The Syllabus 2020: The War of Art

I already believed in Steven Pressfield’s definition of “resistance.” 2020 just put it to the test.

At the core of The War of Art lies the notion that we all resist the work we need to do to “turn pro” at our chosen craft. It’s the choice of craft that creative professionals struggle with the most—all of the musicians, writers, and artists I’ve worked with over the years share a version of this story.

“Most of us have two lives.”

We’re terrible to our creators, especially here in America. We say we love underdogs, but look at where we spend our entertainment budgets: on blockbuster films, on arena concerts, and on endless reboots of familiar franchises.

And yet, every single concert tour, every record-setting box office weekend, every new superhero has to start somewhere. Usually, that somewhere is in the margins around some creator’s “day job” or under the cover of a supportive family’s steady income.

Until we’ve landed that headline in the Hollywood Reporter, most of us who create things for a living have to qualify our work—to our families, to our friends, to the people we hope might make up our audiences. It’s this split personality that Pressfield coaches us to ditch in favor of owning our identities as creators.

“What’s hard is sitting down to write.”

Although resistance affects creators around the world, Americans get it especially rough, because we’ve got very little external motivation to do this work. We’re just learning how to embrace patronage for modern creators—even someone who’s making well above an average salary from writing, art, music, or performance still has to contend with our bias against planning, rehearsal, or practice.

We tell ourselves that if the words don’t flow immediately on demand that we’re impostors. Pressfield’s experience—and that of every artist he profiles in this work—validates that it’s only with daily, mundane, small routines that we can get past our own blocks. Clocking in to create has to become our job, and we have to make it a priority in our lives, for us to build anything that matters.

(There’s an echo of this concept in Elizabeth Gilbert’s Big Magic. She extends the notion of resistance, attaching a sharp penalty to ignoring your creative ideas. Not only won’t you get anywhere, but your great ideas could just flow to someone else who’s got the bandwidth and the discipline to see them through.)

“Resistance hates it when we turn pro.”

I’ve often told my teams and my coaching clients that career change is one of the hardest things for people in our lives to embrace. Our bosses often struggle to see us as more than the role into which we were hired—this is why it’s so common for folks to have to quit their jobs and join new companies where the lack of that bias lets us leverage new skills.

This bias lives in each of us, too. Even when faced with mounting evidence that the art we’re creating has worth in the world, it’s hard to “turn pro.” We tell ourselves that we’re “selling out” by selling our work. We tell ourselves our work’s worth less to the world if we’re “clocking in” to being creative.

We have to get ourselves comfortable with the notion that a creative career doesn’t look the same as someone in a “stable” profession. The money’s lumpy, and recognition’s fleeting. And yet, if you’ve really got a creative itch to make something—a painting, an album, a novel, or even a business—identifying and overcoming your resistance is the only path to a content life.

Joe Taylor Jr. has produced stories about media, technology, entertainment, and personal finance for over 25 years. His work has been featured on NPR, CNBC, Financial Times Television, and ABC News. After launching one of public radio's first successful digital platforms, Joe helped dozens of client companies launch or migrate their online content libraries. Today, Joe serves as a user experience consultant for a variety of Fortune 500 and Inc. 5000 businesses. Twitter | Facebook | Instagram

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