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Writing Wednesdays

Writing Wednesdays

Why I Write, Part One

By Steven Pressfield
Published: September 21, 2016

 

I stumbled onto the website of a novelist I had never heard of. (He’s probably never heard of me either.) What I saw there got me thinking.

What if we worked our whole life and never sold a single painting?

What if we worked our whole life and never sold a single painting?

The site was excellent. It displayed all fourteen of the novelist’s books in “cover flow” format. They looked great. A couple had been published by HarperCollins, several others by Random House. The author was the real deal, a thoroughgoing pro with a body of work produced over decades.

Somehow I found myself thinking, What if this excellent writer had never been published?

Would we still think of him as a success?

(In other words, I started pondering the definition of “success” for a writer.)

Suppose, I said to myself … suppose this writer had written all these novels, had had their covers designed impeccably, had their interiors laid out to the highest professional standards.

Suppose he could never find a publisher.

Suppose he self-published all fourteen of his novels.

Suppose his books had found a readership of several hundred, maybe a thousand or two. But never more.

Suppose he had died with that as the final tally.

Would we say he had “failed?”

Would we declare his writing life a waste?

[I’m assuming, for the sake of this exercise, that our writer had been able somehow to support himself and his family throughout his life or that, if he had been supported by someone else (as van Gogh was looked after by his brother Theo), that that was okay with him and with the person supporting him.]

Then I asked myself, What if that was me?

How would I feel about those fourteen books? Would I consider them an exercise in folly? Vanity? Demented self-indulgence?

Would I say to myself, “What’s wrong with you? Why do you continue this exercise in futility? Wake up! Get a job!”

Could I justify all that effort and somehow convince myself that it was worthy, that it had been an honorable use of my time on Earth?

It won’t surprise you, if you’re at all familiar with my thinking in this area, to hear that I would immediately answer yes.

Yes, I would consider that hypothetical writer a success.

I might even declare him a spectacular success.

No, his writing life was not wasted.

No, he had not squandered his time on the planet.

And yes, I would say the same if that writer were me.

My own real-life career is not that far off from this hypothetical. I wrote for seventeen years before I got my first dollar (a check for $3500 for an option on a screenplay that never came near getting made.) I wrote for twenty-eight years before my first novel was published.

What, then, constitutes success for a writer? Is it money? Sales? Recognition? Is it “expressing herself?” Is it “getting her ideas out there?”

Or is it something else?

I’m going to take the next few weeks’ posts and do a little self-examination on this subject, which I think is especially critical in this era of the web and Amazon and print-on-demand and instant and easy self-publishing, these days when literally a million new books appear each year. How do we, how do you and I navigate these waters, not just financially or professionally but psychologically, emotionally, spiritually?

[Thanks to our friend David Y.B. Kaufmann for suggesting this topic.]

 


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Turning Pro

The follow-up to the bestseller The War of Art, Turning Pro navigates the passage from the amateur life to a professional practice.

You don’t need to take a course or buy a product. All you have to do is change your mind.
—Steven Pressfield

Turning Pro is the first official book released by Mr. Pressfield on his own publishing company, together with Shawn Coyne, Black Irish Books.

TURNING PRO IS FREE, BUT IT’S NOT EASY.

When we turn pro, we give up a life that we may have become extremely comfortable with. We give up a self that we have come to identify with and to call our own.

TURNING PRO IS FREE, BUT IT DEMANDS SACRIFICE.

The passage from amateur to professional is often achieved via an interior odyssey whose trials are survived only at great cost, emotionally, psychologically and spiritually. We pass through a membrane when we turn pro. It’s messy and it’s scary. We tread in blood when we turn pro.

WHAT WE GET WHEN WE TURN PRO.

What we get when we turn pro is we find our power. We find our will and our voice and we find our self-respect. We become who we always were but had, until then, been afraid to embrace and live out.

[The following are the first two chapters of Turning Pro:]

TURNING PRO

BOOK ONE THE AMATEUR LIFE

1. THE HUMAN CONDITION

The Daily Show reported recently that scientists in Japan had invented a robot that is capable of recognizing its own reflection in a mirror.

“When the robot learns to hate what it sees,” said Jon Stewart, “it will have achieved full humanity.”

2. THREE MODELS OF SELF-TRANSFORMATION

When we hate our lives and ourselves, two models present themselves as modes of salvation.

The first is the therapeutic model. In the therapeutic model, we are told (or we tell ourselves) that we are “sick.” What ails us is a “condition” or a “disease.”

A condition or a disease may be remedied by “treatment.”

Right now we are “ill.” After treatment, we will be “well.” Then we will be happy and will be able to function productively in society and in the world.

That’s one way of looking at our troubles.

The second way is the moralistic model. The moralistic model is about good and evil. The reason we are unhappy, we are told (or tell ourselves) is that we have done something “wrong.” We have committed a “crime” or a “sin.”

In some versions of the moralistic model, we don’t even have to have done anything wrong. The human being, we are told, was born wrong.

The answer to the condition of wrongness is punishment and penance. When we have “served our sentence” and “atoned for our sins,” we will be “pardoned” and “released.” Then we will be happy and will be able to function productively in society and in the world.

This book proposes a third model.

The model this book proposes is the model of the amateur and the professional.

The thesis of this book is that what ails you and me has nothing to do with being sick or being wrong. What ails us is that we are living our lives as amateurs.

The solution, this book suggests, is that we turn pro.

Turning pro is free, but it’s not easy. You don’t need to take a course or buy a product. All you have to do is change your mind.

Turning pro is free, but it’s not without cost. When we turn pro, we give up a life with which we may have become extremely comfortable. We give up a self that we have come to identify with and to call our own. We may have to give up friends, lovers, even spouses.

Turning pro is free, but it demands sacrifice. The passage is often accompanied by an interior odyssey whose trials are survived only at great cost, emotionally, psychologically, and spiritually. We pass through a membrane when we turn pro. It hurts. It’s messy and it’s scary. We tread in blood when we turn pro.

Turning pro is not for everyone. We have to be a little crazy to do it, or even to want to. In many ways the passage chooses us; we don’t choose it. We simply have no alternative.

What we get when we turn pro is, we find our power. We find our will and our voice and we find our self-respect. We become who we always were but had, until then, been afraid to embrace and to live out.

Do you remember where you were on 9/11? You’ll remember where you were when you turn pro.

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Gates of Fire
The War of Art
The Authentic Swing
The Lion's Gate
Turning Pro
The Profession
The Warrior Ethos
Do The Work
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Killing Rommel
Last of the Amazons
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