Between Good & Great: Russ Pitts on Taking Risks in Writing

Russ Pitts is a little funny about his dice.  To read the opening pages of his essay “The Dice They Carried” in Will Hindmarch’s The Bones: Us and Our Dice, you’d think he’s more than a little funny about his dice bags, too.  The essay opens with Pitts describing, lovingly, the bag he used to carry his dice in as a young man and ends many years later with a different bag resting next to the computer he uses as the Editor-in-Chief of The Escapist magazine.

Pitts has his dice and dice bags.  And I have my office supplies.  I have boxes and boxes full of pens, pencils, paper-clips, tape, and notepads – especially notepads.  Pads of blank paper drive me nearly mad with possibilities!  Every now and then I delve into the piles and see what I can find, see what I can do.  See what I can make.

I’m not crazy, I remind myself, I’m just… prepared.  These are the tools I need to do my jobs – teaching and writing.  Yet, one of the most important tools we, as writers, have is the willingness to try new things, to take risks, to roll the dice every now and then.  Below, Pitts talks about the pros and cons of taking risks in writing.


What is the importance of taking risks, of rollin’ them bones, in writing?


Russ Pitts:  Well, that’s the difference between good work and potentially great work, isn’t it? The work I have done that has been most rewarding (and usually best received) has been uncomfortable for me in some way–creating it. Sharing it. How much do I have to give? How much of my soul am I willing to share on the off chance my feelings about a certain thing will ignite a spark in someone else’s soul and have them say: “Someone else who gets it!”

For me it comes down to a choice: How much am I willing to risk to succeed? Am I willing to take the chance that someone somewhere will think less of me for what I have done–or thought about what I have done–just so that that same person may appreciate me for doing so?


Can you tell us about a time when you rolled the dice in your career and won?  Lost?  Were utterly baffled by the results?

Russ Pitts:  I’ve had several careers at this point, and most of them have involved some measure of chance. One of my previous careers involved the production of live television–a dice-roller’s wet dream. I rolled the dice on my way out of that job and lost–big time. I behaved badly. I took out my frustration with myself on other people, betting that the things I said and did would not come back to haunt me but they have. The hardest part about that episode was that I was gambling with something that belonged to other people: their trust and faith in me. I’ve won some of it back, but it’s been a hard road. I cherish it more now. That’s the silver lining.

My current career began when I decided to throw everything I owned into a van, drive for 14 hours to a state I’d never been to, to live in an apartment I’d never seen and work for people I’d never met. This was not the first time I’d done something like that. Most people can’t bring themselves to do it once, but I live for those moments. 

When I was younger I made most of my major life decisions based on whether or not I could imagine the most likely outcomes. If I could, I would do something else, something less predictable. I’m falling out of love with that idea of “fun,” but being able to take that kind of risk has given me a lot to write about. Now if only I had the time…


Jeremy L. C. Jones is a freelance writer, editor, and teacher.  He is the staff Interviewer for Clarkesworld Magazine and a frequent contributor to Kobold Quarterly.  He teaches at Wofford College and Montessori Academy in Spartanburg, SC.  He is also the director of Shared Worlds, a creative writing and world-building camp for teenagers that he and Jeff VanderMeer designed in 2006.