How to Become a Professional Writer
In our fantasy worlds, the person we want to be is so clear.
We’re millionaires, successful musicians and great writers. We spend each day living life to the fullest. There aren’t any problems, no bumps in the road — we envision our success, and there it is, in our imagination at least.
Sadly, this is where many of us will stay; in our heads overthinking everything.
“The real can never equal the imagined, for it is easy to form ideals but very difficult to realise them.” — Baltasar Gracian from ‘The Art of Wordly Wisdom’
The devastating truth of the matter is there will always be something in the way of our success. There will always be something we have to consciously, and uncomfortably push past in order to win. There will always be resistance.
One book taught me everything on how to become a professional. Steven Pressfield’s “The War of Art.” Here are its greatest lessons.
Becoming a professional
All of us are pros already. We’re pros at our jobs.
We may not like our jobs, but that’s beside the point. According to Pressfield, there are three takeaways from your job that you can apply to your writing career:
- You show up every single day. It doesn’t matter if your motivation is only to not get fired. You show up whether you want to or not.
- You show up no matter what. Even if you’re sick, tired, or miserable, you still go to your job. You punch-in even when you don’t want to be there.
- You stay on the job all day. You might be distracting yourself with other work or prolonged unproductive scrolls through Twitter, but it doesn’t matter. Your hand is always on the wheel ready to turn at any moment. If your boss calls you or shouts to “get back to work,” you do it.
This all seems so simple when stripped of your 9–5 job. Often, however, we’re doing the complete opposite in our creative work. We write only when we want to. There are no stakes in our writing careers; no getting fired, or no I need to make money doing this or else I can’t afford rent.
The amateur writer’s words have no teeth. They reflect their poor habits as someone aspiring to be a professional writer, who may not have the work ethic to become one.
One thing stands in your way when you go pro
If you want to walk down this road then I have to warn you. There’s one thing so horrible, so God-awful that will stand in your way at every turn. It’s called resistance.
Resistance cannot be reasoned with, according to Pressfield. It’s Michael Myers or the shark in Jaws; it keeps coming back no matter what. Resistance is the procrastination you commit until you’re lying on your death bed. It’s the self-dramatization you act out to make your friends think you’re a living soap opera.
Resistance is always making yourself out to be the victim. It’s blaming your genetics, lack of talent, and blaming the world for not making things fairer for you. Resistance is a pathetic, shameless scam-job. It’s the car salesman selling you a quick-and-easy fix. It doesn’t play fair.
This leads you to two options:
- You can blame the world for creating resistance. Play the victim. “Why are things unfair,” we might say. “If only I was born to a millionaire,” or “why didn’t my parents raise me to become a writer?”
- Or, you can acknowledge the playing field isn’t leveled entirely, but it is fair enough to give us a chance. We have the tools at our disposal to become something great. The only thing that stands in your way is yourself.
Unfortunately, there is no end-credit sequence to resistance; never a day when you say I’ve beaten resistance for good. Instead you have to show up, like a professional, and battle.
Resistance has won enough. Don’t let it win anymore.
Other pros are spelling it out for you
Every day, Pressfield concludes his morning routine by sitting at his desk and writing for four hours. He doesn’t care how much he writes. Or, if it’s any good. He only cares that he battled with resistance, and won.
Other writers have said the same:
“I hate writing, I love having written.” — Dorthy Parker
“I write only when inspiration strikes. Fortunately it strikes every morning at nine o’clock sharp.” — William Somerset Maugham
“If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot. There’s no way around these two things that I’m aware of, no shortcut.” — Stephen King
“What is your advice to young writers?”
“Drink, fuck and smoke plenty of cigarettes.” — Charles Bukowski
Ok, wait. That last one was supposed to be for another article. I’m leaving it in any way.
The War of Art
Do not let fear stop you.
As Pressfield illuminates in “The War of Art”, let fear guide you:
“Fear is good. Like self-doubt, fear is an indicator. Fear tells us what we have to do.”
“Remember our rule of thumb: The more scared we are of a work or calling, the more sure we can be that we have to do it.”
“Resistance is experienced as fear; the degree of fear equates to the strength of Resistance. Therefore the more fear we feel about a specific enterprise, the more certain we can be that that enterprise is important to us and to the growth of our soul. That’s why we feel so much Resistance. If it meant nothing to us, there’d be no Resistance.”
You can despise the world and make it 1% worse, which may compound into others thinking as cynically or being as miserable as you. Or you can be the hero of your own story — you can become a professional — and inspire others to do the same.
You won’t know unless you try.
“Creative work is not a selfish act or a bid for attention on the part of the actor,” said Pressfield. “It’s a gift to the world and every being in it. Don’t cheat us your contribution. Give us what you got.”
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