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.


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.


  1. Who was it that said that “there is no more sombre enemy of good art than the pram in the hall”? Google says it’s Cyril Connolly, but I recall it being a woman. Either way… I’m a mother of 4 year old twins, formerly a writer and visual artist. I’m trying to resurrect my seemingly long distant creative life, but damn it’s hard! If it’s not laundry to do it’s snotty noses to be wiped; if it’s not scraped knees it’s a pile of dishes in the sink. I KNOW I can do it — I HAVE to do it! — but I could sure use some guidance. This scattergun approach I’ve been hacking away with just doesn’t seem to be doing much more than making more mess to clean up. I’m exhausted.

  2. I have a lonely bookmark that says, “It is folly to assume my awesome lies dormant.” What is this bookmark without a new book to lay itself? (Pan to image of destitute bookmark matted with dust and flies.)

  3. Yesterday I called my sister about this exact same thing: why both of us have trouble achieving stuff (even if we’ve achieved plenty): it’s the fact that we’ve always done the stuff we’re good at, and therefore never felt like we did any work — and now we seem to be at a loss as to how to ‘do the work’. I’m forwarding her this blogpost now.

    1. Hey, thanks for that update, Susie!

      I was under the (apparently mistaken) impression that the Kindle version was only going to be available for free until launch day.

      Anyone who wants a copy and either has a Kindle or is cool with reading on the Kindle app (I’ve done it on my iPhone, and it’s not bad!), please go for it! And update your comment so I know you’re good and we can get the books to someone sans electronic access. (Or, uh, not so much. I mean, if you’re commenting here…)

  4. I’m a reluctant boulder-pusher; I tend to pursue diversion. Starting wonderful creative projects is my favorite. But if this book was my diversion might it inspire me to finish one of those projects, thereby finding the inspiration to further push the boulder… and so on? I think it sounds like it might.

  5. I can relate to Suzanne’s reply above. I am a former attorney with and MBA, who is also a mother of a 6-year-old boy. Due to the economy my husband and I have had a difficult two years. I tried to re-enter the workforce and even will all my education, could not find a job. So, I’m trying to recreate a new career. I’m trying to finish writing a book, “The Baby Dilemma: How To Confidently Decide Whether Or Not To Have A Child And Feel Good About It” and start a blog. I could use all the help, advice and encouragement that this book can provide.

  6. I’m one of the right owners because its time I won something, and because I will give you praise for you succinct and fun to read review, because this is the first time I’ve been to your blog and love the name and writing and I’m starting a book project!


  7. Hooray! for “…a theory of life and a set of actions to take“!!!

    I’ve got all the inspiration anybody could ever want, but often find myself at a loss for “what do I DO next???” – which leads to distracting myself and not getting much of anything done, including the dishes (one of my personal boulders).

    Thanks for another clear, fun-to-read review, c!

    Bright Blessings ~

    1. c ~ I was going to get a copy NOW at my local bookstore, but they’d have to order it, too, so I just clicked above. :)
      Looking forward to it !

    2. Well, I think Karen needs it. (Howdy, Karen! Fancy stumbling across you here!)

      Of course, I may be too late, in which case I’ll make sure she gets a copy.

  8. Hi Colleen! Great review. It sounds like just what I could use right now. In my ongoing quest to start something new, I’ve now taken on the daunting project of starting a school. No, it’s not enough to just participate in a cutting-edge school as a teacher, or even to be one small part of a team that creates something even more innovative, but I somehow find myself in the role of leading the charge. Half the time, I feel energized and capable, and the other half, I struggle to face the resistance, which for me, sounds something like “I don’t deserve to be doing this,” and “This is too hard.” What do you think? Will this book help me? Pick me! I’ll get the rest of my team to buy copies, too.


  9. I’ve got the book written, have the blog going at and the twitter account up and running @thadsquirrel (where by chance I gave communicatrix a quote credit today). Now, I just need the final push to get that c*cksucking boulder out the door!

  10. I believe a copy of Do the Work should be mine because I’m doing the work, dagnabit! :-) I just sold my NYC apartment and am moving to NC where I know one person. I’ve located the city but haven’t found a place to live yet. I’m also stepping out in a big way with my new biz model. Leaving my Type A behind and not overthinking and overdoing. Just getting out and speaking at a conference for women entrepeneurs in NYC. I’ll be hosting a Round Table discussion both days on “Building Confidence and Business Clarity with Angel and Crystal Power!” And I’ll have a booth where I’ll be selling crystals and hand analysis sessions. Big deal for a former Wall Street Warrior and MBA.

    The whole thing is exhilarating yet scary as heck. I think the book can help me on those days when I want to curl up in bed and bawl my eyes out.

    1. Ah, Geanine ~ Good for you, actually doing it instead of just dreaming!
      …and, umm (unsolicited advice warning), go ahead and curl up and cry when you feel that need … FWIW, I find the emotional ‘need’ passes much more quickly that way…

      Buon Fortuna in your Life Adventures! Karen

  11. Pressfield is a vivid example of the best qualities of a writer: he’s consistently clear, precisely particular without overwhelming the reader with unnecessary details, and he has that now-too-rare quality, common sense. I loved War of Art and it never ceases to inspire. So glad to learn he has a new book to boost us toward more accomplishment in what we love to do.

  12. I’ve bought “The War of Art” so many times I’ve lost count. I had to keep buying one for myself because I kept giving it away to friends. I’d love a copy of Steven’s new book and my vote is for Jessica and her bookmark.

  13. I’m about 2/3 through the kindle version right now, and I can attest the design is very distracting.
    The typographer chose to right-justify the emphasized parts, and it ain’t pretty.

    Secondly, the use of white space is also distracting. I don’t know if this is an artifact of the kindle medium, but the excess space inserted between text elements interrupts the flow and makes the page hard to track.

    All that aside, the work itself is honestly brutal. And honestly compassionate.

    1. Speaking as a former proofreader and veteran of many battles with ‘the typesetter’:

      Yeaaaah, Walter, I’d-a-done it differently, too!
      But I’m going to try reading it like it’s a poem by e.e.cummings – set ‘creatively’ for a reason, even if I don’t get it right away…

  14. Oh, I’m definitely a ‘right’ owner here. Need an attitude adjustment – every day. Need it at hand, dog-eared, to push the start button. I have ideas (I see great completed paintings in my head), I can do the work, I actually enjoy learning from outstanding failures and I can finish. What I can’t do is START. What I also can’t do is buy the book – we are ‘poor but poverty-stricken’ (heard some comedian use that line years ago and it always makes me smile).

    I read the kindle version this morning on my computer – the free one on the free kindle for pc. There is NOTHING like a book to hold in one’s hand with actual pages to turn. The content was as good as I expected but mostly what it did for me was confirm what I had figured – that I can really see no reason why anyone needs an electronic book. But then I am old and set in my ways, as they say.

    Thanks, Colleen, for your blog with it’s wisdom with ATTITUDE. I adore opinionated people.

    1. The content was as good as I expected but mostly what it did for me was confirm what I had figured – that I can really see no reason why anyone needs an electronic book.

      I should probably write a whole post on what I think makes good Kindle reading and what doesn’t. (Actually, I should wait until I get an iPad, so I can throw that into the mix as well.)

      But the short answer is this: aside from the portability factor—a very real and growing thing for a sector of the population—the Kindle is wonderful for long books that don’t require markup. I just finished Jane Eyre on the Kindle, which I’d started reading in an old pocket, mass-market paperback copy, and I vastly preferred reading on the Kindle. Much easier on the eyes than crappy printing and layout.

      Similarly, I loved reading Stuff, Randy Frost’s book on hoarding, on the Kindle, and Jonathan Franzen’s latest opus, Freedom, as well. Big books are heavy and uncomfortable to read for small people with spindly arms. (And extremely non-portable when it comes to airplanes.)

      When I’m a rich lady, I might consider having a copy of everything in my working library of hard-copy books also on my Kindle. (If I were Oprah-rich, I’d just have a duplicated setup in each of my 47 houses.)

  15. Hi Colleen.
    I’m always in the search for new motivation ..that way i can not only use it for my advantage but i can help others win for everyone. This book would be an awesome addition to my ever growing insanely awesome membrane. So, I’ll take one, please and thank you.

  16. I want one PLEASE!! I am a 43 year old mother of 3 and a dancer that is transitioning to acting(my first love.) The transition is taking way too long. I have often said the ONLY person who has told me I can’t do it is me and…I love you!!!

  17. I already have “Do the Work,” so I’ll pass on that. But I did want to add that reading “War of Art” totally remade my mindset, changed me from a “Can I do this?” person into an “I will do this, dammit” person.

    Well, that and hearing you sing “Boulder.” They’re complementary experiences, and should be had as nearly together as possible.

  18. Great review Colleen and thanks to Susie for the tip on the free version. I had no idea I could register the iPhone with my Amazon account to get Kindle versions of ebooks. There’s a bunch of free stuff available so I’m stocking up on some classics. I think Lisa should get one of the books since she’s given away so many copies of “The War of Art” and I second her vote for Jessica. :-)

  19. Flowers bloom and fall + bloom and fall; being + doing but their energetic best in each moment. T’is a metaphoric comment on living a creative life. Seems to me there’s nothing else to do but muster one’s “creative courage” + continue to continue. Showing up is every art-maker’s responsibility; it’s the difference between success + failure…move over Sisyphus.

  20. Thanks for the review AND the reminder. Your boulder-hill song (euphemism) is my themesong this year.

    Do the work, Do the work, Do the work…

  21. Ah, good stuff. Change is so, so, so hard. It’s what we often so most what to do to others – fix this, do that differently – but it’s hard enough to change what time I wake up in the morning.

    I like the war metaphor, the mantra “do the work” is useful – making the decision just ain’t enough. I used to think it was – that my will would follow where my brain was leading it. Or at least a part of my brain. But now I know that a lot of my sorry carcass (including a big parta my brain) doesn’t want to cooperate.

    I think this post will help – I’m trying to change a lot of things at the moment, but it is overwhelming at times.

    Oh yeah, would love to read the book. Maybe we could have a share copy that gets posted around from one person to the next :0)

  22. I don’t want the book but I wonder what you mean by “portability factor—a very real and growing thing for a sector of the population”. Which sector? Why do mean this need is real and growing?

    Why is it that we have a need for this when 5 years ago we didn’t?

    I wonder if ebooks aren’t just a way of selling another device? and filling them with materials another way for us to scratch the “acquisitiveness itch”?

    1. We (at least some of us) *did* have a need for this 5 years ago, and have been looking for it all along. Finally, somebody “did the work” of putting it together, and that’s a GoodThing!

  23. ebooks are more than a way of just giving us another device. In fact, I don’t have another device I download and read on my laptop. The PC Kindle reader is free. Plus, here in New Zealand, I can download and read a book as soon as it is available; otherwise, at best I would have to wait a couple of weeks for it to be freighted down here. Money I would have spent on freight, I can now spend of more books. A win win for me.

  24. A newly single mother of two who spends her days achingly trying to motivate 7th graders to love the English language and all of its parts would love a book that instills some strength, hope, skills and fortitude. Not only would it help me – but each student who walks through my classroom.

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