I read around four books a month, in a good month, more. I know for some of you, that’s a lot. I read to learn and because I enjoy reading for its own sake. I seldom read fiction, mostly books related to my work and interests like marketing, graphic design and such. Oh and a little modeling thrown in too.
I have a selection of titles and authors that I consider my go-to list when I want a satisfying read. Steven Pressfield’s three book series, The War of Art, Do The Work and Turning Pro are among my top picks any day.
These books focus on overcoming the resistance we experience every time an important task comes before us as creative people. I’m referring to artists, writers, musicians and also business owners, carpenters, in sum, all of us. Resistance is what kept me from having the career in the fine arts that I told myself I wanted for decades. It’s what I face every time I sit down at the keyboard to write or the workbench, where that unfinished project taunts me with its presence. According to Pressfield, resistance will undo you if you let it, and most of us let it. His solution: turn pro. By that he means adopting a professional’s mindset, getting stubborn, mule-headed, determined to do the work come what may. A pro does the work instead of focusing on excuses. I like that and more, I need that. I’m not a pro, yet.
A pro understands his craft and gives himself over to it knowing that he can pursue it with all he has but never master it totally. A pro knows his place and what he’s about. Turning pro doesn’t mean you’ve conquered resistance once and for all. Far from it. A pro will face the same resistance every time he sits down to do his work. Turning pro is when the real battle begins.
What I also take from these works is an understanding that craft is a mindset first. Craftsmanship starts inside, coming from a determination to produce good work and to not settle for anything less. The best tools may help ease the work along but a craftswoman knows it isn’t the tools as much as what she brings to their use. A craftsman’s work starts in the mind and the heart and is born of humility. Today might be a good day or it might be a train wreck. A craftsman, a pro, deals with both.
Amateurs don’t. Amateurs by contrast think it’s all about them. Amateurs are about stuff and image and think it’s the tools that make the craftsman. A pro wants none of that. He doesn’t need it. Amateurs are undone by a bad day. Amateurs dabble along, only doing what’s comfortable and familiar and then wonder why they never improve. Go to any golf course on the weekend and listen to the amateurs telling each other how much they love the game as they curse over their muffed shots. Amateurs declare their love of the game, activity or hobby but never give of themselves beyond the most cursory efforts. As Pressfield notes, an amateur may say he loves the game but a pro builds his life around it.
Where are the pros of model railroading? At the workbench doing their work, quietly and without fanfare. It’s not about getting on the cover of Model Railroader; it’s about the work. It’s about making this project better than the last. Developing this skill to a finer degree, about learning from mistakes and moving on. A pro stretches beyond his current skills in order to improve and for the love of the work itself. These folks are members of a much smaller community these days. They know who belongs and who doesn’t and who is making an honest effort to learn. When Pressfield uses the word pro and, as I’m also using it, I’m not referring to an attitude of superiority that declares: “I’m better than you.” A pro knows in her heart and mind whether the work meets her expectations and, that’s all she needs to know. A pro can respect an honest attempt regardless of the level of skill involved. You’re making an effort to do the work, that’s what matters. A pro is generous with folks like that. She knows and understands the effort being made.
We’ve lost so much to the culture of our day that declares the end result and the bottom line are all that matter. We’ve lost so much to expediency, a shortcut mentality and to a desire for instant gratification without effort. We’ve lost far more than we’ve gained.
Ladies and gentlemen of this community, I salute you and offer my humble respect. We need your example to help guide us back home. I want to be a pro.