How is Powerball like writing?

So, the Powerball jackpot got me thinking a lot about writing this week. For those who aren’t familiar, a) you must pay attention to the news even less than I do (which is not much), and b) the jackpot is now up to $1.3 billion.

Wow, that’s a lot. Even if four people got tickets with the winning numbers, they’d each get over $300 million. Pretty life changing, right?

What does this have to do with writing? you ask. Well, nothing, except that writing often seems like a big gamble, but if you don’t play, you can’t win.

One of my friends asked the perennial question, “What would you do if you won?” After my initial thoughts of “biggest pet sanctuary ever” and “life-size Millennium Falcon,” I was kind of stumped. Then I realized, I would do exactly what I’m doing now: Write, only with less worry about finances.

I’d like to say “so I decided to stop worrying about finances” but HA! Right. As if.I don’t think I know any writers who don’t have a side gig, because writing is not something you do for the money. My side gig is freelance editing and design. (I know, I pick probably the two most unstable things to do for a living, apart from being a tightrope walker. At least I’m not that crazy.) And I mention it now only so I can show off one of my favorite projects from the past year, a book I designed for the Missouri Botanical Garden:

gardenbook

I did that! This was an awesome project that gave me the chance to work with people I really like and produce a finished piece for an organization I really believe in. Designing and editing get me thinking in different ways than I do when I’m wrestling with characters on a page. (And they’re slippery suckers.)

So what does that have to with writing? you ask (again). Well, like any side gig, this work puts cash in the bank and buys me time to, you guessed it, do more writing!

If writing is a gamble, having a side gig is hedging your bets. But if writing’s a gamble and the payoff’s not money, what is the payoff?

Readers.

If you haven’t read it, there was a great article at Salon.com last year, “Sponsored by my husband: Why it’s a problem that writers never talk about where their money comes from.” I know I’ve mentioned it before. Still, I think it’s easy to romanticize the notion of being a full-time writer and how nice it must be to have command over your time. I’m stubborn, and persistent, and I used to think that persistence was more important than hard work or talent (which are also important), but the more I think about it, there are two things that trump all of that: luck, and privilege. And not necessarily in that order.

I’m incredibly lucky. And I’m incredibly privileged to have a partner who has faith in my writing. I couldn’t spend as much time writing as I do (or, as is often the case lately, staring at a blank screen or piece of paper until my forehead feels like it’s starting to bleed*) if it weren’t for him. I know, I’ve written about this in the past, too, but I don’t think a lot of writers ever talk about that kind of luck, or certainly not often enough.

*metaphorically speaking

In the meantime I’ve produced more writing in the last three years, since I stopped working full time, than I produced in double that time prior.

If my partner’s faith and my persistence aren’t misplaced, they’ll pay off, not in loads of money that you could dive into Scrooge McDuck style, but in people reading and, hopefully, enjoying that writing.

And I mention Scrooge McDuck only so I can use this:

Scrooge McDuck diving into a lot of money

In the meantime, I think we do a disservice to aspiring writers when we let it appear that dedication and sacrifice have a lot more to do with success, when the reality is that luck and privilege have a lot more to do with it than we might be comfortable admitting. It doesn’t make me comfortable, that’s for sure. But I’ll admit it.

Lastly, the other way that writing is a lot like Powerball? You can’t win if you don’t play. So go ahead and play!