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.



  1. willbacker45


    Good read with a ton of great points! I love how your blog not only relates to modeling but life in general. I often find that the hardest thing in life is getting over the fact that you have to do things that you dont want to do…I think that’s what this post is referring to. The pros become pros because they are the ones that are able to do all of the tasks that no one really wants to do. They are willing to put in the time to go that extra mile that helps them reach their goals. I truly think that everyone has the potential to be a pro at SOMETHING in their lives albeit sports, career, competitive eating or whatever… The problem is most of us lack the drive and determination to work hard enough to get there.

    Im not saying its easy, because its not…Right at this moment I am sitting in the library trying to do calculus, but guess what, I didn’t want to so I looked at your blog. I am putting off doing the hard work that I need to do to become a Professional Engineer, because it is hard and uncomfortable. Working my brain to it’s maximum solving integral after integral is NOT fun, but it is what I need to do. I need to get the job done.

    When I first started college I often found myself putting off the work. I hated doing chemistry and everything else. I hated it because at the time it was awful, I wanted to be doing something fun! I had a hard time seeing that the hard work I put in now would ultimately lead me to greater things. I think that is what the problem with today’s society is. Everyone wants to be a doctor, engineer, lawyer, whatever, but they cannot get past the work that you have to do to get to the end result. They would rather party now and pay later, hardly even pondering how that will affect their future. The real issue is that, this type of thinking has become the norm. Society finds it funny, people say all the time, they failed their test because instead of studying they went out drinking the night before and we just laugh…even parents find it comical. Will that one test ruin their lives? No. But the point is that we are allowing society to be ok with mediocrity…The saying now is C’s get degrees, and its true…

    The problem stems to what we often see as important…fame, money, whatever. Now im not saying that I dont enjoy money (more money=more trains!) But we put an emphasis on this that is disgusting. Athletes who probably barely passed 6th grade are getting a free pass in college just because they are that…an athlete who brings money into the school. I have seen it first hand! A wrestler in my engineering class didnt complete a single homework assignment…didnt pass a single test, yet he is still progressing through school. Athletes and people like the Kardashians get paid millions and millions of dollars to entertain us. To play games and have no impact on the lives or well-being of society, while, my girlfriend will barely make $30,000 a year teaching and shaping the lives of todays youth (not to mention, babysitting, feeding, and caring for children who often have parents that could care less about them.) There used to be a time when kids looked up to teachers, scientists, ministers, coal miners, basically hard working people. Now their heros are rappers, athletes, movie stars. Many who are doing drugs, beating women, and abusing the law at every turn…

    Now Im not saying this is how everyone is or that society is doomed, because there is a lot of good here…Everyday miracles happen and things are fantastic. It just saddens me to see where our emphasis on what is important lies.

    I know this was a long rant, probably not very clear of cohesive but its good to get thoughts down on paper, so to speak. Feel free to delete my post if it has diverted from the reactions you were expecting 🙂

    Take care and thanks!

  2. mike


    Spot on!

    Obviously there are lot’s of ways to approach a recreational pastime like model railroading and, to a certain degree, to each their own.

    Where I personally draw the line, is when mediocrity is promoted as a normal way for the majority. Like you, I see the connection between attitude and end results. It’s as true in our professional and personal lives, as it is within the practice of our hobbies.

    I don’t know if anyone else who visits here has heard the term “chainsaw layout.” Somebody coined this term to describe a temporary layout meant to be a stop-gap effort until circumstances allowed for a “real one.” (As I understand the meaning of the term.) I hate this idea and the wasted efforts and resources toward something you’re going to purposely toss at some point. You could sway me to the idea if it were framed as practice toward building skills (which in fairness may indeed be part of the purpose) and excellence. You could convince of the merits if the examples I’ve seen weren’t treated like temporary half-hearted crap that the word “chainsaw” fully implies.

    I’m 57 and have wasted far too many years chasing stuff that didn’t matter one iota and, it sickens me to think about it. I hear people who constantly say how much they love this hobby but who won’t lift a finger to learn anything of substance.

    You’re spot on Will, excellence in any field isn’t easy. If it were, we’d all be experts in everything.

    Appreciate you being here to comment.


  3. tom sullivan

    Whoh there guys……careful or we may “leave the rails”! I do like the concept of “turning Pro”….very thought provoking.
    Mike, your definition of Pro makes a lot of sense…..doing my best because it matters TO ME….learning new skills because it matters TO ME…..pushing my modeling efforts because it matters TO ME etc.

    (Same for calc Will!, but in my case it was Econometrics)

    But, I’m also thinking about Bob Brown’s comment years ago “just get on with it!”….open the box…..look at the plans……layout the work……take the first step…..etc.

    When I was actively in On3 the really good modelers told me…..”just make the best damn (Congdon) stack you can”…..take the “in progress” stack to meets and let others see your work….be ready for critiques…..ask for them if they are not forthcoming. When your stack is the best it can be…..start on the valve gear!

    What we are talking about is “the process”….”the journey”…….for me it was a lot of social activity among friends (and much better modelers than me). I sucked up every inch of perfection I could find at those narrow gauge meets and my modeling improved considerably. Make stuff….Make mistakes…..show it to your “masters”…..listen to what they tell you…..go make it better. A lot of these On3 guys were “backyard machinists”….many were real Pros!

    I bring up these points because for me it’s a lot about the social aspect of the hobby…..find the masters…..hang with the masters (if possible)…..learn from the masters….and maybe, just maybe…..you know the rest!

    Now here’s something I want to throw out to the crew…….how do we feel when Proto 2000 releases their USRA C&O 0-8-0 or some other measurably better model than has existed before?
    How does “buying” a new “state of the art” model previously unavailable change the picture?
    Should I scour my Mainline Modelers and research the heck out of my C&O photos and see what still needs to be done to make #340 look more like #340!

    I think I know what I’d do……maybe!?! tom

  4. mike

    Hi Tom,

    I’m not certain what to make of your first line. I don’t think anyone is in danger of coming off the rails as you say. We’ve become so accustomed to neutralized language that a simple declaration of “this is what I believe” stops people in their tracks.

    From the rest of your comments, you understand the ideas expressed perfectly. You’re exactly right the motivations for turning pro come from within. It isn’t about perfection, rather far from it. It’s about putting excuses aside and doing what needs to be done. It is indeed about the journey. As you observed, that journey takes many forms. Some, like you, will find it a social one. Others will travel a more solitary route. Both are equally valid.

    And, let me be clear that the concept of turning pro isn’t my idea or definition. They originated from the work of Steven Pressfield as I noted in the post. I’m simply sharing his ideas and what I learned from them.

    As for determining whether the fidelity of a commercial model is acceptable for one’s level of standards, that’s truly a judgement call on the modeler’s part. One may find it to be fine out of the box, another may see room for substantial improvement. I’m working on material that addresses this exact subject for an upcoming volume of The Missing Conversation. It’s about six months out.

  5. tom sullivan

    Mike, I was reacting to Will’s discussion of being “saddened” by what others in society have decided is important to them.
    Then after reading your reply to Will……”spot on”…..I began to think we were discussing the general “slow decline of society” instead of staying a bit more “on target” with more alignment to how turning pro relates to railway modeling.

    I really didn’t think my simple “Whoh….may leave the rails” comment would be misunderstood given the content of the previous two posts.

    Certainly was not meaning to offend……just wanted to give a gentle nudge to possible “scope creep”. Perhaps I’m missing the point of the blog…… tom

  6. mike


    No worries, you’re fine. One thing I dislike about e-mail is that it’s so easy to misinterpret. You lose the other signals like facial expressions, voice tone and so on.

    I left Will’s comment as submitted because I agreed with it (obviously) and because the attitudes we have about life do carry over into other pursuits like hobbies. We’ve all witnessed a progressive slide in attitude toward modeling. Maybe you get a skewed impression from online forums and such, but it seems to me the people are less willing to make commitments or put forth effort toward doing something these days.

    People expect things to be handed to them by manufacturers and when they have to do a simple thing like add some detail parts, some will scream and holler about it being too complicated. People today can’t, or simply won’t, build a turnout without a $100 dollar jig. I learned how to handlay turnouts when I was a teenager. It’s not that complicated to do. Most things in this hobby aren’t.

    As for the blog, I will cover a host of topics like this from time to time. These ideas rattle around in my head until I do something with them.