BALLS OF STEEL: Writing for Free – Is Money the Only Measure of Success?

When you meet a new person, one of the very first questions asked is, “What do you do?”

I used to hesitate from blurting out, “I’m a writer” because I wasn’t receiving money to write. How can I “be” something I’m not getting paid to do? That’s not how our society works.

I’d like you to consider another way of thinking. Ask yourself does money need to be exchanged to validate your existence?

The other day someone tweeted me this:

Not Paid copy

My response was simply, “By doing what you love.” (The Black Board’s response is here.)

Then it struck me as sad that so many of us don’t find value in doing what we love. Instead, many feel trapped in jobs we hate because they pay money, yet the thing we do love, we won’t admit is really who we are because it does not pay money.

I hear it all the time. “I’m an engineer. I’m a bank teller. I’m in marketing.” The labels slapped on with a fake smile, hiding the writer who is shackled behind the veneer.

I don’t want to live like that. I don’t want to be defined by anything other than who I am in my core… in my essence.

I am a writer.

Try it. Say it right now.

Can’t choke it out yet? OK, let’s keep talking.

Our society uses money as the measure of success. There’s no question we need money to survive. When I was freelance writing, it was brutal querying for gigs constantly, never having one month’s income match the next. The stress level was pushing my blood pressure through the roof and definitely contributed to the amount of wrinkles you’ll see in the video below (oh yes, I’m letting you see the real me again!).

But do you know what saved me? Saved my health? Saved my sanity?


I am a writer.

But for us to really feel like writers, we need validation. How can you get validation if you aren’t getting paid?

By people reading your words.

That’s why I have a blog. Writing screenplays and novels can take years. But writing a blog post, I can do in a few hours, tweet it out, and instantly, I’m getting validation by moving people with my words.

That is priceless.

I have perused Amazon and found authors who are self-published, churning books out so fast the quality is atrocious, but they’re making great money. Others are written very well, but sometimes that doesn’t translate into dollars. Does that mean one of them is less valuable than the other?

They both have value. Those writers are writing. People are reading their words, money or not.

So I ask you to again consider what “success” really means. Is it the money that lines your pocket, or is it the goosebumps you get when you break story or write an amazing scene?

For me, it’s goosebumps. Hands down.

Sometimes when I interview people I ask how they want to be remembered at the end of their lives. What if you had a choice between people saying one of these two things:

  1. He was damn good at his job.
  2. He inspired me by always going after his dreams. Never giving up, despite all the obstacles. He really lived.

Writing is my life, not my job.

Maybe we shouldn’t ask each other, “What do you do for a living?” I’d rather answer the question, “What do you do to feel alive?”

Yeah, I’m a writer. Forever and then some.

Ready to say it? I double-dog dare you to own it.

Since many of you gave me an enthusiastic response to my Control Fear, Just Write video, I wanted to make you another one on the topic of What is Success? It’s embedded directly into this post, so just click on the image below, sit back and watch me share the moment I realized I was indeed a writer.

Please add your own personal experience and advice in the comment section so we can help keep each other sane as we pursue our dreams. After all, if we aren’t a supportive community, what’s the point?

What is Success? from Writers Store on Vimeo.

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.


17 thoughts on “BALLS OF STEEL: Writing for Free – Is Money the Only Measure of Success?

  1. iamawriter

    Providentially just stumbled upon the video and article and am inspired. Thank you SO MUCH for your willingness to be open and honest. Your words are an encouragement for my journey and I am uplifted. I so appreciate you. Blessings.

  2. Scott Ware

    The article’s great and the video’s even better. It gets tricky when our wiser self rubs up against our outmoded ideas of success we created when we were younger, perhaps unconsciously. As an adult, should I hold onto the dreams my teenage self created? If so, it could be meaningful to look at them in the bright light of day to make sure I’m navigating my life properly.

    By the way, it is okay that I find your posts wise, focused and unrambling? 🙂

    1. Jeanne Veillette BowermanJeanne Veillette Bowerman Post author

      Thanks, Scott. I really appreciate you taking the time to read my posts… and watch me fumble around in the videos. As for my “unrambling,” I make these videos in one take, never really knowing what I’m going to say until I start. Talk about unfiltered! 🙂

  3. Larry Kostroff

    Having a modestly successful career as a professional Line producer and Production Executive, I had an effective rationale for keeping my passion for writing submerged. Recently, my muse escaped and writing has become the gratification never equaled previously. And finally, without too many disclaimers, I learned to respond to the query–“I am a writer.” It empowers my sense of identity, and yes, it sounds good. I also may allow me to write better.

  4. West Coast Writer

    Hey M’Lady… you look lovely, you are lovely and I love your writerly essence. And that’s what it’s really all about, isn’t it? A person’s essence – who they are at their core – what causes one’s wings to take flight.

    Nothing seems more right in my world than when I’m writing. But how do I feel successful when I’ve yet to be paid, and could possibly never be paid? To me, it’s all in how one defines success.

    I feel successful when I invest in my craft and then it shows up on the page with each story I tell. I love it when my characters and their worlds are just as real as the tangible world. There’s an amazing feeling this produces within me… and it must be success because it’s deeply gratifying – a great payoff for having poured myself out and onto the page.

    Like most, I’ve an ‘everyday’ job, but by no means does it define who I am. Okay, Jeanne, here’s my declaration… I am a writer – it’s who I am at my core. My desire is to give an audience a story experience and move them to emotion. And as a writer, what could possibly be more rewarding than that?

    And so I forge on. And like most writers, just as sure as our writing is our joie de vivre, it’s also the bane of our existence. We live in a strange duality. One of euphoria, where we’re just smoking a story… the greenfairy has shown up in our rabbit hole and the muse juice is flowing freely, to one of wanting to throw ourselves underneath a speeding train because it seems everything we put on the page amounts to nothing more than baby babble. But that’s when I remind myself that I must write, and push on through to the other side, because I have stories to tell. And when I do nail it, that’s the best smack in the world. Beyond the monetary, that’s how I define success.

    Jeanne, thank you. And keep those Balls of Steel videos and articles rolling! To borrow Red Bull’s tagline, you give me wings 😉

    Forever grateful… West Coast Writer

  5. claire_wade

    This article is brilliant – this year was the first time I started calling myself a writer, or even telling people that I write. It’s been a turning point for me deciding to take writing a novel seriously and really go for it.

    I do struggle with the fact I’m not getting paid and juggling my work with my writing, when all I want to do is write.

    I’m going to view success differently now though, so thank you!

    1. Jeanne Veillette BowermanJeanne Veillette Bowerman Post author

      Claire, just declaring the title makes a difference in your mind set. What is tough though is when someone says, “Have you written a movie I would know?” Um… yeah, if you were my computer hard drive! 🙂 While it’s hard to get society to understand our value, that’s not what’s important. It’s US recognizing our value. Going after your dreams is priceless. Keep at it!

      1. claire_wade

        Jeanne I’ve had people say “oh so when are you going to be published?” I fight not to start mumbling and making excuses and instead say that I’m working on it. It is the fact that WE recognise our worth that really counts and knowing others feel the same is hugely helpful. Thank you!