Balls of Steel: How Far Will You Go?

Success. We dream about it. We lust for it. We wake in the wee hours before our day jobs, as well as burn the midnight oil, to find time to write. Some days, the amount of hours we clock seem endless, but we keep putting ink on paper, believing in our destiny to be writers.

Photo courtesy of Kim's Korner

Or do we?

I started screenwriting in 2004 and have met a multitude of screenwriters in the past eight years. I’ve also watched many of them… most of them… walk away from writing, exhausted from the pursuit.

Writer roadkill.

What are you willing to do to succeed?

I ask this question seriously. I’m challenging you to draw a line. Raise a bar. Contemplate the realities of this industry, and think about the probabilities like a scientist. Put your dream mind up against your practical mind and ask, “How far will I go to succeed?

Some writers give themselves a magical number of years to get produced. Or perhaps it’s their spouse who draws an imaginary line in the sand. Everyone has a breaking point, and it’s important to be honest about what that is.

BUT…(and you knew there would be a “but” when it comes to this ballsy writer) the more important question is how will you feel the day you walk away from writing? Relief? Happiness? Defeated? Will you always wonder what if?

“What if?” is not a question I ever want spinning in my brain. Ever.

So, how do you avoid being haunted by the writer ghost yet keep your sanity as you pursue your dreams?

Try as hard as you possibly can to succeed. Do everything it takes. Stop making excuses as to why you haven’t been produced or discovered. Learn your craft. Study. Take classes. Push yourself harder.

Do. Not. Quit.

The only way you will be guaranteed to fail is if you quit. As long as you’re in the game, there’s still a chance.

Recently I was emailing a friend who said, “I’d really love to adapt that book, but I’m sure the option is already taken.” And with that, she ended the conversation. Clearly, she wasn’t willing to go that far to succeed. She hadn’t even reached out to the author or his agent to ask if the book was optioned, yet she was walking away from the pursuit.

Um…helllloooo!

What’s the worst thing that can happen when you ask?

Someone says, “no.” Big whoop.

A “no” isn’t going to land you in the hospital, knock your teeth out, or give you a lobotomy. It’s simply going to sting… for a few moments… then you move on.

ASK! Whether you’re a director who wants to nab a Black List script, a writer who wants to adapt a NY Times Best Seller, or someone who wants that dream mentor to guide them in their career, if you don’t ask, it ain’t happenin’.

You will always wonder, “what if?”

Life is short. I’m only 48, yet have watched six friends be buried in the last two years. I wonder how many of them asked, “what if?” as they struggled with their last breath. I know for certain one did, and I watched that pain in her eyes during her final day of life.

I assure you, if you get news of my untimely demise, “what if?” is not a question floating in my psyche. I may not be produced yet, but I will be this summer, in making my short film, Impasse. Did I wait for a producer to find my script? Hell no. I found a great director, and we’re making it happen. Even in features, I practically made myself a stalker in pursuing the Pulitzer Prize adaptation of Slavery by Another Name, and I give tirelessly to the community of screenwriters I adore in Scriptchat, all because of my passion. Passion for writing, passion for community, and passion in seeing people live their dreams.

What will you do to succeed? What would make you throw in the towel? What roadblocks are you putting up yourself?

This is I, challenging you to start being proactive in your writing career. If you want it, get it… take it. Do it.

*Insert Cher face slap from Moonstruck *

Snap out of it! Stop making excuses and make it happen.

Here’s how: Determine what is holding you back. If it’s lack of skill, then take classes. If it’s fear, then do what I did, and give it up. If it’s people hindering you, stop letting them piss on your flame, and get them out of your life. If it’s money, keep working your day job, and write at night. Lose sleep. It won’t kill you.

Do what you need to do to succeed. If you don’t do what is in your control, and your name never ends up in the credits rolling on the screen, you have no one to blame but yourself. I understand not everyone of us will make it to the big screen, but if we do the hard work, study, train, write every single day, and we still don’t succeed, we’ll never have to say “what if?” In my opinion, that alone is worth the effort.

While you’re at it, give everything in your life your all. Love. Children. Play. Live your life hard. The more you live, the more you have to write about. You’ll have plenty of time to sleep in your grave.

Despite how amazing we all think we are, no one is going to make our dreams come true for us. That’s our job. There are no do overs.

What will you do to succeed? Tell me in the comments. Make yourself accountable. Then do it.

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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25 thoughts on “Balls of Steel: How Far Will You Go?

  1. J.R. Mathiassen

    Thank you Jeanne for the inspiration! I will add some fuel to that blazing fire.

    If anybody thinks they have struggled to hard in life, or think they have become to old, or think they have too little time… Think again!

    I’m 35 years old, and I started writing last Summer. I wrote two books , and I have now sold exactly one copy of each. Those books were like the first poo of a newborn baby. I just had to get it out. Turns out that it doesn’t smell to bad either… A better metaphor is the first words of a baby. If the baby just keeps on babbling away, it will soon start speaking works of art. That is one side of it.

    Sometimes when beginning something, you may feel wobbly but you just have to keep at it until you succeed. To steady yourself in that wobble, I think it helps to have learnt some life lessons and learnt perseverance and focus. Everything you have learnt in life will be reflected in the stories you write. The journey of the hero in your book or script will be as bold as you are. The wisdom of the characters in your book or script will be as wise as you are, or maybe even wiser if you let some divine sparks come through your crystal clear mind. That is another side of it.

    How many directions does a rocket fly in? Only one. Up!

  2. Wes Worthing

    After going into a bit of depression last year from watching my feature script burn down in flames on the contest circuit, I was ready to hang up my rock-n-roll shoes; but then one day I got an email from a reputable international contest that the script took 7th place. Don’t forget how subjective this industry is. I have a friend who also had a script that wasn’t cracking the first round of any contest, then out of nowhere the same script took 1st place and he had a $10,000 prize in his pocket! When I read my own story, I would laugh at the funny parts and tear up and the serious moments, so there has to be SOMEONE out there who will draw the same response. I’m now viciously marketing my story, a romcom fantasy, to as many Hollywood folk as possible. Someday I’ll have a manager and agent, but they’re not going to knock on my door, so until then, I’m going to hammer away on their doors.
    PS: I’ve been making plans since January to resign from my full-time job to pursue my writing/acting/modeling career. I don’t want to spend the only life on Earth that I’ll get doing something I’m not passionate about. Crunch your own numbers – you might be able to do it as well. Thanks Jeanne – I needed an article like this to start my day!

  3. ChristinaDM

    Jeanne, a writing professor once told me that no one can read in a life time the number of books published in a year. I’m changing that to No one can read in a lifetime all Jeanne Bowerman has written in a week. Take a vacation, you’re so addicting. I hope to gain your dedication SOON!

  4. Brian Shell

    Great article Jeanne… I’m someone who started writing my first script in 1995, and after writing it in Seattle, moved to LA, ended up homeless in Venice Beach painting a mural while trying to get an agent, got locked in two psych wards because everyone thought I was crazy to make a such a leap of faith to chase a dream… but as one said, do NOT have a back-up plan and God rewards BIG risks. So true.

    So back in my hometown of Detroit, after talking to an NYC literary agent, I realized it was easier to publish a book than to sell and produce a screenplay… and now I have 20 eBooks published… with all that living of life having provided more fodder to write about than I have in a lifetime to express it.

    While I’ve been asked to draw a line in the sand, asked what’s my Plan B if this all fails, etc… the thing is, I have NO regrets. Not one. No “what ifs”… not one single one.

    And though I have 10 scripts (many published as eBooks for Kindles and a few for Nooks), I’ve never given up… and am grateful I haven’t… as I can face “the man in the mirror” because of it… which is what it really gets down to… that you at least tried… and tried your best… heart and soul exhausted in good cause.

    As my drumming teacher told me (who is the drummer for Michael Jackson’s “Man in the Mirror”): “It’s only the conductor at the helm who can keep a train from coming down the tracks.”

    Or as Michael Jordan is quoted as saying: “You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.”

    Keep trying… keep believing… because if you believe you can… you’re right. If you believe you can’t, you’re right again.

    Slow progress over no progress.

    Best regards,
    Brian Shell
    PassionHeroDotCom

  5. Jessica

    I will go to Chapman University in the fall for their MFA Screenwriting Program. I will not let the Berkeley or Stanford grads step on my toes while I’m there. SUNY Oswego! I will have a voice.

    I will grab my opportunities. I will ask people to read my stuff. I will snag all the internships. I will succeed.

    I will succeed.

  6. Pingback: Friday Links: Raising Hope, Inspiration, Jokes & Commas « the [eventual] sitcom writer

  7. Sharon

    I need to get past the fear. I keep talking about “I will” but I’m terrible at actually doing. I need to stop expecting others to make me accountable, and learn to do it for myself.

    I need to finish my degree with a specialisation in screenwriting, and I need to network.

    So, with all those I needs, now comes the beginning of “I do.”

  8. T A Munroe

    I’m an indie author and recently self-published my first novel. Marketing is all up to me because I have no money to hire help. I’m fairly introverted, so self-promotion can be a form of torture. If I let it. Even things like inviting friends to like my Facebook author page is putting myself way out there. But, if I want to sell books and get known, it’s what I have to do.

    Yesterday, I approached someone about doing free writing programs for adults and kids. The idea was well received. It’s a little start, but it’s one step further from my comfort zone; one more fear faced and conquered.

  9. Jeanne Veillette BowermanJeanne Veillette Bowerman Post author

    Jaclyn, inspiring others fuels me too. Congrats on all you’ve achieved.

    Ian, sleep is good. I don’t sleep enough. Recently, after weeks of burning the candle at both ends, I took a nap… and didn’t wake up until the next day. Yeah, I needed it. Sleep when you can.

    El, I too owned a business for 15 yrs. It didn’t survive the economy, and I have often felt a huge sense of failure because of it. But the biggest lessons I have learned in life are from my failures. I count each one as a blessing. Be brave. Move forward. If you sit still, you’ll never get the success you deserve. Keep me posted on your progress.

    Mike, I understand what you’re saying. I don’t really have a plan B in terms of my career, but I do have a plan A, B, C, D and more for how I’m going to make that career I envision happen.

  10. El

    I need to deal with fear too. I’ve started fearing a lot of things lately, things that I would never even worry about before. And that fear just makes me indecisive. I ran thing big business. It did not survive the crisis of 2008. I’ve always thought about it as of my personal failure. So I got scared of starting new things. I got scared of responsibility, as if anything I take on would fail. Although I did take on some projects which were successful, but they were really small ones. Now I have a chance to get engaged in something big. I really want to do it, but I’m scared again with million what if’s. But yesterday I was reading an article and came along some words that someone told someone. The basic meaning was this, to become a great manager, you have to fail one project, because it’s the only way to learn how to avoid those mistakes in the future. It kinda gave me hope 🙂

  11. Ian

    I just want to make it clear that sleep is important. So don’t NOT sleep. It’s also important not to burn yourself out.

    I completely agree with you Jeanne. I always ask “What if?” to myself.

    My little story is this. I wanted to get better at illustration because I realized my skills weren’t up to par with what I wanted to do. I literally spent so much time drawing and painting with little improvement that I began hating art. So I stopped. I stopped for a while and decided to pursue other passions of mine, such as writing.

    After a long time, my urge to draw suddenly re-emerged again. I noticed that my drawing has gotten a lot better now. I still have some stuff to work on but in the past two years, I have def seen myself grow as an artist which motivates me to continue it.

    So has my writing. I’ve learned so much in one year about screenwriting. A short screenplay I wrote even made it to the semi finals at Spirit Quest Film Festival and it’s only been my second short screenplay I wrote.

    I also realize with my first feature length screenplay that my story might be more of a B story than an A story. I don’t regret writing it because I learned a lot in the process.

    I don’t plan on giving up any time soon.

  12. Jaclyn Abergas

    I sort of did this before. Left to pursue another field. But the call of screenwriting and filmmaking was just too strong. I went back after two years and haven’t looked back since. It’s still hard, still a struggle everyday but, honestly, I am enjoying this struggle because at least I’m doing what I love.

    And since then, I’ve met so many people with the same dream, worked with them, got my IMdB credits and continued to be inspired by them. And I try to repay them by being an inspiration to others, too. So whenever anyone tells me they want to write, too, I always try to encourage them to do it. After all, the universe can never have too many writers, right? 🙂

  13. Jeanne Veillette BowermanJeanne Veillette Bowerman Post author

    Kingisafink, oh yeah, you girls are driving the ship and running over the sharks in your way. You really inspire me, especially on our indie adventure that is Impasse!

    Jessica, get writing, and get out of town…but have a plan for the move. One step at a time, and you’ll find a new location sooner than you think.

    Guy, AWESOME! That is one hell of a story. Bravo!

  14. Guy Guido

    I love u Jeanne! Your positive energy, and authentic motivation is so helpful and inspiring.
    I was a high school drop out and then decided I wanted to get into the NYU Film school and get my BFA… the odds were slim to none, but my drive, belief and willingness to work harder than I ever have in my life got me in, and I got my film degree! Not tooting my own horn, just reinforcing the fact that I said F-U to the odds and went for it and I know now that ANYTHING can happen if you truly (TRULY!) work for it. So now I put the same mind set into my screenwriting career… F-U to the odds… I will work until I succeed!

  15. Jessica

    Hmmm… Make more time for my writing as I have seriously gotten lazy and move… at almost 32 it’s time to actually be interested in what I spend the majority of my time doing and I’m not going to find that anywhere near this city.

  16. kingisafinkkingisafink

    In order to get closer to our goals, we’ve branched out into new types of writing over the past year. With several feature-length screenplays under our belt, we tried documentaries and web series…and liked them both. Now our road to success has more than one lane, and it suits us just fine.

    Also, we went to some places this year where we hope to go back with movies someday: SXSW & Sundance. To paraphrase “Rocky Horror Picture Show”: Don’t dream it: attend it.

  17. Shelia

    What will I do to succeed?

    I will stop dealing with what’s possible (how dreadfully limiting!) and will instead aim for the impossible, believing that what I need will appear in my path simply because I’m being bold enough to do it.

    God loves bold. It has been my experience that God always responds to and comes through for the bold moves I make. I knew that, but had somehow forgotten.

    Jeanne, thank you for reminding me of what was already in my heart.

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