Steven Pressfield has gone Zen on us with this little tome dedicated to the triumph of the creative spirit over the self-defeating power of “Resistance”. Do the Work is both a distillation and a complementary addition to his previous and longer non-fiction examination of becoming “a professional” in a creative field, The War of Art, which I recommend highly.
Here’s my favorite passage in Do the Work:
I was thirty years old before I had an actual thought. Everything up till then was either what the Buddhists call “monkey mind” chatter or reflexive regurgitation of whatever my parents or teachers said, or whatever I saw on the news or read in a book, or heard somebody rap about, hanging around the street corner.
In this book, when I say “Don’t Think”, what I mean is: don’t listen to the chatter. Pay no attention to the rambling, disjointed images and notions that drift across the movie screen of your mind.
Those are not your thoughts.
They are chatter.
They are Resistance.
Something I try to impart in my students is the practice of metacognition. Not that I expect them to execute a precision analysis of their thought process the first time through, or even the fiftieth. Instead, I am trying to break them of habitually moving on mental autopilot, running “tapes” in their head recorded by cultural osmosis, to stop and ask themselves, what do I really think here? With skepticism and active, focused, attention. For more than a few, it is the first time in their lives experiencing what it is like to be intellectually awake and in control of their own thinking.
Reading Do the Work is a little like reading the Mao’s Little Red Book or Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations of writing. The sections are short vignettes of certitude that add up to a philosophical whole, in the case of Pressfield, a prescription for a personal creativity jihad based on in the moment creative action followed by reflection and refinement. It is meant for the person who can but doesn’t and doesn’t know why. Pressfield explains why and then, essentially, tells the reader to get off of the dime….NOW!
For the creative procrastinator ( like yours truly) or aspiring writer, Do the Work is a book that reads like an ass-kicking.