The War of Art – Turning Pro

The second section in The War of Art, by Steven Pressfield, exposes all of us artists (well, almost all of us) for what we really are – amateurs – and explains the simple but profound differences between an “amateur” and a “professional.” These are the terms Pressfield uses to label dabbling hobbyists vs. dedicated, focused, disciplined craftsmen. (Nomar Garciaparra, by the way, is one of my favorite pros. A hard-working dude who’s an artist with the bat and glove.) I can’t resist sharing a few excerpts:

“The amateur is a weekend warrior. The professional is there seven days a week. …The professional loves [his game] so much, he commits his life to it…. Resistance hates it when we turn pro.”

“Do I really believe that my work is crucial to the planet’s survival? Of course not. But it’s as important to me as catching that mouse is to the hawk circling outside my window. He’s hungry. He needs a kill. So do I.”

“The payoff of playing-the-game-for-money is not the money (which you may never see anyway, even after you turn pro). The payoff is that playing the game for money produces the proper professional attitude. It inculcates the lunch-pail mentality, the hard-core, hard-head, hard-hat state of mind that shows up for work despite rain or snow or dark of night and slugs it out day after day.”

“The pro understands that all creative endeavor is holy, but she doesn’t dwell on it…. She concentrates on technique. The professional masters how, and leaves what and why to the gods…. The sign of the amateur is overglorification of and preoccupation with the mystery. The professional shuts up. She doesn’t talk about it. She does her work.”

“The professional conducts his business in the real world. Adversity, injustice, bad hops and rotten calls, even good breaks and lucky bounces all comprise the ground over which the campaign must be waged. The field is level, the professional understands, only in heaven.”

“The professional is prepared, each day, to confront his own self-sabotage. He understands that Resistance is fertile and ingenious. It will throw stuff at him that he’s never seen before. ….His goal is not victory (success will come by itself when it wants to) but to handle himself, his insides, as sturdily and steadily as he can.”

“The professional cannot take rejection personally because to do so reinforces Resistance. Editors are not the enemy; critics are not the enemy. Resistance is the enemy. The battle is inside our own heads. We cannot let external criticism, even if it’s true, fortify our internal foe….. The Bhagavad Gita tells us we have a right only to our labor, not to the fruits of our labor. All the warrior can give is his life; all the athlete can do is leave everything on the field….. The professional gives an ear to criticism, seeking to learn and grow. But she never forgets that Resistance is using criticism against her on a far more diabolical level.”

“An amateur lets the negative opinion of others unman him. He takes external criticism to heart, allowing it to trump his own belief in himself and his work. Resistance loves this.”

“The professional cannot allow the actions of others to define his reality. Tomorrow morning the critic will be gone, but the writer will still be there facing the blank page. Nothing matters but that he keep working…..The professional blows off critics. He doesn’t even hear them.”

“The professional endures adversity. He lets the birdcrap splash down on his slicker, remembering that it comes clean with a heavy-duty hosing. He himself, his creative center, cannot be buried, even beneath a mountain of guano. His core is bulletproof. Nothing can touch it unless he lets it.”

“Why does Resistance yield to our turning pro? Because Resistance is a bully. Resistance has no strength of its own; its power derives entirely from our fear of it. A bully will back down before the runtiest twerp who stands his ground.”

“The essence of professionalism is the focus upon the work and its demands, while we are doing it, to the exclusion of all else.”

“There’s no mystery to turning pro. It’s a decision brought about by an act of will. We make up our mind to view ourselves as pros and we do it. Simple as that.”

There’s something disarming and inspiring about Pressfield’s stark definitions of amateurs and pros. There’s nowhere to hide – you’re either an amateur, or you’re a pro, and there’s really no in-between. And despite the seemingy superhuman commitment and dedication being a pro requires, we’re all dying to be a pro – at something. OK, so if you’re gonna go pro, what will be your vocation? Pressfield writes, “Look in your own heart. Unless I’m crazy, right now a still small voice is piping up, telling you as it has ten thousand times, the calling that is yours and yours alone. You know it. No one has to tell you.” Acknowledging that voice is scary stuff…. very scary stuff. But so is dying and not having heeded that voice.

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35 responses to “The War of Art – Turning Pro

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