The War Of Art

by Carlos Cooper | 18 comments

How many times have you wanted to write, but just couldn't get anything out? How many times have you procrastinated, coming up with some seemingly valid excuse to avoid writing?

We've all been there. The challenge is getting out of our funk. The solution is simple: action. The book that taught me how to take action as a writer was “The War of Art.” Let's skim over a handful of my favorite quotes from Steven Pressfield's epic kick-in-the-arse.

photo credit: SonOfJordan via photopin cc

photo credit: SonOfJordan via photopin cc

“It's not the writing part that's hard. What's hard is sitting down to write.”

I did a survey a couple months ago with my indie publishing readers where the main question was “What do you want to learn more about?” Overwhelmingly, the number one response was that they wanted to learn how to find time to write.

That surprised me. I thought they'd want to know the ins and outs of self-publishing or read more interviews with successful authors.

Nope. Almost every person wanted to learn how to sit down and write.

“…fear doesn't go away. The warrior and the artist live by the same code of necessity, which dictates that the battle must be fought anew every day.”

You might've had a great writing session yesterday, but today is a new day. Yesterday you were focused, today you're distracted.

Writing ebbs and flows. Sometimes it's like a fire hose, others it's like a clogged toilet.

As writers, every day is a struggle. We must win the individual battles in order to win the war. Let up and you're staring down the barrel of defeat.

“The danger is greatest when the finish line is in sight.”

This one's so true it's scary. How many writers do you know that have an “almost finished” novel?

Imagine being so close to the finale of your book that you can taste the last page. You know how the ending goes. You know how you'll feel when you finish. The main character's shocked expression is tingling on your fingertips.

That's not the time to let up. It's like being the first place runner in a marathon and then pulling back when the banners and the screaming crowd are in sight. In a fraction of a second you've lost all the momentum you've worked for. Your legs get wobbly. You notice the sandpaper feel in your mouth. You stumble. You fall.

You have to keep pushing. Don't let up until it's done.

“The professional tackles the project that will make him stretch.”

If you don't feel challenged as a writer, you're probably doing something wrong. I deal with fear and insecurity constantly. More than once a day I wish I had the talent of Austen, Grisham or Shakespeare. I hate that I don't know everything.

If the work didn't challenge us we'd soon be bored to sleep. That's not what art is about. Art is about challenging ourselves and others, but it takes a series of uncomfortable stretches to get there.

Scratching The Surface

I didn't even come close to summarizing a sliver of Pressfield's book. I probably wouldn't do it justice.

If you haven't read the book, consider reading it. Get it HERE. It was a game-changer for me and it hopefully will be for you.

What's stopping you from winning the war of art?


For the next fifteen minutes, write about a character who wins the war of art. Tell us what they're thinking, how they feel, how they celebrate.

Post your practice in the comments section below and please provide feedback for your peers.

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  1. Mike Chaplin

    I curse the gods as I am stuck in gridlock caused by yet another accident on 128 which I am absolutely convinced is the worst road in America if not the world. My hour long commute now getting extended even longer I turn my thoughts inward and question my very existence.

    Thinking of my mind numbing daily grind of data entry for the modest wages that are necessary to continue my mundane lifestyle I ask myself “Is there really a Matrix?” Could that Sci-fi flick with that terrible actor Keanu Reeves dodging bullets in a computer program actually be art imitating life? Am I just a line of code written to continue plodding along with same routine, day, after day, after day to help keep the Matrix running efficiently?

    Before I dwell further on my plight an allow self loathing to set it in I decide the best course of action would be to just distract myself with sports talk radio where everyone from the host to the callers share their misery about the status of our hometown sports teams. If that doesn’t do the trick than nothings more effective that Political talk radio. The incessant ranting and complaining on every issue imaginable remind that I am not alone. There are plenty of people out there just as miserable as me and their letting the whole world know about it.

    Ninety minutes later I finally pull into my driveway and proceed with the coming home ritual of checking the mail, letting the dogs out, changing out of my work clothes etc. My wife is still at work so now I have important decisions to make on how to spend my time.

    There are three options:

    Television, the good old standby where I can surf through the several hundred channels and realize nothing’s really worth watching.

    Video game system where I can live a fun and exciting virtual reality as opposed to my dull boring actual reality.

    Or maybe today, just today, I can try something new.

    I have a seat at my PC. I click on the Microsoft word application. I can see the blank page on the screen in front of me with the blinking icon. Its then that I realize that right here is the doorway to true freedom, to excitement, adventure, romance, and anything else I could possibly desire. Anything my mind could possibly fathom I could make come alive right in front of me, right there after that blinking icon… the doorway…all I have to do is cross the threshold… And that’s just what I am going to do.

    Well maybe after I watch TMZ, and play a few rounds of Call of Duty… Oh wait is that my wife pulling up… – Madmike – another casualty of war

    • Carlos Cooper

      That is too funny, Mike, and yet, so true.

      “Television, the good old standby where I can surf through the several
      hundred channels and realize nothing’s really worth watching.” Been there.

      You wonder why it’s so hard to focus and then you see all the things distracting us. Thanks for the laundry list of art killers 🙂

    • Kate Taylor

      Escape in any form for a while is reviving.
      I could see you developing a deadly virtual reality in the form of a game – GRIDLOCK ON 128!

    • Mike Chaplin

      Thank Kate.. you may have just inspired me.. GRIDLOCK ON 128.. the title alone I could see as a best seller.. I would think it could either be a zombie apocalypse thriller..(as if that isnt overdone) or a mentally unstable survivalist doomsday prepper guy who finally cracks at dealing with the insufferable traffic day after day.. Sort of like the movie Falling Down with Michael Douglas.. havent come up with a Hero or Happy ending yet..

    • Kate Taylor

      You give me a smile. Just remember, don’t write and drive, unless of course, when you are stuck in gridlock on 128. You could probably get in a chapter then!

    • Adelaide Shaw

      It’s so easy to procrastinate. I found that having a schedule for writing helps. Do it in the time scheduled, like you schedule the time for dinner or when you leave for work. If writing isn’t scheduled into the daily program or weekend program, (if that is all the time you can spare), then the ideas in the mind will disappear and you will always feel frustrated. I know whereof I speak. I’ve been writing fiction for 27 years and i need to have a schedule. It can change, and mine has changed after I retired, It will probably change again, but for now it is in the afternoons having coffee at a local cafe and in the evenings after my husband goes to bed. Good luck.

  2. Chloee

    I sat on the kitchen chair as my mom and dad talked or argue if I would call it. My backpack that was stuffed to the brim with work,pages, and projects that needed to be done stared at me like it was taunting me.

    “Come on you can finish it or can you?” It seemed to say. Instead of unzipping it I grabbed my notebook and walked out the back door into the crisp air of summer. The worries and fears of everyday life filled my head. The moon shone down from the sky like a beacon of hope. The millions of twinkling stars winked at me from the sky as they glistened and gleamed. The trees rustled in whispers of secrets that they held from the world.

    I walked though the grass into the woods listing to the nightly music of the crickets, owls, and coyotes. I stopped and sat under the gaint oak tree and opened my notebook. The pencil danced across the paper spilling words from me like a waterfall. The door was closed and suddenly opened for me letting me let go of it all as my words spun into a story

    Finally I closed my notebook and got up feeling fresh and amazing like I was bathed in a fresh spring creek. I walked back home taking in all of life’s greatness.

    • Kate Taylor

      Listening to unpleasant conversation, especially between parents would definitely prevent me from being inspired to do anything, especially creative projects.
      Going outside into the fresh air gave that writer a chance to distract, breathe, and find a calm place within. I’ll bet that the creativity will flow soon, perhaps in another room inside.
      Chloe, I like your descriptions of the evening environment; those made me breathe!

    • Carlos Cooper

      A great example of removing yourself from a negative environment. Thanks for sharing, Chloee!

  3. Kate Taylor

    She had idiosyncratic habits prior to sitting down at her desk to write. First of all, her clothing had to feel completely comfortable. She had several outfits to choose from that would permit freedom from feeling restrained. Most often she chose to wear her
    overalls, a soft tee, sans underclothing, socks, and Birkenstocks on her feet or sitting paired up nearby. Next she would make a cup of coffee, often an Italian orange flavor that soothed her taste buds. Before sitting down with the coffee, her notebook and the necessary must, a BIC stick pen, black ink of course, she would visit the bathroom. She washed her hands with Dove soap and dried them on the shabby red towel. Always. Only then, after her home from work routine, could she sit in her favorite green chair, curl her knees under her and scribble away notes and a chapter in her steno book.

    The routine felt comfortable most of the time, but for the life of her, she couldn’t figure out why it had become such obsessive compulsive behavior. She felt self-forgiveness for letting everything else in her home and quite possibly her life take a path on its own.Well, maybe not, but she couldn’t or wouldn’t let her self be distracted for the moment. It was time for her to write. She had completed her required preparation.

    She was stuck. The chapter had been all planned out. She wrote Chapter 9 Truth Presented on the page. She had the chapter a title during her developmental editing, but quite often, the characters and the action would dictate that the chapter would have another name. She was fine with that, but today she was unable to write another word.

    She had done a heavy amount of research and scribbled many notes on how she wanted the words to flow. They weren’t flowing now. A few words were put down, and then scribbled out. This went on for a paragraph worth of sentences. She recalled that every book in fact had had a sticking place. She put two of the books away, but they called to her to complete them. She was able to take pen in hand once again and did
    write every word that she intended, and a few hundred more.

    She didn’t want to put this book away. She was compelled to write it and speak a truth. What she had learned had to be shared and soon.

    She sighed, put the notebook down, and finished her coffee. Perhaps she was feeling overwhelmed. Her therapist had taught her a breathing exercise to use when she felt anxiety or stress. She shrugged her shoulders and thought, why the hell not? Breathing in, she counted to four silently, and exhaling she blew out and counted to four within her mind once again. She repeated the exercise four times. Her brain felt a little lighter.

    It was in that relaxed moment that she decided to take a risk and sit at the computer. “What the hell,” she said aloud, though she was the only one in the apartment. She
    opened Word, poised her fingertips over the keys, and let whatever came to her
    appear within the document. She wrote one experimental sentence, and then the words flew from her mind and her fingers. Rapidly, a page was filled. Her eyes opened wide at how she was forming the chapter without all the falderal and fiddle dee dee.

    Later, when she had put the last quotation mark at the end of the chapter, she sat back and smiled. Truth had presented itself. She no longer needed such a routine to be able to begin writing every single time. That felt comfortable, like wearing her overalls, a soft tee, and sans underclothing.

    • Carlos Cooper

      “Her eyes opened wide at how she was forming the chapter without all the falderal and fiddle dee dee.”
      I wish I could do that every day 🙂

  4. TheCody

    With his double-jointed thumbs, Cam thought he could slip out of handcuffs in a blaze of Houdini-esque glory. Unfortunately, that didn’t appear to be the case, and his knuckles and wrist were raw and blistered from the struggle.

    “Please!” Cam said, letting his arms flop helplessly behind him.

    His captor didn’t respond. He just stared at Cam, as if daring him to do something that actually worked.

    “I can’t do it!” said Cam.

    At that, his captor walked a slow, long circle around Cam’s chair. He leaned back against the sleek black desk, forming a barrier between Cam and the laptop that, just minutes before, was whirring with activity. Now the screen was dimming as it went into hibernation.

    “Get through me,” his captor said in a gravely tone right out of Cam’s scariest movies. It was a rhetorical challenge; Cam had never even tried. Even now, the only thing he managed to do was glare at the captor. It wasn’t intimidating anymore; his struggles had no substance.

    Shaking his head in patronizing pity, the captor turned to look at the monitor. He moved the mouse an inch, and the words popped on the screen from their dimmed haze. He then proceeded to read, laughing with mock derision the entire way. As always, Cam stomped his feet, trying to drown out the laughter.

    When he was finished, the captor held down the mouse button, dragged up the page, and selected every word in the document. Slowly, he released the mouse and held a steady finger over the “delete” key. Letting out a single, committed breath, he turned to face Cam.

    Cam snapped back as if he’d been punched. The captor had held him hostage many times, but never like this. Typically, the threats were always empty and hollow, and Cam only had to admit defeat to escape. This was different, and Cam felt a blast of fear dry his throat.

    The captor lowered his finger. Cam yelled and fought against the cuffs until his hands were bleeding. When that didn’t work, he did something he’d never done before. Inching forward, he wrapped his legs around the captor and yanked sideways. Caught off guard, the captor topped over to the floor, where Cam proceeded to kick him. Screaming with insane fury, Cam attacked his sides and, when the captor could no longer breathe, Cam kicked at his face until the captor’s blood covered his shoes.

    “I concede,” whispered the captor, covering his face with his hands.

    Cam stopped and inched back. He’d never heard a surrender. Stunned, he sat motionless as the captor got up, walked around the chair, and touched the handcuffs. The metal circles popped off without a key.

    “Do it, then,” said the captor, holding his side.

    Eyeing his captor, Cam leaned forward and placed his hands on the keyboard. His hands started shaking and he saw the captor take a step toward him, holding up a new pair of handcuffs.

    “No,” Cam said. He couldn’t go through this again. Closing his eyes, he pressed one key, a single period, the final character.

    • Carlos Cooper

      Death to the captor!!!
      Thanks for sharing, TC.

    • Sandra D


  5. Sabrina Fleming

    In the article above, I read a lot of things that remind me of myself. A valid excuse to avoid writing? I have come up with so many, I’ve lost count. Spending time with my family seems to be the heavyweight and most guilt-ridden right now. But I only seem to be able to write journal type things, because with them, I don’t struggle overly much with self-consciousness. Fiction writing makes me feel very vulnerable. I’m so unsure about it, I can’t even finish what I start, for my own satisfaction. Any advice on that? I put words together well, but I’m so insecure about what I could put together creatively…

    A huge part of my problem is being an adult and understanding that a story requires certain things of its components in order to be “good.” A character must be believable, and the reader must care about them. A story has to go somewhere, otherwise, why would anyone want to waste 300 pages of their time? I am a perfectionist, and I hold
    myself back from even trying because I’m confident it’s not going to be good enough.

    How do I stop that? Practice, yes. But in my computer alone, within the last week, I’ve created three different creative writing pieces that are only at a beginning stage. When I try to dig into one again, I feel overwhelmed. Where do I take this piece? What do I really want to say? What am I doing with this? Is this even worthwhile?

    Can anyone provide guidance for my kind of newbie-ism? Some place to find encouragement? This book, perhaps?

    • Carlos Cooper

      Sabrina, you’re not alone 🙂
      It’s VERY normal to feel the way you do. Like I mention in the post, what will separate you from your old self and others, is you ability to “just do it.”

      There’s no magic sauce, but I will say that when I’m stuck, I go back to short stories. Instead of trying to tackle an 80,000 word novel, go for a 5,000 short story, or maybe even something shorter, like a five line poem. Feel free to take a look at what I’ve done. My short stories give me a break, but they’re also building characters within my series. Win-win. Action + Focus = Carlos doing something to further his writing.

      Again, start simple. Don’t over complicate it. This is still supposed to be fun, right? 🙂

    • Sandra D

      I have the same problem, but one piece of advice I have heard and am doing is that to write bigger things takes focus. And focus is something that is built up over time. People who are athletes for a living know you can’t run the 20 mile when you first are starting out. You have to work up to that with regular exercise and do what you are comfortable with. If you are comfortable with 20 minutes a day of writing do that, and as long as it is consistent everyday you will get better over time and be able to write more.

  6. Sandra D

    He stepped onto the topmost part of the mountain. He felt a cool breeze

    welcome him, and the clouds pillowed majestically as if god himself

    tipped his hat at him. “You finally made it.” It seemed to say.

    He leaned on a rock before stretching his blacket on the rocky ground,

    He poured a bit of perfect mom made tea from his thermos into the cup

    that normally is the thermos’s lid. And took a controlled bite of his

    last sandwich, but then started tearing in and devouring the rest of it,

    filling the void in his stomach.

    He felt kind of dizzy, he couldn’t believe he was here. So many years

    of practicing to get here and never sure if he could actually make it in

    the end. And yet he had.

    After his lunch, he spent a long moment taking in the mountain’s peaks

    that came to unsettling points in the air with a little flat top, and

    the pillowy clouds that nestled below him. It was a scene he absolutely

    earned. Unlike people who can sign onto pinterest and see the most

    beautiful of scenes at a glance and then dully look it over before

    flipping to the next thing of the moment. This was completely his for

    this moment, not borrowed, but earned. He was here.

    He pulled out a folded up piece of paper, as if it was never doubted

    that he would make it, he pulled out his stubby pencil and scribbled:

    Dear Family:

    I am writing from the top of the mountain. I have made it.

    Love your son.

    Then he folded the note back up and tucked away his pencil. He was not

    one who was very verbose and the letter said what it needed to.

    Even though the cold made him shiver almost constantly, he didn’t feel

    cold at the moment, he just felt rich with victory. High on success.

    But he knew it was time to get packed up again. And fear had waited for

    this moment, as he buttoned up his coat and harnessed ropes, slinging

    the 50 pound pack on his back and then securing that too.

    It was the fear of down and the horrible things that go with down. He

    looked over the mountain down the pass he would go. It looked like it

    plummeted more than gently swooped. In all the mountains he had gone

    down, this was the first that was both so high or steep.

    He wanted to wait until his body had recovered from the climb up, he

    wanted to badly. His body still ached in so many ways.

    He could not stay though, that would lead to death, either by freezing

    or starvation. So he had to keep going.

    He held onto the rope and gently let himself go a little at a time.

    While keeping a firm grip on the rope so that he didn’t fall into the

    cavernous abyss below. After a while the muscles in his arms vibrated,

    and it felt if they got just a little more sore he may lose the ability

    to hold on altoghter.

    The wind began to pick up and it was soon blowing hard. He walked along

    the cliff holding his rope, and trying to maintain balance. But it felt

    like the wind was taking bites of his flesh with it.

    Every little cliff that was protected somewhat from the blasts of wind,

    he stayed longer than he should have. He had gone an entire day

    without any food and had just finished the last of his tea. He still had

    part of a water bottle though.

    He reached a cliff that looked safe enough to stay the night, and he

    took it. With three feet in each direction he was fairly safe from

    rolling. He poked his head into his coat and wrapped his arms around

    his knees to have some shelter, like a bird puffing itself up in its

    nest during a storm does. He huddled against the rock to accumulate

    what little warmth and protection there was. And due to exhaustion he

    did manage to sleep. And he woke up safe in the same place as the sun

    was hitting the sky. He was still tired and stiff but he rose and

    started back. He noticed that after the rest the muscles in his body

    felt like they were on fire.

    Not only that but along with the gentle light of the sun, it began to

    rain. Just a light rain, but it didn’t matter. This meant the ropes

    would be slick and so would the rock. He had to go slower than before.

    By noon he had barely made any progress. And the pain in his stomach

    started to gnaw at him.

    Fortunately the rain did stop and the sun actually came out from behind

    a cloud and began to provide some warmth.

    But he finally could see the bottom. There were people down there, they

    looked like black spots, but he saw them a few miles down. He was

    elated, he was getting close.

    He started to make quicker time, pushing himself to go fast. His foot

    searched for the rocks eagerly and the hands felt a new sense of vigor

    too. But then he stepped down on a rock and it broke from under him and

    he started sailing down. He gripped the rope with all his strength.

    His hands bled and it stained his rope. And he was still falling. He

    started to slow the rope as he landed on a cliff.

    He sighed in relief that he was still alive. He made a move to get up

    but a pain shot from his leg to his brain and he screamed. His leg was


    People were looking at him, he could see them point at him. Half an hour later a helicopter came up and released a rope with a strecher bed at the bottom and men came down from the ladder and got me up from the rock and tied me to the strecher.

    In a few hours I was in a hospital. My leg bandaged and I am eating food again. My wife stands over me thanking God I am still alive and there are friends around my bed. We are watching the tv talk about my rescue. Someone shouts, you lucky dog, you made it.

    Yeah, I don’t know how, but I did. Thank god that helicopter came other wise I probably would have been kibble.



  1. Taking Tribal Global–Friday What I’m Loving… | Paulette Rees-Denis & Gypsy Caravan Dance Company - […] **have your read The War of Art yet? here’s a good view of it… […]

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