October 13 is Plain Language Day. To celebrate it, I had planned to write about the growing movement to give complex, indecipherable documents a shove out the door and replace them with clear, understandable prose. As luck would have it, I came across one of the most direct pieces of writing I’ve seen in a long time?one that proves you don’t need convoluted sentences to say something profound.
The book is Turning Pro, written by Steven Pressfield and published by Black Irish Books. It’s relatively short, at just 148 pages in the print version. In a bookstore you’d likely find it shelved in the self-help section, but there’s nary a self-affirmation or cheerful daily quote in its pages. Instead, Pressfield’s prose is more like the Black Irish boxing glove logo: solid, muscular, and not given to pulling punches.
At heart, Turning Pro is a book about changing habits, and it follows the author’s journey to becoming a successful writer. But your goal could just as easily be to land the corporate corner office or become a pro ball player. The hard-won wisdom and plain old common sense in the book’s pages apply to almost any endeavour you can think of.
Unfortunately, many copies will probably end up gathering dust. Not that Pressfield’s giving bad advice?quite the opposite, actually. Instead, It’s because what he advises requires a quality that modern society undermines every day: focus. It’s a rare commodity these days, with rapid-fire commercials, Twitter, and fractured attention spans becoming the norm.
I’ve said it before, but It’s worth repeating: Neil Postman may as well have had a crystal ball, peering into the future from the 1980s, when he wrote Amusing Ourselves to Death. If that book was a prediction, Pressfield’s is the prescription. In fact, in Turning Pro Pressfield could well be describing the endless loop of amusement and distraction that Postman warned us about?one That’s already here.
Pressfield calls those habits an addiction, and he’s right. Think about the last time you zoned out on hours of web surfing or television. As Pressfield writes, ?The repetitive nature of the shadow life and of addiction is what makes both so tedious. No traction is ever gained. No progress is made. we’re stuck in the same endlessly-repeating loop. That’s what makes addiction like hell.?
It’s an amusing type of hell, no doubt about it. But if you keep wondering why you never seem to get that big project accomplished (finishing that course, writing that book, perfecting that free throw), Pressfield’s addiction analogy is worth pondering. As he says, ?[All] addictions share, among others, two primary qualities. 1. They embody repetition without progress. 2. They produce incapacity as a payoff.?
There’s far more to Pressfield’s message than that, but if You’re the least bit interested in realizing that goal you’ve been pondering for years, maybe It’s time to turn off the funny cat videos and read the book.
S.D. Livingston is the author of several books, including the new suspense novel Kings of Providence. Visit her website for information on her writing (and for more musings on the literary world!).