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An Open Letter to Creatives: A Better Way to Think About Your Writing Luck

 

How many times have you heard the expression “you make your own luck”?

This is just a shot in the dark, but I’m guessing the number is somewhere between too many and so many I’d rather eat my own eyeballs than hear that stupid, empty, trite phrase ever again in this life or the next.

Personally, I’m in the latter camp. Or at least I was.

Writing Luck: Real, Mythical or Irrelevant?

I spent most of my twenties wishing my writing luck would change. If I could just catch one break, if I could just experience one smidge of fortune. Sure, I worked away at other things: going to school, becoming a writer, building a family. I’m not saying I had a bad life, because that couldn’t be farther from the truth.

But I was frustrated. Disappointed in myself and the Universe. Sad. Unfulfilled. All because I had “bad luck” when it came to my career and my passions. I know for a fact that lots of creatives feel this way. At a minimum, they know they could be doing more than they’re doing in their current jobs. How very unlucky.

Is it bad writing luck, though?

Me, I don’t think so anymore. Of course, I didn’t discover the error of my ways until much later, when I started working really, really hard at my dreams and discovered … hey! I’m having some good luck! You see what happened there, of course.

The thing is, it’s easier to assume your luck is bad than to work to make it good.

But that’s a dangerous road to go down. If you assume your luck is bad, you won’t put enough of yourself into a project to make it actually good. You’ll hold back, feel insecure, downplay it to others. How many times have you said:

Oh, it’s just a little thing I’m working on. It’s nothing serious, really.

If you think your luck is bad, you basically have to, in turn, think this way: that your project isn’t really going anywhere, that it doesn’t matter. But that’s the enemy of creativity. If you don’t believe in an endeavor, what could be easier than procrastination? And what could be more appealing than a new project that, for a moment or two at least, will soothe you the possibility of better luck writing next time?

The True Role of Luck (Hint: There Is No True Role)

That’s why luck has no place in creative endeavor.

Never.

Nada.

None.

If you rely on writing luck to help you win big, you are relying on a farcical notion that is, at best, the byproduct of other factors: hard work, networking, tapping into the cultural zeitgeist, building a platform, experimenting, failing, trying again, persevering, never giving up.

Do all that and, sure, you’ll get “lucky.”

We’ve talked about this concept of byproducts in Get the Hell Over It: How to Let Go of Fear and Realize Your Creative Dream, and I invite you to go read more about that if you choose. In a nutshell, though, a byproduct is something that comes from hard work. It is not in and of itself something you work toward; it is only something that occurs in tandem with other successes, as a product of your efforts.

(By the way, if you’re ready to put in hard work to become a writer but aren’t sure where to start, I invite you to check out the free resource library. It’s full of worksheets and hacks to help you jumpstart your writing career either on the side or full-freaking-time. Check it out by clicking that pretty image below.)

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The Faulty Logic of Writing Luck

Luck is a byproduct. It happens once you’ve worked hard enough to land the deal, get the funding, quit your job to work for yourself, etc.

Really, it’s nothing more than a cognitive framework we use to make sense of how something came about, in order to slot that story into its proper place in the overall narrative of our life. When we hear these stories from others, it can seem as though those people got incredibly “lucky,” but that’s because you’re not seeing what came before: the failures, the fights with spouses, the hope at some shiny new thing, the failure of that shiny thing, the despairing glasses of wine, the crying, the public humiliation.

One of my favorite creation stories is about The Martian author, Andy Weir. Much like his famous main character, astronaut Mark Watney, this dude has some serious grit. He tried unsuccessfully for years to become an author, never quite hitting his stride or getting lucky. Eventually, he reached a financial point of being able to take a few years off to just write. It was time to make a serious go of it!

Guess what? Nothing happened. After a few years, he went back to work as a programmer. Was it embarrassing? I’m sure. Did it suck? Indubitably, my dear Watney. (Snerk.)

But he kept writing. Eventually, he kickstarted The Martian by putting it online in serial form. He grew a following, spoke to real scientists to ensure his content was accurate – the scientific precision is part of why this novel/movie became such a hit – and eventually landed a book deal.

Eventually, he got to walk down a red carpet into a swanky movie theater and watch the premier of a film based off his hard work.

Sooooooooo lucky, amiright?

You see my point.

Work Hard and You Won’t Need Luck

So the question becomes, why should luck ever determine the worth of a project? Why should “not yet” mean never? Why do we look for results immediately, then base our assessment of an endeavor off of that? It’s stupid.

I think a much better definition of “luck” can be found in the The Compound Effect by Darren Hardy. (Also, can we just take a moment to admire how badass it is to write a nonfiction book without a subtitle? Kind of like going by “Cher” or “Madonna”? That is the kind of confidence to which we should all aspire. Clearly I’m not there yet.)

Now Hardy, who has like a bajillion dollars, would be worth listening to even if his book wasn’t the coolest thing ever. But, as it so happens, it is.

The Compound Effect is simple. It’s like the basic idea we learned in middle school of compounding interest. A few pennies might not seem like much, but at a decent interest rate, applied consistently over time, those pennies can grow into millions. Literally.

The same goes for our health, hobbies, wealth, family ties and more. The more we put into something, and the more consistently we do it, the better it gets. That goes from practicing your fiction writing skills to bettering your marriage to saving money. The object shouldn’t be “luck” or even “success,” but pure stick-to-it-ness. Just-not-stopping-ness.

That’s it. Do it. Don’t stop.

Work Harder and Your Writing Luck Will Get Better and Better

It’s not a particularly unique concept. A similar idea forms the backbone of The Slight Edge: Turning Simple Disciplines into Massive Success and Happiness by Jeff Olson, which demonstrates convincingly that consistent work takes you in an upward trajectory, but even small breaks bring you back down again. If you want to stay exceptional, you have to work exceptionally hard … all the time.

If you’re willing to do that, you’ll soon see the writing luck you’re looking for. And again, if you need a few awesome tools to back up that hard work, go ahead and click on the image below to be taken to the Free Resource Library today!

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