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:~: Monday, January 08, 2007 :~:

All In

Last September, the DH and I went to Vegas for our 15th wedding anniversary. I'll admit that I'm not a big gambler. I like to play the slots, love the sound of money cha-chinking into the metal tray, but for the most part, I could take or leave the whole gambling scene. Mostly it's the smoke that gets to me, and the fact gambling is a very expensive form of entertainment, but it's also the fact as far as money is concerned, I'm not a big risk taker.

Fast forward to the holidays. My extended family descended on a rented beach house where we all hung out between Christmas and New Year's. My younger brother brought his new poker chips with him, and "the men" all decided it was time they taught "the women" how to play Texas Hold 'Em. Now, as far as table gambling goes, I'm more of a roulette fan, in fact, I don't think I've ever sat and played poker before, but being the good wife I am, I was willing to learn.

The first night we played for no money. "The men" took pity on us and taught us the game. I was still learning, and man, I realized I had a lot to learn. I had a list of what-beats-what written on a paper towel at my right hand, and still I had trouble remember what the heck I was doing. My older brother ended up cleaning house. (And gloated up one side and down the other until I was ready to throw my measly-remaining chips at him to shut him up.) So the next day when everyone sat to play, I opted out. Too much work, not my thing, and since this time they were playing for real money, I didn't feel confident enough to contribute. I ended up reading - which is fine and dandy with me, and I had a great time.

But I should have known my reprieve would be short-lived, because later that night they started up again, and I was dragged into the game against my will. I paid my $5 (reluctantly) and sat in my seat, sure I'd be the first one out.

An hour passed. And then two.
My younger brother went out.
My eyes widened with surprise.
My older brother (the sarcastic, gloating one) went out.
I smiled and tried to hide my shock.
The blinds went up.
My DH went out.
My eyes got bigger.
The blinds went up again.
One sister-in-law went out (the only one of the women to know how to play), and I thought for sure the planets were misaligned and that a tsunami was obviously headed our way. Balance in the world had to be off.
It was finally down to three - the three newbies, if you will - and all "the men" yelled, "Beginner's luck."
Then the other sister-in-law went out, and we were down to two.
And guess who won?

No one could have been more shocked. I went all in on the last hand - on a bluff, if you believe that. Part of me wanted to just finish the darn game as it was after midnight already and I was tired. Part of me was sure the other player (my mother of all people) had worse cards than I did. Turns out, trusting my gut was a good thing, and not nearly as scary as I'd thought before.

Now, now, you might be saying, yeah, that was a fluke. But, the next night when we played again, I ended up second. Lost only to my DH, who told me later he didn't like playing me because I was unpredictable. (Yeah, baby!)

But what, Elisabeth, does all this have to do with writing? Easy, let me tell you. Later, as I reflected on my stellar win (because that's what it was), I realized that part of the reason I don't like to gamble is because I don't like to take risks. If I'm good at something, if I already know I can do it, I'm there. I'm willing to jump in feet-first and do what has to be done. But stick me in a new situation, give me a new task I don't know how to complete, and my confidence goes right out the window. The book I'm working on now is a little like that. Is it unique enough? Is it different? Are the characters likeable? Will it ultimately sell? All unknowns, and jumping feet first into it is hard to do, especially when I'm not entirely sure how I'll come out on the other side once this thing is done. But you know what? Every time I sit down with a new idea, it's a risk. A risk, as a writer, I either decide to take, or walk away from.

Last week, Josie Brown had a great article at Buzz, Balls & Hype about trusting your gut in 2007. I would advise you each to go read it. She has advice for booksellers and editors (which I particularly liked) but also for writers. Bottom line: Trust that the story you have come up with is a sound idea, and then write it. Take risks. Be aggressive. And when you get to the point where you don't know what to do, try going all in.



Blogger wavybrains said...

The amazing Janet Evanovich advises writers not to hold anything back for a later book. I've taken that advice to heart in my latest WIP--none of this "I'll try deep POV later," or "I'll have subplots in later books" or "That's a neat twist--I'll save it for another plot" that plagued my first MS. In this WIP--I'm taking risks with pacing/subplots/format/character and it's terrifying. Not as terrifying as taking risks with putting my work out there--but terrifying in a different sort of way. I agree. Go all out. And I'm sure your risks in the WIP will work out.

11:38 AM  
Blogger Elisabeth Naughton said...

Thanks, Wavy. And good points. I did that with my last manuscript, tried a completely different direction than I'd done before, and it turned out better than I'd anticipated. You won't get better unless you try, and writing the same old thing will never be the "breakout" book you're looking for.

1:27 PM  
Blogger Linda Winfree said...

Good advice, E. It's always difficult to take a risk, but the payoff can be oh, so sweet!

4:27 PM  
Blogger Joan Swan said...

I happened to be surfing around and read that article on Buzz, Balls and Hype. Good article.

I'm a moderate level risk taker. In comparison to my friends and family, I'm as unpredictalbe as a female 007. To hear them talk you'd think I could do anything. In reality, my risks are less risky because I'm a high-level researcher.

Just as I think it's a good idea to learn the rules before you decide to break them -- and then break the heck out of them -- I like to at least have an inkling of what I'm in for before I jump.

All in? I can say with certainty I haven't tried it yet. No vastly different "idea" has come to me regarding writing. But I'll be on your doorstep when it does, E, so you can remind me to jump.

4:58 PM  
Blogger Elisabeth Naughton said...

I love that 007 reference, J. And you can bet I'll be there to give you a push if you need it. ;)

9:07 PM  
Blogger spyscribbler said...

I love poker! Congratulations! I love playing Tournament Texas Hold'Em; it's just so fascinating to watch how different people play.

They say that people play poker the way they live life.

So ... yeah! I'm all in!

7:26 PM  
Blogger Paty Jager said...

Great Blog! And so true. Every book we write is a risk. We risk our time our emotions and hope and editor will love it.

But you have to risk to get ahead!

5:29 PM  

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