. The part where you thrash around not knowing what you are doing, wondering if you are wasting your time having taken the wrong tack, is where Resistance comes in. Maybe you are wasting your time. Maybe you are going in the wrong direction. Good point. Better stop. We forget that everything is always like this. The War of Art reminds us. So instead you work swiftly and thoroughly and make mistakes and work your way through it until lunch, and then go right back to it. It's just work. What you need to do is work. (NFS is Resistance)

June 16, 2013

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Great book, and almost every successful writer uses the appointment trick. It really works.

June 16, 2013

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marklondon

"Are you writing a novel? Be careful with your baby. Don’t talk about it. Are you recording a new album, planning a new product launch, gestating a new philanthropic venture? Keep your mouth shut. Talking too soon is bad luck. It’s bad karma."

Can someone explain to me why this actually happens? I feel like keeping my mouth shut is the only way to get projects rolling, while talking about them is the exact point the fall apart. Even if it has nothing to do with me, but a client.

June 16, 2013

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I disagree with this. If I didn't talk about many of the projects I do early-on, before the script is even finished, the project would have never been completed. However, I can see how it some cases it can be true. Sometimes talking about a subject out loud to another person can help you to realize exactly how bad of an idea it actually is. Resulting in the project falling apart. I find that if I don't actively excite myself about a project I'm working on, it gets very difficult to actually complete it. Talking about projects with like-minded people who are equally as excited and inspired is a fantastic way to get a project rolling faster.

June 16, 2013

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I have heard the theory that talking about a project satisfies the urge to create so you no longer feel the urgency to actually do the project. Talking about projects for me is an essential part of the creative process, but I need to have something to show first.

June 17, 2013

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Dan

Three things about keeping one's mouth shut as you're working on a project: 1) To finish the work, one necessarily must build up some kind of "psychic force" within. It's made up of commitment, determination, self-discipline and a clearly articulated goal. Talking about it, in most cases, literally depletes this pool of energy by running it out your mouth. And, as one person mentioned here, talking can quickly turn into a substitute for doing the work.
2) Validate yourself, don't wait for other to do it for you. Talking about your work in many cases is a subtle reaching out for validation and approval from others, most of whom won't tell you the truth because they don't want to hurt your feelings. It could be that you're looking for the warm fuzzies prematurely. Shout it out to the skies only when you've finished and have put it out there.
3) Talk too much and you may start to feel, in some ways, like you're pregnant. People start asking you "How are you feeling?" every time they talk to you and then you have to talk even more. Pretty soon you feel the pressure of having people wait for you to finish your work and this can be a lot of bother and interference. I edited a book for a friend once and at the beginning I strongly advised him to keep quiet about it (except for his mate and maybe one close friend at most). But he couldn't resist chattering away about it with many people. Later, worn out from answering so many "Hey, howzit going with the book?" he told me he wished he would have kept a lid on it. Celebrate when it's time to celebrate, when the finished job is in your hand.

June 17, 2013

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P. Bowler

Totally agree, I feel exactly the same thing, a long time ago I stop saying anything until I got it sure, but I have one project which was almost sure, I commented a couple of times and so far, it look like it's not happening (finger cross) wich craft!!!

June 22, 2013

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raul

Loved the War of Art -thinking back it got me started when i would Never call my self an 'artist' but i think now 7 years later trying to take me art to the next level the best butt kick i have had in a long time is THE ICARUS DECEPTION by Seth Godin.

June 16, 2013

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art

Some good points. There are many points of resistance one runs into in creative endeavors. I had my share when writing my feature.
http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/mikestahl/capps-crossing-horror-thri...

June 16, 2013

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Mike

Success is a muscle, you must challenge it and exercise it to strengthen it. I had a basketball coach that used to say, "pratice doesn't make perfect," he would say, "perfect practice makes perfect." What I took from that was the repetitive pursuit and discipline to challenge yourself to maintain form and get better each time you step onto the court. Writing every morning is like practicing shooting perfect free throws, in time, all you'll hear is 'swish!' :) Good day and good writing people! Hit me up @rojomayne

June 16, 2013

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IMO, it's different if you're a writer in the loop with a high probability that your work will be seen by the powers-that-be than when you're writing spec after spec but having problems just having your work read by these aforementioned powers. Then you're just adding to the stack of screenplays in your closet, which can definitely take away the motivation.

June 16, 2013

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DLD

This sounds like a good book that I need to get. I procrastinate way too much like right now reading your blog :)

June 17, 2013

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I think every creative person encounters self-resistense at some point and it is so hard to overcome it. Always come out of bed and be motivated to go on, even when you think about quitting because it is all bullsh... you do, is the most difficult task of all.

I haven't read "The War of Art" but now I definitley will.

Another great book about motivation I just read is http://99u.com/book/manage-your-day-to-day
and one about screenwriting and surviving ;-) http://www.ridingthealligator.com/riding-the-alligator

June 20, 2013

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Pascal

That's awesome. I know Steve and emailed him the link to this.

June 20, 2013

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Alex

I have read the book and am glad I did. It is a great reminder of a basic rule: the only way to get the work done is to do it. The strength of the book for me was calling out all the excuses I come up with for not writing. It's the difference between being a filmmaker and a "filmtalker."

June 21, 2013

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Mike

I find Pressfield to be a bit full of himself. The War of Art is fairly shallow--pretty much a "rah-rah, now go get 'em" kind of message. For something much more substantial and inspiring on the same topic, try The Practicing Mind by Thomas M. Sterner.

June 23, 2013

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Rebecca