Writing and Money, Part 3

In last week’s post I made a case for writing out of love. This week lemme dig into that idea a little deeper.

The profession of writer (or musician or filmmaker or athlete) is not really a “job” like other jobs. It’s not like working in a coal mine or toiling in a cubicle as a telemarketer. It’s not something we do purely to put food on the table.

We write or paint or dance out of love. We would do it even if nobody paid us.

In the fields of the arts and entertainment, the principles that apply to payment-for-labor are, shall we say, unconventional. What factors make them that way?

1. There are thousands, even millions of aspirants who would gladly donate a kidney to get our jobs. The glamour! The sex! The moolah! Not even shame can stop them. How many of our daughters would twerk all night if they could be Miley Cyrus?

2. We ourselves would donate a kidney.

Would Tiger Woods compete in next year’s Masters for free? Would Rafael Nadal show up at Wimbledon?

In fields like the arts and athletics, the reward transcends lucre. If you or I came up with the greatest sales promo in history for Byron Jackson submersible pumps, not even our spouses or Golden retrievers would give a damn. But to win an Oscar? The National Book Award?

3. The rewards paradigm in the arts and athletics is nuts.

There are 20,000 members in the Writers Guild West, the screen- and TV-writers union in Los Angeles. How many actually make a living? If it’s one in ten, I’ll be amazed. And that doesn’t count the, what, hundred thousand other aspiring scriptwriters who are waiting tables in Sherman Oaks or the million-plus in Bangor and Bogalusa who are saving up, even now, to make the move to L.A. Are these guys and gals any less deserving than the few who have figured out how to make a living? They’re busting their butts! They’re sacrificing! They’re giving it all they’ve got! Is there any justice in this racket?

Meanwhile at the tippy-top, the 1% are bringing home serious dinero. They’re hogging the spotlight! J.K. Rowling made 300 mill in 2008. Her net worth today is near $1B. Kobe Bryant’s net per year is $220M; Tiger with endorsements has topped the career billion-mark.

Down in the coal mine, if you and I can shovel seventeen tons instead of sixteen, we can make a case to the boss that we deserve a fatter paycheck. But if our gig is designing video games, how do we measure what we’re worth?

4. In arts and athletics (not to mention real estate), the individual’s compensation is based on how much money the public is willing to pay to see what he or she does. Ask David Mamet in Glengarry Glen Ross:


Nice guy? I don’t give a shit. Good

father? F*#k you! You wanna work here?


Is your work brilliant? World-altering? Sorry, you’re behind Lebron unless it puts asses in the seats.

In other words, there’s no justice in the arts or entertainment. Or what justice there is, is skewed by factors that most of us don’t even wanna think about.

We’re working in an insane field. Newtonian laws no longer apply. We have to adjust mentally to that.

So …

Where do I come out on all this?

I always go back to the way I feel each morning. I wake up to a looming wall of Resistance. My own fear, my own tendency to self-sabotage. And my own dream and the call of my own Muse.

That’s my world. Those are the elementals of my existence. Money exists in my consciousness like a very minor moon orbiting a very distant planet.

I can’t think about money.

If I do, I’ll drive myself crazy.

I can only focus on the work.

Yes, I keep one eye cocked to the commercial possibilities or any spec project I begin. And yeah, I want to be paid. If a publisher or a movie studio is gonna make money from my work, then I want my share of that money.

But money is not the object.

The game is the object.

Like Lebron, I want to be playing in the post-season. Like Tiger, I want a shot at a major.

And if I can’t get to that level, that’s okay too. I play for love and I play for money. But money takes second place. Money exists, in my view, only to serve the love.


Steve shows you the predictable Resistance points that every writer hits in a work-in-progress and then shows you how to deal with each one of these sticking points. This book shows you how to keep going with your work.

do the work book banner 1


A short book about the writing of a first novel: for Steve, The Legend of Bagger Vance. Having failed with three earlier attempts at novels, here's how Steve finally succeeded.



Steve shares his "lessons learned" from the trenches of the five different writing careers—advertising, screenwriting, fiction, nonfiction, and self-help. This is tradecraft. An MFA in Writing in 197 pages.



Amateurs have amateur habits. Pros have pro habits. When we turn pro, we give up the comfortable life but we find our power. Steve answers the question, "How do we overcome Resistance?"



  1. Mary on October 30, 2013 at 6:05 am

    At this stage, for me, the trick is not to allow preoccupation with money aka Resistance interfere with my work, and I’ve taken your stance all along that if I think about money I’ll go crazy, so I leave it off in the distance. But at the stage when something is finished and ready to be shipped, how do you shift gears and combat Resistance by getting actively involved in either marketing your work yourself or finding someone else to do that for you? Maybe that’s another topic for another day. As always, thanks for showing up for us every Wednesday.

  2. Jennifer Giuffre-Donohue on October 30, 2013 at 6:18 am

    Where can I donate a kidney?? LOL…Love writing Wednesdays, thank you!

  3. Joel D Canfield on October 30, 2013 at 6:45 am

    “Money exists in my consciousness like a very minor moon orbiting a very distant planet.”

    Best description of my own attitude I’ve ever read.

  4. Dan Hazlett on October 30, 2013 at 6:48 am

    One of our problems (songwriter) is the idea that the public no longer views what we do as having an intrinsic value worth paying for. I think this is partially based on the goofy model perpetuated by the industry which is success looks like giant fame. Taylor Swift is successful which translates as she’s a great songwriter. I’m playing in someone’s living room, how must that translate? It’s also partially a function of the willingness of so many to give our work away. Folks are so dying to present their work that some will literally pay for the opportunity. It’s all skewed by our culture of fame. The way to counter it is to find some way to encourage folks to attend live music events. Especially small venue events that feature us under the radar artists. I’ve always believed that the miracle that we create in a live performance space cannot be created on a screen, a recording or with spectacle and that people need what we do like fresh air. They have just forgotten to breathe.

    • Kathy Ostman-Magnusen on October 30, 2013 at 12:36 pm

      I keep thinking that I need to collaborate with other artists, those trying to get out there. Find local visual artists, bands and music makers, someone who will open up their garage and have a show. Find poets, belly dancers and have a block party. That is what I am going to do anyway.

  5. [email protected] on October 30, 2013 at 7:00 am

    Exchanging talent for energy manifested as money requires a finely tuned “Worthy-O-Meter” and the acknowledgement from audiences that they don’t have the capacity for replicating what The Artist does.

    1. [Un]Worthiness is a form of resistance. “We don’t wake up for less than $10,000 a day” is said by Linda Evangelista because she believes she’s worth it.

    2. Many would-be patrons don’t pay for art because they labor under the assumption that they themselves could produce whatever it is they want from the artist. As someone from an advertising background, I saw this a lot with the advent of desktop publishing. Many of those with opposable thumbs and access to a computer, preloaded with scads of fonts, thought they could replicate a professional’s output/product.

    I do wholeheartedly believe, however, that “love is work made visible” and the best of those who channel that mindset in its purest form attract money. Great post. I’m forwarding it to friends.

  6. Jerry Ellis on October 30, 2013 at 7:14 am

    As always, Steven, well done!

  7. Basilis on October 30, 2013 at 7:18 am

    Is there anything to add here? Everything is so true…

  8. Lain on October 30, 2013 at 7:43 am

    Ok, money point hammered home.
    Please don’t make next week Money Part 4.
    Miss the Steve Pressfield that ignited the creativity in me through his ‘Sitting-at-the-knee-of-Nelly’ wisdom.
    Money…… bleh ( As you’ve stated……. THREE times now!)

  9. Brian Ragsdale on October 30, 2013 at 8:21 am

    I am reading your book, “The Art of War” and am loving it. I read a couple words everyday and it is like salve, soothing salve. I like the swear words in your book and was deeply touched when you wrote, something like …my first three books didn’t sell, and didn’t sell my first book until 11 years later.” I hold on to your words like the last threads of my well worn quilt. They comfort me, deeply. I meet resistance in every aspect of my creative life…I am an artist, writer, and musician. I need money to sustain my life and that is why I work as a college administrator…but the truth is I want to paint, write, and play my music and to make just enough to pay these bills. The hardest part of all of this is knowing what it might feel like to make a real earning from my creative side. I only know the push and pull of financial pressures and wonder if my talents would atrophy with out these pressures….but yep, I can hear your voice right now–there goes my resistant fear talking again. The only person who can set me free is me, and trying to set myself free feels like the scariest thing I face in life.

  10. Scott teaches docs on October 30, 2013 at 8:26 am

    I cannot thank you enough Steve and fellow travelers. My Resistance includes ADD and your approach has helped me change my behaviors a little bit in all areas. (Like bringing exhausting 205° water up a notch to power a train.) I’m in the game and will always be grateful to you. Gotta get back to work. (This blog can be part of the Resistance for me!)

  11. Robin on October 30, 2013 at 8:30 am

    Part of the problem is that we see someone make a pile o’ loot from one song, book, or golf shot and we forget about the millions of other songs, stories or shots they took that got them nothing.

    “How do you get to Carnegie Hall?”

  12. Jim Woods on October 30, 2013 at 9:05 am

    Steve, how would you define your “love”? Is it in defeating resistance for a few hours one day at a time?

    • Steven Pressfield on October 30, 2013 at 10:11 am

      Jim, it’s more “love of the game,” like how I imagine an athlete feels heading to the stadium or a racehorse feels when he knows he’s going out on the track.

      • john on October 30, 2013 at 1:52 pm

        Steven, when you say it like THAT, the “game” sounds like all the peripheral things like marketing and publishing and distribution to get the next home run…. not, the love of getting the words on the page. Please, tell me I am misunderstanding you!

        • David M. Morton on November 13, 2013 at 5:42 am

          All of those things are a part of the game. Getting the words down is enough for some people, but some want to see how those words and scenes are reacted to when they hit the light of day. To have a good race horse, you don’t just buy it, love it, and leave it in a stall. You get it out, train it, run it, show your love and confidence in it.

  13. Colleen Sgroi on October 30, 2013 at 9:23 am

    “I play for love and I play for money. But money takes second place. Money exists, in my view, only to serve the love.”

    Thank you for putting into words exactly how I feel as an artist!!

    Love & Light Colleen

  14. Michele on October 30, 2013 at 9:47 am

    Many years ago, when I worked in the music business, I had the good fortune to spend time with Tony Bennett. We share a mutual friend and one time, during dinner, a friend noted that had Tony never “made it,” he’d still be singing somewhere, even if it was as a singing waiter. I’ll never forget the look on Tony’s face, as if someone really understood him for the first time. “That the nicest thing anyone has ever said to me,” he replied, and I believed him. It was a great lesson for me.

  15. Sue Trumpfheller on October 30, 2013 at 10:09 am

    Some days I write because if I don’t the ideas, the poem pounds in my head until I do write. Once I begin I am amazed by what follows. It seems the poems, the page fills of its own accord. I love the magic of writing. Yes, I’ve made some money from the books I write but the greatest reward is sending it off for someone else to read.

  16. Ilja on October 30, 2013 at 1:54 pm

    First, thank you, Steve, for your insights and for putting them into words that pierce through to the very center of the issue. “The War of Art” has been a life companion for a few years now.

    There are three important points that should be mentioned about money, in addition to what has been said:

    1. The subject of money is sticky. It has the tendency to become the top idea on your mind. So having to make money is not only robbing you of time, it also robs you of a more precious resource – your attention. If you start thinking about money in the shower instead of your work, your work is not getting the undivided attention that the true art requires. So as aspiring artists, we should insulate the subject of money as much as we can by having a system which allows us to make enough to be able to write, and not think about it. Saving enough to live on for two years is an excellent (if a somewhat extreme) example of such insulation.

    2. Money disciplines. Ultimately, you want to create something that people want to read. If someone is willing to pay you for that, this is a pretty good sign you made something that is valuable for them. The pros recognize you as their equal. It also pushes you to constantly produce. When I was on a fellowship in grad school, I thought I have all the time in the world to write, and produced like 20 pages a year. When I had to start making money to survive, I realized I need to produce way more. The volume of writing went up in an order of magnitude.

    3. Money can have a corrupting effect when you start worrying about how to please rather then how to lead. But it does not have to. Pushkin (who was a nobleman and was supposed to be ashamed of demanding money from publishers for his poems) put it most concisely when he said: “Inspiration is not for sale, but the manuscript is.”

  17. Sharon on October 30, 2013 at 4:07 pm

    I find the naysaying and put downs of those who value art only for its monetary value incredibly tiresome. Or, “Do you journal?” “I’ve always wanted to write but I just can’t find the time. You’re so lucky.”

    Look, I’ve tried to quit writing any number of times. I’ve thrown perfectly good prose in the trash. I’ve learned there’s always more where that came from. The Muse wants to be heard!

    Steve’s recent blog and book, “War” which I’ve just read for the first time are heaven sent. I remain detached from outcome, working my butt off, and relishing “Suffer like a Marine.”

    If I’ve made typos on this iPhone you can get your money back ; )

  18. Alan Furth on October 30, 2013 at 5:46 pm

    “In other words, there’s no justice in the arts or entertainment. Or what justice there is, is skewed by factors that most of us don’t even wanna think about.”

    Most of those factors have to do with “intellectual property” and other legal fictions by which the powers that be perpetrate a model of artificial scarcity in the marketplace. Luckily there are strong technological forces at work that promise to tear down the whole shennanigan.

  19. Scott Ginsberg on November 5, 2013 at 9:30 am

    Outstanding. Thanks Steve. I’ve always struggled with this, since I’d rather be heard than paid. Turns out, if you get heard well enough and long enough and by the right people enough, you will get paid. Maybe.

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  26. Yasmin Johnson on February 13, 2024 at 5:57 am

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