On Writing: Never Tell Me the Odds

Everything I do is doomed. Statistically speaking, I am addicted to lost causes and people are always ready to remind me. Only 8 writers will ever write professionally; the other 786 million of us will only know sorrow or work for hire clickbait erectile dysfunction pop up advertisements. 723% of all people that run recreationally or for sport will injure themselves. XYZ% of everyone that ever loses weight will just gain it back and more because of homeostasis and ¯\_(ツ)_/¯. 3 out of every 2 marriages ends in divorce, most companies are probably just going to lay you off anyway, Nancy. Addicts and alcoholics are all going to relapse sooner or later, and 100% of all lives will end in death. Well, at least one of those isn’t an exaggeration. It turns out that the odds, as they are often framed, are real bummers, and ultimately, if you were smart, you probably just wouldn’t do anything. The good news is, I’m not smart, you guys. I’m a dumb, dumb man.

Let me take a step back and approach this a different way. I am generally and constantly confused by slot machines and those bright blinky casino games. I remember the first time I decided, hey I’m legally allowed to do this so I’m gonna, and I gave the machine a dollar. It flashed a lot of nonsense and then my dollar was gone. I guess that’s exciting for some people? I don’t find gambling fun or stressful or addictive; I just find it perplexing. Gambling is predicated on the thrill of the outcome, the possibility of a big win or a big loss, of chance teetering on the brink. Intellectually that makes sense to me but ultimately I don’t do things because of the outcome; I do things because I like doing the things and there’s nothing inherently fun about flashing lights and my missing dollar.

And because all good points come from three totally unrelated directions, I was talking to an old friend recently about an idea that’s central to a lot of 12 step philosophies (this is one of the ones they put on coffee cops); let go and let God. Neither of us are especially theistic people and we talked about how challenging so many of these ideas are if you’re not a churchgoer, if maybe, you’re a cynic, or an agnostic, or even a full-throated atheist. I’ve known a lot of people that have found something in the 12 steps and even more that have found meaning in God and, in my way, I’ve found meaning in them also. Just maybe not the exact same meaning. What I suggested to my friend is that God, in that coffee cup summation of belief, is not the most important part of that sentence. People are always skipping over the first part. It’s more about the letting. So many religious beliefs advocate surrendering yourself to a higher power, and a lot of my fellow Sunday morning snoozers get so hung up on the higher power part that they miss the surrender bit. I suggest that if you can do the surrender bit, the higher power bit probably works itself out. If you can live your life, just doing your best when you can and learning when it’s okay to let go, still finding the courage to shrug and look at those statistics in my opening paragraph and surrender to the uncontrollability of the universe, to the beautiful, swirling entropy that maybe has a master conductor and maybe doesn’t– well, I think that’s most of the way.

So I don’t care about the chances and the likelihoods and I don’t do it for the blinky and the big cash-in. I care about doing what I do when I’m doing it and surrendering the rest of the time. Maybe I’ll write a billion words and they won’t mean a thing and I’ll never see my name on the spine of a book at a neighborhood rummage sale. Making anything– hell, trying anything that matters– it’ll break your heart. I had a literary agent and he was a good dude and I wrote three books and they were good books we put them out to publishers and they didn’t work out and now I don’t have an agent anymore and I’m back at beginning of the merry-go-round. I felt that so hard, you guys. It challenged my faith in my craft and it hurt and I had to decide to hold onto it or surrender it and I gotta tell you; surrendering is a process. I surrender and then I surrender and then I stop surrendering and grit my teeth and shake my fists and then I go for a run and then I surrender a little more and then I see something irritating on Twitter and I catch myself unsurrendering and that seems like how it’s going to go.

Most of my life falls into two broad categories; things I can control and things I can’t do a damn thing about. I can control the value and inherent enjoyment I get out of doing my work so I do. I can’t control if it will be successful. Seems like some people are so concerned with what the slot machine is going to do after you put in the dollar that they don’t notice that putting a dollar into a machine is, ultimately, pretty boring.

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