Book review: Do the Work

cover of steven pressfield's "do the work" and photo of the author The good news is that you can change your life at any point, on any day, regardless of your age, health, financial status, technical ability or experience.

The bad news is you will have to continue to change it, you, pushing that c*cksucking boulder up that motherf*cking hill, every day of your life, regardless of your age, health, financial status, technical ability or experience.

Every day. No exceptions.

Because the way to change, to creating things that never before existed, to fixing things people didn't realize were broken, to making anything, is not through daydreaming or wishing or fairy dust, but through work. Joyful, tedious, challenging, maddening, daily work.

Steven Pressfield's newest book, Do the Work, is a sort of high-octane, super-condensed variation on his previous devotional for makers, The War of Art. It's shorter and tighter and carries a greater sense of urgency, perhaps because Pressfield has weathered the daily battle of getting meaningful things done that much longer, but also perhaps because the change cycle has accelerated in the nine years since he introduced us to Resistance, that bane of all meaningful change.

Do the Work begins with a brief recap of Resistance, what it is, the many forms it takes, before diving into a step-by-step process of how to outsmart, outrun, and outmaneuver the bastard so that you can get your project out of idea form and into some real form. As Pressfield says up front, his language is that of the writer, creating drafts, shipping books, but the principles work for any type of serious endeavor, from the building of a world-changing widget to the mounting of a play to the recovery from illness. (I have no experience with widgets, but I'm a writer who's brought a play from idea to stage and a patient who's gone from bloody skeleton to robust health, so I can attest to the process being applicable across disciplines.)

The book as billed as a manifesto; it is, in that it clearly lays out a theory of life and a set of actions to take. It is a tactical field manual, brief but comprehensive, where The War of Art is more of a devotional: that book you keep nearby to dip into when things get bleak. Do the Work offers helpful tools for structuring your project: "start with the end" (i.e., getting clear on successful outcome as your first step); breaking your project into a three-act structure; getting the first iteration of your project out in its entirety however roughly and resisting the urge to refine, refine, refine as you go (my personal challenge).

Overall, it is a useful book full of specific tactics threaded through with wisdom and encouragement, most of it along the lines of "Resistance lurks everywhere, so watch out for his shady ass." If I have a reservation with recommending it fully, it's with the design of the book. There are many, many emphasized bits of text, not pull-quotes, but phrases or sentences writ in larger point sizes to underline (pun intended) a point. In one sense, this is good because it adds to the conversational tone of the book: it's as if Uncle Steve is sitting there beside you, grabbing an arm for emphasis when he's saying something you really, really shouldn't miss. But the type design and layout falls short, and gets in the way of message delivery. You will have to work harder than you arguably should as a reader (at least, in the print version; I haven't read the Kindle version yet).

I think the information is worth it, though. If you've not yet read The War of Art, I would even say to start here, with Do the Work. Because this is a book about starting, designed to help you start and see you through the thousand million starts you will have to undertake every day, until your project is done. And then, after a brief pause to acknowledge completion, to start the next project.

Which is something Steven Pressfield clearly does. He has taken the advice he got as a young(er) writer to heart, to start a new project the very next day after shipping the last. How else would he have a novel slated to come out in June and a nonfiction book to come out in October?

Read the book, but read it as you do your work.

Once again Team Pressfield has generously offered three books to give away to the right owners. Leave a comment below as to why one of them is you, and I'll see about making that happen.

xxx c

Disclosure! Links to the books in the post above are Amazon affiliate links. This means if you click on them and buy something, I receive a modest affiliate commission. Which I hope you do: it helps keep this ship afloat. This particular book was furnished as a review copy, but furnishing a review copy does not guarantee a review. Curious? You can read my full book review policy here. More on this disclosure stuff at publisher Michael Hyatt's excellent blog, from whence I lifted (and smooshed around a little) this boilerplate text.

Jacket art by Vincent van Gogh.  Author photo via Steven Pressfield.