Scott Pressfield Books

War of Art, Turning Pro, Do the Work, Nobody Wants to Read Your Sh*t

The War of Art

There’s a secret that real writers know that wannabe writers don’t, and the secret is this: It’s not the writing part that’s hard. What’s hard is sitting down to write.

1. Resistance

  • Resistance is the enemy within. 8
  • Resistance will tell you anything to keep you from doing your work. It will assume any form, if that’s what it takes to deceive you. 9
  • When a writer begins to overcome her Resistance she may find that those close to her begin acting strange. They are trying to sabotage her. 19
  • This second, we can sit down and do our work. 22
  • [Resistance is something] you can tell by the measure of hollowness you feel afterward. 23
  • Trouble is a cheap way to get attention. Cruelty to others is a form of resistance. 24
  • Casting yourself as a victim is the antithesis of doing your work. Don’t do it. 28
  • What finally convinced me to go ahead was simply that I was so unhappy not going ahead. As soon as I sat down and began, I was okay. 30
  • What does resistance feel like? First, unhappiness. We feel like hell. A low-grade misery pervades everything. We’re bored, we’re restless. We can’t get no satisfaction. There’s guilt but we can’t put our finger on the source. We want to go back to bed; we want to get up and party. We feel unloved and unlovable. We’re disgusted. We hate our lives. We hate ourselves. 31
  • The human being isn’t wired to function as an individual. We’re wired tribally, to act as part of a group. 33
  • The paradox seems to be, as Socrates demonstrated long ago, that the truly free individual is free only to the extent of his own self-master. While those who will not govern themselves are condemned to find masters to govern over them. 37
  • If you find yourself criticizing other people, you’re probably doing it out of resistance. When we see other beginning to live their authentic selves, it drives us crazy if we have not lived out our own. Individuals who are realized in their own lives almost never criticize others. 38
  • The counterfeit innovator is wildly self-confident. The real one is scared to death. 39
  • The more scared we are of a work or calling, the more sure we can be that we have to do it. 40
  • The professional concentrates on the work and allows rewards to come or not, whatever they like. 43
  • What counted was that I had, after years of running from it, actually sat down and done my work. 50
  • What’s particularly insidious about the rationalizations that resistance presents to us is that a lot of them are true. They’re legitimate. What resistance leaves out, of course, is that all this means diddly. 55

2. Turning Pro

  • You must know the difference between what is urgent and what is important, and you must do what’s important first. What’s important is the work. 65
  • The marine corps teaches you how to be miserable. The artist must be like that marine. He has to know how to be miserable. He has to love being miserable. 68
  • We show up every day; no matter what; all day. 70
  • So you’re taking a few blows. That’s the price for being in the arena and not on the sidelines. 72
  • Resistance gets us to plunge into a project with an overambitious and unrealistic timetable for its completion. It knows we can’t sustain that level of intensity. We will hit the wall. We will crash. The professional arms himself with patience. He knows that any job takes twice as long as he thinks and costs twice as much. He accepts that. 75
  • The professional shuts up. She does her work. 78
  • The amateur believes he must first overcome his fear; then he can do his work. The professional knows that fear can never be overcome. 79
  • The professional dedicates himself to mastering technique not because he believes technique is a substitute for inspiration but because he wants to be in possession of the full arsenal of skills when inspiration does come. 84
  • The professional will work harder. 88
  • Tiger Woods could have groaned or sulked or surrendered mentally to this injustice, this interference, and used it as an excuse to fail. He didn’t. No matter what blow had befall him from an outside agency, he himself still had his job to do. 92
  • Making yourself a corporation (or just thinking of yourself in that way) reinforces the idea of professionalism. 97
  • The essence of professionalism is the focus upon the work and its demands, while we are doing it, to the exclusion of all else. 99
  • There’s no mystery to turning pro. It’s a decision brought about by an act of will. We make up our mind to view ourselves as pros and we do it. Simple as that. 101

3. The Higher Realm

  • The most important thing about art is to work. Nothing else matters except sitting down every day and trying. It’s an attitude of egolessness and service. 108
  • Nobody knew I was done. Nobody cared. But I knew. Next morning I went over to Paul’s for coffee and told him I had finished. “Good for you,” he wait without looking up. “Start the next one today.” 112
  • Whatever you can do, or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius, magic, and power in it. Begin it now. 122
  • Angels are like muses. They know stuff we don’t. They want to help us. They’re on the other side of a pane of glass, shouting to get our attention. But we can’t hear them. We’re too distracted by our own nonsense. Ah, but when we begin. When we make a start. When we conceive an enterprise and commit to it in the fact of our fears, something wonderful happens. When we make a beginning, we get out of our own way and allow the angels to come in and do their jobs. 123
  • Fear of failure. These are serious fears. But they’re not the real fear. Fear that we will succeed. We fear discovering that we are more than we think we are. 142
  • Individuals define themselves in one of two ways: by their rank within a hierarchy or by their connection to a territory. Hierarchical seems to be the default setting. It’s only later in life, usually after a stern education in the university of hard knocks, that we begin to explore the territorial alternative. 147
  • for the artist to define himself hierarchically is fatal. But the artist cannot look to others to validate his efforts or his calling. The artist must operate territoriality. He must do his work for its own sake. 151
  • The hack is scared of being authentic. In other words, the hack writes hierarchically. He writes what he imagines will play well in the eyes of other. He does not ask himself, what do I myself want to write? 152
  • A territory can only be claimed alone. A territory can only be claimed by work. 155
  • If I were the last person on earth, would I still do it? 158
  • We must do our work for its own sake, not for fortune or attention or applause. 161
  • In the end, the question can only be answered by action. Do it or don’t do it. 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

Turning Pro

1. The Amateur Life

  • The thesis of this book is that what ails you and me has nothing to do with being sick or being wrong. What ails us is that we are living our lives as amateurs. What we get when we turn pro is, we find our power. We find our will and our voice and we find our self-respect. We become who we always were but had, until then, been afraid to embrace and to live out. 5
  • Ambition. 9
  • I was hiding. 12
  • But a shadow career entails no real risk. If we fail at a shadow career, the consequences are meaningless to us. Are you pursuing a shadow career? 13
  • I wasn’t facing my demons. 15
  • In the shadow life, we live in denial and we act by addition. 18
  • A professional has professional habits. 20
  • When you turn pro, life gets very simply. The amateur is an egotist. He takes the material of his personal pain and uses it to draw attention to himself. 24
  • We’re asleep. We know only that something is wrong and we don’t know how to fix it. Addition replaces aspiration. 25
  • All additions embody repetition without progress and produce incapacity as a payoff. 34
  • Resistance hates two qualities above all others: concentration and depth. 39
  • What you and I are really seeking is our own voice, our own truth, our own authenticity. 40
  • I didn’t talk to anybody during my year of turning pro. I didn’t hang out. I just worked. That year made me a pro. It gave me, for the first time in my life, an uninterrupted stretch of month after month that was mine alone, that nobody knew about but me, when I was truly productive, truly facing my demons, and truly working my shit. 42–44

2. Self-Inflicted Wounds

  • The habits and addictions of the amateur are conscious or unconscious self-inflicted wounds. Their payoff is incapacity. 51
  • Fear is the primary color of the amateur’s interior world. Fear of failure, fear of success, fear of looking foolish, fear of under-achieving and fear of over-achieving, fear of poverty, fear of loneliness, fear of death. 53
  • The professional, by the way, is just as terrified as the amateur. 54
  • The amateur is a narcissist. He views the world hierarchically. He continuously rates himself in relation to others. 55
  • The amateur allows his worth and identity to be defined by others. The amateur is tyrannized by his imagined conception of what is expected of him. He is imprisoned by what he believes he ought to think, how he ought to look, what he ought to do, and who he ought to be. 56
  • In his heart, the amateur knows he’s hiding. If the amateur had empathy for himself, he could look into the mirror and not hate what he sees. Achieving this compassion is the first powerful step toward moving from being an amateur to being a pro. 61
  • The force that can save the amateur is awareness. To act upon this self-awareness would mean defining herself. 67
  • Here is the truth: the tribe doesn’t give a shit. 67
  • When we turn pro, everything becomes simple. Our aim centers on the ordering of our days in such a way that we overcome the fears that have paralyzed us in the past. This changes our days completely. 72
  • Re-commit every day. 74

3. The Professional Mindset

  • The professional, unlike the amateur, shows up every day, all day; is committed; and the stakes are high and real. Further, the professional is patient, seeks order, demystifies, acts in the face of fear, accepts no excuses, plays it as it lays, is prepared, does not show off, dedicates himself to mastering technique, does not hesitate to ask for help, does not take failure or success personally, doe not identify with his or her instrument, endures adversity, self-validates, reinvents herself, and is recognized by other professionals. 90–91
  • The professional does not wait for inspiration, he acts in anticipation of it. 99
  • The professional is happy to teach, but refuses to be iconized. 102
  • First, the pro mindset is a discipline that we use to overcome resistance. To defeat the self-sabotaging habits of procrastination, self-doubt, susceptibility to distraction, perfectionism, and shallowness, we enlist the self-strengthening habits of order, regularity, discipline, and a constant striving after excellence. That’s not hard to understand. In order to achieve “flow,” magic, “the zone,” we start by being common and ordinary and workmanlike. 103
  • There is a financial salary and a psychological salary. 105
  • when we do the work for itself alone, it turns into a practice. 106
  • Intention. Dedication. Commitment. 110
  • The amateur believes she must have all her ducks in a row before she can start. The professional knows better. Athletes play hurt. Warriors fight scared. 112

Do The Work

1. Beginning

  • Don’t prepare. Begin. Start before you are ready. 18
  • We want to work, not prepare to work. 20
  • What is your work about? When you know that, you’ll know the end state. And when you know the end state, you’ll know the steps to take to get there. 27
  • These are not thoughts. They are chatter. I was thirty years old before I had an actual thought. 29

2. Middle

  • Do research early or late. Don’t stop working. Never do research during prime working time. 35
  • One rule for first full working drafts: get them done ASAP. Don’t’ worry about quality. Act, don’t reflect. Momentum is everything.
  • You are not allowed to judge yourself. Suspending self-judgment doesn’t just mean blowing off the “you suck” voice in our heads. It also means liberating ourselves from conventional expectation – from what we think our work “ought” to be or “should” look like. 39
  • Keep working. Keep working. Keep working. Keep working. Keep working. 47
  • There is an enemy. Step one is to recognize this. The enemy is inside us. 56–61
  • There is no way to be nice to the dragon. 62
  • The dream is your project, your vision, your symphony, your startup. The love is the passion and enthusiasm that fill your heart when you envision your project’s completion. 66
  • How bad do you want it? Why do you want it? 68
  • Inevitably, everything crashes. Bank on it. It’s gonna happen. 72
  • Solve the problem. Creative panic is good. 76
  • The problem is not us. The problem is the problem. Work on the problem. 78
  • It’s hard because it’s hard. 79

3. End

  • Because finishing is the critical part of any project. If we don’t finish, all our work is for nothing. 87
  • Slay that dragon once, and he will never have power over you again. Yeah, he’ll still be there. Year, you still have to duel him every morning. But you will have beaten him once, and you’ll know you can beat him again. 94–95
  • I finally, after 17 years of trying, finished my first novel. I drove over to my friend’s house and told him what I had done. “Good for you,” he said. “Now start the next one.”

Nobody Wants to Read Your Sh*t

  • I learned practically nothing because i was alone and kept making the same mistakes over and over. 1
  • Nobody wants to read your shit. 1
  • In the real world, no one is waiting to read what you’ve written. Sight unseen, they hate what you’ve written. Why? because they might have to actually read it. Nobody wants to read anything. 4
  • Make it so compelling that a person would have to be crazy NOT to read it. When you understand that nobody wants to read your shit, you develop empathy. 5
  • Just start. Don’t wait. 7
  • If you want to write and be recognized, you have to do it yourself. 8

1. Advertising

  • The ad writer must come up with some ingenious way of making her material irresistible. There must be a message, and that message must stick. 17
  • All you do all day is think. That’s your job. Sit there and come up with idea. They struggle at first because they’ve never spent all day living entirely inside their heads. 30
  • When you try too hard, you have bad ideas. When you work mechanically, you have bad ideas. When you follow formula, you have bad ideas. When you’re desperate or panicky, you have bad ideas. 31

2. Fiction

  • There existed inside my head an invisible, insidious, intractable, indefatigable force whose sole object was to keep me from doing my work and ultimately to destroy me physically, psychologically, and spiritually. All I knew was that I couldn’t finish anything. 43
  • I was excruciatingly aware, however, not just that my writing was inauthentic, but that I myself was inauthentic. 45
  • How do we form ourselves? How do we uncover our nature through action? 47
  • I worked for 26 months straight. Nobody knew what I had done. Nobody cared. But I knew. “Good for you,” he said without looking up. “Start the next one today.” 49
  • The lessons can’t be taught. The agony cannot be inoculated against. The process is about pain. The lessons come the hard way. 51
  • And yet you’re learning. You don’t know what. You can’t say how. But the months and years, the millions of keystrokes and erasures go into the bank somehow. The cells remember. Something changes. 54

3. Hollywood

  • The mind-blowing thought that this stuff could be taught. You could study. You could learn. You could get better. 72
  • When I watched a movie now, I studied it. When I read a book, I put it under the microscope. 78
  • Start at the end. First figure out where you want to finish. Then work backward to set up everything you need to get you there. 81
  • Stories work. Tell it to me as a story. Write your PhD dissertation the same way. 83
  • A script is nothing until it’s made into a movie. The medium is motion pictures, not screenplays. 96
  • Be unforgettable. Actors, remember, are thinking in terms of their careers. They want to pile up roles that, over time, create a film persona that will endure. 101
  • There will be an all is lost moment. 104
  • The all is lost moment is followed almost immediately by a breakthrough insight or epiphany, an awakening for the hero, and “aha” moment. From this point, the pedal-to-the-metal-rush begins. 105 -You don’t really learn an art or a craft in school. In the real world, the process is more like an apprenticeship, multiple apprenticeships under multiple masters. It happens on the street and it happens in the studio. It happens in bed. It happens sober and it happens stoned. It happens getting up early and it happens staying up late. You kiss ass. You work for free. You do stuff that nobody else with do. In other words, you’re in the trenches, getting hosed and head-banged and dismissed and ignored. You’re invisible. You’re held in contempt. You’re exploited. People farther up the food chain take your time, your energy, your body. You let them. You want them to take those things. It’s the price you pay to learn. 112
  • Make it work. That’s how you learn. Then there’s the way you really learn. Alone at your keyboard. Trying to answer the eternal question: “why is this fucking thing now working?” We learn by increments. One word, one image, one piece of code at a time. 113
  • Should I? Do I have to? You do. That’s how you learn. 114

4. Fiction, The Second Time

  • It was easy. Why? Because I was bringing all of the principles I had learned in 27 years of working in other fields. These were the skills necessary to conduct oneself as a professional – the inner capacities for managing your emotions, your expectations (of yourself and of the world), and your time. How to start a project. How to keep going through the horrible middle. How to finish. How to fail and keep going. How to self-motivate, self-validate, self-reinforce. How to believe in yourself when no one else on the planet shares that belief. 121
  • Something mysterious and wonderful happens when we write what we don’t know. 122
  • Novels are about the long game. A novel will take you two years to write. Or three or four or five. Can you do that? Can you sustain yourself financially? Emotionally? Can your spouse and children handle it? Can you maintain your motivation over that length of time? Your self-belief? Your sanity? If necessary, can you scrap your first eighteen months’ work and start over from scratch? 126
  • A novel is too long to be organized efficiently. Too much shit happens. A novel is like an acid trip. For the first 45 minutes you’re thinking, “hmmm, this isn’t so intense. I can handle this.” Then you look down at your hands and flames are coming out of them. 127
  • Consider what you’re letting yourself in for: a two- to three-year siege with no external validation or reinforcement, no paycheck, and no day-to-day structure except that which you impose yourself. Support from friends and family? Dubious. Future rewards? Iffy at best. And we’re not even talking about the work. No one, trust me, can write a novel and not become completely submerged in it. You have to or you can’t keep going. 128
  • One of the weirdest things in the world is to look in the mirror (and I mean really look) when you’re in the throws of writing a novel. You don’t even recognize yourself. 129
  • You the pioneer must master the art of delayed gratification. Remember, the enemy in an endurance enterprise is not time. The enemy is resistance. 131
  • If we know we’re going to do fifteen drafts before we’re done, we don’t panic when draft six is still a mess. 132
  • We can’t simply narrate. Why not? Because nobody wants to read your shit. 139
  • What is this damn thing about? 141

4. Nonfiction

  • If you want your factual dissertation or TED Talk to be powerful and engaging and to hold the reader and audience’s attention, you must organize your material (even though it’s technically not a story and not fiction) as if it were a story and as if it were fiction. 147
  • Hook. Build. Payoff. 150
  • Start with theme. You have to work hard here. This is the toughest and most important part of the whole project. Why do we want to write about this subject? Find that issue. Break it down into a single sentence. 152
  • Cut everything that’s not on theme. Of what remains, present it as on-theme. 155
  • Identify a villain. Break the narrative into three acts. 159

6–8 The Rest

  • Introduce. Cite examples, Recap and sum up. 163
  • Authority is critical. 164
  • It all felt random. But when I looked back, I could see not just a pattern. I could see a career. It had been there all along, infallibly working itself out. 179
  • Resistance is real. 180
  • Sit down. Open the faucet. The stuff that will appear, sometimes anyway, will exceed your fondest visions. 181
  • An artist enters the void with nothing and comes back with something. 184
  • I am a writer now. I have paid my dues. 185
  • Is there a white whale out there for you? There is or you wouldn’t be reading this book. You’ll know that whale by these qualities: It’s accomplishment will seem beyond your resources. Your pursuit of it will bear you into waters where no one before you has sailed. To hunt this beast will require everything you’ve got. 187
  • It’s okay. It’s all part of the journey. What you learn in Wrong Career #1 will serve you in Off-Key Career #2 and in Out-Of-Kilter Career #3, and the wisdom you acquire in #1, #2, and #3 will form the foundation of Real Calling #4 (or #5 or #6 or however long it takes). 188 -What nobody wants to read your shit means is that none of us wants to hear your self-centered, ego-driven, unrefined demands for attention. Why should we? It’s boring. There’s nothing in it for us. Make it beautiful. Make it fun and sexy and interesting and I’ll but it. I’ll wear it. I’ll tell my friends about it.