Writing is a tough business. Some will succeed, some will fail, but what lies in between is the ability to treat your craft as if your very livelihood depends on it. In other words, you have to be a professional.
Making the shift from amateur to professional means no longer attacking your craft like a weekend warrior or a moonlighter, but as someone who shows up every day, no excuses, and does the work that needs to be done. As with any program of practice, there’s a mindset that comes with making this important breakthrough in your creative life. The decision to turn pro isn’t an overnight change, but a commitment you must reinforce every morning through your actions. These actions eventually becomes the established habits of a professional.
In order to be a pro, you have to act like one. Here are five tips to help you flip the switch:
1. Treat your craft like a business: Businesses have business plans, where they outline where they want to be in one year, five years, and even farther into the future. Setting goals for your writing or illustration career (and sticking to them) is a key part of the professional mindset. Before you are able to see and live the fruits of your labor, you have to believe it’s possible, and develop a plan to get there. When you put that plan into action, executing the plan day by day despite adversity, you make the turn from amateur to professional. No longer are you anaspiring writer, or a wannabe writer, you are a Writer.
2. Cultivate professional habits: When was the last time you cruised out of your day job a few hours before quitting time for no reason other than you felt like it? When have you neglected to pick up your child from school because you didn’t want to get off the couch? Your answer is likely “never” because you are committed to your job and your children. This same commitment must be applied to your creative work. You must show up on time, stay for the duration, set goals, and achieve those goals regardless of the crazy going on in the background.
3. Be an expert in your field: Being a pro means knowing about the other pros in your field. If you’re a writer, then you’re consistently reading books in your genre. If you’re an illustrator, you’re looking at portfolios of your peers. Not only is this a form of motivation, but it prepares you to become one of these successful people.
4. Ask for help: Warriors don’t go into battle alone; they charge with an army. Professionals realize their limitations—it’s impossible to know everything. Help-seeking is a form of learning, which is critical for your career. Not only does it show that you’re committed to mastering your craft, but it reinforces your professional mind-set of persistence when your work becomes demanding. Instead of giving up, you seek answers, and then apply that knowledge to your craft.
5. Commit for the long haul: A business doesn’t open its doors with the intention of closing in a year or two. The goal is longevity. In order to achieve longevity, the professional realizes they must build momentum by analyzing what’s working and what isn’t, being willing to fail, and implementing changes. Seeing the long road ahead and understanding you won’t gain success overnight is part of the professional mindset. Be patient and enjoy the journey.
Bestselling author Steven Pressfield has written extensively about making the shift from an amateur to a professional in his non-fiction books, “The War of Art,” “Turning Pro,” and “Do The Work.” If you’d like to learn more about turning pro, I encourage you to check out these resources.
What habits helped you turn from an amateur to a professional?