Book Club | War of Art Book 2: What Is a Pro?

In the Book 1 Discussion, we talked about how in Stephen Pressfield’s The War of Art, he names the enemy in the war: Resistance. You can read the Book 1 Discussion Here.

| Book 2 Summary | The Amateur | The Professional |
| Book 2 Discussion | Your Homework |
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Book2
Combatting Resistance
Turning Pro

The second part of The War of Art is about preparing the writer or creative for battle by going over the one and only game plan that will defeat Resistance: Turning Pro.

But what does it mean to “turn pro?”

The opening quote to the section says it quite aptly:

It is one thing to study war
And another to live the warrior’s Life

~ Telamon of Arcadia (5th century BCE)

In the same vein that Book 1 walks the reader through the characteristics and symptoms of Resistance, Pressfield walks the reader through the characteristics of a professional creative and sets it in contrast to the amateur.

The distinction is simple: an amateur does not fully embrace the creative life. That is, they only work while inspired, on the weekend, or “for fun,” while the professional takes the life of a creative seriously, practices and shows up every day, and treats it like a second job even if it is not yet bringing in an income.

The Amateurs

“The word amateur comes from the Latin root meaning ‘to love.’ The conventional interpretation is that the amateur pursues his calling out of love, while the pro does it for money. Not the way I see it. In my view, the amateur does not love the game enough. If he did, he would not pursue it as a sideline, distinct from his ‘real’ vocation.”

Pressfield argues that the amateur does not take his art seriously. It is simply a hobby. While there is the love of the craft while they are practicing it, the love isn’t intense enough to have a professional attitude about. As he says, the amateur doesn’t love it enough to “devote his life to it of his own free will.”

There is an almost fear for the amateur of putting their work out there. Whereas they might be willing to show their work to those who are close to them, they aren’t willing to expose it to the wider world to get real and true feedback.

The amateur is the hobbyist, the one who says “someday” instead of “today.”

The Professional

When defining the professional, Pressfield shares a story of Somerset Maugham who said, “I write only when inspiration strikes. Fortunately, it strikes every morning at nine o’ clock sharp.”

In response, Pressfield comments:

“Maugham reckoned another, deeper truth: That by performing the mundane physical act of sitting down and starting to work, he set in motion a mysterious but infallible sequence of events that would produce inspiration, as surely as if the goddess had synchronized her watch to this.”

Regarding Resistance, which, in Book 1 is said to come about every day, and will be a constant enemy, the only way it can be defeated is to not see it, to work anyway. If you show up to your station, ready to work, ready to put fingers to keyboard or pen to paper, every day at the same time, then you will write, regardless of what Resistance in its many forms has to say.

Pressfield goes on to explain that every one of us is a pro in some area already. After all, what is a pro if it is not short for professional? A professional is someone who does something for a living. So, as long as you are working some form of job, or earning some form of money from it, then you are a professional.

What is the difference between say a hobbyist chicken breeder and a professional chicken breeder? It’s the attitude that goes toward it. They might both enter and place in the same competitions, might both sell birds on the side, but the dedication that goes into it and the seriousness with which chicken breeding is viewed is what makes the difference.

Pressfield says that there are aspects that we can use from our day-job professions to put it toward our writing or creative aspirations:

  1. We show up every day
  2. We show up, no matter what
  3. We stay on the job all day
  4. We are committed for the long haul
  5. The stakes are high and real
  6. We accept remuneration for our labor
  7. We do not over identify with our jobs
  8. We master the technique of our jobs
  9. We have a sense of humor about our jobs
  10. We receive praise or blame in the real world

I’ll return to these later in the discussion section of this post. Pressfield also goes into detail of what each of these points means, though during the discussion I’ll only focus on a couple of them (if you don’t have a copy of the book, you should remedy that and read more about these qualities).

Because the professional is doing it out of love, they are patient with the game, knowing that it will take a while to build up the name and to develop their own brand of art.

“The professional steels himself at the start of a project, reminding himself it is the Iditarod, not the sixty-yard dash. He conserves his energy. He prepares his mind for the long haul. He sustains himself with the knowledge that if he can just keep those huskies mushing, sooner or later, the sled will pull into Nome.”

The name of the game is persistence and consistency. When the professional shows up constantly, then there are results. Furthermore, a professional is always after enhancing their technique and profession, thus, they know that they have never learned it all. They have never perfected the craft. Instead, they are moving forward, and so long as they are moving forward, then progress is being made.

The Discussion

Personally. I think that this is the most valuable section of the book. There are many writers out there who are easing themselves into the creative life, and while they want to sell books and make a living from it, they haven’t set their mind to the professional momentum.

There is nothing wrong with being an amateur. There is nothing wrong with writing for the love of it when you get an idea or working on something part time at irregular intervals and frequency.

However, if you want to finish your book and being your writing career, then you must think and act like a pro.

Mindset is everything wherever you want to find success. If you don’t go into something with the seriousness that it demands, then your chances are slimmer.

We Accept Remuneration for Our Labor

There are many writers out there who have finished their books, they know they have something good and they have it published in some form or another. Friend and family think they’re showing support by saying they want a copy, but what they mean is that they want a free copy. And the new writer who is excited just to know that their books are on people’s shelves will happily do this at expense to them.

Your work, your time, your labor is worth something. It is worth the value you put on it. While yes, you want to do something nice for those who are close to you, remember that if they really want to support you, they’ll pay for what you produce.

Just like you wouldn’t go to work for someone else for free, don’t sell yourself short.

We Do Not Over Identify with Our Jobs

This is a characteristic that is assumed regarding the average worker. Later on in this section, Pressfield goes on to explain that we are not our work.

The professional identifies with her consciousness and her will, not with the matter that her consciousness and will manipulate to serve her art.

I used to have a shirt from a Pacific Northwest poet, Gary Schneider, which read, “Be the mountain, not the mountaineer.” I always interpreted this to mean that you need to immerse yourself in your passion so deeply that you become it. You understand it because it is you and you are it.

In the context of say, The Art of War or even in this book, the War of Art, the idea is that there is something which must be overcome and defeated: the enemy. In order to defeat the enemy, or mountain in Schneider’s quote, you must know it, and the best way to know it is to seek empathy and thus understanding of it.

There are many quotes about writing and creating, expressing that you must become your craft. Pressfield argues differently, that you should be a degree separate of your craft if you are to be the professional.

I struggle with this. I had to read this section several times before I understood the benefit of this. However, my interpretation of this is that if you get too close, then your identity rests on your craft. If your craft fails, which it will at one point or another, then it can be what destroys you.

When you have those down moments, when a story is rejected, when you get seemingly negative feedback, or even if a project is too hard, it can too easily be taken personally. If this happens then I can be devastating for the creator. However, if you can be separate of your craft, then you can look at the criticism or difficulty differently. It isn’t something that’s happening to you, but rather something that is happening to that which is outside of you. You can always fix and adjust what you have created, or you can look elsewhere to submit it.

Yes, become and develop your craft like you, yourself develop as an individual. Understand and empathize with it, but don’t get so close that it becomes you. If a project doesn’t survive, you will.

Your Homework

Are you a professional or are you an amateur?

Spend some time with your journal, thinking about the steps you need to take in order to cultivate a professional mindset about your work. What steps can you implement now?

You don’t need to quite your job and write full time in order to be considered a professional. But, you might need to ask yourself where you can carve out an hour or two a day to devote to your writing.

If you’re already a professional, then what wisdom can you bestow on those who are struggling to get that mindset? What is the next step you can take to continue to grow in your professional mindset?

“Remember what we said about fear, love, and Resistance. The more you love your art/calling/enterprise, the more important its accomplishment is to the evolution of your soul, the more you will fear it and the more Resistance you will experience facing it.”

No matter where you are in your writing, whether you are the pro or the amateur, ask yourself what fears are holding you back from taking the next step? What can you do to quash that fear?

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


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