You wouldn’t think it when you sit in the bar with us, but we writers are an optimistic lot. Staring sternly into our flat beers and swirling the last remnants of our scotch in ice that melted too quickly, we bitch ‘n’ moan ad nauseum.
But even the grouchiest, most disillusioned, complaining-est scribe holds a secret hope that his or her work will hit the BIG TIME, earn out an obscenely large advance lickety split, be optioned for a blockbuster movie and climb the NYT bestseller list purely based on pre-orders.
In short, writers are suckers for the idea of luck.
Lately, I’ve been trying to dissect what we mean by luck. I figure, if I can understand it, I might be able to manufacture a little of my own. Ya know?
I think the unexamined assumption we make, the latent definition, goes something like this: Luck is the confluence of unexpected and fortunate elements over which we don’t have control, but which finds us and bestows wonderful gifts.
Fortune brings in some boats that are not steered. attr. William Shakespeare
Well, maybe . . .
But that sounds like a cop out, doesn’t it? And it can lead to the following idea pretty easily.
I believe in luck: How else can you explain the success of those you don’t like? attr. Jean Cocteau
I know I’ve felt that way. An acquaintance of mine (and not a very nice person) and I sold our first books at about the same time. Hers went to auction and landed at St. Martin’s for nearly $500,000. Mine went to UNM Press for, um, . . . not quite that much. In the intervening time from purchase to publication, I watched this woman on the Today Show and saw her work hit the national bestseller lists. And I found myself explaining her success in terms of "timing," "riding a wave," and her ethnicity.
Here’s a slightly different twist:
Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity. attr. Seneca
In some ways, my attributions about this writer’s success were right on. For example, she did cash in on her ethnicity . . . very well, in fact. In truth, she was a shining example of someone who decided to study and craft her work, to CREATE the wave she then caught. She did it deliberately, with tremendous aforethought and skill, and she ended up with a great result.
Oh, and here’s another truth I had to look in the eye . . . she’s a damn fine writer too.
It’s not nice to think of myself as petty, but I was. After the fact, to make myself look good, I tried to put her down (never by name or in public, at least I had that much sense) with the rationale that her success was because of luck.
What a stupid move. It set me back emotionally far too long. (Here’s my post on jealousy, btw.)
[How many of you reading this blog today are silently holding on to equally unpleasant and self-paralyzing thoughts? You don’t have to admit it to me — or in the comments section — but please make sure to admit it to yourself.]
After thinking about the subject for a few weeks, I’m approaching the whole concept of luck differently.
I look at the quote attributed to Shakespeare at the beginning of this post and say, "Hey, Will, that may be true, but someone must’ve put those boats out to sea in the first place."
I’m a great believer in luck, and I find the harder I work, the more I have of it. attr. Thomas Jefferson
Yeah, that sums it up. The writer who goes to a conference and meets the editor who changes her life did something to further her career. The novelist who takes Alex Sokoloff’s posts about screenwriting to heart and applies some of the principles to his own work — thereby creating a book that works like a dream AND lends itself to a blockbuster movie — took action.
That’s where I’m at now.
I like it better than waiting for my ship to come in.
Go and wake up your luck. attr. Persian proverb.
Yeah, I can live with that.
How about you?