I woke up this morning to some VERY good news: Someone here in Michigan has the winning Powerball lottery ticket. Sadly, it isn’t me.
But it could have been! The official numbers, according to The Huffington Post, were 21, 39, 40, 55, 59 with a Powerball of 17. 17 is my lucky number! I would have picked that number. I’m sure of it! The others… well… maybe not.
Oh well, better luck next time. I suppose to win the lottery, I would have to play. I tend not to be much of a gambler, other than the occasional slot machine pull while in Vegas or a few scratch-off tickets over the holidays. I usually say I’d rather spend my money on less risky propositions.
However, it occurs to me that playing the lottery isn’t all that different than being a writer. Maybe my writing efforts could even be considered a more risky proposition than playing the lottery. Here’s my quick list of ways a writing career is much like playing the lottery:
- Both require an investment. If you’re going to win the lottery, you’ve got to throw some money into the pot. For many people, that could be a LOT of money before they see any significant return (if they ever do). These days, writing also takes an investment. For some, that may be an investment of time, with the expense of some notebooks and pens added to the equation. For others, there’s the computer(s), the complicated word-processing software, the printer ink and paper. There’s entry fees to contests, conference registrations (and travel and lodging expenses), book launch public relations costs… A writer’s investment could very well be just as substantial (if not more so) as someone playing the lottery.
- Both are risky. According to Nick Carbone in the Time Magazine article “Mega Millions Jackpot: 10 Crazy Things More Likely than Hitting the Winning Numbers,” if you’re already an author, your odds of writing a New York Times Bestseller are 1-in-220. (I’ve read some estimates of the odds of a debut novel getting published—they’re nowhere near this good, but I’m being optimistic!) Compared to winning the Powerball lottery (the odds are 1-in-about 175 million, according to the Powerball website), the odds of publishing a best-selling novel look pretty good. However, it takes all of a few minutes to buy a lottery ticket. It takes many writers a year or more to prepare a book for publication. That’s a lot of time to put on the line—a rather risky investment some might say.
- Both involve plenty of hopes and dreams. My guess is that very few people play the lottery focusing on their losses. Whenever I scratch off that ticket, I’m already imagining what I could do with the money I *might* win. In that moment, anything is possible. I get that same feeling when I’m writing. I don’t know exactly what I’ll find as I “scratch” at my characters and explore their world, but I’m always hoping the story takes my readers to interesting places. I’m always dreaming of the moment I can write “The End” with satisfaction.
I often wonder why I continue to write. There’s a significant investment and a sizable amount of risk without any guarantee of return. Even with all that in mind, though, I know there’s always a chance. Just like the person in Three Rivers, Michigan, who woke up this morning a lottery winner, I have to believe there’s always a chance. Maybe there’s a chance of publishing my debut novel. Maybe there’s a chance of publishing a bestseller. Maybe there’s a chance a reader might love my characters as much as I do.
What makes writing worth the risk for you? Why do you continue to write even though the return on investment may be less than impressive?