Tag Archives: Lottery

The Last Demon

You wanna win the lottery. No, really I’m pretty sure you do.

I get that you probably don’t actually play the lottery. No, you’re too smart for that. You know the odds are stacked against you. You know only stupid people fall for that stuff. But somewhere deep in the back of your mind you’ve got a “wouldn’t it be cool” scenario playing.

I’ve got one. Mine is: “wouldn’t it be cool if some rich inventor (don’t talk to me about there not being any real inventors any more, this is my fantasy, darn it!) just happened to strike up a conversation with me, and sees that golden truth that somehow everyone else has managed to miss, which is that I’m an incredibly bright young individual, who could, with a little mentoring, step into the rich inventor’s shoes being as he’s lacking an heir to his empire? (he’s infertile and he’s opposed to adoption for some reason, shut up!)”

I know it isn’t going to happen. I also know I don’t have any rich relatives that are going to die and leave me all their money. I know I’m not going to stumble over a briefcase full of money from a bank heist gone bad. I know all that stuff, sure. But I can hope, right?

Hope. Now there’s a nasty bugger if ever there was one. Did you know that when Pandora released the demons from her jar (not a box, study some real mythology) there was one left clinging to the inside of the rim? And that last demon was named Hope. That’s right. The ancient Greeks said that hope was in there living it up with all the rest of the nasty things in the world like hate, envy, and canned green beans.

And the worst thing about playing the lottery is when you start to believe that it really could happen. After all, somebody has to win right? We hear about them on the news. Our best friend, knew a guy who was in the same gas station as one guy who won (okay, not actually at the same time he won, more like five days earlier, but still, who knows? It could happen.) Next time it could be us!

Writers have a special variant of this kind of hope. It’s the “wouldn’t it be cool if my first novel became a runaway bestseller and I got like totally rich off of it, and I could quite my day job and write my next novel in between fielding calls from NPR programs in which I discuss my ‘process’,” variant.

And I am here to tell you, no. No it would not be cool. It would suck. Okay, having those buckets of money would be nice for a while, but think about the writers who have trod this path before you. To Kill a Mockingbird, Catch-22, those ring a bell with you? They made a big splash, a huge splash even, but when the time came to follow them up…

See, the problem with winning the lottery is that people who win the lottery don’t know what money means. There is plenty of evidence to suggest that the vast majority of them end up back in poverty far faster than you can imagine.

Most of the people who get rich and stay rich do it the hard way. They work and they invest and they get lucky once or twice, and they keep working on weekends while everyone else is having fun, and after thirty years or so of that they’re the head of a good-sized company that employs hundreds of workers when it used to employ just them.

And just like most people who get rich quick don’t stay rich for very long, so too do writers who make it really big with their first book often fall by the wayside with their later work, never quite managing to find that spark of genius that they unwittingly captured.

You wanna be a writer? Don’t aspire to winning the lottery. Take the Terry Pratchett road instead. Terry Pratchett, for those of you who may not know, is a wonderful British writer of comedic fantasy that manages to craft brilliant stories that also make you think. But just this week, when I was encouraging one of my friends to check him out I said, “Don’t start with his early stuff.” Because, as much as I love Terry Pratchett, his early work just isn’t quite as good.

Pratchett did not streak across the sky like a beautiful shooting star, never to be heard from again. Rather he started with a spark, and through care and craft slowly built it into a raging inferno.

There is no mystery to his success. It is evident to anyone with eyes to see that he learned by doing, over long periods of time. And in my mind he is one of the most fully successful authors living today.

Wouldn’t it be cool? Wouldn’t it be cool if you did the best you could and maybe it sucked for a while, but then it started sucking a little less and over time, you started to see what worked and what didn’t work, and you just kept at it through the sheer force of will and stubbornness, until, finally, years later, you were able to write books that would make people laugh and cry and think, all on the same page?

Wouldn’t it be cool? Yes. Yes, it would.

A Room Full of Psychics and Nobody’s Rich

I don’t know. I just don’t know anymore.

All the noise, all the advice, all the bloggers hashing over whether print is dead, epub vs. traditional; the whole thing is just starting to sound like a cacophony of chaos.


Because nobody knows anything. I mean, of course people know things. I’m not saying we’re all a bunch of quaking airheads out here. But nobody can answer the BIG questions. Questions like, “How do I succeed?” and “Why do some books succeed, and some books of equal or better quality fail?” and “How do I stand out enough from all of the other authors who may very well be as good or better than I am?”

Everyone’s got an opinion. Everyone’s got their spin on the matter. But you know what? If they really knew they’d get out there and do it.

We’ve got a room full of psychics here and none of us has hit the lottery. And the guy that has hit the lottery? You can’t listen to him either. I mean look at this guy: he was living in a trailer park before he blew his child support payments on beer and the one ticket that changed everything.

Maybe I’m stretching that metaphor a little, but I guess what I’m trying to say is this.

There are no experts. Sure there are people out there who have good advice, even great advice. But nobody has the magic bullet. Nobody can tell you, “This. This is what works. Do this and you will succeed.”

Why? Because success isn’t a formula.

Well it is in a way, but it’s not a formula anyone wants to hear. The formula is, as far as I can tell, Hard Work + Luck = Success.

The first term is easy. Well okay, no it’s not easy. But it’s simple. There are plenty of people willing to get out there and do the work. But it’s the second one that’s so infuriatingly elusive. And it’s just as important.

We don’t like to think about luck. We like to believe that if we succeed it’s because we’ve done something right. We look to successful people for counsel and advice, and we follow their words as if they were gospel. On the other hand, we tend to look at a bum on the street and we think, “That guy is probably just lazy. If he got a job and stopped drinking he’d have a better life.”

We don’t like to believe that it’s possibly to succeed simply because you were in the right place at the right time. And we don’t like to think that we can work and work all our lives and not do anything “wrong” and still fail to find the success we’re chasing.

And please don’t misunderstand. I’m not saying hard work isn’t important. It is possible to miss life’s opportunities because we were lazy or unprepared. We should always strive to learn and improve and be the best at whatever it is we want to do.

But sometimes it’s not enough.

We’re not all going to be the next Amanda Hocking (as she so humbly points out in this fantastic and eye-opening post.) We’re not all going to make it big.

It’s nobody’s fault. It’s not because we’re losers.

Losers are the ones who give up. Losers are the ones who say, “I could never write a book.” Losers are the ones who look at the Amanda Hockings of the world and think, “I could never be that successful.” Losers are the ones who look at the long odds and go home.

So don’t be a loser.

Because I don’t have all the answers, and I don’t know anyone else that does either. But I have to believe that someone within this blog’s limited reach is going to hit it big one day. Somebody is going to turn out to be that person that everyone looks at and says, “That guy started out in some trailer park, but one bright day he went to buy beer with his child support payment and the rest is history.”

Maybe it’ll be you. Maybe it’ll be me.

To tell you the truth, I’m really kind of hoping that it’s me.