The War of Art by Steven Pressfield

I read this book in one night. It was that good. It was also that short; about 160 pages.

Pressfield offers wisdom on how to overcome creative blocks. Resistance is the term he uses to encompass everything that gets in the way of you completing your creative process.

The book is separated into three smaller books. Book one deals with defining the enemy—Resistance. Book two is about turning pro and combatting Resistance. The final book deals with a higher realm.

The first two books are full of poignant insights. The third is useless to me. Maybe you’ll find some meaning there.

If you’ve ever experienced a block in your creative process, this book has something to offer you.

 

Reading v. Watching

If you could only have books or movies in your life, which would you choose?

My answer has changed over time. Before middle school, I’d have answered movies. Now, I weep for the Bravehearts and the Good Will Huntings I’m giving up by going with books over films.

There are many reasons for this change.

  • My love of the English language. I love words and syllables and sentences and stanzas. Stringing letters together in new ways to affect people in the deepest recesses of their hearts and minds—that’s my favorite thing (apart from being affected in this way myself.) The only language you really get in most films is in the dialogue. Often the best parts of books take place outside of conversations. Because there is more language in a book than there is in a movie, books take the cake here.
  • Characterization. No offense to Johnny Depp, but Gene Wilder is irrevocably Willy Wonka in my mind, just as Anthony Hopkins is Hannibal Lecter. There are a handful of other movie characters for me like this. Rupert Grint, though, as funny as he is, does not hold a candle to JK Rowling’s Ron Weasley. I build that character in my head as I read; I’m sitting in the director’s chair, and the manifestation of Ron that lives in me is different from everyone else’s on the planet. It’s a funny little paradox. The characters are often more fleshed out in books than they are in movies (at least internally), yet the nature of books also leaves more to the imagination. I can mentally paint whatever grin or grimace I wish on Ron’s face when he delivers a line in the book; I quite obviously can’t do this when I watch the films. Chalk another one up for books.
  • Plot. You lose so much when you cut hundreds of pages down into a 90-minute film. Just this year I’ve seen two independent films based on Philip Roth novels, Indignation and American Pastoral. I’ve never read the former, but I’ve read the latter. The movie is not very like the book at all, to the point that it’s offputting. I don’t believe the director or the studio has some intrinsic responsibility to the source material. That belief notwithstanding, these films simply were not very good. Some books are best left unadapted, I guess. Back to my Harry Potter example. The fourth book, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, is my favorite of the series (for a long time it was my favorite movie in the series as well). There is no mention of Dobby or Ludo Bagman or Winky or S.P.E.W. in the movie. The Harry-Ron rift is heart-wrenching to me when I read, lukewarm when I watch. There are so many other tiny details that make reading more enjoyable than watching.

I was taught that there are three basic elements of fiction: language, characterization, and narration (plot). Those are the three criteria I used just now to defend my choosing books over movies. I will admit there is some synergy that exists in the realm of cinema. For a book to be shredded, have half its pages—sometimes more—tossed out, and be spliced together again by dozens of people, each with clashing opinions about what it should be, it wouldn’t surprise me at all if the silver screen version of every book blew chunks. This fact makes it all the more amazing when an adapted screenplay turns into a great piece of art, greater even than the source material. The Godfather is one of these examples. That book is fantastic, but the movie is just better. In the vast majority of cases, though, books are better than movies. To read a book is to have a waking dream. Movies are someone else’s dream, and they don’t ever change. A book changes every time you read it. I wouldn’t give up reading books for all the movies in the world. Good thing the question is hypothetical.

Others First

 

A couple days ago I began reading Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends and Influence People. I’ve held off reading it for years thinking, perhaps as you might, that it was a sleazy book for even sleazier salesmen and saleswomen.

How many times can I learn the same lesson—not to judge a book by its cover? To pretend to be in a position of judgment of a book having never read a single page is a sin that I and others have committed innumerable times in our lives. And it’s a habit I can’t seem to break. But there’s been an awakening.

I realize now. I realize how much of life passes me by when I write things off out of hand. That’s no way to live. This book made me cry—definitely wasn’t expecting that! The thoughts and emotions it’s inspired in me have initiated something of a turning point in my life.

In his book Carnegie lays out the lessons he has learned about how humans interact, what our motives are, how we can use this knowledge to help ourselves and others communicate more effectively and engage in mutually beneficial relationships and transactions. Very few of Carnegie’s words are devoted to teaching you specific selling techniques. Instead he focuses on helping you build relationships with people, which most obviously includes the people with whom you do business.

The fact that I was so far off the mark concerning the sleaziness of this book is extraordinary given how much time Carnegie devotes to stressing sincerity in dealing with people. Smile often, he says, but don’t fake it. Be nice to people. Offer them praise not flattery (flattery is the sleazy form of praise). Be genuinely interested in other people. Consider this excerpt:

If we are so contemptibly selfish that we can’t radiate a little happiness and pass on a bit of honest appreciation without trying to get something out of the other person in return—if our souls are no bigger than sour crab apples, we shall meet with the failure we so richly deserve.

Oh yes, I did want something out of that chap. I wanted something priceless. And I got it. I got the feeling that I had done something for him without his being able to do anything whatever in return for me. That is a feeling that flows and sings in your memory long after the incident is past.

It is perhaps the least sleazy book I’ve ever come across.

I’m flying through this book, ignoring the risk of paper cuts, kicking up a microscopic amount of dust with every vigorous flip of the page, all to absorb the next lesson that Mr. Carnegie has to offer.

The part that had me in tears, if you’re interested, told of a young nursing student who shared a Thanksgiving meal with a lonely boy in the hospital. Disclaimer: I’m a sucker for a human story like that, but I don’t think that’s the only reason I cried. I think that simple story is incredibly powerful for anyone with a heartbeat and a conscience. The story has absolutely nothing (and everything) to do with making that huge sale you’ve been hoping for, or how best to land a promotion at work.

You have desires. You’re not alone. Instead of telling people about what you want, tell them about what they want, and how you can help them get it. See the world through their eyes. And be nice. And care about people and their interests. Even if you don’t make the sale, you’ve done something even better—made the relationship. I’ll take a friendship over a sale any day.

Besides, Carnegie’s thesis, from what I’ve surmised only having half-finished the book, is that making the relationship takes care of selling. You’ll hardly have to sell them on anything at all if you follow the author’s advice.

And I’m not trying to sell you on this book, I’m trying to sell you on a more enjoyable life—one with increased amounts of joy and fun and camaraderie and control and yes, money. I’m not speaking from a place of having reaped the benefits of this book. I haven’t yet tested any of the book’s suggestions, but there must be a reason why it’s sold millions of copies over the last 80 years, right? Books filled with unhelpful or untrue maxims cannot boast of the sustained success that this book has had over the decades. The lessons within are priceless, timeless, and some of them, Carnegie is not shy in revealing, have existed for millennia.

Carnegie wasn’t an omniscient sage—not a modern-day Confucius—he was simply a compiler of wisdom. And I’m very, very glad that he was. For without this book I’d have still been walking around, selfish and ignorant, not knowing the possibilities of a life spent thinking of others first.

Read This! (And Everything Else You Possibly Can!)

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Never underestimate the value of a lesson read. One of the many things I wish I had seen more of at college is people reading. Hardly any of my friends read in college outside of assigned textbook readings, tweets, and reddit forums. Those are fine places where useful information is certainly disseminated. However, a person who only reads those things and not much else will be denied the wealth of knowledge that the person who reads books, magazines, articles, blog posts, etc. possesses.

My advice to you is to read everything you can get your hands on. Sounds simple, don’t it? Get a subscription to a magazine. With a student discount, it ends up being about a dollar a week most of the time, sometimes less. If you’re not a college student, go to the local library. There will be lots of magazines there. (College libraries have these also.)

If you are reading this as a college student and thinking you don’t have time to read, you’re lying to yourself. I see you on Facebook and Snapchat six hours a day. You can’t bullshit a bullshitter. Make time to read. Sure, you can get a synthesized version of the information you’re after in a twenty minute YouTube video, or a podcast, or a sparknotes summary, but there is no substitute for the real thing.

The main joy underlying my recommendation that you read any and everything you can is being exposed to new ways of thinking and new topics heretofore untapped by you. That should be what education is truly all about—not Greek Life, GPAs, and football games. Who knows? An article you read a month from now might make you want to change majors. A book you read might make you realize that you’ve been treating your friend poorly and that you should forgive them. I don’t know the specifics.

Make a special effort, if you’re going to accept my advice, to read things that on first appearance don’t fit into your worldview. If you’re a liberal, go read a few Breitbart articles. If you’re a conservative, go read a few non-Breitbart articles. If you’re into movies, go read a few reviews of a movie critic with whom you usually disagree.

If travel broadens the mind, then reading does so much more efficiently. Reading a book doesn’t require a passport, nor several hundred dollars, nor the prospect of dysentery. (I’m not saying don’t travel.) Books don’t just allow the traveling through space but through time as well. You can, with a simple google search, be instantly transported to Verona hundreds of years ago, or to a whaling voyage out of eighteen century New England.

My love of words leaves an ineffable bias on my heart. You don’t have to love the English language as much as I do to get the type of utility and use out of reading I’m talking about. You can even hate reading. But you should still do it. The opportunities it affords you are priceless.

Here are some books I’m reading at the moment if you’re interested.

  • American Pastoral by Philip Roth
  • The Satanic Verses by Salman Rushdie
  • The Rachel Papers by Martin Amis
  • Lessons for the Young Economist by Bob Murphy
  • How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie (never thought this would be on my list)

Please, please, please read. I’m begging you. An hour a day. Break it up into smaller timechunks if you have to, just do it. The world is counting on you.