Sunday, November 20, 2016

I do believe in luck

During National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo), I post about writing issues, craft and business, rather than my typical posting on science, natural disasters, and emergency preparation.

I believe that luck plays a part in commercial writing success. Many other writers--some making a good living and others with brilliant plans laid out which they are certain will catapult them to fame any day now--do not, and I understand why. So let me explain why I do.
my guess at what contributes to writers' success
I don’t think writing success is only about luck, mind you, nor primarily about luck. And today is perhaps the first time in history that you can succeed without connections; sales and ranking are no longer about whether or not some New Yorker wearing shoes more expensive than your entire wardrobe bopped you on the head with the fairy godmother wand or not, thank the great demigod Jeff Bezos.

So there is good news: what you do alone at the keyboard matters much more today than it has ever mattered before. With self-publishing, the relationship between hard work and success is getting cozier, and that’s one hell of a comfort to those of us who work hard.

I also know this: wishing won’t manufacture luck. Only hard work will. There’s a famous quote out there ( tried to figure out who said it first and that’s so complicated, I won’t even try to attribute it): “The harder I work, the luckier I get.” Believe it.

Still... I have witnessed three writers, just as skilled as one another, working just as hard in the same genre, coming up with varied incomes. One is making $250K/year, and one $72K and a third not quite $20K. Even with the same number of books out, about the same number of years in the business, and the same number of releases this year, their results vary. So, to my mind, this suggests that there must be some luck involved. Start comparing writers across genres, and you can find even more wildly disparate results. Hard work in writing (or in sculpting, acting, or playing in a rock band) does not necessarily win you a living wage. Chances are, because of how many people are vying for the top spots, you won’t grab one.

Nor does success last year mean you are guaranteed it again next year. A lot of skilled, hardworking people in the arts have a five- or ten-year reign at their top level, and then it slips away despite their best efforts. They were good, yes, and they still are...but their luck turns. The moving finger writes, and having writ, moves on.

Without hard work, you can’t position yourself to get lucky. Don’t do the work, and you’ll certainly fail. Do the work and get a dose of luck, and you might soon be paying the bills with your writing.

So do I believe that hard work is required to succeed? Absolutely. But do I also believe there’s such a thing as luck for writers? I do. This does not excuse me or you from doing our work. If we want to make a living as novelists, we can’t do it by dawdling around online during our writing hours or practicing the award acceptance speech in the mirror or making excuses or feeling jealous and resentful of people who work harder than we do. As I have often reminded myself: Quit yer daydreaming, quit yer whining, and write today’s words.

Then do it tomorrow and for all the tomorrows to come. If you don’t, you’ll never get lucky.

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