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The War of Art

First off, I’ve never had a book change my life so radically as this one. I read it on a flight to Calgary a month ago, and as I devoured Steven Pressfield’s chapters on Resistance, I found myself looking into a mirror of my own procrastination and excuses why I didn’t write songs more often, work on more new banjo tunes, hone my talents more diligently.

Don’t get me wrong – I practice. Especially on the road. My bandmates and crew would attest to the considerable flow of banjo and guitar notes from my dressing room. The road is an entirely different world, and I do decently there in discipline. But many days at home I’d float through without a plan, and sometimes days would flood by, eaten up by all the etceteras of life, in the same way that serious amounts of money can slip through our hands unconsciously with a daily Starbucks or diet Coke or fast food habit.

As I read Pressfield’s book, I saw that my earlier days of constant practicing were more from drivenness, fear, and an all-consuming passion than from actual discipline. People used to tell me I was so disciplined to practice so much. But as the years went by, I developed other passions. Home. Family. Making food. Writing articles. Drivenness fell off me as I learned to trust Christ for my self-worth, as I rejected music as a source of Life. I began making a decent living, one of the more deadly foes of an artist’s output. And my lack of discipline, of boundaries, especially at home, began to show.

A discipline is something you do daily, whether you feel like it or not. Pressfield builds a strong case for turning pro, for fighting against our inner resistance (which is fueled by our fear), for overcoming procrastination, for making our art a daily job where we show up whether or not we feel like it. I like his quote from the writer Somerset Maugham. When asked if he wrote on a schedule or only when inspired, Maugham said, “I write only when inspiration strikes. Fortunately it strikes every morning at nine o’clock sharp.” Andrew Peterson gave me L’Engle’s Walking on Water in which she says essentially the same thing. The daily discipline gives a framework for inspiration to show up.

So when I returned from my Calgary trip, everything changed. My schedule changed to one I’d been talking about for months but had never implemented. Go to sleep early. Get up early, long before the kids. Devotional time. Exercise. Schedule my day. Shower. Eat. Get the kids off to school. And then my rear end hits this chair and I start playing. It stays there, with a short break or two, until noon. Lunch. And then after lunch, more playing until five o’clock. Then I’m done. And I feel great, feel I’ve used my time wisely, and then can wash my hands of the whole thing and hang out with the family.

Now, I’ve not stuck to this every day. I’m at about 80 percent, probably, what with all the irregularity of recording this-and-that, a show here-and-there, etcetera. I have to switch my schedule when I go out and play; I can’t be fainting with weariness at nine in the evening. But I have to say that even during the lesser days, I get so much more done than I have in years.

A couple of caveats for those who are offended by certain things. Pressfield is a secular writer; he wrote The Legend of Bagger Vance and several other big novels. This is definitely not a book written from a Christian perspective. Scattered F dash-dash-dash words and some slippery theology come up in places. To those who are offended by such things, or easily led astray through not having a strong Biblical foundation – by all means avoid reading it. But I took the whole thing, dropped what was wrong or irrelevant, and extracted the truth from it. And it works. The War of Art made me repent of wasting my time on trivialities while letting my God-given mission in life mosey along in the slow lane. It made me realize that inspiration shows up when I’m diligent to do my work. “I learned that he that would be a hero will barely be a man; that he that will be nothing but a doer of his work is sure of his manhood.” George MacDonald, Phantastes

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