Friday, February 1, 2008

The War Of Art, Steven Pressfield

The War Of Art
Steven Pressfield

This is an odd little book. If it wasn't for one thing, I'd quite like it, but as I get older that one thing is grating on my nerves more and more.

Generally, this is a book about getting past whatever is keeping you from pursuing your calling. If you're a writer, that'd be writer's block, for example. Pressfield takes art to be a very general concept, however, and he's quite happy to let your true calling be anything from painter to entrepreneurial plumber. His intent is to kick you in the butt and get you moving.

And the first two sections of the book do an OK job of that. He details what he calls "resistance" and then pounds you over the head with ways to avoid it and reasons to get back to work. That part of the book is interesting, quickly read, and motivational. It may actually be useful.

The third section, though - and even a bit of the earlier sections - hits a personal hot button. Pressfield is religious, and he inserts that into this book. He's actually not as awful about it as he might have been, though. If you don't agree with his perspective he's quite happy to have you think of it in different - not necessarily spiritual - terms. But overall it's still religious, and most of the last section trails off into mystical, mushy, gibberish.

Why do people have to inject religion into things like this? If you're writing about religion, that's fine. If you're writing a history and religion figures in, that's also fine. If you're writing fiction and one or more of your characters espouses some religious point of view - even if it's the singularly most important point of the main character's life - that's also fine. But why inject religion into books that don't need it, like a lot of non-fiction?

I've encountered it before, and it really irritates me. As a programmer I use the Perl programming language a bit. It's quite powerful and useful, but the main book documenting Perl - Programming Perl by Larry Wall - has a couple of religious comments within it that make me think he and I might not get along in person. But maybe we would. If I didn't bring up my atheism and he didn't bring up his Christianity, we might get on famously. But he has to throw his religion into my face as part of his book - something that wasn't needed at all. Another example is What Color Is Your Parachute, which is ostensibly about career changing and job hunting, but into which the author injects all kinds of religious claptrap.

Sorry. I digress. But it bugs me.

Anyway, if you can sidestep the religious muck - or if that sort of thing doesn't bother you - The War Of Art is a good kick in the rear end. It might help you get moving on something you've wanted to do but have been putting off.