It’s broken into three parts or “books”. Book one is The Amateur Life, book two is Self Inflicted Wounds, and book three is The Professional Mindset. Pressfield says that he can “divide [his] life into two parts: before turning pro and after. After is better.” This book, through a series of short vignettes (often only a part of a page long) that make up each “book”, helps you explore the mindset of an amateur, what we do as amateurs and what we do to stay amateurs…and how we break out – and turn pro. A couple of quick quotes give you a glimpse of the essence of this book. “Becoming a pro, in the end, is nothing grander than growing up”, and a favorite of mine… “The amateur tweets. The pro works.”
Turning Pro is well worth the read, and if you intend to be a professional writer (of any genre), I recommend this book.
Ron’s memoirs start with his actual suicide attempt, and then go through his journalistic recording of five wars in ten years. In most of these wars, he was not a front-line combatant, but an observer, recorder and reporter of war – both as an Army officer and as a State Department foreign service officer.
I am telling you, from personal experience as a combat Marine, and later as a diplomat (Dept. of Homeland Security Attaché), that this is an authentic depiction of the results of war – physically, and for many veterans, emotionally.
The inciting moment in Ron’s book is when he first sees war dead (“Yellow. Their skin was yellow. They had dirt under their fingernails and their feet were dirty. There were six of them, all women…”). That is a defining moment for all who experience war – it becomes sickeningly real.
The journal follows Ron through Central Africa, Kosovo, Afghanistan, Iraq, Darfur…and most tellingly, his “War at Home” afterwards. The accounts he gives from his field notes in those locations is brutally honest, and accurately documents the same conditions I saw when I was in several of those places myself (I was in Kosovo and Bosnia at the same time he was in Kosovo, back on active duty during Op. Enduring Freedom at the same time he was in Afghanistan, and was in Iraq 2005-2006, one year after he was there).
There are a lot of war books out there, and a lot of war movies – usually from, or enhanced by, the imaginations of those who may never really understand. If you want a glimpse of what the effects of war really look like, and the toll it took on one real veteran – from the inside – then this is a book you should pick up today.