Tag Archives: Turning Pro

2014 New Year’s Resolutions

I look at New Year’s resolutions the way I view goals. The fewer in number and more realistic in nature, the better are the odds that I will fulfill my resolutions. Last year’s list of resolutions was long: publish a novel, blog at least weekly, read 25 books, attend a writer’s conference, and read three craft of fiction books. I achieved all but the biggest one: I did not publish a novel in 2013.

I had good reasons for not meeting this resolution. I went through a divorce in 2013, we sold our house and I had to move. Some people can write through such adversity; I found it difficult. Another factor was a promotion at work, which increased my responsibilities. All of this took time from my writing.

I should resolve in 2014 to master time management. Instead I set forth the following goals:

• Revise one of my works-in-progress so it is publication-ready.
• Blog at least weekly.
• Read 25 books.
• Attend a writer’s conference.

There, that wasn’t so bad. Now comes the hard part. It’s easy to make resolutions. Keeping them involves hard work and the “c” word: commitment. Stephen Pressfield makes this point in his classic, The War of Art, when he addresses Resistance (capital R to emphasize its importance). “Resistance’s goal is not to wound or disable,” he writes. “Resistance aims to kill. Its target is the epicenter of our being: our genius, our soul, the unique and priceless gift we were put on earth to give and that no one else has but us. When we fight it, we are in a war to the death.”

In both The War of Art and his later book, Turning Pro, Pressfield outlines the attributes of a professional. What stuck with me from both books was Pressfield’s defining quality in a professional—his habits. A professional shows up for work every day. A professional is prepared. A professional masters the job. A professional makes a commitment—not just for the first month of the year—but to work for success over the long haul.

As I pondered my New Year’s resolutions, I thought about Pressfield. It’s not the resolution, but the habit, which turns into commitment, which is essential for success. All the best to my fellow writers for a successful 2014.

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Book Review: “The War of Art,” by Steven Pressfield

Like the recent related book, Turning Pro, Steven Pressfield’s 2002 classic, The War of Art: Break Through the Blocks and Win Your Inner Creative Battles, is a kick in the butt for writers and other creative types. I read Turning Pro recently and liked its message so much I had to check out The War of Art.

A wordplay on the ancient military treatise, The Art of War, Pressfield’s book likens an individual’s approach to the craft to an inner battle. The enemy is Resistance and two-thirds of the book is devoted to defining Resistance and developing strategies to overcome it. Pressfield writes short, digestible chapters that emphasize his major points. Book One is called Resistance-Defining the Enemy. Pressfield defines Resistance as all of those things that prevent a writer from practicing and honing her craft. Resistance takes many forms–some of which the writer does not recognize–and Pressfield covers them all.

To underscore the insidious nature of Resistance, Pressfield gives it mortal ambitions. “Resistance’s goal is not to wound or disable,” he writes. “Resistance aims to kill. Its target is the epicenter of our being: our genius, our soul, the unique and priceless gift we were put on earth to give and that no one else has but us. When we fight it, we are in a war to the death.”

Book Two is called, Combating Resistance-Turning Pro. This section covers many of the points Pressfield would later expand upon in Turning Pro. A professional is defined by his habits and Pressfield makes an effective analogy to a creative person’s paid job, where the person is expected to show up every day, work all day, master the job, make a commitment over the long haul, and accept remuneration. The short chapters that follow expand on the attributes of the professional: the professional is patient, seeks order, demystifies, acts in the face of fear, accepts no excuses, plays it as it lays, is prepared, dedicates himself to mastering technique, and so on.

In Book Three, Beyond Resistance-The Higher Realm, Pressfield gets mystical. He discusses “the invisible psychic forces that support and sustain us in our journey toward ourselves.” He uses the terms “muses” and “angels” to describe these forces. Whether you buy into this theory depends on your belief system. The most valuable takeaway for me from this section was Pressfield’s discussion of the ego and the self. The ego is concerned with temporal, material things, while the self has a higher purpose.”Dreams come from the Self,” he writes. “Ideas come from the Self. When we meditate, we access the Self. When we fast, when we pray, when we go on a vision quest, it’s the Self we’re seeking…The Self is our deepest being.”

There are scores of useful craft of fiction books. Pressfield’s twin books, The War of Art and Turning Pro won’t teach you how to write a novel, but they will give you something just as valuable—the knowledge of the inner forces that threaten your creativity and the means to fight them by making a commitment to turn pro.

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Book Review: “Turning Pro,” by Steven Pressfield

Steven Pressfield’s new book, Turning Pro, is tough love for fiction writers. Pressfield’s thesis is that what ails some writers is they are living as amateurs. The solution is to turn pro.

“Turning pro is free, but it’s not easy,” Pressfield wrote. There is a lot of hard-earned wisdom in this book, but the nugget that stuck for me was this: “The difference between an amateur and a professional is in their habits. A professional has professional habits.”

Many people who aspire to be a writer or excel in other professions engage in what Pressfield called “shadow careers.” Shadow careers are metaphors for what people want. “Are you getting your Ph.D. in Elizabethan studies because you’re afraid to write the tragedies and comedies you know you have inside you? Are you living the drugs-and-booze half of the musician’s life without actually writing the music?”

The attributes of a shadow life are denial and addiction. Addiction, Pressfield wrote, is “excruciatingly boring. It’s boring because it’s predictable – the lies, the evasions, the transparent self-justifications and self-exonerations.”

Many artists are addicts, but they are just running away from their craft. “We enact the addiction instead of embracing the calling. Why? Because to follow the calling requires work. It’s hard. It hurts.” Amateurs give in to what Pressfield called Resistance. “Resistance hates two qualities above all others: concentration and depth. Why? Because when we work with focus and we work deep, we succeed.”

Resistance, on the other hand, keeps the amateur unfocused. “Have you checked your email in the last half hour?”

Another quality of the amateur is narcissism. “He continuously rates himself in relation to others, becoming self-inflated if his fortunes rise, and desperately anxious if his star should fall.” The amateur lets fear paralyze him, is easily distracted and seeks instant gratification.

Turning pro changes your life. “When we turn pro, we stop running from our fears. We turn around and face them.” The pro structures his hours differently. “We plan our activities in order to accomplish an aim. And we bring our will to bear so that we stick to this resolution.”

One of the most valuable parts of this book is a list from his earlier work, The War of Art, of the qualities of a professional. Among these are:

  1. The professional shows up every day.
  2. The professional stays on the job all day.
  3. The professional is committed over the long haul.
  4. For the professional, the stakes are high and real.
  5. The professional is patient.
  6. The professional seeks order.
  7. The professional demystifies.
  8. The professional acts in the face of fear.
  9. The professional accepts no excuses.
  10. The professional plays it as it lays.
  11. The professional is prepared.

In Turning Pro, Pressfield lists some additional qualities. The professional is courageous, will not be distracted (“The amateur tweets. The pro works.”), is ruthless with himself, has compassion for himself, lives in the present, and defers gratification. And, the professional does not wait for inspiration. “He knows that when the muse sees his butt in the chair, she will deliver.”

The professional does the work for itself and no other reason. “When we do the work for itself alone, our pursuit of a career (or a loving or fame or wealth or notoriety) turns into something else, something loftier and nobler, which may never even have thought about or aspired to at the beginning. It turns into a practice.”

While Turning Pro focuses on the habits of writers, Pressfield also throws in some craft advice. He urges writers to work over their heads, write what they don’t know, and take what the defense gives you. Professionals also know how to play hurt, to keep writing when facing adversity.

On a recent Saturday morning, I slept in. It was a brilliant summer day and I was headed to the beach later. That evening I ran into a published author, who told me he awoke at six o’clock in the morning and wrote for a couple of hours. He was finished writing before I even woke up that morning. That’s what I call a pro.

Do you see yourself as a pro? What habits make you a pro?

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