Positive Writer

Writing through doubt and fear, and you can, too!

How to Rise Above the Struggle of Becoming a Creative Professional

You’re an artist. You know it and I know it. You didn’t need me to affirm that you are an artist. Right?

However, are you a professional?

Perhaps the question would be better phrased: Do you consider yourself a professional? Your answer matters.

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If the Sun and Moon should ever doubt, they’d immediately go out.

~William Blake

Artists – be it writers, painters, designers or whatever type of art you do – are notorious for their self-doubt.

Too many artists wear doubt on their chest like a badge of honor without ever realizing it.

Let’s be honest with each other – you know how doubt about yourself and your abilities tears you apart.

I know. And you know why I know. I wasted too many years living with overwhelming doubt.

It’s a painful struggle that we all endure and must overcome. You do not become a true professional until you have slain the beast.

It’s a rite of passage.

An internal conflict, really, because most artists are ashamed of their uncertainty and skepticism.

So instead of slaying the beast they call themselves “starving artists” which has become an “acceptable” substitute for the fact they are not being recognized, or, as recognized as they think they should be.

The idea is if you are recognized then you will feel validated.

And therein is the true conundrum:


Want-to-be-professional artists want to be recognized as professionals and too often believe they need to achieve some kind of milestone to be able to officially call themselves a professional.

The milestone can be selling their work, being tagged by a recognized professional in their field, or writing their first book, or completing their first commissioned painting.

But there’s a problem with milestones, and you already know this problem well. No matter how many milestones you reach it will never be enough.

Professional artists do not need milestones.

Professionals are professionals because they have overcome their internal doubt and are doing work that matters every day. At least, they get up every day, put pen to paper and write.

Doubt still exists within the professional, but it does not rule.

A professional does the work, creates the art, and goes to bed knowing he or she will get up the next morning and continue the work.

A professional does not need to tell herself that she is a professional, because she knows that being a professional is the action of working and shipping. It’s a result, and results matter.

The more she works, the more she ships and as a result she is hired for more work. When her work is rejected (all artists have work that is rejected) she gets back to work and does what needs to be done to improve it.

If you strive every day to do work that matters and submit it for publication or for display, regardless if it is accepted or rejected, then you are a professional.

It’s not overcomplicated, so don’t over complicate it.

Consider a professional in your field. Anyone will do. Now let me ask you, does that person need to tell you he or she is a professional?

Then why do you need to tell yourself that you are a professional?

Do the work. Ship. Improve. Repeat. (Tweet This)

If you do the work (all of what work entails), create your art and ship, then you’re a professional.

Once you accept this simple truth your name will become synonymous with professionalism and you’ll never need to tell yourself or anyone else you are a professional again.

You. Are. A. Professional.

When I was a child my mother said to me, ‘If you become a soldier, you’ll be a general. If you become a monk, you’ll be the pope.’ Instead I became a painter and wound up as Picasso.

~Pablo Picasso

Isn’t it interesting how Picasso didn’t say he wound up a professional painter?

Have you struggled with considering yourself a professional? Share your story in the comments.

About Bryan Hutchinson

I'm a positive writer and when that doesn't work, I eat chocolate. I help fellow writers overcome doubt and thrive! In my free time, I love visiting castles with my wife, Joan. Join me on Twitter and Facebook.

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  • I was just thinking about how I’ve always just want to be “discovered” but the reality of the work — write. ship. repeat. — THIS is what makes me a professional. Bryan, there are so many great quotes in this post. I can’t decide which one to type under the link I’m going to post on Pinterest. I need to remember these things. Thanks.

    • You’re welcome, Brianna. Remember, write, ship and repeat. I’ll do the same.

  • Bryan,

    This is a great post! With a message I so needed to hear. Actually I should probably bookmark it to read it again and again, because I know I’ll let other negative thoughts replace some of the truths you have in here.

    I believe I am a professional. But, I don’t know if I always believe I am a successful professional. I guess it depends on which definition of success I am believing that day. Is my measure 1) monetary or 2) having an effect on someone. My work has affected people.

    I appreciate this line, “No matter how many milestones you reach it will never be enough.” Because that is the other trap we fall into.

    I have to write. I want to touch people with my writing. The success thing, it’s sometimes my biggest annoyance. Thanks for your post.

    • Wow, that was quick. Once the professional part is checked off, then the next milestone, “successful professional”! Put the focus on doing the work and the rest comes naturally, but put the focus on the milestones and there will never be any satisfaction in your work.

      • Yes, you’re right, Bryan I’m to keep focus on the writing. I am working on the book about domestic violence. I’m 10,000 words into it.

  • If I keep calling myself a duck am I a duck? I don’t have to label what I am I just need to do the work, or swim, if in fact I am a duck.

  • I tweeted it. Thanks Bryan

  • Julie Luek

    This must be a message I am meant to hear, repeat and incorporate into my life. Just yesterday I was reading through The Artist’s Way (Julia Cameron) and wrote down this quote: Fame is a spiritual drug. It is often a by-product of our artistic work, but like nuclear waste, can be a very dangerous by-product.

    Yes, I would love my work to be read, savored and appreciated, but mostly I just want to write the best I know how and tell the stories I need to tell.

    • And that’s how it is done, Julie: “Write the best I know how and tell the stories I need to tell.” Write that down on a post-it and post it on your monitor 🙂

  • Yes, I’ve struggled with calling myself a professional. Even when there is a deadline and I have to explain to my children that I need a few minutes uninterrupted because this is Mommy’s job. Granted I don’t get paid for my job yet but it has potential. 🙂

  • Ashley Nichole

    This is such a great post because we are who we believe we are.

  • Great motivation today Bryan. I am going to go try and submit two short fillers and not waste another day “meaning” to. Then, I am going to finally start reading a book on writing Personal Essays because that is where my long term goal lies. Thank you!

    • Great, Christa! I wish you much success!
      Which book are you reading about personal essays?

  • I needed this. And I will need to read it again and again. Professional is my one word for the year and I need to be a professional in everything. Or maybe, believe I already am one. Jeff once talked about having to believe he was a writer. I need to believe I’m a professional. Once I do, then it will become a lot easier in many ways. Thanks for this.

    • Perhaps write about why it is so hard for you to believe. Include what doubts are holding you back and what milestones you believe you need. It helps to write it out and read it back, sometimes this helps you gain a new perspective and see more clearly what is holding you back. I personally, think you’re already there, but that’s me.

      • OK, I’m going to write this list here, so you can see and comment. I think in action I may be already there as a pro – but in my mind I simply find it hard to accept it. And it’s hard to believe I could be a pro at anything, or be successful at anything.

        I have been trained since childhood to believe no matter how much time, energy or money I invest, no matter what steps I follow, even if they work for everyone else, I am going to be a failiure, and there is nothing I can do about it. And this is a lot easier to believe than the idea I am a pro.

        A lot of my problem also stems from a childish desire to be better than everyone (another curse of my childhood) because everyone used to look down on me as a child. So relative, small success isn’t enough for me. I find it hard to be happy for others success because I want to know why the doors don’t open for me when I work just as hard.

        I was bullied as a child, and each time God ignores me and chooses to bless someone else, it feels like He is bullying me too, and just like everyone else. And it hurts.

        This is why I find it hard to believe I’m a pro. Because for along time I believed if I was a pro I’d have a book contract and tens of thousands of subscribers. I was brought up to believe a pro is someone who gets paid for their work. I don’t yet. And I lack any confidence I can succeed in any way. I know I can write, I know what I need to do, but I don’t believe any of it matters because my failure is already written in the stars, as an example to everyone of what not to do.

        I’m sorry if this sounds negative, but deep down I have little self-confidence, no belief I can be a success, think I’m destined to fail no matter what and don’t feel like a pro. I act like one because I want to be one, because I want to be a success and be the best writer I can, because I think if I ignore the voices they will go away, but right now I can’t shake them, and every time I see others succeed it reminds me of what I’m not.

        I’m seriously messed up and it sabotages my entire attitude to writing. I even self-sabotage on a subconscious level to ensure I fail, leaving work till the last minute so it won’t be my best for example.

        These are all the things holding me back, and I’ve written them here because I wanted you to see them.

        To succeed? I’d need to write a full length book and it to be a roaring success, and to get a book contract, and get over 25,000 subscribers to my blog. And to be respected as a non-fiction author, guest posting for people like Relevant magazine and other major sites.

        But of course, i know writing isn’t about numbers or status and I don’t want it to be. I love writing, and sometimes just wish I could write without writing a book or a blog, just write for me. I love the craft of writing, but I have a calling and desire to use it in these specific ways. I struggle with the craft/platform balance.

        I hope that all makes sense – I’d love your thoughts on this. Please do have grace with me.

        • James, you sound like someone I know. Someone we all know, deep inside and for some, closer to the surface.

          First, to share your story this way and to admit it is hard for you to praise others is not only honest, but brave. Not brave in that others will read it, but brave in that YOU know this about you. Most people can never admit anything like this, ever. So you’re a step ahead of them.

          Next, I think this is the story you need to write. This is your manifesto – the real one. The one that is a difference maker and will help others who read it, but it might not be a hit. Write it to help one person and one person only. Think of a young boy who may be in the situation you were in and you have the chance to talk to his parents, what would you say to help that boy?

          We live in a time when writing for the world is at our finger tips, never has there been such a time. No editor can tell you no – no opinion of a “I’m better than you” writer can tell you no and the only person who can stand in your way is… well, you. We are fortunate to live in such a time. But despite what you think, you’re not doing that. You are putting your work out there, you are publishing and you are feeling the pain of rejection. By God, that’s what writing is all about.

          Embrace the pain and write anyway. But you don’t need me or anyone else to tell you that, because you are doing it.

          Instead of writing for the masses and becoming a professional, start writing for one person, one boy. The one you’re going to help with your words. You know what that boy needs to hear and only you can write it.
          Would you rather have fame and be a pro, or help him?

          You choose. And you might find out that the choice really isn’t a choice at all and one thing leads to another.

          Hope this helps just a little.

  • Ah, Bryan. Just last week I had this inner struggle. I reached out to my newsletter subscribers and honestly voiced my doubts. The replies of assurance were overwhelming! So many people touched by my writing and took time to write me pretty much entire essays! I don’t know why I still doubt myself, but that was a huge wakeup call. No more self-doubt. I am a professional!

  • Thanks Bryan we all have those days, the ebb and flow of feeling like we can fly on some days when our words reach someone in need. Yet we also have days of doubt it is the natural way of things. Great post trying to think positive too.

    • Like they say, Kath, if you didn’t care then you would not doubt. Doubt isn’t bad, it’s just dangerous when it gets out of control.

  • Brian, just yesterday I told somebody “Did you know that I am a writer?” And she responded with absolutely no skepticism at all, “Really? I didn’t know you were a writer.” It felt great to say that!

  • Bryan, you make it seem so easy. At 67, I still struggle with “wanting to be good enough.” Good enough for what, you might ask. To please everyone else. I should just pony up and be the best writer I can be, do it professionally, and not worry about the rest of the world and what they think. But often it isn’t easy, is it? Thanks for this post. It shed beams of light on what I need to be about.

    • The work that seems the easiest was usually the hardest to create. And you’re right you can’t worry about what others think, because everyone thinks differently. And clearly, Sherrey, you ARE good enough!

  • Amazing Bryan!

  • Paul

    Thanks for this post. I don’t think I was able to consider myself a writer until I did those few important things you mention. I began writing every day and I made more of an effort to share what I wrote. I’d still like to reach a few milestones…but I intend to continue regardless. Thanks for the reminder.

    • Hi Paul, there’s nothing wrong with striving for and reaching milestones. The issue is when we let milestones define us, especially the ones we do not reach. I have milestones I’d like to reach, too. But if I don’t reach one or two, or go in a different direction, I am still who I am and I still do what I do. I’m sure the same is for you.

  • Thanks Bryan!

    I feel that as a creative professional, we sometimes raise the bar too high. Sometimes, we fear that we won’t get the recognition we covet for. Whatever be the case, we forget our duty i.e. to create a piece of art without any traces of self-doubt within.

    Once we do our duty diligently and focus on what we are striving to create, we become a professional. Concentrating on the bigger picture (the art) is the only way we can gain recognition and other things we wish to.

    • Yep, Yogesh, and the bar keeps getting higher… doesn’t it?

      • Of course it does. But it must not be raised to high. Slow and steady is the key I must say. What do you think?

        • One of my favorite sayings to the people that work for me is ‘take baby steps’ there’s no hurry. Well, unless they see me in a rush, then they better hurry up! The problem is that when the bar is too high, we naturally start looking for shortcuts and try to jump over steps that are necessary.

          I love playing billiards, it’s my stress relief and I got very good at a young age fast. But there came a point when I was not progressing anymore. The problem was that my natural talent made me think I didn’t need to learn the basics and so I had skipped them. Eventually I had to go back to the drawing board and learn the basics before I could progress as a player.

          Taking baby steps, no matter at what level we are at, helps us not miss any of the important lessons we need to learn. AND some of those lessons, come from failure. I think you’ll agree?

          • There is no way I can disagree Bryan. You explained it so well that I am feeling jealous as to why I do not possess the same storytelling style as you do. 🙂

          • 😉 Thanks!

  • www.HeadenElite.org

    Good stuff!

  • Caleb Winebrenner

    I’m glad I read this. I think for me part of the doubt comes in how long it takes to build up a solid body of work (and the accompanying reputation). It means that even if you are great, it will take a few years before you have the money or the network to really show for the work. This of course all goes back to your original question about whether or not you really need to be recognized, but I nevertheless find that needing to pay bills is often dueling with the impact of my work and the love I have for doing it.

  • BB

    Serious question. What if you’ve been working on your first manuscript for a while and haven’t “shipped” anything yet? What if you’re revising drafts? These manuscripts that take years put “shipping” on hold. Waiting has really gotten to me. When do you know it’s time to ship?