Turning Pro or Staying Amateur? 
by Jessica Brown, Screenwriter and Board Member of Phoenix Screenwriters Association

Steven Pressfield’s book: Turning Pro

Turning Pro is a lot like trying to lose weight or getting rid of a bad habit.

It takes a lot of effort and focus and energy. I expect it to be a challenge and require some blood, sweat, and tears. But am I making it too difficult to turn professional? Maybe it’s just as simple as being a prolific writer? Or, maybe it’s a change of mindset that turns an amateur writer into a pro?

I decided to turn to Steve Pressfield for the definitive answer on the definition of a professional. As a long time fan I appreciate his straightforward style and not being afraid to tell it like it is. I also appreciate that he has been in the trenches a very long time going from amateur to professional writer. If anyone knows when that happens, he does. It also helps that he wrote an entire book on the subject.

Steven’s definition of the Amateur is:

“The amateur is young and dumb. He’s innocent, he’s good-hearted, he’s well-intentioned. The amateur is brave. He’s inventive and resourceful. He’s willing to take a chance. Like Luke Skywalker, the amateur harbors noble aspirations. He has dreams. He seeks liberation and enlightenment. And he’s willing, he hopes, to pay the price. The amateur is not evil or crazy. He’s not deluded. He’s not demented. The amateur is trying to learn. The amateur is you and me.”

I believe what he means by “young and dumb” is what we call in the writing world a “baby scribe” or someone new to the world of writing. I interpreted dumb as inexperienced or limited knowledge of storytelling. I take no offense to this description of an amateur writer. We all start out this way no matter what our age when we begin writing stories.

I could see myself in some of his explanations of what amateur writers do and behave. But over time I have overcome many, if not all of these descriptions in his book. It was his chapter titled “Life Gets Very Simple When You Turn Pro” that caught my attention. I thoroughly enjoy writing and all the challenges that writing brings with it. But I wondered if I had complicated my writing process to the point where it was holding myself and my writing back.

Steven says:
“What happens when we turn pro is, we finally listen to that still, small voice inside our heads. At last we find the courage to identify the secret dream or love or bliss that we have known all along was our passion, our calling, our destiny. Ballet. Motorcycle maintenance. Founding a clinic in the slums of Sao Paulo. This, we acknowledge at last, is what we are most afraid of. This is what we know in our hearts we have to do.”

I appreciate his honesty in his book when he acknowledges that he didn’t change after he turned pro. He continue to be the same person he always was before turning pro. He still faced the same weaknesses and same fallibilities. I am right there with him. Then he says the magical words that turned my writing world upside down and struck me like lightning.

“When we turn pro, we stop running from our fears. We turn around and face them.”

Those words flipped the switch for me. He is right. He says: When we turn pro, everything becomes simple. And that has happened for me. That is how you know when you turn pro. You stop running from your fears and turn around and face your fears. They will still be there when you turn pro. You will know they are there waiting for you on the page. But as a professional writer, you will make the changes in our life that put our writing at the center of our lives. We will have to choose between the life we want for our future and the life we have left behind.

Now, I am not saying you have to quit your job or profession to be a professional writer. It can help by freeing up more time. But there are chapters in our own lives where that is not possible or reasonable. I worked full time for forty one years supporting a growing family until they were on their own. The last ten years I discovered creative writing and screenplays, thanks to my oldest son, Brock, a filmmaker and writer himself.

I would take my index cards with me to the office and pin them up on the wall of an office or cubicle and then all throughout the day, in-between meetings and events at work, I would sit or stand and look at my cards and think about my story. I would move cards around or make notes on the back of the cards. Then at night I would take them all down, in order and put them in my briefcase and head home to write after dinner with the family.

I was definitely an amateur during that time. Then in 2017, after we paid off our house, cars, tuition for the boys, we made the decision that I could quite my job and focus on becoming a full-time writer and at some point turn pro. It would take a few more years before I came to that fork-in-the road decision.

Some writers enjoy being amateurs or view writing as a hobby. There is absolutely nothing wrong with that mindset. Writing is a joyous activity and very healthy for the most part. I love to speak to any writer that enjoys writing for the sheer pleasure of putting words down.

When I found myself being disappointed with my writing habits and wish I could figure out how to turn pro, it was then that I decided I needed to possess the habits and qualities of a professional. I turned to Steven’s book and sure enough, he did not disappoint. His chapter titled: Qualities Of The Professional” became my guide to turning pro.

Steven tells us:
1. The professional shows up every day
2. The professional stays on the job all day, or as I say, appropriate to balancing working and writing and family and all the other stuff we do 3. The professional is committed over the long haul
4. For the professional, the stakes are high and real
5. The professional is patient
6. The professional seeks order
7. The professional demystifies
8. The professional acts in the face of fear
9. The professional accepts no excuses
10. The professional plays it as it lays
11. The professional is prepared
12. The professional does not show off
13. The professional dedicates himself to mastering technique 14. The professional does not hesitate to ask for help
15. The professional does not take failure or success personally 16. The professional does not identify with his or her instrument 17. The professional endures adversity
18. The professional self-validates
19. The professional reinvents herself
20. The professional is recognized by other professionals

He identifies other qualities of the professional in his book. I won’t mention those here. I want you to discover those for yourself. The book is wonderful and honest about what it takes to be a pro. I have achieved all but one and now I must get back to work.

Remember: The amateur tweets. The pro works.

Well said Mr. Pressfield.

Enjoy your writing this month.



You can reach me at jessbrown44@gmail.com to share your writing adventures or share any good books on the craft of writing that you have read.

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