The War of Art, Part 2: Becoming a Professional

We’ve all said it at least a million times: “If only I could get motivated, I would get started on this book/redecorating project/degree/workout!”  How often have we just kept searching for that one thing that will make us finally get off our duffs and take action on that idea that we have?  If you’re like me at all, it’s pretty easy to come up with excuses… I mean reasons… why you can’t start right now.  This is Resistance.

Today, I bring you another installment of author Steven Pressfield’s wonderful advice from his book The War of Art: Break Through the Blocks and Win Your Inner Creative Battles. In these selections, you will see what our attitude should be toward those questions of motivation.  The second section of this book is devoted to ways of “Combating Resistance.”

Professionals and Amateurs

Aspiring artists defeated by Resistance share one trait.  They all think like amateurs.   They have not yet turned pro.

The moment an artist turns pro is as epochal as the birth of his first child.  With one stroke, everything changes.  I can state absolutely that the term of my life can be divided into two parts: before turning pro, and after.

To be clear: When I say professional, I don’t mean doctors and lawyers, those of the “professions.”  I mean the Professional as an ideal.  The professional in contrast to the amateur.  Consider the differences.

The amateur plays for fun.  The professional plays for keeps.

To the amateur, the game is his avocation.  To the pro it’s his vocation.

The amateur plays part-time, the professional full-time.

The amateur is a weekend warrior.  The professional is there seven days a week.

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.

The professional must love to — he dedicates his life to it.  He commits full-time.

That’s what I mean when I say turning pro.

Resistance hates it when we turn pro.

How To Be Miserable

In my younger days dodging the draft, I somehow wound up in the Marine Corps.  There’s a myth that Marine training turns baby-faced recruits into bloodthirsty killers.  Trust me, the Marine Corps is not that efficient.  What it does teach, however, is a lot more useful.

The Marine Corps teaches you how to be miserable.

This is invaluable for an artist.

Marines love to be miserable.  Marines derive a perverse satisfaction in having colder chow, crappier equipment, and higher casualty rates than any outfit of dogfaces, swab jockeys, or flyboys, all of whom they despise.  Why?  Because these candy-a**** don’t know how to be miserable.

The artist committing himself to his calling has volunteered for hell, whether he knows it or not.  He will be dining for the duration on a diet f isolation, rejection, self-doubt, despair, ridicule, contempt, and humiliation.

The artist must be like that Marine.  He has to know how to be miserable.  He has to love being miserable.  He has to take pride in being more miserable than any other coldier or swabbie or jet jockey.  Because this is war, baby.  And war is hell.

A Professional Demystifies

A pro views her work as craft, not art.  Not because she believes art is devoid of a mystical dimension.  On the contrary.  She understands that all creative endeavor is holy, but she doesn’t dwell on it.  She knows if she thinks about that too much, it will paralyze her.  So she concentrates on technique.  The professional masters how, and leaves the what and why to the gods… she doesn’t wait for inspiration, she acts in the anticipation of its apparition.  The professional is acutely aware of the intangibles that go into inspiration.  Out of respect for them, she lets them work.  She grants them their sphere while she concentrates on hers.

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.

This whole idea of turning pro sounds awesome right!?!  When I got to this part of the book, I thought, “Yes! I’m a pro!  I’m uncompromising… blah, blah, blah.”   But then I kept reading. I guess turning pro isn’t as glorious as it sounds, unfortunately.  Not every endeavor needs the intensity suggested here, but you can decide whatever level of “going pro” that is required to accomplish whatever you wish to accomplish.  When I read this the first time, I wrote, “Shut up and do your work!” on my bedroom mirror… It helped! Check back next Thursday for The War of Art, Part 3: Invoking Your Muse.

Tanya Barber

Tanya Barber has a Bachelor’s Degree in Graphic Design and a Master’s in Theater History. She currently lives in Kansas City, Missouri but is anticipating a move to Seattle in the near future. Check out her blog to find out more.

4 thoughts on “The War of Art, Part 2: Becoming a Professional

  • I’m a professional doctor, musician, and writer, and good at what I do, esp the Doc gig. I’m not a bit miserable, though. In fact, I’ve never gone to work for a living yet, and I’ll get all the way to the finish line and never have to.

    Dr. B

  • Dr. B – Very glad to hear it! These sections of the book are not necessarily meant for people who have already done the hard work of honing the craft and are living with and using their talents already. To me it is very helpful when I knew there was something that I was capable of doing, but I have yet to do the hard parts. The practicing, writing, learning something new… or the day-to-day putting shoulder to it and pushing for completion is sometimes not fun for me. The end product is something to be proud of, but it’s not always easy to get there.

  • Dr. B – Good for you! Sounds like you can be an inspiration to the rest of us who aren’t quite “there” yet. And proof that people shouldn’t have to “settle” but can aspire to do what they love…and get paid for it.

    Thanks for the comment!

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