By M. Christian
There’s a deep, dark secret that no writer wants to talk about. Oh, sure, in our braver moments we will talk about depression, anxiety, envy, frustration, spitefulness … the whole dark rainbow of negative emotions that come with being a professional author. And by professional author I don’t mean actually being paid for your work but, rather, being brave enough to send it out into the big, wide—and far too often cruel and uncaring—world.
This secret is lacking of mention in most books on writing—though it should have at least its own chapter, or maybe an entire volume, dedicated to it.
Okay, I won’t string you along any further. You’ve probably guessed it, anyway, by the one-word title of this article. We may not talk about it much, but luck is a powerful force in the life of a writer.
I wrote career in the last sentence before scratching it out and replacing it with life because, as I’ve said many times before, writers don’t have careers: this is not a profession—or even an unpaid pursuit—that you can plot and plan like many other occupations. You can’t, for example, say that this year you will write an award-winning story that will open the door to a major book contract, and then that book will be made into a flick starring Liam Neeson. You can dream about stuff like this all you want, but you can never, ever plan for it.
All because of luck.
Personal story time: I wrote—totally unsuccessfully—for ten years before I sold my first story (an erotic one … and so here I am). My wife at the time signed me up for a class taught by Lisa Palac, of the late-lamented FutureSex Magazine. At the end of the class, I brazenly handed her a story that I had written. If I hadn’t taken that class, if I hadn’t handed her that story, if I hadn’t mentioned that Pat Califia and Carol Queen were pals of mine … I seriously doubt that she would have even glanced at it.
Personal story time (2): about this same time I was best friends with someone—who, sadly, I am no longer close to—who introduced me to all kinds of other writers and, more importantly, editors and publishers. Without his help, I don’t think I’d be where I am today.
I think you can see where I might be going with this. If, if, if, if … looking back on my writing life I can see far too many branches that just happened to work out in my favor. Am I a good writer? I like to think that I am a capable writer—with a lot of learning still to do—but I’m not so arrogant as to think that my work is so absolutely brilliant that it would transcend the slush pile or get past the insecurities and nepotism of far too many editors and publishers.
In short, I am where I am today because of luck.
Dig around in any writer’s life—or the life of any creative person, for that matter—and you will see a lot of these branches that just happened to work out in their favor. Friends-of-friends, right-place-right-time … it’s pretty clear that ability is only one part of what can mean the difference between renown and obscurity.
This is just one reason why I despise arrogance in writers. Oh, I can certainly understand it: writing is damned hard—so it’s far too easy to protect a bruised and battered ego by lying to yourself, and the rest of the world, that your blistering talent got you where you are instead of admitting that it all would have been very different if the dice had landed ones instead of sixes.
But luck doesn’t just magically appear. You can’t summon it with “likes” on Facebook or by chugging bourbon. A cosmic alignment didn’t get me from where I was to where I am now. Luck is about circumstance but it’s also about people. My wife, that one friend who helped opened doors … they were my horseshoes, my rabbit feet, my four-leaf clovers.
Not to sound too Machiavellian, but it’s very important to look at the people in your writing life and think—at least on some level—how have they helped me? …or are they a hindrance? Writing can be hard, almost miserable, but it can be a glorious way to live when you have people surrounding you who are kind, supportive, and encouraging.
Another reason I can’t stand arrogance is that it’s ultimately self-defeating. An old stage maxim says that you should be careful of who you step on while on the way up—because you’ll be meeting them on the way down. By pissing off all kinds of people you are also severing your connection to all kinds of opportunities—luck in the making. Some of these rolls might work out, some may not, but none of them have a chance if you don’t have anyone out there to hand you the dice.
Skill? Very important. Dedication? Extremely important. Flexibility? Absolutely. Luck? We might not want to talk about it but, yes, luck is a key factor … but luck can only find you through friends.