The boy who lives across the street stopped by the house last week. I hadn’t seen him in awhile and asked how life was.
“Things were bad," he said, "but they got good. Does that ever happened to you?”
To me, life seems like a long series of hills and valleys and not much flat in between. Once upon a time, the hilltops made me giddy and over-confident but I’ve decided their true purpose is encouragement because -- heads up -- another valley is straight ahead.
I’ve also learned to appreciate the valleys. It's where I learn the most. For instance, a recent valley cratered around completing a novel. After writing five books (three published and two that if God loves me will never see the light of day), I thought the process would get easier.
It didn't. In fact, writing grew increasingly more difficult until finishing one page felt like a trek across the world's longest valley, without food, water or gossip. First, I blamed my temperament. I'm always ready for a new challenge right after completing the last one. Then I blamed burnout. Three books in three years plus homeschooling equals hard work. Right? When neither of those proved to be the problem, I contemplated asking my wonderful publisher, Thomas Nelson, if they would accept a check. Paying back the advance would give me crucial time to mope around the house, trying to figure out why writing had become an experience similar to dental work without the benefit of anesthetics.
But, as I said, valleys are places to learn. Eventually. I spent way more time on my knees, begging God for answers, and he graciously sent a small book that packed the explosive power of an incendiary device: “The War of Art” by Steven Pressfield.
It's one of those books you wish you'd come across years ago.
Author of “The Legend of Bagger Vance" and some highly praised historical fiction about the ancient Greeks, Pressfield spent twenty years in the writer’s wilderness, staring snow-blind at blank white pages, wondering how somebody could want to write so badly yet never finish one novel.
His disclosures have produced a handbook not only for writers but any creative soul beginning a new adventure -- artists, entrepreneurs, even homeschoolers. His point is that creativity will always face a head-wind. In fact, the sign that you’re walking in the right direction is that you feel that wind in your face, trying to impede your progress.
Pressfield calls this force resistance.
“Resistance cannot be seen, touched, heard, or smelled,” he writes. “But it can be felt. We experience it as an energy field radiating from a work-in-potential. It’s a repelling force. It’s negative. Its aim is to shove us away, distract us, prevent us from doing our work.”
Like C.S. Lewis’ “The Screwtape Letters,” Pressfield’s book reveals the enemy’s strategic objectives (nothing short of killing your soul), the cheap shots (“What makes you think you can write?”) and the more subtle and devious tactics that sound really good when you hear them (“Instead of writing a book nobody wants to read, wouldn’t you be helping the planet more as a missionary in Africa?”)
“Resistance is protean,” Pressfield writes. “It will assume any form, if that’s what it takes to deceive you . . . . Rule of thumb: The more important a call or action is to our soul’s evolution, the more Resistance we will feel toward pursuing it.”
Based on his personal experience, he offerrs some excellent methods for beating back the repelling force --what worked for him, what didn’t, and why.
I have only two caveats about this wonderful little book. One, if you’re offended by a few coarse words, this isn’t your message. Two, Pressfield mulls some metaphysical ideas about muses, angels and an unnamed God. As a Christian, I wasn’t offended as much as bored. I already know who's my comforter, my sword, my ever-present help in times of trouble.
If you’re living with a book in your head instead of putting it on paper -- for reasons you can’t even articulate -- read “The War of Art.” Let me know what you think. I’ll be interested to hear your opinion, above the roar of wind in my face.
"The War of Art" Steven Pressfield.
Highest rating: Five shiny diamonds.