Recommended Book For Creatives: Turning Pro By Steven Pressfield

There are books that we return to again and again for guidance as writers and creatives.

Turning Pro Steven PressfieldThe War of Art by Steven Pressfield is one of those key resources. Now he has a follow-up, Turning Pro, which is a challenge to make a decision on whether we are professionals or amateurs. This book seriously kicked my ass and I absolutely recommend you read it.

Here are some of my lessons learned:

  • “The difference between an amateur and a professional is in their habits. A professional has professional habits.” This was the over-arching message for me and something I have been pondering for a while now. The habits of professional writers are around how they get their books written, but the main habit is that they actually get the writing done. Pro writers write, and keep writing over time. The successful pro writers, like Pressfield, have multiple books that they have continued to produce even when sales didn’t perform as they would have liked. They aren’t put off by short term disappointments. They produce a body of work over time, and keep creating.
  • Distractions and displacement activities are the things that keep us as amateurs. “When we’re living as amateurs, we’re running away from our calling – meaning our work, our destiny, the obligation to become our truest and highest selves.” Distractions might include blogging, twitter and facebook (when they aren’t serving a business purpose in my opinion). They might also be aspects of life that we have attracted but actually stop us from creating. For me, this means curtailing my public speaking engagements to maximum one per month. In terms of ‘fun’ distractions, there’s no harm in them. We all need fun. But Pressfield says “lives go down the tubes one repetition at a time, one deflection at a time, 140 characters at a time.” So watching one hour of TV a night allows for creativity, but watching four hours a night and more at weekends will stop you from achieving your creative goals over time.
  • “When you turn pro, your life gets very simple.” I have felt this recently. In the move out of my day job, we completely simplified our life in order to adjust outgoings and enable me to make the move into a full-time author-entrepreneur with no financial stress. Now we own very little, I feel much more free and the stress I used to feel in terms of ‘keeping up’ is gone. Similarly, in a career writing sense, I feel that I just want to work on my creative projects. That is my simple goal. It’s actually a relief!
  • “You and I, who are artists and entrepreneurs, live a life that’s closer to natural … We migrate. We follow the Muse instead of the sun.” I find natural metaphors of creativity to be a great relief because there is a sense of ebb and flow about them. We cannot expect to be at the peak of creativity all the time. We need those seasonal breaks, those fallow times when the mind can rest and recharge. I also like the idea of the creative project as coming to fruition, then we pick that crop and move onto the next project. That harvest goes into the world and we are disconnected from it. That emotional distance from our creation is something I am still working on!
  • “Resistance hates concentration and depth … Resistance wants to keep us shallow and unfocused. So it makes the shallow and superficial intoxicating. Have you checked your email in the last half an hour?” Going back to professional habits, one of the essential ones seems to be that email programs, twitter and facebook must be turned off during the creative time. No multi-tasking. The Muse won’t tolerate the distractions. This is something I am working on daily at the moment.
  • “The amateur continuously rates himself in relation to others, becoming self-inflated if his fortunes rise, and desperately anxious if his star should fall. The amateur craves third-party validation.” OUCH. I know I get ‘comparisonitis‘ at times, but I try to see other authors’ success as an inspiration to try harder. But I sometimes fall into this trap. How about you?
  • When we turn pro, “we now structure our hours not to flee from fear, but to confront it and overcome it. We plan our activities in order to accomplish an aim. And we bring our will to bear so that we stick to this resolution. This changes our days completely.” I love this comment because this absolutely describes how professional writers get their work done. Their days are focused around writing, researching or aspects of accomplishing the aim that is the latest book. This goal enables you to say no to things that don’t fit with accomplishing it.
  • Turning pro is a decision we make every day. I have had this quote from The War of Art on my wall for 8 months now. “On the field of the self stand a knight and a dragon. You are the knight. Resistance is the dragon. The battle must be fought anew every day.” Every day I have to make the decision to be a professional writer. I have to write and not be distracted by the other things that call for my time. There are many days when I lose. But increasingly I am winning the battle more days than most, which means my creative output will develop. No one said this was easy! There’s also a great chapter in the book on the qualities of a professional which is a huge challenge but something we can all aspire to every day.
  • There are two rewards for what we do as professional creatives. There’s the conventional reward – money, applause, attention. Then there’s the psychological reward – the practice of writing and creativity that sustains us even if the conventional reward is practically non-existent. We need to work for the latter, not the former. “Our intention as artists is to get better, to go deeper, to work closer and closer to the bone.”
  • An interesting point about the book itself. It is independently published, the first book from Black Irish Books which is a collaboration between Steven Pressfield and Shawn Coyne. Pressfield also did a book with Seth Godin’s Domino Project, Do The Work. Clearly the new methods of publishing are trickling through into the mainstream …

I highly recommend you buy this book.

I have it in both ebook and print book formats so I can have it on my desk for the days when resistance is beating me up.

Buy it on now – or check out the other stores here.

Have you Turned Pro yet? Do any of these statements resonate with you? What do you struggle with as a writer?

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  1. says

    WOW! Definately sounds like something I need to read! My favorite part was:

    “When we’re living as amateurs, we’re running away from our calling – meaning our work, our destiny, the obligation to become our truest and highest selves.”

    That probably sums me up best. There have been months I have gone without writing simply b/c I didn’t feel like it. Or I didn’t know where Alcatraz was going. I did everything except write. Facebook, Twitter, Youtube, blogged, revamped my website. I even signed up on Pinterest and Goodreads! A long way to go but at least I have left the building.

  2. says

    Comparisonitis – I love this. I’m afflicted with it from time to time too. I definitely need to check out that book. It seems great.

  3. says

    I agree with just about everything in the book! Especially with how we can re-structure our lives to support our creativity instead of running away from it. Kudos on abandoning much of the material side of life that keeps us trapped. Keeping up with the Kardashians, etc., is pretty much a direct route to unhappiness–and no books written!

  4. Brian says

    This is a great review Joanna. Thank you for this and I look forward to reading it.

    I’m a great fan of Steve’s and have also read his two other books on the craft. I’m expecting some overlap, but reinforcement of his philosophy and wisdom is certainly a good thing.

  5. says

    I will have to check this out in a few months since my biggest struggle has been with spending more time reading about being a writer than actually writing. I’ve put myself on a strict, three-month book fast that ends in September. That’s my deadline to finish my short story collection. After that, I’d love to read this.

  6. says

    Thanks Jo, this is fantastic. I have been a pro writer for many years, and yet as a novelist, definitely an amateur, at least until recently when I’ve started trying to change that. (I still have a way to go!)

    The biggest challenge for me has been getting rid of the idea that I can’t write fiction “unless I feel like it”. I never would have said that about the other types of writing I do (and neither would my bosses have stood for it 😉 ).

    Fact is, I’ve discovered I can write fiction if I put my mind to it, even if the muse is off sick or holidaying in the Outer Hebrides. Sometimes when I just start writing, she shows up after a while. And even if she doesn’t, later I can’t really tell which parts were written with her help and which were just slogging.

    But you are still right about needing the fallow times. Good to program into a day, a week, or a month the kind of rhythm that allows the mind to focus on different things, kinda like the ebb and flow of the tide. I’m not organised enough about that (yet) but I’m making it a goal. :-)

  7. says

    Amazing post, Joanna! I will definitely read this book. One of my problems is not allowing myself the ‘fallow’ times thinking I have to be doing something in relation to being a writer all the time. It’s not good. I have to discipline myself to stick to a schedule so I can do everything – writing, exercising, spending time with hubs, my hobby and visiting family-over the course of every week.
    I really need this book! And the War of Art. Thanks for a wonderful review!

  8. says

    Comparisonitis? Is that what this annoying feeling is called? I get it every time I check out Zoe Winters stats in the Amazon Kindle Store, and I can’t help but think, I’m too young to get into self-publishing, everyone who has succeeded at it is much older than I am, blah, blah…Nice to know that I’m not alone in that experience. I must check out Steven Pressfield; this book sounds uplifting and impressive. Thanks for sharing your thoughts, JoAnna.

    • says

      Zoe is a rock star in terms of word count! She is one of my superhero writers, for sure. I have a couple of interviews with her on the podcast – we had a real laugh :)
      In terms of age, Amanda Hocking started writing at 14 and she made it to Kindle millionaire at 26 I think. Christopher Paolini was a teenage writing star …
      the benefit of being young as well is that you will be around after the rest of us croak it!
      I’m 37 and I look at my writing heroes, bestselling authors, who are actually in their 50s and 60s now – like Stephen King. I feel happy that I have 15/20 years to make it to serious bestseller status!
      Thanks :)

      • says

        So many great authors started in their 30s, 40s, 50s and didn’t achieve success until much later — Bram Stoker, PD James, Penelope Fitzgerald, James Michener, Richard Adams, to name just a few (I write about a lot of them on my blog.) A life well-lived incubates the best material!

        Thank you for this review, Joanna. Like many, I think I was under the mistaken idea that just making money doing something qualifies for pro status. Pressfield clearly delineates the reality — and promise — of turning pro. I plan to get this one in hardback too!

  9. says

    Jo, this is quite possibly your best post yet. Honest and upfront, as ever, realistic and uplifting. You ask if anything resonates – OH, yes! For me, the issue is that I live my life with words, but in terms of helping others, whether it’s teaching literature or helping creative writing clients. As this is what I see as my ‘profession’, this is what I prioritise over my ‘art’ – and it’s my own writing which is relegated down the To-Do list. I struggle with this all the time, and it’s a particular frustration just now with a new project only just started and being derailed by the ‘profession’ (which I also love, by the way). You quote some great lines from this book (which I’m going to print up and stick on the wall!) and I’m fascinated to hear how it has affected your view of your work and your priorities. Wishing you continued success and clarity, Jo. Lorna x

    • says

      I’m glad you enjoyed it Lorna – you’ll get a lot out of the book. I have the hard copy on my desk where it stares at me and keeps me focused.
      I think we need to constantly be challenging ourselves on this – in terms of the ‘profession’ side, we will make more income in the long run by focusing on scalable products – those which we create once, and sell multiple times. So books and online products are great examples. Versus speaking or consulting/coaching which are time based so not scalable. I also struggle with this balance but I really believe it will help us creatively and also professionally in the long run.
      Happy writing :)

  10. says

    Loved “The War of Art”…so will definitely need to read this one:) Sounds like it’s just what I need …I definitely need to start having more pro habits. I have gradually moved from only doing a few hundred words a day now to around 1500…so it has been better. Sounds like I really need to read this book…I like this quote “On the field of the self stand a knight and a dragon. You are the knight. Resistance is the dragon. The battle must be fought anew every day.” So I’ll pull out my sword :-) Great review Joanna…thanks:)

  11. says

    Hi Joanna,

    Thanks for providing the review. I too have read The War of Art and the mental images he creates by personifying resistance remain vividly in my memory. Resistance isn’t a defect in me but an external response that each of us should expect if we set out to do what we are created to fulfil our purpose/calling! I’ll be downloading my kindle copy of Turning Pro very soon.

    I also I’ve been listening to your podcasts for a few months now and find them very inspiring. I appreciate the variety of interviews. You make the idea of establishing an author platform less intimidating. Thanks


    • says

      Hi Dan, I’m so glad you enjoy the podcast :) I love hearing from listeners as it’s hard to get feedback from an audio perspective, although I might introduce a phone-in question service so I can hear from people.
      Building a platform just takes time and prolonged effort. A little each day is less intimidating than going hardcore over a short time :)


  1. […] Joanna Penn, creator of The Creative Penn, has a wonderfully inspiring post on her blog this week. Recommended Book For Creatives: Turning Pro By Steven Pressfield This is a must read post by Joanna as well as a must read book, The Art of War being the […]

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