Saturday, October 19, 2013

Never Leave Money on the Table

This weekend's guest blogger is the fabulous John Vorhaus. John must be one of the most flexible and versatile writers I know. He's a novelist, screenwriter, producer and international consultant in television and script development and has worked in 30 countries on four continents. 

John is a graduate of Carnegie-Mellon University and a member of the Writers Guild of America. He's lectured for such disparate groups as Mensa and the New Jersey Romance Writers Association—and that's just the tip of the iceberg.  For more snippets ... check out his website.  But, enough about me talking about you ... John ... welcome to Type M for Murder.

One of the quirks of my writing life is that I’ve pulled down a paycheck by writing about poker more or less steadily since 1988. How I came to do that is a slightly instructive tale.

Back in 1988, I was an up-and-coming member of the Writers Guild of America, but the WGA was on strike, so there I was, rattling around Los Angeles with time on my hands. I found my way into the Commerce Casino and discovered exactly how badly I could play poker. I mean, they went through me like a freight train through the wind. I thought, Well, this is great and this is fun, but I obviously can’t afford to suck at it. 

At that point, I invoked one of my favorite life strategies: When there’s something I want to learn, I find someone to pay me to teach it. In this case, I contacted a poker magazine and said, “Look, I know nothing about poker, but I’m going to learn, and while I learn I want to write about it, and that’ll be my column.” Twenty-five years and three million words later, I’m still writing about poker.

There’s a saying in poker: Never leave money lying on the table, and I made this motto the mantra of my writing life. If anyone, anywhere wanted to pay me to write anything at all, I always found a way to say yes. Sometimes this created the problem of having too much work and not enough time, but that just taught me how to write fast and manage a workload. Sometimes I accepted assignments well outside my comfort zone, but that just expanded my comfort zone. Sometimes I found the work boring, but that just taught me to be a craftsman, and to take pride in my work no matter what.

In 2003, when poker got really hot, I told my agent that I thought I could sell a how-to book in that market. He told me he couldn’t sell one – but could damn sure sell three. Well, I didn’t think there was any way I had three books’ worth of poker in me, but never leave money lying on the table, right? So I wrote three. Then another three. And another three after that. They all earned like crazy, for as long as the poker boom lasted. I never told myself I couldn’t do it, and I never let myself not do it. The opportunity was there; I took it.

At the same time, I really wanted to write a novel, but I sold my publisher on the idea of a combination murder mystery/teaching tool, or how-to/whodunit, called Under The Gun. Honestly I wasn’t sure if I could pull it off, never having written a novel before. But I bluffed myself into thinking I could, and six novels later, I’m still at it. So, bluff. Bluff others and, when necessary, bluff yourself.

And what can we learn from this rake’s progress? First, if someone will pay you to write something, don’t ever give them reason to believe you can’t do it, even when you’re not entirely sure you can. Fake it till you make it; that’s how writers have always gotten by. 

Second – dead-horse beaten by now – never leave money lying on the table. Hustle for gigs. Accept every assignment. Make the most of every opportunity. Everything you write will teach you something about writing. That’s how you grow your practice, and that’s how you build a career.

John's latest adventure in his Radar Hoverlander series is The Texas Twist and it's available right here. Click this link. 

John Vorhaus tweets for no apparent reason @TrueFactBarFact and secretly controls the world from his website, He invites you to investigate his whole fricking oeuvre at


Hannah Dennison said...

John -- this is such an inspiring post. Thanks so much for contributing. I really need to learn how to play poker ...

Aline Templeton said...

Never leave the money lying on the table - brilliant, John. I shall take it to heart.