I don’t play the lottery. Never have. I have not purchased a single ticket in all my days. That said, I have a theory on why playing the lottery—in moderation—is good for you. It’s because just the act of buying a ticket gives you license to dream. In fact, it’s the playing that does wonders for your health, perhaps even more than the winning.
How else can you lie in bed at night and dispel your financial worries? You can build houses for family members, wipe away all that crippling debt, get something nice for your spouse, all for the cost of a dollar or two. Those are inexpensive dreams. But you only get to have them if you’re playing.
For the better part of two decades, I spent my falling-asleep time fantasizing. I practically lived a second life in those hours before the Sandman claimed me, resuming each night’s waking dream where the previous one had left off. I would help settle Mars, which was being terraformed more rapidly than humanly possible. I lived on an island in the middle of the Pacific, where a space elevator was being built. I’ve owned the boats of my dreams and sailed them all over the world. It was fun to concoct these false realities and dwell in them, to make them utterly convincing.
One of the most common fantasies was that I was a successful author (this was before I’d written my first novel). You see, I used to fantasize about having written a book. I spent a lot more time doing this than actually writing. I would even invent ways to have written a book practically overnight, just to hurry up and get to the good bits of the dream. This fantasy goes all the way back to high school. Personal computers were pretty new at the time and I would start the wishful thinking with a (self-admitted) hokey device, like water spilled on a keyboard, shocking me, and an entire book spilling from my mind and into the machine. Voila! I’d written a book. Now I could dream about it being in bookstores, people reading and loving my story, and me being successful at something.
This was a fantasy that I returned to hundreds, if not thousands of times, over the years. And I feel like an ass or a crazy person for admitting it but I don’t play the lottery, and I needed some way to create a better life to which I could escape. In my head, at least, I made myself a successful author. The problem was, that was the only place I was making myself an author. The dreams were hollow because they couldn’t come true. I wasn’t writing. I couldn’t win because I wasn’t playing.
Almost two decades after pretending to have done it, I finally wrote my first novel. It was called Molly Fyde and the Parsona Rescue, and I wrote it in seven days. It was a rough draft, but it was 75,000 words. Over the next week, I fleshed it out to 100,000 words, and I finally had my ticket. It was like in my dreams and it seemed to happen overnight.
The funny thing was, I enjoyed punching that ticket so much that I forgot about dreaming. Instead of returning to my made-up lives as I lay in bed, I started living in my made-up worlds. I quit picturing a better future for myself and began subjecting my characters to misery and heartache. And I loved it. I loved it so much that I stopped considering that I could win anything at all. I just bought more and more tickets.
This last year, one of those tickets paid off. Big. It almost feels like I’ve won a new lottery every day since last October. The winnings have included a legion of awesome fans; an outpouring of emails, Tweets, blog posts, reviews, and FB messages; offers from agents and publishers; 18 foreign deals; Ridley Freakin’ Scott; Indie Book of the Year awards; invitations to book conferences; The New York Times bestseller list; #1 on Amazon; the IndieReader best seller list. One win after another.
I can’t tell you how dumb lucky I feel about it all—it’s crazier than my falling-asleep-time-fantasies. I keep waiting for reality to jolt me awake or take it all away, but it keeps on going. And as always, I feel in the debt of the readers who made this happen. I hope the entertainment has been worth the handful of dollars spent so the thrill isn’t completely one-way. Somehow, all those many hands kept reaching into a tumbler and coming out with my numbers. I feel eternally grateful.
But my point in all this babbling is this: You can’t win if you aren’t playing. What do you dream of? Why aren’t you doing it? What would you have to sacrifice to give yourself a chance?
For me, it was a lot of time. Not just those first weeks of a massive outpouring of words, but the four years of steady writing since. It was a lot of reading and honing my craft, a lot of paying attention to how other stories are told. It seems like a lot to have sacrificed when I look back on it all at once, but I’ve so enjoyed the process. I loved what I was doing, the sense of accomplishment, the switch from dreaming about having done something with my life to dwelling on the fact that I was finally doing it.
In fact, if there’s one thing in my life I would change, it would be to have done this sooner. To start punching my own tickets decades ago. To play. To write. To publish. To get my works out there. If for no other reason than that it gave me license to dream.