The War of Art

rainy day cup

Why is it that the very thing we absolutely must do simultaneously becomes the one thing that feels impossible to accomplish? Why is it that the moment I declare “I’m writing a book!” the task seems doomed for failure? And why is it that as I’m sitting here staring at the blinking cursor at the top of an empty white page, the idea of spending the week out here at my parents lovely, peaceful, country cottage for a writing retreat suddenly seems like a sentence rather than a solace? Suddenly I simply cannot get comfortable. This chair is much too firm, the couch has the opposite problem, and the cottage is much too cold. I already have trouble sitting still for more than five minutes, but now doing so seems an insufferable feat. Everything in me suddenly wants to scrub the bathtub and reorganize my parents kitchen in the most desperate kind of way.

Steven Pressfield would argue that this is Resistance doing its finest work to distract me from leaning into my gifts and accomplishing some of my life’s most important work. In his fabulously motivating [in a kick-you-in-the-pants sort of way] book, The War of Art, he highlights that this resistance we feel is not unique to any artist or human, in fact, it is a fundamental element of the human condition. He personifies resistance as the great adversary [or evil] actively and tirelessly working against us to keep up from rising to the occasion. I have to say, I think Pressfield is onto something. One of my favorite quotes from the book is a pithy statement about Hitler: “You know, Hitler wanted to be an artist. At eighteen he took his inheritance, seven hundred kronen, and moved to Vienna to live and study… Ever see one of his paintings? Neither have I. Resistance beat him. Call it an overstatement, but I’ll say it anyway: it was easier for Hitler to start World War II than it was for him to face a blank square of canvas.”


I say all of this because it seems significant and necessary to acknowledge my anxiety on the matter in order to move thoughtfully and successfully through it. I’m an idealist in every sense of the word, so the idea of writing a book sounds wholly romantic to me. Early mornings spent at a cozy cafe in the city on a cool, overcast, fall day. Fingers wrapped around a steaming soy latte for warmth as I contemplate my word choice. I’d type out brilliant thoughts about ordinary life to the rhythm of the rain outside. It’s all so poetic and nostalgic, like Christmas or something. Until I get to the coffee shop and am reminded that ice cold fingers and toes are by no means romantic, and in fact it is absurd that they are blasting the air conditioning when the weather is already a bleak 45 degrees as the rain dumps depressingly right outside my window. Seriously, air conditioning? Is this real life? Also, when did it become socially acceptable to charge $7 for a plain cup of coffee? God knows I don’t come to this specific coffee shop for the coffee. Portland is a roastery mecca, and these people don’t even know what cold brew is.

Grace, Cayla, grace. Good grief woman, quit being so critical and just write!

Yes, writing, that is what this is all about after all isn’t it?

Or is it? I’m not so sure anymore. It’s about writing and it isn’t. It’s something to do with calling and faithfulness and being deliberate in the face of resistance. It’s about courage and enough honesty to sit uncomfortably in the spaces of failure that will find us in between, and then granting ourselves enough grace to begin again. It’s about the human condition in all its fractured glory. About facing fear day, after day, after day and not loosing heart in light of the reality that it’ll certainly be there waiting for us again tomorrow.

It’s about showing up and it’s about perseverance, because the bottom line is this: to create art, in any capacity, is to wage war.

Wage on.


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