BALLS OF STEEL: Pursuing a Writing Career When You Feel Lost

Jeanne Veillette Bowerman is the Editor of Script Magazine and on Stephanie Palmer’s list of “Top 10 Most Influential Screenwriting Bloggers.” Her narrative adaptation of the Pulitzer Prize-winning book, Slavery by Another Name, was selected for the Tracking Board’s Top 25 Launch Pad Competition and a PAGE Awards Finalist.

Click to tweet this article to your friends and followers!

The other day I lost my way. The Balls of Steel writer got lost.

Having balls of steel is my brand. How the hell can I, of all people, have a hiccup of faith in my writing career? And how could I possibly admit that to my readers?

I slammed down a shot of Wild Turkey and walked out of my house. I walked and walked. Two hours. Just walking. Crying. A lot. I’m confident my neighbors thought I was having a breakdown. Guess what? I was.

A breakdown of faith. I don’t just mean blind faith in this business and the people controlling it, I mean faith in myself not to lose my mind while trying to get champions for my projects.

I pride myself in never quitting. I never even think about quitting. I know I can write. I know I can deliver. I know I can work tirelessly to achieve my dreams, but what do you do when your faith in your ability isn’t enough? Let’s face it, succeeding in this industry isn’t entirely in your control. It takes a village to make a film. What do you do when you’re facing a stone wall and, instead of reaching their hand back to help you, people are piling more stones on top of that wall?

Did I really have what it takes to scale the wall without trusting the people around me not to let me fall… or worse, push me off into the depths below?

I finally crawled my way back up my 1100-foot driveway for one reason. My kids. They’ve been watching me for the past 10 years trying to break in. I needed to set an example for them of fortitude and courage. But did I have the strength?

After commenting on how freakishly blue my eyes get when I cry, my daughter spit my own words back at me, “Giving up is not an option. You will get this made, Mom.”

My son asked if I felt like I was being held hostage.

Ding. Hostage. That’s exactly what I felt like.

From the mouths of babes, who are no longer babes but teenagers. Even though I was struggling with being a writer, my children were not. Their faith in me is a constant. Unwavering. My rocks.

I am a writer. Writers write. I can’t quit being a writer anymore than I could quit being a mother. Writing is as much a part of me as my children are.

During my breakdown walk, I thought about what being a writer means. It’s much more than writing every day. It’s a mindset. A decision.

Or is it a decision? Are you born being an artist or is it something you learn along the way? Is it something you choose or is it something you are?

Those of us who are in love with writing, who are addicted, who can’t imagine living our lives without moving people with our words really have no choice but to ignore the impossible odds and bleed on the pages despite them.

I sat there in the morning light, eyes still burning from the two hours of tears the day before, and I was inspired to open that file and keep writing. Always needing background noise, I turned on the TV to the movie Desert Runners.

Imagine you’ve been dropped off in the middle of one of the largest, driest deserts in the World. Over the next six days you will have to run, jog, walk or crawl 155 miles through the incessant heat (up to 120 degrees), across soft sand and hard-packed gravel, over sand dunes multiple stories high and down razor-sharp rocky cliffs. You must do this carrying everything you need to survive — clothes, food, sunscreen, emergency medical supplies, sleeping bag — in a 20-pound pack on your back.

One of the runners talked about always trying to achieve, always trying to improve, and why he does these types of ultra-marathons.

“It’s about proving to myself that I’m good enough to be able to do this for me. It’s not for anything except me against me. Whatever it takes, I’m going to do this. I’ve always said if I have to finish on my hands and knees, screaming, then so be it. Because I’m not giving up.”

While these runners are exhausted beyond what we can imagine, they’re thinking about their lives, their choices, their mistakes and their goals. They’re pushing down the physical pain, filling their minds with their purpose. Running. Finishing. Challenging themselves. They aren’t worrying about tomorrow’s run. They’re thinking about surviving the run they are on today.

I could relay story after story of these runners’ journeys and how they relate to the pursuit of anyone’s artistic career, but the bottom-line is, when you’re pursuing something you’re passionate about, you just need to keep in the game one more day, one more step, one more breath, and you will eventually reach the finish line.

So how do we survive being a writer?

Maybe the answer is, at least for me, to allow those feelings of helplessness in. To accept them. To know they are part of the process. To acknowledge and really feel the pain of being a writer. To accept you don’t have full control.

Think about it. We write to make people feel something, so why should we think we won’t feel during the process? The act of pursuing screenwriting is like a story in and of itself. The highs, lows, inciting incidents, point of no return, call to action, etc. Maybe we need to simply think of our journeys as our stories. Are we going to push through? And what will be the catalyst to make our characters have to push through to the bitter end?

Maybe the answer is in a support group. Hell, it works for addicts. Group therapy. It worked for the runners in the desert. They held hands, pulled each other through, and even supported each other when someone had to tap out.

I get emails all the time from people telling me how a Balls of Steel article inspired them. Sharing they were about to give up, but something in my words reminded them they were not alone in their experiences or frustrations. I gave them hope. I find it fitting that another writer’s words made them stick it out one more day, which led to a second day, and a third, finally bringing them to finishing their scripts.

desert runners

Sharing your journey with others can be incredibly rewarding. Sort of like a writer’s circle of life. My words inspire their words, and in turn, their gratitude inspires me.

In the closing of Desert Runners, filmmaker Jennifer Steinman talked about the mindset of the runners who finished the desert runs and those who did not.

“The difference between the people who make it and the people who don’t make it had nothing to do with fitness. He made it just because he knew he would. For the people who made it, that kind of doubt never entered their minds. It was always, ‘What do I need to do next, what do I need to do next?’ Where the people who didn’t make it, they would somehow entertain, ‘What if I can’t make it, what if I can’t make it.’”

The story in Desert Runners wasn’t that they finished the race. The story was about their journey doing the race.

She went on to share, “You would never, ever do this unless you had a really big ‘why’ for doing this. The why applies to anything you want to do in life.”

So, I ask, why do you want to be a writer?

I am a writer because I’d die if I wasn’t writing. No matter how painful the journey gets, how many times I want to strangle someone who is putting road blocks up for me, how many times I want to shred my scripts, how hard it is to squeeze writing time in between the day job and being a mom, I am a writer.

I’ll go out never having given up on doing what I love. I can’t think of a better way to die… or a better way to live.

Dedicated to my amazing children who believe in me and inspire me every day to stay in the game and be true to myself and to my dreams.

Special offer for Script readers: Get 10% OFF the digital download of the Desert Runners movie using code SCRIPT during checkout! 

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.

get-my-free-download-blue

15 thoughts on “BALLS OF STEEL: Pursuing a Writing Career When You Feel Lost

  1. pgsundling

    I had that breakdown moment a few years ago. I weighed my options and turned into a reluctant novelist. 70% of movies are adapted from other formats like books. Writing novels allows me to sidestep the village you mention and write more complex stories. Another problem with screenplays is the gatekeepers have all the power, so you either have the big payday or nothing. Books let you build up a following, even if he successes are smaller scale. Drawers of forgotten screenplays don’t build followings.

    So I started working on my novel, The Internet President: None of the Above. It’s become super topical this year. If only I’d moved to novels earlier it would have been done early enough to get a marketing push from the election. I haven’t had balls of steel for the most part, but I’ve called in all my chips to get this novel done. Today I’m even considering taking a leave of absence to finish the book. It’s taken a few decades, but I’m super excited to finish my novel.

    1. pgsundling

      One last advantage. When one of my novels hit big, I’ll own the IP and be first in line to write the screenplay adaptation. So it might take me another decade, but that’s my best shot at getting a movie made.

  2. javamdnss

    “I am a writer. Writers write. I can’t quit being a writer anymore than I could quit being a mother. Writing is as much a part of me as my children are.
    During my breakdown walk, I thought about what being a writer means. It’s much more than writing every day. It’s a mindset. A decision.” LOVE this. It spoke right to me, thank you! I am brand new to your blog and you’ve helped me already. 🙂

  3. griff

    Ms. Bowerman, thanks for the honesty. Something I needed to cast down fear and doubt. My March 16 deadline is fast approaching to submit to my first contest and I WILL finish my first spec.
    S/N, I can’t write in silence either: either I turn on tv or play smooth jazz. Thought I was the only writer like that.!!

  4. Jenna AveryJenna Avery

    Jeanne, you rock. For sharing your courage, your struggle, your fears and doubts. And not giving up! My Writer’s Circle is a great support group for these moments if you ever want to join us. We ALL go through these dark nights of the soul, and handling the emotional challenges of writing is part of the job description. Having support to get through it all is key. And I’m with you. I could no sooner give up writing than I could being a mother. Amen to the children and the words on the page!

COMMENT