Reading Pressfield’s The War of Art (pt. 2: Turning Pro)

The second section of Steven Pressfield’s The War of Art looks at overcoming the Resistance he outlined in the first section. The answer to Resistance, he writes, is “turning pro”. It’s worth noting at the beginning that although professionals do their work for compensation, it’s not the money itself that differentiates a pro from a hobbyist; being a “pro” is, rather, a matter of internal attitude toward the work. Pressfield himself wrote for seventeen years before seeing a single dollar for any of it! Early on in the section, he lays out an illustrative example of what turning pro looks like:

Someone once asked Somerset Maugham if he wrote on a schedule or only when struck by inspiration. “I write only when inspiration strikes,” he replied. “Fortunately it strikes every morning at nine o’clock sharp.”

That’s a pro.

In terms of Resistance, Maugham was saying, “I despise Resistance; I will not let it faze me; I will sit down and do my work.”

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 with his.

He knew if he built it, she would come. (64)

Perhaps the most valuable ability of the pro is simply their ability to put their butt in their chair, day after day after day, so that they can do their work. Pressfield suggests that we treat our creative endeavours the same way that we treat our day jobs: we show up every day, regardless of how we’re feeling; we put in our allotted time; we are committed over the long haul; we master the technique and essential skills of our job; we keep a sense of humour about it all (these and other items, 69-72). We show up. We put our butts in the chair. We do the work.

This is what I found I had to do when I was writing my master’s thesis. The particular logistics of my life at that point meant that I couldn’t write at a regular set time, like Somerset Maugham’s nine o’clock every morning. But what I did try to do was write every day: even if it was only a paragraph. Even if it was only a sentence! Because getting anything written meant that I was moving forward from where I had been the day before. It’s the concept of a “non-zero day” — which originated on reddit about a dozen years after The War of Art was published, but which I think Pressfield would endorse. Here is the principle of a non-zero day (excerpted from a much longer comment which you can read at the link below):

Rule numero uno – There are no more zero days. What’s a zero day? A zero day is when you don’t do a single f–ing thing towards whatever dream or goal or want or whatever that you got going on. No more zeros. I’m not saying you gotta bust an essay out everyday, that’s not the point. The point I’m trying to make is that you have to make yourself, promise yourself, that the new SYSTEM you live in is a NON-ZERO system. Didnt’ do anything all f–ing day and it’s 11:58 PM? Write one sentence. One pushup. Read one page of that chapter. One. Because one is non zero. You feel me? When you’re in the super vortex of being bummed your pattern of behaviour is keeping the vortex goin, that’s what you’re used to. Turning into productivity ultimate master of the universe doesn’t happen from the vortex. It happens from a massive string of CONSISTENT NON ZEROS. That’s rule number one. Do not forget. (ryans01)

The concept of non-zero days has spawned a small movement and now has its own subreddit and even a couple of apps. What the pro knows is that momentum builds motivation, and that discipline produces results. Whether or not inspiration comes when beckoned, the pro is still there putting in their dues.

Turning pro is also a way to make sure that when inspiration strikes, we are ready for it — another part of the mental shift is thinking of ourselves as craftsmen rather than artists. Pressfield writes, “A pro views her work as a craft, not art. […] she concentrates on technique. The professional masters how, and leaves what and why to the gods. Like Somerset Maugham she doesn’t wait for inspiration, she acts in the anticipation of its apparition” (78). This makes sense, doesn’t it? Without a knowledge of craft and technique, it’s awfully hard to fully realise a vision of a work, however inspired you might feel. A pianist has to master their scales before mastering Beethoven. When I sit down and practice different poetic forms or churn out a blog post, that’s how I play my scales. And that practice, and that readiness, is a critical part of turning pro: “The professional dedicates himself to mastering technique not because he believes technique is a substitute for inspiration, but because he wants to be in possession of the full arsenal of skills when inspiration does come” (84).

Now — what about inspiration? If we are working to overcome Resistance, if we are mastering our technique and putting in our time — how do we know that inspiration will come? Part three of The War of Art looks at Invoking the Muse. Stay tuned!

7 thoughts on “Reading Pressfield’s The War of Art (pt. 2: Turning Pro)

  1. I’m enjoying this latest series on “the war of art”. What irks me though is that for whatever reason, Pressfield and many others for that matter, find the need to use f–ing in the writing. The point comes across just as well without. The use of the word deters me from from reading their works


    • I find that it doesn’t especially bother me when it’s written down, though I don’t like hearing it — but I appreciate your point that most of the time bad language doesn’t seem to add much to meaning! (The excerpt with the word in question isn’t Pressfield — but Pressfield does swear a bit in his book, so your point stands.)


  2. Yes. This is sermon writing. Butt in chair. Read, pray, research, outline, write, edit, print. It was being in grad school with a baby, though, that taught me this- when you have nap time to write a paper, and that’s it, you get over writers block pretty quick.


  3. Pingback: Reading Pressfield’s The War of Art (pt. 1: Resistance) | In this Ordinary Time

  4. Pingback: Reading Pressfield’s The War of Art (pt. 3: Invoking the Muse) | In this Ordinary Time

  5. Pingback: Reading Round-Up: September 2017 | In this Ordinary Time

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