The Game of (a Writer's) Life
April 11, 2014 11:27 AM   Subscribe

Aspiring writers often ask established authors, "How did you do it?" The truth is that there is no single path to literary success. We sent a nonscientific survey to writers participating in the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books: Did they keep a diary as a child? Did they ever have a book rejected? Did they earn a living from writing? We tabulated more than 200 responses to make the board game below. Roll a die and see where the writing life takes you.
posted by shivohum (28 comments total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
Getting a creative writing MFA is the same number of points as being a Nobel Laureate?
posted by Mrs. Pterodactyl at 11:33 AM on April 11, 2014 [5 favorites]

I'm Shakespeare on my first time out of the gate. Take that JK Rowling!
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 11:35 AM on April 11, 2014 [1 favorite]

Rolled 6! Take writing class with James Franco (2 pts)

Wait--am I taking a writing class alongside James Franco? Or is the class taught by James Franco? Or is it a hybrid thing where he slouches in the back row of the lecture theater and occasionally tosses out a rude but trenchant question, whereupon he sprints to the front of the room, tosses on an academic gown and a mortarboard, and nods thoughtfully, tapping his lip with a piece of chalk?

("Well-aimed, Mr. Franco," he murmurs. "You've hit the crux of the matter, sir, the very crux.")
posted by Iridic at 11:40 AM on April 11, 2014 [11 favorites]

Okay, I might admit to being Ayn Rand, but not to this crowd. Unfortunately, my other three attempts at a writing career were disasters.
posted by YAMWAK at 11:46 AM on April 11, 2014 [1 favorite]

Of courae the real secret is starting with weighted die.
posted by The Whelk at 11:48 AM on April 11, 2014 [3 favorites]

1. Star in a mind-numbing sitcom.
2. Have your agent find a ghostwriter.
3. Laugh while book fair audience tramples Joyce Carol Oates to get your autograph.
posted by dances_with_sneetches at 11:51 AM on April 11, 2014 [5 favorites]

It's depressing how well I did on this game versus in real life.
posted by joannemerriam at 12:08 PM on April 11, 2014 [5 favorites]

Passing this along to professional writer friends so they can have either a rueful chuckle or a knowing laugh.
posted by Kitteh at 12:10 PM on April 11, 2014

I like how the first time I played I'm Shakespeare, then Hemingway, then an unknown. The the more you play the more you fail.
posted by Agent_X_ at 12:11 PM on April 11, 2014 [1 favorite]

I wont the Nobel both times I tried?
posted by peacheater at 12:16 PM on April 11, 2014

Somehow working in a bookstore got me an agent. If only that worked in real life. I bet real life requires a lot more actual, you know, writing.
posted by tofu_crouton at 12:20 PM on April 11, 2014

This kind of mindful pleasure, like 2048, The New York Times Crossword, Words With Friends,Tetris, Twitter and Metafilter, is what is keeping me from writing out all the novels I have in me.
posted by chavenet at 12:25 PM on April 11, 2014 [2 favorites]

I like the bit where I won the Nobel prize only to get told I should keep my day job.
posted by effbot at 1:07 PM on April 11, 2014

Bastard James Wood panned my book 5 turns in a row. Shot my whole career right there.
posted by scottymac at 1:12 PM on April 11, 2014

Since the above didn't include the survey the game was written around, here's the link.

Included is an answer to a recent question:

Although these days it can seem as though getting a creative writing MFA is a prerequisite to a writing career, only 25% of our respondents earned MFA degrees. Most who did found it professionally advantageous (65%), and it was creatively useful for almost everyone (80%).
posted by dances_with_sneetches at 1:23 PM on April 11, 2014

I was surprised how accurately it depicted how my writing career has gone thus far.

Read (yes)
Poem published in school paper (yes)
Write (yes)
MFA loans due (THANK GOD NO)
Work in bookstore (well, in library)
Get agent (yes)
Book deal (yes)
Fall down twitter hole (no, just Metafilter. And Dreamwidth.)
Lose manuscript in computer crash (yes)
Grade (no, having managed to dodge the MFA route altogether)
Manuscript rejected - finish new draft - revise (yes)
Book Deal (WE'LL SEE.)

I finished with six points, "not a writer yet."
posted by Jeanne at 1:24 PM on April 11, 2014 [1 favorite]

I just can't seem to refrain from writing essays on the death of the book.
posted by Jeanne at 1:26 PM on April 11, 2014 [1 favorite]

I wrote an essay on the death of books and it set me back 10 spaces. Odd, seeing how most popular web content on literature these days is about exactly that.
posted by Think_Long at 1:28 PM on April 11, 2014

Get 100 favorites on metafilter. Retire early.
posted by srboisvert at 1:39 PM on April 11, 2014 [1 favorite]

Hit the bestseller list, won an NBA, and STILL managed to have "some avid fans, but even more critics." It's a hard life!
posted by Jeanne at 1:53 PM on April 11, 2014

Where's the square for "after publishing two novels, still feel like you have no idea what you're doing"?
posted by dontoine at 2:21 PM on April 11, 2014 [4 favorites]

The first half-dozen rolls were uncanny - write, write, revise, get MFA, revise, suffer crisis of confidence. Too bad the literary award on the next roll didn't happen, ah well.
posted by aught at 5:12 PM on April 11, 2014

This game was good. A good game. An honest game. It was honest and true. A true, good and honest game. There was no fear in this game. And now, because of this game, I can be a good, honest writer. With no fear.
posted by valkane at 5:25 PM on April 11, 2014

This game is incomplete without another piece that's always two spaces ahead of you.
posted by Handstand Devil at 6:27 PM on April 11, 2014 [2 favorites]

I got as high as 76 (writer for the ages!) and as low as -11, which didn't suggest I do more than not quit my day job, a little to my surprise. I'd have thought a negative might have gotten me something a little more withering.

I'd say more times than not I ended up getting Andrew Wylie as an editor, so I suppose that's now my current marker of literary success?
posted by gadge emeritus at 7:17 PM on April 11, 2014


I ended up with a book deal and Shakespeare for the ages, scoring in the sixties each and every time I played. Never once was my manuscript rejected. I won the Nobel. Martin frickin' Scorsese made a movie from my novel.

If only I could translate my game results into Real Life Accomplishments! Put the Nobel and movie deal on my CV, land a job in academia teaching writing workshops, or at least trade all those points in for an Amazon Prime Platinum account. *sigh*

posted by misha at 9:30 PM on April 11, 2014

I got caught in a loop of continually rolling a 1 and moving forward to a spot that made me go back one.

The spots were "Writer's block" and "Grade".

Feels just like grad school.
posted by pemberkins at 6:09 AM on April 12, 2014

Bastard James Wood panned my book 5 turns in a row. Shot my whole career right there.

This happened to me too, so I think it's a joke.
posted by howfar at 10:35 AM on April 12, 2014

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