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There are books that we return to again and again for guidance as writers and creatives.
The 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.
You can listen to my interviews with Steven himself:
The Lion’s Gate, Fighting Resistance And Mental Toughness For Writers
Here are some of my lessons learned from Turning Pro:
- “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.
Have you Turned Pro yet? Do any of these statements resonate with you? What do you struggle with as a writer?