Hugh Howey is one awesome guy. He’s written some fabulous books, compiled some awesome statistics, and has a great blog. He even scored one of the industry’s top agents as a self-published author and has had the film rights for his books optioned. He also happens to be super hot and ridiculously charming, imho. I got to hear him speak at RWA nationals last week. Hugh Howey is blessed, you might say. You might also say that he’s lucky.
I hear a lot of talk about luck and “magic” in the book world. There’s a sense that you have to write a great book and then be extremely lucky in order to make it into the stratosphere of publishing stardom. I also hear a lot of people say that luck isn’t an even thing, that some guys, like Hugh Howey, are just born under the right sign, positioned in the right place, and that they will always have a better chance of succeeding than your average schlub.
So, are some people just naturally luckier than others? Are some writers destined to “make it” where others aren’t because of some intangible, God-given magic that you or I just don’t have?
Heck no! I don’t think so. It’s really easy to dig yourself into a hole of despair by assuming that some people, other writers who have hit the big time, have something extra that you don’t have. It’s also a convenient excuse for not shooting for the moon. Because sometimes it looks like those awesome writers have been given something we haven’t. Then out pop the comparisons, and we start to feel really bad about ourselves.
One of the first workshops I attended at RWA nationals in San Antonio last week was a session on how to be a slow writer and still make a living off of your writing. Now, I happen to be a fast writer, but the workshop was being given by Courtney Milan. If ever there was an author I was going to compare myself to and flop into a pool of meh on the floor, feeling utterly unworthy, it’s Courtney Milan. She is amazing. She’s also insanely intelligent and can comprehend things that I, someone with to bachelor’s degrees and a master, can only blink at while drooling like an idiot. I want to be Courtney Milan when I grow up.
Right off the bat in her workshop, Courtney made a key statement. I wish that every writer who hopes and dreams and struggles could have been there to hear that statement. She said that any good writer who wants to make a living off of their writing CAN make a living off of their writing. The only difference is that for some it might take a little longer. That’s it. What it all boils down to is time, not luck.
But she did qualify her statement with something that I think is crucial for all writers to sit up and pay attention to. She began by saying she was presupposing that everyone hearing her words was a genuinely good writer. She also said that statistically, at least one person in that room of a couple hundred people was writing and publishing crap without knowing it. This sounds harsh, but I think it’s the key to everything and the secret force behind luck.
The question I ask myself all the time—ALL THE TIME—is whether what I’m writing is actually good. I constantly wonder if my craft is up to par. Maybe I’m the opposite of these mythical self-published writers who are spitting out garbage and publishing it before it’s ready, but I always think that I could do better. But rather than mope around wringing my hands about it, I study the craft of writing.
How does an established writer study the craft of writing? By reading for craft along with reading for story when I gobble up a book. By gobbling as many books as possible. By attending workshops and reading craft books. By hiring the best editors I can afford and seeking out the best beta-readers I can and listening hard to what they have to say…without being offended if they didn’t like what I wrote. By listening to the critiques that other people have gotten for their manuscripts, even if I’ve never read those manuscripts. By reading through submission requirements for various publishing companies, even though I have no intention of publishing traditionally.
Actually, that last one was an eye-opener, so I want to say more about it. I have a very dear writer friend who writes for Entangled Publishing. I was asking her how she liked them, which led to a discussion of their requirements in terms of tropes and pacing. So I went to the Entangled website and read the submission requirements for every one of their lines, studying what they were looking for, what tropes worked for them, and what they wanted to see in their stories. It has given me some real insight into what resonates with readers and how I might use those guidelines for my own stuff.
The point is, we make our own luck. I don’t think Hugh Howey or Courtney Milan were born more blessed than anyone else, but I do think they are both sharp enough to realize what the real work is and how it needs to be done. Luck is manufactured through hard, diligent work. And like Courtney said, anyone who is determined to make a living from their writing can make a living, given enough time and, I would add, given that they put in the work to ensure they’re publishing the best stories possible.
Don’t give up because you think you aren’t special! You ARE special because you’ve set out to reach a goal in the first place. You and I, we’ll be patient and tackle this thing together. Luck or no luck, we’re in it to win it!
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