BALLS OF STEEL: Do You Write for You or for Fame?

Jeanne Veillette Bowerman is the Editor of Script magazine and a screenwriter, having written the narrative feature adaptation as well as the 10-hr limited series of the Pulitzer Prize-winning book, Slavery by Another Name, which was honored in the Top 25 Tracking Board Launch Pad Features Competition, CS Expo Finalist, the Second Round of Sundance Episodic Lab, and as a PAGE Awards TV Drama Finalist. Follow Jeanne on Twitter @jeannevb.

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By now, most of you know I’m not 25, living in L.A. and full of Botox, but in case you don’t, let me assure you, I’m none of those things. I have teenagers, live in New York, and all my wrinkles have been earned… by working my fingers to the bones at all hours of the day and night in pursuit of my dreams.

The other night, I sat in my living room, trying to steal quality time with my almost-off-to-college teen, and the TV remote landed on one of the spin offs of Real Housewives. I don’t remember the name, but it was the one with a gaggle of gorgeous young waiters and waitresses in hot pursuit of careers in entertainment (yes, these are things a mother watches for the sake of teen time). At varying moments during the show, each one declared, “I just want to be famous!”

Really?

It wasn’t simply the declaration of their sole goal being fame that shocked me, it was the way in which they said it. Their eyes sparkled at the thought of getting all dressed up, walking the red carpet with cameras blinding them. One even said she’d know she finally arrived when the paparazzi ran her off the road.

I may be old enough to be their mama, but I cannot imagine having fame be the motivating factor of what career I pursued, especially this one!

I apologize in advance if this post turns into a rant, but this is a subject I feel very strongly about because, in my opinion, your attitude and priorities will make or break your odds of success.

Pursuing a writing career is going to take every ounce of your energy. Every. Single. Ounce. You will lose friends. You might even lose your spouse – it’s extremely difficult to find someone to share your life with who understands the drive of an artist.

And I’m not talking about the drive of fame.

A real writer will stop at nothing to create. Writing becomes their main focus and is as important as air. Whether they had time to write in a given day affects their mood, their ability to focus, and their concentration.

If a “writer” is only looking for fame, s/he will fail. Miserably.

Why?

Because the narcissist who only wants fame won’t have the balls it takes to last long enough to achieve it.

What if they are lucky enough to surpass the odds and achieve that fame and fortune? I can assure you, a bank full of money and all the red carpets in the world aren’t going to bring you happiness. That is not a cliché, cop-out statement made by someone jealous of those with fame and fortune. I’ve never had fame, but I have had fortune in my life. Trust me, money does not bring happiness. It brings a whole other boatload of stress and problems you could never possibly be able to imagine.

It ain’t what you think. Not one bit.

But if you love writing, if you breathe it, live it, crave it and need it for your survival, that love of your art is what will feed you more than any amount of money could.

I want to share with you a successful 20-something artist who is not a narcissist – Colbie Caillat. I stumbled upon an interview of her and let out a sigh of relief. She is a true artist.

She spoke about how scared she was going out on stage, not just five years ago when she become “famous,” but even today. How she had to work hard to accept the fame aspect. How what she loves about singing is creating the songs with other artists. During the interview, she performed and after said, “even that scared me.”

After Grammy wins, she still says, “I’m a beginner.” She craves learning from musicians more seasoned than her. “I need that because they inspire me.” I may add, her humility makes more and more songwriters want to work with her. Her opportunities are endless simply because she recognizes she still has room for improvement and wants to be the best she possibly can, not out of competitiveness, but out of love for herself and her art.

She defined success as “getting to do something you love to do, inspiring people, and being rewarded by people still coming to my shows. They still want more.”

She moves her fans with music the same way a writer moves her readers with words. Creating is all about tapping into people’s emotions, especially storytelling.

When asked her how she sees herself evolving as an artist, she expressed a desire to be more comfortable both in her own skin and in her performances. “Women say that happens in your 30s. I’m looking forward to that.”

Chalk one up for the old chicks.

The reason she’s successful is because she focuses more on her music, her craft, and the challenge of collaborating with others than on fame. “It’s good to always grow.” And she’s not talking about getting more famous, she’s referring to growing in her craft.

“The truth of the matter is you always know the right thing to do. The hard part is doing it.” ~ Norman Schwarzkopf

Working on your craft and your understanding of the industry is hard work, brutal even. But taking screenwriting courses, reading the trades, spending one hour a day online researching what’s selling and what’s in preproduction will all help you succeed. Standing in the mirror practicing your Oscars® speech won’t.

Sit your butt down in the chair and write. Then write some more. Fame be damned.

On a side note, one other trick to success is to run, or take a walk and simply move your body. Seriously. It keeps the blood flowing to your brain and let’s the ideas fly. I’m determined to get back into my running routine, not as much for fitness than as to achieve my writing goals.

And if you’re still stuck on that idea of fame, the exercise will help you fit into that Oscars® dress. Hey, we’re all vain.

Ask yourself these questions and answer them honestly:

What motivates you to keep writing?
Are you pursuing fame?
Do you want to become the best writer you possibly can?

If you sincerely just want fame, step away from the keyboard. But if you want to live, sleep, and breathe writing, keep your priorities in focus. Either way, being honest with yourself is the first step to success.

I’ll leave you with tweets from two industry friends who responded to my recent Twitter rant about fame vs. passion:

@rprestonclark Being known for what you do and being great at what you do are not the same thing.

@MyPDFScripts When you do it out of passion, fame will eventually find you, but you have to put in the time. The Universe knows when you’re ready.

Nuff said.

Watch ScriptMag Editor Share Her Advice on Facing Your Writing Fears

Jeanne Veillette Bowerman shares her personal story of facing her fears in order to propel her writing and her career. Click on the image below to watch Jeanne’s advice. In just eight minutes, you might have a whole new perspective.

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10 thoughts on “BALLS OF STEEL: Do You Write for You or for Fame?

  1. Jeanne Veillette BowermanJeanne Veillette Bowerman Post author

    Thanks for commenting, everyone. Love the feedback and varying opinions.

    Keith, I absolutely agree it’s essential to a person’s happiness to find a balance between writing and living your life. My intend was not to imply a writer had to give all of that up to succeed. In fact, I wrote a piece a while back about how to balance your life while pursuing your art. I think you’ll find it much more in line with what you’re saying http://www.scriptmag.com/features/balls-of-steel-balance

    Unapologetic Narcissist, whatever works for you is cool with me. There’s more than one way to succeed and to keep your head in the game.

  2. An Unapologetic Narcissist

    Inside every artist is an exhibitionist.

    We want our work to be shared and celebrated. And for many of us, our work is our identity. Are you going to shame that part of ourselves that strives to be renown for our work?

    And who gives a rat’s ass what a writer’s motivation is? All that matters is the final draft.

    Did you know that Chayefsky’s main motivation for writing Network was to buy a ’74 Corvette? I just totally made that up, but see, who cares? All that matters is that we have Network.

    Granted, this is the wrong field of entertainment if you’re seeking fame, but it still drives that ‘lil narcissist in me who wants to be loved and adored and fawned-over by the whole GD-world. Okay? There, I said it. I’m a fame-seeking whore. So what. If it works, it works. Don’t tell me how to get my literary rocks off.

  3. Robert PilusoRobert Piluso

    Fantastic piece, Jeanne! The same way actors “hassle” their directors with that hoary standby, “What’s my motivation?”, writers need to ask themselves this once in a good while. Mary Sweeney once told our class to focus on the process, on the work, not the “stuff that comes after” (i.e
    awards, recognition).

  4. Keith Ward

    I should add that I agree totally with the fame aspect of the article. I was responding to the tired “writing must be your everything” trope. That myth has spawned more unhappy writers than booze.

  5. Keith Ward

    “A real writer will stop at nothing to create. Writing becomes their main focus and is as important as air.”

    — I could not disagree with this statement more. I have my faith, a wife and children. They are my main focus, each and every day. To put my writing first would be the ultimate selfish act.

    A life as unbalanced as that described here would be one of misery. You might lose your spouse? What kind of nonsense is that? If your “art” eclipses your relationships, you will simply flail in darkness.

    I’ve been a working journalist for 20-plus years. I’ve been a screenwriter for about eight years (still working on that breakthrough). I have a passion for writing; I do it because I love it, as does the author. I look forward to it every day, and strive to create the best scrips I can.

    But it doesn’t rule my life. It doesn’t consume my every waking moment. My strong family helps my writing, by keeping me grounded and my priorities in order. If I never get a screenplay produced by a studio, my life will still be great. I won’t quit writing screenplays and trying to reach that goal; I enjoy it too much to stop. But with my family as my focus, I have something more real, more meaningful on which to base my life, instead of “making it as a screenwriter.”

  6. Patrick Mahon

    Well said, Jeanne. Couldn’t agree more.

    And it got me thinking about what the ‘It’ really means in the expression ‘Making It’.

    People talk about their desire to ‘Make It’ all the time. But no-one ever really talks about what ‘It’ is.

    Some may swear ‘It’ is all about money and fame. But if this is the case, then screenwriting seems to be absolutely the worst way to go about achieving it.

    And the more I learn, the more I come to believe ‘It’ is actually a dedication of enormous time and energy. Facing the terror of every blank page every day and applying yourself to its mastery as an end in itself.

    With all the disappointment and repeated failure involved, there must be a more deep seated need involved in why we choose to do this than a cashier’s check and a corner of red carpet. There must be.

    Otherwise why do we repeatedly wrench our hearts from our chests and force them through a paper shredder on a regular basis?

    Perhaps when starting out on this odyssey we may naively believe our GOAL is fame and fortune. But like our own unconscious protagonists, bruised and battered and on the verge of giving up, we may come to the realization that what we are actually pursuing is an internal NEED.

    A need to actualize a higher level of our selves. And one that, as writers, we can only achieve through creating our best possible work.

    As John Truby once said: “Write a screenplay that will change your life. If you don’t sell it, at least you will have changed your life.”

    This is a terrifyingly high standard to live up to. But, in the final analysis, is the only one that can ever make any sense.

  7. Christina DeMarco

    Jeanne, Once again you hit the nail on the head. My focus of not succeeding has been what’s distracting me from putting the time in to master the craft. How did you become so wise?
    xo

  8. Roy

    Who the hell writes for fame and fortune? You write because you have something to say about the human condition. You write because you have an insight on things. You write because you want to.

    I write personally because I’ve endured pain and loneliness. What’s your reason?

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