Making Luck

Do you believe in destiny?

Fate?

Luck?

Do you believe that opportunity comes only once?

Do you feel that some writers are incredibly lucky, achieving all the fame and glory while the rest are doomed to mediocre results or perhaps no publication at all?

Do you believe in yourself and your writing talent?

Do you intend to keep working and trying until you’re published?

Recently, one of my students–presently writing the first draft of his first novel–announced that he knows a career in writing isn’t going to happen for him.

And I felt that sharp, fleeting squeeze of intense irritation coupled with sadness.

He has just sealed his future. He has made a decision that will guarantee that he’ll never be a published novelist. In only his first attempt, he has given up.

Does he have talent? Yes!

So why is he tossing in the towel?

I can’t say. The answer probably lies within his dreams and aspirations. Undoubtedly he’s finding it difficult to learn–much less master–writing craft. He’s perhaps unwilling to put in the work and practice that learning a skill requires. Because it’s always harder than anyone expects.

And maybe, although he loves fiction, maybe the passion for writing has burned out. It does happen.

Or perhaps he lost faith in himself and is too young to understand as yet that everyone must endure trial by fire in any creative endeavor. The bigger our aspirations, the bigger the challenges we must overcome in reaching them. Nothing is easy. Nothing is going to be a shortcut. Just ask couples seeking to adopt babies. Or athletes striving for an Olympic gold medal. Or individuals trying to become actors in Hollywood. Or those studying and working hard to become doctors.

Why should writers be exempt from the sweat, doubts, fears, self-discipline, and effort that others go through in achieving their ambitions?

Writers have to train and train hard in order to bring our stories successfully to readers.

In the last five weeks, I’ve received similar messages in several fortune cookies: “Keep trying and you will succeed.” “What you most long for will come to pass this year.” “Persistence will pay off.”

Okay, yeah, I know it sounds a little too woo-woo to pin my hopes on that. We all know that fortune cookies contain affirmations that can apply to anyone. Still, at certain times in our lives we need those affirmations. We need anything that will give us heart, pick us up, and keep us going.

Here’s a Russian proverb that I also consider to be very inspirational: “Pray to God, but continue rowing to shore.”

So I dream, but I continue working as hard as I can to keep my writing skills sharp and my stories the best they can be at any given time.

As a career novelist, I firmly believe that writers make their own luck. Opportunities are plentiful, but unless we’re prepared for them we can’t seize them when they cross our path. Accordingly, I think it’s a waste of time to bemoan the missed chances. When we pass up an opportunity, it’s because we weren’t ready to take advantage of it. So the solution is to do all we can to prepare ourselves for the next one–or the right one–that comes along.

You may have realized all this long ago, but I’m a slow learner. It took me many years to stop berating myself because I rejected a lucrative publishing opportunity early in my career. For years I wasted energy regretting how I’d passed up a chance to make a lot of money.

Finally I came to understand that I’d rejected the deal because it wasn’t right for me. My instincts understood that I would have been a misfit in that genre, and probably I wouldn’t have written successful stories.

Instead, luck came to me in other ways–in other book deals. And I’ve learned that persistence makes all the difference. You needn’t surrender just because you can’t figure out how to complete your first draft. You needn’t stop marketing your manuscript just because you’re rejected once, twice, or multiple times. You must move forward–even if at times you feel like you’re crawling through a cave blindfolded–and you must follow the passion of your heart.

The publishing world is not a kind or friendly place. It’s tough, harsh, and at times barricaded behind a battery of no, no, no, no coming at you like bullets. If they shoot you down, okay. But it’s entirely up to you whether you stay down or you rise to try again.

I can’t control whether an editor makes me an offer or rejects my manuscript. But I do control my effort, my writing craft, and my level of determination. It’s up to me to stand ready to not only seize the chance when it comes by but to also recognize when it’s the right one for me.

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