On the Subjects of Luck, Writing and Getting Published

Once upon a time, I was an aspiring writer with no time for luck.  It wasn’t hard to find, out on the interwebs, those who hung on to various odd theories about how some folks managed to get their books published and others didn’t; one of the things that sometimes got said was that it was all about luck.  (That, or it was all about who you knew, what secret handshake you’d mastered, etc.).

The luck theory was, I suppose, a bit less daft than the various conspiracies proposed, but I still didn’t give it much credence.  I reckoned, in my infinite wisdom, that getting published and making a success of it was all about talent and application.  Maybe, I might have grudgingly conceded, the tiniest little bit of luck now and again; but mostly, not luck.

Now, I’ve got a different take on the whole business.  Sure, luck can play a part.  Not just in getting published in the first place, but in what happens thereafter.  I’ve had the odd bit of luck here and there.

The thing I’ve come to believe about luck, though, is that although you as a writer, aspiring or otherwise, can’t exactly control it, you can give it the chance it needs to make a difference.  You can invite luck into your writing life.  It’s not some numinous, magical force that picks folk out at random to sprinkle its beneficial pixie dust upon.  I mean, it might do that sometimes, but just as often the old cliche is true: You make your own luck.

Which brings me to the closest thing I’ve got to general advice for aspiring writers.  Luck might have a part to play in making your dreams come true.  You don’t get to decide whether, or when or how it will do so; that’s kind of in the nature of the luck beast.  But you can give it the chance to make a difference.  How do you do that?  Easy.

  • You write a lot, and you aspire to write well.  That means getting words down on (virtual) paper, finishing things you start, giving yourself the time and practice to get better at it.  You set your sights, and your expectations of yourself, high.
  • You put things you have written out there into the world.  Give them air.  You submit your work to magazines, publishers etc.  It’s difficult for luck to intervene if it doesn’t have the basic material to work with, and in this case that basic material is your work, sent out into the world.

I should note that this is not a roundabout way of advocating the self-publishing route that is so easily available now.  It has its place, no doubt, and there are those (not many) for whom it has worked magic.  But consider the possibility that on occasion it might also be a trap.  It’s an invitation to try a shortcut around parts of the first of those two bullet points and skip to the second: ‘putting your work out there’.  And that’s all I’ve got to say about that.

So I’ve had my share of luck, some of it earned, some unearned.  None of it, though, would have happened if I hadn’t learned to finish pieces of writing, if I hadn’t sent them out to see what other, professional folks thought of them and taken rejection as a suggestion that I should try harder, if I hadn’t said ‘yes’ to certain opportunities or invitations that came my way that allowed me to get more writing out there, or get my existing writing into a different form.

All of which is perhaps just a long-winded way of saying that if you’re an aspiring author, or a published author who wants to get better or be more successful, luck might be able to help.  But if it does, it probably won’t be as a substitute for putting the hours in, risking and learning from rejection, aiming high, striving to improve.  More likely, it’ll be a result of those things.

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