Episode: 387 |
Steven Pressfield:
The War of Art:


Steven Pressfield

The War of Art

Show Notes


Steven Pressfield’s books have been hugely influential on my life and it was a real thrill to welcome him on the show. Steve is the author of Gates of Fire and about a dozen other novels, mostly historical fiction set in the time of ancient Greece and Rome. He’s also the author of the modern classic The War of Art: Break Through the Blocks and Win Your Inner Creative Battles.

Steve’s latest book is A Man at Arms, a fantastic deliver-the-message tale about a retired Roman legionnaire who has been ordered to intercept the messengers who are trying to deliver Paul’s letter to the Corinthians.

I liked this book so much that I’m giving away 25 copies to listeners of this show. Get your copy here: http://bit.ly/GetAManAtArms

For more info about Steve, visit https://stevenpressfield.com/


Key points include:

  • 09:56: What to do when the muse visits
  • 15:16: Why Steven reads non-fiction.
  • 16:17: Research for Steven’s books
  • 22:25: Children developing creativity
  • 26:11: Resistance is universal
  • 27:53: How Steven recognises a professional
  • 31:20: Thoughts on masculinity


One weekly email with bonus materials and summaries of each new episode:

Will Bachman 00:01
Welcome to Unleashed the show that explores how to thrive as an independent professional i’m your host Will Bachman in our lives if we’re lucky we have mentors who help guide us and serve as role models and i’ve been blessed with a series of mentors that i’m grateful for we can also find mentors at a distance writers and thinkers who deeply impact us through their work one of my mentors at a distance is seth godin and so it was a real thrill to interview seth on episode 361 of this show another very important mentor at a distance in my life has been steven pressfield who’s an absolute legend is the author of about a dozen books of fiction that are mostly set in the ancient world of greece and rome and he’s also an author of a series of nonfiction books the first of these nonfiction self help books is the war of art break through the blocks and when your inner creative battles which is a modern classic this book has been followed by do the work turning pro tap your inner power and create your life’s work the artists journey the wake of the hero’s journey and the lifelong pursuit of meaning nobody wants to read your shit and other tough love truth to make you a better writer and the warrior ethos i read i reread the war of art and turning pro about every other year and these books have been hugely important in shaping my own professional journey and to give you some flavor of it i’m going to read an excerpt here from the war of art so it says resistances greatest hits the following is a list in no particular order of those activities that most commonly elicited resistance one the pursuit of any calling and writing painting music film dance or any creative art however marginal or unconventional to the launching of any entrepreneurial venture or enterprise for profit or otherwise three any diet or health regimen for any program of spiritual advancement five any activity whose aim is tighter abdominals six any course or program designed to overcome an unwholesome habit or addiction seven education of every kind ate any act of political moral or ethical courage including the decision to change for the better some unworthy pattern of thought or conduct in ourselves number nine the undertaking of any enterprise or endeavor whose aim is to help others 10 any act that entails commitment of the heart the decision to get married to have a child to weather a rocky patch in a relationship number 11 the taking of any principled stand in the face of adversity and then steve asked now what are the characteristics of resistance and i’ll just read you the titles of these very short mini chapters resistance is invisible resistance is internal resistance is insidious resistance is implacable resistance is impersonal that’s an important one for me i’ll read this one it says resistance is not out to get you personally it doesn’t know who you are and it doesn’t care resistance is a force of nature it acts of objectively though it feels malevolent resistance in fact operates with the indifference of rain and transits the heavens by the same laws as the stars when do we marshal our forces to combat resistance we must remember this i’ll continue on here resistance is infallible resistance is universal we’re wrong if we think we’re the only ones struggling with resistance everyone who has a body experiences resistance reason resistance never sleeps resistance place for keeps resistance is fueled by fear resistance only opposes in one direction resistance is most powerful the finish line resistance recruits allies resistance and procrastination and that gives you some sense of the war of art every entrepreneurial step i’ve taken i’ve faced the resistance and that book the war of art has helped me recognize that force and push through it i almost certainly would not have started this podcast if i hadn’t read the war of art i wouldn’t have had the hutzpah to create a 90 video course on How to set up your own consulting practice, or to organize in personal professional development events and ask people to fly in from around the world. And I wouldn’t have started a Umbrex. Now, I continue to experience resistance every day. The lessons from the War of Art have given me the tools to recognize resistance for what it is and to fight back to occasionally when, in fact to use resistance as a compass guiding me towards the initiatives that are the most important to pursue, because those are the ones that resistance most strongly encourages you to give up. I’m also a big fan of Steven pressfield novels, and his latest amanat arms is one of his best yet, the main character telemon, is a retired soldier in the Roman legion. And he’s given the mission of hunting down an individual who is trying to deliver Paul’s letter to the Corinthians. Like in the Bible, the first first epistle to the Corinthians, that letter, it’s a gripping read, I couldn’t put it down, I don’t want to spoil it, but I liked it so much that I bought 25 copies to give away to listeners of this show. So to get your copy, visit bit.li slash get a man at arms, no spaces there. And that link is in the show notes. So now let’s go to my discussion with Steve.

Steven Pressfield 06:24
Thank you. Will, thanks for having me.

Will Bachman 06:26
All right. So I read this book, a man in arms, which I absolutely love. Over just the course of a weekend, I couldn’t put it down and telemon seems to me, a man who has not had a lot of friends. And over the course of this weekend, I received an email from a close friend of mine. And it told me, he told me that a friend of his who had been from college that he’d recently heard had committed suicide. And he shared a link to a podcast interview of Thomas joiner, who’s a clinical psychologist, and a professor of psychology is an investigator with the military suicide Research Consortium, and is the author of lonely at the top the high cost of men’s success. And so this just got me thinking about friends and men and as they grow older have sometimes it’s harder to, to make new friends and to maintain them. And, you know, I’d love to hear what role friends have played in your life. And you know, how you personally have kind of maintained friendships over the years. I know, you’ve talked in your books about your friendship with Shawn Coyne and other and other writers and other you know, people outside the writing profession. Just curious how the role of friends in your life?

Steven Pressfield 07:42
I’d say, that’s a great question. Well, actually, I just got back last week, from a little golf vacation with a friend of mine, who lives in Florida, that I’ve known him since we were 11 years old. So it’s like that 66 years. And, and we make a point, to get together, you know, once or twice a year. And it’s been, it’s been a great thing, to hang on to that friendship and not let that go away. But I definitely, you know, the writers life is a lonely life, right? I mean, you’re pretty much you know, in your own head a lot of the time professionally speaking, but I definitely feel like I, I make a point to, to hang on to friends, and to try to make new ones particularly as I get older, to, particularly to make young younger friends, you know, but which I do think keeps you young, in that sense. But yeah, I do think that friends are tremendously important. I mean, we’re, we’re tribal beings, you know, we’re social beings. And it’s, it’s critical. On the other hand, I do think you can, you can spend too much time hanging around with friends, and avoiding your own calling, whatever that may be. So there’s definitely, you know, a balance in my opinion between too much and too little. But I suppose there are it is sort of an epidemic, I would imagine among successful men in contemporary America, that they don’t have friends. It’s hard to make new friends after, after a certain age, you know.

Will Bachman 09:25
I want to ask you about the muse. You talk in one of your books about how the Muse you when she visits if you ignore the muse, she tends to visit less frequently and then she’s a little quieter over time, but if you kind of act on the Muses ideas, she’ll visit more frequently and be more friendly and, and share more. What’s the experience for you of that visit from the Muse?

Steven Pressfield 09:56
Well, first of all, I definitely I agree with that. What I said It’s sort of the like, to me, well, it’s how I drew listening to your dreams, which I think come from the same source of deep unconscious source, whatever that is that like, if you don’t pay attention to your dreams, you’ll, you’ll start to lose them. Right, they won’t come as frequently and you won’t remember them. But if you do, make it a point to pay attention to your dreams, you know, I was go to sleep at a little tape recorder next to me, or a phone or something like that, as you pay attention to your dreams, you you’ll have more dreams and more vivid dreams. And whatever that sources, that mysterious unconscious source will communicate to you more. And definitely, I feel like when I’m writing a book, it’s kind of like getting in inch in physical training, you know, that you can definitely be out of shape for it. And as you sit down the first day or something you got, you can only go so far, knowing when you burn out. But as you go day after day after day, you develop a kind of a stamina, and also that unconscious source, whatever it is that mysterious source, the Muse does start appreciate that. I mean, for me, I’m I think in anthropomorphic terms, so I like to think of a goddess that’s, you know, hovering over me. But whether you think of that, or whether it’s some kind of quantum intelligence or something like that, the more you access it, the more it comes to you. And the more open you are to it. So that in like writing a book that might take two years, or two and a half, three years, by the time you’re deeply into it. You are really the pipeline is open, you know, and stuff is flowing every day.

Will Bachman 11:46
You showed your recorder, whatever else do you use? Or is that your main technique for just capturing ideas that that’s my main technique?

Steven Pressfield 11:55
Yeah, I used to write it down. But it was like too, you know, too cumbersome. But actually, I use a my phone my iPhone.

Will Bachman 12:02
Yeah. So when you’re walking out and about if some idea occurs to you, you’ll put a give yourself a voice memo or

Steven Pressfield 12:08
Yeah, definitely. Because I think those when that sort of inspiration that dimension breaks through, for whatever reason, I have found, it’s very easy to forget, it’s just like a dream. You know, it’s not even like, like something that happens in real life, you know, like, where you say, Oh, I’m gonna remember this. And you do remember, but it seems to me like a dream or a moment of intuition is very Evanescence. You know, it’ll just go away like that. So, to me, at least, it’s very important to get it written down or, or recorded somehow, yeah, sometimes I’ll record something, and even listen to it like a day later. And I’ll realize I forgot it completely. You know, and I have to, you know, re immerse myself in.

Will Bachman 12:53
When you get you described getting in a role when you’re writing a book, do you find that? Are there certain things that you can do to draw more ideas from the Muse do get those ideas coming more richly and densely and, and regularly,

Steven Pressfield 13:10
I think it’s just being in the habit of showing up every day, and working every day. Just like physical training, like if you’re training to run a marathon or something like that, you know, the, the, the consistency of doing it every day is very important. The Muse appreciates it. She doesn’t like this when we take too many days off.

Will Bachman 13:33
What’s your what’s your morning routine, or daily routine look like?

Steven Pressfield 13:38
It’s been a little different with the pandemic, because gyms have been closed. But I’m, I’m a gym person, and I, I, my, my schedule enemas I would get up at like 315 and get to the gym by, you know, quarter after four or something like that. And, and, you know, work out, do a good deal. Have a trainer and I’ve guys I train with and definitely do something really hard as a start, then you really want to hear this actual

Will Bachman 14:08
I do I do. So 315 so your day starts. So this is an early,

Steven Pressfield 14:13
sometimes I’d sleep into four o’clock or so. Okay, all right. But since the pandemic, I get up about five, but then I would I would meet some friends for breakfast. You know, like, if you ever go to some of these diners, and you see like a few old guys hanging around. Yeah, it’s I’ve read some friends and we had breakfast together every day. And that would finish around 815 or something like that. And I’d go home and do my correspondence, whatever emails I had and stuff like that. And then by maybe 10 or 1030, I’d start and I work for as long as I can, which is maybe three hours and then whatever. Then when I finish, the office is closed, I turn off my brain completely. And don’t worry about it at all. Let the Muse work on And then I’ll do whatever other stuff needs to be done, you know, just in my real world, you know? And then I’m Tibet in bed, you know, pretty early. So that’s, uh, that’s pretty much my schedule. Yeah.

Will Bachman 15:13
What type of books do you read?

Steven Pressfield 15:16
Almost always I read nonfiction, rather than fiction. And I’m not sure why. Part of it is that I think if I’m reading somebody who has a very strong voice, that it’ll contaminate my own voice, you know, I’ll start to be seduced by, by a really strong voice. But a lot of times, what I’m reading is for research for what I’m working on, or something to reinforce me and what I’m doing. And another thing is I will read books multiple times, like I just finished reading Night Flight by Antoine de Saint exupery, if you’ve ever read that, and another book called Westlake the night by Beryl Markham about both of my flyers, back in the day, you know, aviation, early aviation. And that’s just those are books I’ve read before. And just that, you know, that I admire that I get stuff out of again, and again.

Will Bachman 16:17
Now, he talked about research in a man at arms. There’s an extraordinary sense of place of really being there. And I was also really struck by the details such as the types of herbs that the witch picks, right. I was, as I was going on, I was curious, because you’ve talked before about how you’ll will completely use your imagination. And you’ve written you talked about how you wrote a book about being in prison, and folks asked if you had you know, when you did die? Yeah, I was curious. You know, was that did you pull those out of some tome on herbal remedies? Or, or where did you come up with these?

Steven Pressfield 16:57
That’s a great question. Well, like, I definitely, I think a lot of that originally came from me from reading. Have you ever read Carlos Castaneda, his books about Danwon they’ve missed it. Anyway, it’s a, they were really popular maybe 2025 years ago. And it was a this Carlos Castaneda, I guess, as a young Mexican American, or maybe he’s a Mexican. And he tells a story, it’s, I can’t tell whether it’s real or not. Or he goes to the Sonoran Desert, and he meets this yucky shaman medicine man named Don Juan, who they go out into the desert, and they pick all these various herbs, you know, these psychedelic mushrooms and things like that. And so I very definitely was sort of aware that in those harsh climates, the plants are psychotropic and, you know, there’s all kinds of stuff that you can do heal healing stuff. So I did look it up, I did look up a bunch of stuff. Actually, I use the internet, Wikipedia and that kind of thing. Rather, normally, I would go to a book for it. But I’m lazy. But I also wouldn’t like you say, I’d invent names of something, you know, that some sort of a plant. And if you invent them nicely enough, they seem very real. So, but I absolutely was trying to do that well, to try and give the reader a sense that they were really there and in the desert, and that they’re really, you know, rather than, say, a plant or a tree, I think it’s always important to like name the plant and name the tree. And it makes it much more, much more vivid. And even if you made up the name, it makes it much more vivid for the reader much more believable.

Will Bachman 18:44
Now, there’s, this is many different types of stories. But one way to think about this story, it’s, it’s that a classic theme of the needing to deliver a message. Yes. And a couple times I thought about that essay from 100 years ago, a Message to Garcia which my engineer officer made me read when I reported to my submarine. So what is it about the the kind of the story of delivering a message that that inspires you? And are there other types of, you know, delivering a message type type stories that that that influenced you when you thought about this, this book?

Steven Pressfield 19:24
Well, if you think if you think about stories in general, there are a number of sort of classic themes, right? That people revisit over Oh, classic structures, let’s say, and delivering a message is one of those, right? Another, like, if you’ve ever seen the transporter movies with Jason Statham, do you know those I’m talking about now, I know the gist of those words are very similar. It’s like a tough guy, a mercenary or something like that has to take a person and deliver that person like a young princess or something has to take her you know from somewhere and deliver her to the king wherever it is right and they have to cross some desolate wasteland and there are all kinds of bad guys trying to kill the you know there’s a bunch of store a bunch of movies of that type there’s one called season of the witch with nicolas cage there’s another there’s other stories where someone has to protect like a young prodigy a mathematical prodigy or something like that and they make great stories it’s a great structure that from a writer’s point of view you could just sort of steal that structure and just hit the beats you know but delivering a message is another great thing because it has a it has a built in climax right that’s going to pull the reader through you know are is the message going to get through and what you know what will the effect of it be and then in addition to that i’m just thinking about it from a writer’s point of view then you have the message itself like what is the message is it just some you know bogus thing that somebody built invented or is it something really pertinent like i don’t know if you saw the movie book the book of eli with denzel washington and anyway just as a great classic structure yeah the

Will Bachman 21:19
There’s two children in this book that play really important roles david the kind of young apprentice to tell them on and then the girl the feral girl the mute feral girl i’m not sure if she gets named right and ruth right and then that got me thinking about kids and education and got me thinking about you know your series of the war of art books and the resistance and it seems to me that schools are almost designed to embed and reinforce the resistance in in kids and teaching them to kind of obey authority to not step out of line to do what they’re told to study for the test and i would be interested to hear your thoughts steve on what do you think schools could do instead to help train kids to fight the resistance into you know to you know enter the artists journey to become you know creative as opposed to almost beating that out of them

Steven Pressfield 22:25
are you familiar with seth godin a very myself yeah very much yeah you know he’s a really i think in his heart he’s really an educator and he’s really very much interested in that whole process of what is education and he very much says that like school as you and i know it sort of arises from the industrialized world and sort of preparing us to be drones that will go sit in a factory all day you know and so that’s what kind of education is it’s like i just went in two days ago for my second COVID shot congrats and it’s an experience in standing in line right and being in line and waiting patiently and they call and it’s it’s school right it’s what they taught you but i’m not so sure i’ve always wondered why you know the the the idea of resistance and what i write about in the war of art they never taught me that in school nobody ever told me that you know they don’t teach you that in the army or the navy or anything like that and i’ve wondered why and i think it’s because if you if you learn that you’re going to leave school and and i think that i don’t know how that could be taught in school it’s a great question because it’s almost like school is the process of dumbing you down or making you a drone and rather than liberating you to to run free or something like that so i’m not sure it’s a really good question yeah we’re yeah i don’t know what the answers are

Will Bachman 24:01
alternately what do you think parents can do you know for their own kids to really help them understand what the resistance is about and to you know help you free them from those constraints to so they can explore their creative passions

Steven Pressfield 24:15
i mean i think the example would be the best way if if your mom or dad or if your mom and your dad if you’re living your life that way then that’s that’s a great thing but also i think explaining to your kids you know this is you know when daddy goes into his room and closes the door he’s not just you know doing something stupid he’s entering a war realm inside his own head and contacting dimensions of reality and finding a post whatever you know the creative thing and reinforcing the child in that but i think kids can read the war of art and books like that at a reasonably young age and get something out of But, but I do think it’s very helpful to, to expose a young child to that concept that there is a force of self sabotage inside all of our heads. And that, that’s like the number one before we can accomplish anything else, we have to find some way of confronting that and overcoming it.

Will Bachman 25:24
Yeah. For me, the most valuable part of that message in your books is that the resistance is impersonal and universal. And then it’s not just about you, it’s like, it’s what everybody’s experiencing the force of gravity and stuck to the earth. And it’s not like you in particular, it is the same with the resistance. That to me was such a liberating concept. So that and really helped me in terms of you can, running my business and doing what I do in terms of, like, avoiding it and thinking that, oh, it’s just about you. And there’s all these reasons. No, it’s that is a universal thing. And that when you are aware of resistance, that almost that can be a compass to tell you what you need to be doing.

Steven Pressfield 26:11
Yes. I mean, what I wish that everybody could see the emails that I get from people, who anybody who doesn’t believe that resistance is universal, you know, people write me over edits, and it’s always the same thing. The voice that’s in your head is the same voice, it’s in my head, you know that, that it is universal. And you’re right, I think it is very helpful to realize that because what resistance is very clever about it’s diabolically clever about making you think that it’s talking to you alone. And this is your real voice in your real head, saying these things to you that you’re a bomb, you’re a loser, you have no right to tackle this project, it’s been done before, it’s been done better than anything you’ve ever done. And then citing specific, you know, things about your own head, you know, you’re really trying to overcome this fancy fixation with your father proved to your father that you had bla bla bla bla bla, right. So it sounds like it’s really you, or it’s really addressing you, but it’s just a universal diabolical force, you know, hitting everybody with their own kind of personal or personal seeming stuff.

Will Bachman 27:23
You talk in a turning pro, that a professional recognizes another professional, and be interested to hear how you recognize another professional. And if you meet someone, kind of how long does that take for you to you decide if this person is a professional or an amateur? What’s that experience like for you?

Steven Pressfield 27:53
That’s another great question. Well, I think it’s, it’s within a few seconds, I think you sort of get it. And I certainly didn’t used to get it took me years and years and years, when I was an amateur myself, and I couldn’t, you know, you know, I couldn’t tell from one person was legitimate to another. But I do think somehow there’s something I don’t know what it is, in, in the eyes, something in that voice, something where you can just tell that this person has undergone an ordeal. And an initiation, I imagine it’s like being a submarine officer, right? You’ve got you have to go through a long, long thing before you finally you know, get the bars on your shoulder. And, and I’m sure you can tell another person that really knows their shit, one way or another. But it is it sort of, I guess it’s a look at AI a sense of commitment, you can just tell whether somebody is you certainly I can certainly tell because people write me emails and letters all the time, asking for help asking for advice or whatever. And when somebody is an amateur, or you just can absolutely tell it and you can tell that they’re, they’re not ready to hear whatever you might want to say, you know, it’s a waste of time to try to communicate with with somebody like that. And you can, you can just tell by the, the level of I guess another, I’m rambling on here will but I think a lot of it has to do with the level of ego. The more ego that a person is displaying, the less professional they are. And the more they’re stuck in a kind of an in an earlier phase of initiation or self initiation. Like I think once somebody, you know, reaches that point where they’ve kind of turned a corner and become a real pro. They are. For one thing, they’re very generous. They’re kind there, you will never hear somebody saying something snarky or rotten about somebody else. It and at the worst they’ll say nothing i don’t know that’s i don’t know if that’s an answer well but it definitely can tell

Will Bachman 30:12
If i think about the word masculinity and if i think if if i ask people what’s the first adjective that comes to mind that modifies masculinity i think in current days the most common narrative you would get would be toxic masculinity now i think if your kind of approach to creativity as being a very kind of muscular approach right it’s like you’re fighting resistance and in man and arms the character i’d say is you know telemon you know very masculine hero also you know part of the book in the end really embracing love and one would love to get your thoughts around what you think about as kind of how you think about masculinity how you think about kind of male virtues if there are such a thing and you know maybe what some of the dangers are for culture when masculinity gets kind of such a bad reputation that’s a deep question well

Steven Pressfield 31:20
i certainly think that there’s a difference between masculinity and femininity that femininity i would say is more of a nurturing outer directed something that is helping others something that’s helping and protecting others particularly young children stuff like that but also nurturing and helping the entire community binding the community together feminine i think is a very giving force you know it’s it’s like the earth itself that gives that from which you know fruits and trees and plants grow whereas masculinity might is to me is a more of an outward directed thing in this if we go back to the primitive hunting band it’s the men in the hunting band that go out and and bring back the bacon right they chased the mastodons and beat him over that and bring them back to the cave but i think today when the frontier is gone when that sort of caveman type of of reality is gone where we can just go to a grocery store and buy our hamburgers in a in a nice little package the question is where does that aggressive outward force go and i think that’s where it can turn really toxic because there are no there are very few let’s say real outlets for that i mean business is one you can be kind of competing and use that sort of masculine aggressiveness sports is another and there are times of people that are into extreme you know endurance things and stuff like that which is a great way to do that to get that to keep that masculine aggressive outward energy from turning toxic for me it’s directed inwardly for me as a writer as an artist i’m turning that that aggressiveness into creating you know what i hope is art but you know books stories whatever that kind of thing now i think today we have so many people who have not found a constructive outlet for that masculinity that it turns toxic it’s close into different channels the whole thing of partisanship that is out there today it’s dominating america where we pick an enemy you know we radicalized ourselves online by just hearing the same crap over and over and over again it takes us down a radical or a rabbit hole and and that masculinity becomes turned outward into into hating other people and it’s rampant today i mean just the crazy shootings that we’ve had in the last couple so it’s a real crisis time toxic masculinity and i think it’s because if people would face their own resistance and follow their own heart to do whatever their particular calling is they wouldn’t have any need to express this struck this masculinity in a toxic inappropriate manner in my opinion all right

Will Bachman 34:38
steve this is such a great book i’m giving out some copies there’s a link in the show notes where else would you like to send people who want to find out more about a man at arms

Steven Pressfield 34:49
i think you have a website yeah you can anybody can just go to my website which is just my name steven pressfield and it tells you about the book and also if you wanted to go deeper into other stuff in his website, which is more of the War of Art type of stuff. If you click on the X at the top right hand corner, it takes you to the underlying website. That’s about the all those books about creativity.

Will Bachman 35:15
Fantastic. Steve, thank you so much for coming on the show today.

Steven Pressfield 35:19
Hey, thanks, Will you’re asking great questions, maybe think really hard. And thank you very much for initiating this and, you know, good luck and God bless best to all your listeners and give me a shout if you ever want to do it again. All right. Thank you.

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