What could a hatchling turtle, March Madness, and the business of writing fiction have in common? Surprisingly, more than you might think.
First, consider turtle hatchlings.
Why begin here? Admit it, baby animals are adorable. If someone wants me to give up plastic shopping bags, drinking straws, or pitch in to preserve a critical habitat, any small, lovable creature is guaranteed to capture my attention and concern. Since I joined the Pacific Science Center (see this post), I’ve watched several animal documentaries. Most present species facts and figures, breathtaking scenery, and what humans must do to ensure their survival. I’ve oohed and aahed over right whales, panda bears, and most recently Australian green sea turtles.
The film, Turtle Odyssey 3D, followed the life cycle of a female turtle. I learned a lot. For instance, did you know that the turtles keep the Australian seabed healthy and thriving simply by foraging for their favorite food? (This makes them a keystone species.) Did you know that these giant creatures have existed since the age of the dinosaurs? Also, did you know this species can live for over one hundred years? Amazing, right? Australian green sea turtles can live for one hundred years, but only IF they survive their first day.
Producing the next generation of turtles is a lengthy process. Green turtles take 30-50 years to reach sexual maturity, after which females will only nest every 5-8 years. Although clutches may contain as many as 120 eggs, it’s estimated that as few as 1 in 1,000 hatchlings survive to adulthood.World Wildlife Foundation Australia
It is EXTREMELY unlikely that a hatchling will survive its first day. Why? Like most things in the natural world, survival is a numbers game. The female buries her clutch of eggs and returns to the ocean. When the hatchlings emerge, they have no protection. In order to survive, they must reach the water. Hundreds flee across the sandy beach, exposed to masses of hungry seabirds. Most of the young turtles are snatched and devoured before reaching their destination. Even if they survive the beach crossing, safety is not guaranteed in the water. Evidently, young turtles are quite tasty. (However, don’t worry if you wish to see this film, the featured turtle does make it to the water, and we don’t witness the slaughter. Although I do wonder how many unfortunate hatchling’s runs ended up on the editing floor.)
Next, ponder March Madness.
If you’re not a basketball fan, March Madness refers to the craziness that surrounds the NCAA Division I men’s basketball tournament. If you are, how did your bracket fare? Because this championship involves more than the teams, or the fans, or the games, it involves MOST of America filling out the bracket and attempting to predict the eventual championship team.
Before I get into the dismal condition of my personal bracket, I’d like to consider the likelihood of an athlete ever reaching the championship game. (FYI: there is also a women’s tournament, but in this article, I’ll be referring to the men’s teams.) Much like a turtle hatchling, our competitor must overcome a gauntlet of obstacles.
First, he must possess the genetics, talent, and ability to earn a spot on one of the 335 Division I basketball teams. Next, he must catch the eye of a recruiter, meet academic standards, and hone his basketball skills. Then his team must win enough regular season games to earn one of the sixty-eight berths (sixty-four teams, plus four play-in teams) that make up the first round of tournament play. As the number of teams dwindle to sixty-four, then thirty-two, and down to the sweet sixteen, the elite eight, and ultimately the final four, his team must win EVERY game. The second-place team will end the tournament with ONE loss. This process leaves a lot of tears and disappointment in its wake. (Yes, there is crying in basketball.) This year the last two are Virgina and Texas Tech. Congratulations to the 2019 champions, Virginia.
Most of us will never play at the championship level, but that doesn’t stop us from trying to predict WHICH team will win. Brackets are collected at work, on sports sites, and in homes throughout America. Some may base their choices in basketball expertise, while others choose their favorite teams or colors or mascots. However chosen, the odds against completing a perfect bracket are staggering. (Don’t believe me? Read this article by a Duke math professor.) So far, no one has ever done it, and according to this article you’d be more likely to win a huge Powerball jackpot. (I haven’t done that either, but I still buy the occasional lottery ticket).
I admit I fill out a bracket. However, it’s only at home-mostly because I only choose one round at a time. (Highly frowned upon by purists.) Even with that crutch, I still missed BOTH teams in the championship game this year. However, my bracket keeps me interested in the games. Along with other fans, I cheer for my favorites and any Cinderella teams (a lower-seed that performs better than anyone expected) that emerge.
What does any of this have to do with the business of writing fiction?
While working on my writing projects-this blog included-I feel like I’m facing unlikely odds. Have you noticed the sheer number of titles, genres, and authors on Amazon? There are a LOT of authors, who write a LOT of books. I see popular and successful authors struggling to market their work, connect with readers, and get reviews. I feel like one of a thousand hatchlings racing toward the ocean. How do I know it’s worth the effort? Why do I keep running? My survival as an author doesn’t come with any guarantee.
To achieve success in writing or any creative endeavor, much like the tournament basketball player, an artist must combine talent, hard work, and luck. For me, I must invest the time and money to write, edit, publish, and market. All of this for a game I may not be able to win. In the end, I can only do my best, target my audience, and cross my fingers. I continue to write because I want to write-not because I’m playing the odds.
Whether you want to rocket to Mars, write a bestseller, or win American Idol, the odds of success may NOT be stacked in your favor. However, if you calculate the odds of success, you may never begin the journey. Despite overwhelming odds, hatchlings WILL race toward the ocean, basketball teams WILL play their games, and fans WILL fill out their brackets. If you ask my advice, I say go ahead and dream because sometimes the underdog wins.
Do you have a story about overcoming the odds? Share in the comments! Sign up for my newsletter and I’ll send you my next post.