Friday, February 5, 2010

What the Game of Craps teaches us about Writing a Book

Happy Friday, Y'all. 

Some of you have (Okay, just Hubby Sam) questioned whether or not I got any actual writing done during my "Writing Retreat to Vegas". Sure, I may not have written 15,000 words. But I guarantee I ate 15,000 calories. And the more I got thinking about it, the more I realized that Vegas had a lot to teach me about writing a book. So, here goes. My attempt to justify my trip to Vegas as a tax-exempt writing expense.

1. Always bet the Pass line. 

In Craps, every time there's a new roller, everybody bets the pass line. Every single time. It's like an ante. 

In Writing: Write something, every day. Even if it's something throwaway, like a blog post. (Okay, like most of my blog posts). You may "crap out" on the first roll. But it might also turn into something beautiful. Like a seven. Or an eleven.

2. To win a lot, you have to bet a lot. 

In Craps, the people who win are the people who have chips covering the table. And if a certain number rewards them, they "press it" (corrected), meaning they apply their winnings to the same bet.

In Writing: You gotta take chances. Don't be afraid to get your writing out there. Don't be afraid to get slammed. And if something resonates with people, "press it". Find what works, and double down.

3. If you are afraid to lose money, don't play. 

In Craps, the dealers see it all the time: people counting their chips before they make their bets. These are the people who don't lay it all out on the line. These are the people who lose.

In Writing: Lay it all out on the line. Write what you want to write. Write what you think you can't write. Write the book that no one else can write. If you are scared of rejections, don't bother submitting. If you are scared of ridicule, criticism, or failure, don't write. 

4. No matter what you do, the House always has the best odds.

In Craps, there's only one bet that will get you the same odds as the dealers. Betting the odds is the best bet in Vegas. Other than that, the House always, always, without a doubt, regardless of how many pretty women kiss the dice, always has the best odds.
In Writing: Everyone knows their odds when it comes to getting a book published. They suck, basically. That's just the way it goes. Even if you write a killer book, it may be a time when there's a deluge of "killer books" on the market, and they won't have room for yours, no matter how good it is. It's good to know this, going in.

5. Listen to your dealer: He'll tell you what odds to bet.

Unless you're John Nash or the Rain Man, listen to what the dealer says you should bet. For reasons beyond my mental capabilities, certain bets get you whole integer returns, and certain ones get you like a buck 45, and the casino will just pocket the 45. The dealer (in our case, "Carmine" at the Casino Royale) will tell you what to bet so this doesn't happen. 
In Writing: Take constructive criticism. Find a good critique group, and listen to what they have to say. I like to have five people read my stuff, and then if 4 out of 5 have a problem with a certain thing, I know it should be fixed. No book is good enough the first time around. Every book gets edited. Unless you're Stephenie Meyer. And I'm pretty sure Cormac McCarthy sets his own rules. But at one point in their careers, they were critiqued and they listened.

6. Every day, someone in the casino will roll for forty minutes without hitting a seven. You want to be there when it happens.

In Writing: At some point, you may finish a book, about Fallen Vampires in the Dystopian future, and right at the moment you finish, you might hear on Twitter that a particular agent is begging for books about Fallen Vampiers in the Dystopian future, and you've got one. This will never happen if you don't play the game, and put in the work.

7. Never switch the dice to a different hand.

They get so mad when you pick up the dice and then switch them to your other hand. And then you get nervous, and so you switch them back and forth without realizing it, and then you lash out and blame the guy standing on your left for distracting you...

Okay, maybe that's just me.

I spoke at SCBWI about blogging on Wednesday night, so I'll share the tips with y'all next week. What's everyone doing this weekend?


  1. Man craps is fun. I heart craps. Let's go back and play some more with our friends at Casino Royale. If we were really nice, maybe Carmine and his old buddies would buy us dinner! OK, maybe just you, but still, free dinner!!

  2. I think you justified your trip to Vegas pretty darn well. (I really wanted to use the real "d" word there, but I thought I should keep your blog PG, even if the real "d" word has more force. So, just read it like that when you read my sentence ... over again since you already read it. *blushes*)

    Those are great tips. I learned a lot and I think I've learned a lot about myself from it. I got a B- on my first essay in my English class and then a B+ on my next one. I know I improved, but I was feeling a little down. I was wondering if I really have what it takes to be an English major and a good editor. Based on what you've just written, I realize that I just need to keep going, learn from my mistakes and eventually, I'll write that essay that deserves an A.

    PS - I loved your SM slam. I laughed hard!

  3. Sara- Oh Carmine... wherefore art thou? He would totally buy us all dinner, I think. Especially since he dug your eyes so much.

    Jenni- Ha ha! I only ever read "darn" as the real d-word, so that wasn't a problem.

    If it makes you feel better, I sucked at writing in college. Seriously. That's why I majored in journalism, so I could write forever on an eighth grade level.

  4. Pretty good advice, if you ask me. I especially like the one about writing on the line.

    My weekend consists of a girls day out and hopefully a nap!

  5. Alas, I've never liked gambling. Whenever we're in Nevada, Jerry spends a few hours plugging money into little money-eating machines, but I find I'd rather spend it on... anything else.

    Which is why I think, in writing, a healthy delusion regarding the odds is also good to cultivate. Disappointed hope can be devastating, but the absence of hope is debilitating (which, according to my thesaurus, also means devastating, but also incapacitating and weakening).

    Logical people do not expect to win the lottery (or even craps, what what do I know from craps?). Very, very logical people do not enjoy throwing away money by buying a worthless piece of paper each week (though craps appears to be a bit more entertaining).

    By the same token, if wanna-be-writers are logical, none of us would be writing unless we really enjoy the process of creating... and are willing to face those odds.

    I've read/heard several successful writers write/say that if you can do anything else besides writing, do that instead. I think this is less of an attempt to winnow out the competition (ha!) than an attempt to inject a bit of logic into an essentially hopeful enterprise: if you don't enjoy the process of writing / buying lottery tickets / playing craps, stop. The odds say that the process is quite likely to be your only reward.

    ... of course, I do love the idea that fortune favors the bold who do not count the cost of the process. I plan to be very bold. In writing, not craps. Sorry. :)

  6. L.T.- That should be a bumper sticker: "Write on the Line, and let it ride!"

    Robin- I love that: Fortune favors the Bold. Be bold in your writing! What a great idea.

    As far as the odds, that is my point exactly. Gamblers know the odds, yet they maintain the hope, and play the game anyway, with the intention of winning. That's what we writers need to do: hope against the odds.

    I also like the idea that luck seems to come to those who put in the time and the energy.

    p.s. I hate the slot machines. Definitely feels like you're just handing money over to someone.

  7. I loved this post. Thanks for the fab & funny insights (as always).

  8. Um, I think the term was "press it" not "push it" . . . but press, push, Mandy, Candy, it's all the same.

  9. Thanks for reading, Olivia. I think you can learn about writing in so many other aspects of life, don't you?

    Valynne- I knew "push it" didn't sound right! Craps!

  10. I'm hoping your next book has the characters do some high rolling in it.

  11. Man such great comparisons. If I were your tax guy, I'd say you earned that tax-deductible trip fair and square.

    I read all these comparisons though and I cant help but think you left one out. I know I couldn't put it in a funny manner like yourself so I'll try to stumble over it enough to at least get it out. Something about how you want to be an entertaining bet-ter because than others will gather around your table and cheer you on. Also, obviously in writing, you want others out there cheering you on, telling you good things and keeping you motivated. Also probably after your book is out those cheerleaders will help you sell it at tables at the grocery store like girl scouts and their cookies and help you earn some dinero.

  12. Heids- That's a great idea! And it should endear me to parents: a book about teenagers who gamble.

    Debbie- You are so correct! The funnest tables are the ones who cheer each other on; and hence those tables draw other people in. So true!

    That's how I feel about our blogs (and yours too): we're all cheering each other on. And we'll be the first in line to buy each others books.

  13. Does Sam have something to worry about with Carmine? Sounds like a great weekend. Thanks for the craps and the writing wisdom. Play the odds - I like it. Booyah for me - he did a great job entertaining us in your absence.

  14. Mary- Carmine is 60 years old and bald, so... yeah, Sam totally has something to worry about. Thanks for supporting Sam on Monday!

  15. Sam needs all the support he can get.

    I quit my job yesterday so that we can move to Wendover where Brodi can be a professional craps player. As she improves her talents, we will then move to Elko to get bigger winnings. After that, we will move to Mesquite. After she is hugely successful there, we will move to Vegas.

    Please visit our blogs often to see this all unfold. When we are stinkin' rich, we will remember all of you little people for the encouragement you have given us.

  16. Lucky, lucky Kids C and B. This life on the road with a craps playin' mom doesn't sound scarring at all.

  17. haha! I think you should write a new book... Chicken Soup for the Souls of People Who Love to Write and Play Craps. I'm pretty sure it would be a best seller since it would apply to such a vast portion of the population! :)

  18. Sam- It's a plan. You get your tassels fitted, I'll bring the dice.

    Emily- Plus, I'm planning on hiding B and C under the table so I can more easily switch out the dice.

    Kayla- that is a catchy title: "Chicken Soup for the Souls of People Who Love to Write and Play Craps". How could it not be a bestseller?

  19. My parents are both statistics professors (I know, I know, what are the odds?), so I'm banking on having some extra-special ability to help beat the odds in book publishing. Think it will work?

  20. Jenilyn- Okay, that is a hilarious comment!

    Yes, I think we're making very safe bets on the publishing industry. Go us!

  21. Wow, that was horribly depressing!

    Okay, so favor/suggestion/request...since you are in the know on all the happenings around you should post a calendar of writing/book/whatever events.

    Glad you had a productive trip!

  22. Cam- It wasn't meant to be depressing! It was meant to triumph in the face of the odds! (Maybe I should've rewritten it...)

    Anywho, the calendar is a good idea. I'll try to set it up. I know there's a giant Authorpalooza book signing event at the Sandy B&N today from 1-4. Go!

  23. I'm not a gambler (Kaylie pauses so she can sing Kenny Rogers song to herself), mostly 'cause I'm a wimp. I would definitely not lay it all on the line. So I hope I don't suck as a writer. That's the good thing about writing as a SAHM. The stakes are a little lower for wimps like me when you've got a sugar daddy bringing home the bacon.

  24. Kaylie- It's much smarter to lay it all out on the line in writing as opposed to Craps. And I always suggest for aspiring writers to marry a sugar daddy. Best advice I can give.

  25. These are great tips, Brodi, and it was great seeing you last weekend at the Authorpalooza. I love your tips, too. My favorite is the one about being edited. I believe my writing improves a great deal every time I've been edited. It's good pain. Really.

  26. Rhonda- I love that: "It's good pain." Great way to describe it.

    Ann- thanks for reading! I'm honored, truly. Hope to see you again soon.