Writing is a Gamble.

Yesterday morning, I received an email from the editor of a publication about a story I had submitted to them a few months ago, the typical response you get used to, politely declining to use your story because it wasn’t what they were looking for. At least, that’s the response I usually get, and, though I felt disappointed, I was mostly just relieved to finally get some closure. Instead of floating around in the ether of uncertainty, I now knew that the story was not a good fit for that publication, and now I could brush it up a little, make it better, and start the search for the next possible home. I also found that I was charged with an incredible energy to write stories, submit stories, do this and that and the other thing, which I haven’t had the inspiration for in a while. In fact, the last time I had the oomph to submit stories was when my last rejection came in, and I wound up throwing out three more stories as a result. Interesting, isn’t it, how the rejection spurns me to action?

It got me thinking of my recent interest in scratch-off lottery tickets. As someone who obsessively budgets, scratch-offs present an interesting thought: am I wasting this $1 by purchasing one of these tickets? The odds are not in my favor. I may win back the money used to purchase it, maybe a few dollars extra, not enough to make a dent or anything like that, and if I lose, that’s $1 that could have been used to buy a can of beans or a few packs of tortillas that would feed me for a few good meals. I usually come out under budget at the grocery store, and, when I was waiting for a friend to check-out, I thought, why not? Slid that extra buck I had into the machine and got myself a ticket that netted me two extra dollars. I recently had another dollar extra, tried another ticket, got three extra bucks out of it, and used that for a $3 ticket that lost. But that losing ticket just made me want to go back and try again, as if to prove that it wasn’t a fluke and I’m not wasting my money and that there is a point to all this cyclical madness.

That’s when it struck me like a roll of quarters to the jaw: writing is just like these lottery tickets. Writing is nothing more than a big, fat gamble, and, when you get little snippets of winning (publishing a book, for example, or interactions on your blog) mixed in with heavy disappointment in losses (seriously, that wait period was three long months intercepted with one editor being really excited to pass it on and the other editor just not being interested, so there was a little spark of hope there) which make you (well, me, anyway, thought I’m sure I’m not alone) want to keep trying again and again until you can prove that, see, eventually, there is a winning ticket, and, eventually, you can strike it big.

It’s fun, it can be exhilarating, but it can also be disheartening. It can seem like a big fat waste of resources (self-publishing is deceptively expensive if you want to do it well) and time, but it can also be incredibly rewarding. The rewards are far and few between, though, and even the smallest win can seem huge. Writing and gambling share an awful lot in common, which is why I see I’m so enchanted with wiling away my extra under-budget bucks on tickets, and why I continue to keep pushing forward with writing even when there seems to be no pay-off in sight.

What about you? Do you feel a correlation between gambling and writing? What else do you feel is a good metaphor so this crazy thing we’re pursuing so eagerly and happily and somewhat madly?


  1. Anything great worth doing is a gamble I completely agree, especially writing. The thing with any career in the arts is you must go into it fully, no room for second guessing it. Very insightful write up, lots of us feel this way

    • Thanks, Erik! You put it extremely well when you say anything worth doing is a gamble, but, then again, I’m the type of person who loves taking risks that other people think are crazy, and I’m usually pretty damn pleased with the results. Good to know it’s not alone.

      • You’re not alone, I quit my job in finance 6 months after graduation to move to NYC to study acting and write my screenplay. Currently working a day job on 19,000$ a year and never been happier.

        • Crazy, isn’t it? The details are different (and the pay a lot less), but I’m in a similar position, and I wouldn’t trade it for the world. I just read your post, so cheers for being young (err, young-ish, in my case), poor, and in love in New York (or Chicago, respectively).

  2. Life is pretty much a gamble every day if you think about it. If I get in my car and drive to work, I’m taking the chance of having a wreck. Does that mean I cower in my house and refuse to go out? No, because then I wouldn’t experience the day the way I need to. I think it’s the same with putting your work out there. If you don’t, you experience nothing. Your fear causes you to lose that experience. I say go for it and take the chance. 🙂

    • Absolutely! I’d rather take the chance than miss what might have been. Granted, there’s still plenty of things that I allow to pass me by out of fear, but I’m getting a lot better at going out there with gusto.

  3. Good article. I agree. You just never know what that letter in the mailbox or the unopened email will reveal. Acceptance? Rejection? We writers wait with bated breath. I wrote a similar blog post recently. I expect some rejections, and Lord knows, I’ve had my share of them. I know there’ll be some acceptances along the way, too, so I keep getting my work out. I am discouraged due to the lack of paying markets for my articles and short stories.

    • Just remember, even a non-paying market is still exposure, which can be pretty valuable, even if it doesn’t show in the pocketbook. Yeah, when it comes to my short fiction, it’s been about 98% rejection, but you know what? Eventually, I’ll tick it down to 95%.

  4. It’s like fishing, when you think about it. You prepare and get your tackle ready, buy the bait, choose a place, and there’s still no guarantee that you’ll catch anything. But you keep doing it because you know you’ll catch something one of these days. Even if you never do.

    Your remark about being hit with a roll of quarters made me think of the ladies in Atlantic City, sitting in front of a slot machine with a bucket of quarters, feeding them in one at a time. They don’t seem to care if they win or lose, and if they do win, they take their winnings and start feeding them in. They want the huge jackpot that the machine is holding, and they’re sure they’re going to get it. They know that the house is going to be the real winner, but they don’t care. That’s like writing: even though the rules are tipped against you, you still do it because you know someone has sold something, and that next time it could be you.

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