I often have had writers come to me and say they feel they have failed as a writer. They tell me they want to give up. And I find an alarming number of people measure this failure by one simple fact.

They’ve not made any money from their work.

In 10-11 years of blogging and writing regularly, I’ve interacted with many writers. And in my experience there are way too many writers who have been led to believe that their success as a writer or artist is defined by how much money they make from their work.

And it’s a total and utter lie.

It’s not money or profit which defines your success.

Its how true you are to your voice. (you can tweet that)

I recently wrote about how our art doesn’t have to be our day job. But this is different – as you can make money from your work without it being your job.

Or you might not.

I have not yet made too much money from my work. I have sold a very small number of e-books and had some minor, one-off paid work.

But I don’t consider myself to have failed.

Would I like to make more money from my work? Yes. I won’t lie. Would l love it to be my day job? Yes. Definitely. But if that doesn’t happen I am not a failure as a writer.

The only time I’ve failed in the past, and would consider myself to have failed in the future, is if I am not true to my own voice. If I am unfaithful to the message that’s in me to share.

That will mean I’ve failed. (And as a side point, even if I fail, this won’t make me a failure as a person. If I fail, I’ve failed – but it doesn’t make me a failure).

If you or I compromise our work simply to make a profit, then we’ve failed. No matter how much money we make, or how big our status becomes. Or how many speaking engagements or publishing deals we get.

Because if we do that,  we’re essentially just writing marketing prose. Lying – to ourselves and our readers – to make a buck.

If we ever do that as artists, we just failed.

Selling Out & The Lesson Of Achtung Baby

A more obvious example of this is found in music. How many bands do you see come along and create fresh, innovative music. With a fresh sound. A fresh voice. But instead continuing to risk, continuing to innovate, they find a formula or sound which guarantees success, and they stick with it.

It’s called selling out. And the reason is, because they are sacrificing innovation for the guarantee of financial success. Money has become more important than their art. And their work loses something when this shift in priorities occurs.

And it’s the same in all art. Writing, painting, film – anything.


In 1991 U2 had just had one incredible success (Joshua Tree) followed by a failure (Rattle and Hum). Their reputation was on the line. If U2 wanted to guarantee good sales of their next album, they could have just stuck to a formula which worked – made Joshua Tree 2 , which the fans were crying out for.

But they didn’t. They went away, dug deep, and listened to their inner voice. They worked and worked and looked deep inside themselves for something fresh, something true.

In the words of Bono, they risked it. And what came out of that was Achtung Baby, one of U2’s freshest, most innovative albums. Strangely enough, it was also one of their most critically acclaimed, and best selling.  But that wasn’t the point. The point was they were willing to risk failure, and to them money was secondary to creating their best, most honest work.

It’s an example to all artists.

Never compromise your true, raw, authentic voice for anything. Not money, not anything else.

Share the work you were created to make. Promote it. Put it into the world and tell people about it.

And just surrender the response.

If you do that, you’re already a success. Whatever the outcome.

Are you with me?


Question for Reflection:

How do you define success?

Share your thoughts in the comments below.


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(Picture Source: artwareforgood.com / wikipedia.org)

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James Prescott

Hi, I’m James. I live near London. I’m a fan of good food, comic-book movies, & books. I love to write, and I coach other writers & creative people. Thank you for being part of my community. read more...

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