In These Happy Golden Years, the eighth Little House book, Ma Ingalls tells Laura that people make their own luck. This is illustrated in the story when Laura is kind to a girl in her class who, like Laura, wants to be a teacher. They both take the test, but only Laura passes. Because she and the girl have become friends, the girl offers Laura the job in her district–it’s a dream teaching job Laura never would have even known about if she hadn’t befriended the girl. So, in a sense, it was “lucky,” but it was Laura’s kindness that placed her in that situation.
Just so, as writers, we can “make our own luck.” We could say that it all comes down to knowing the right people, being in the right place at the right time or hitting just at the right trend. We could also say it’s all about the book, and outside factors don’t affect our chances of success. But neither of these is wholly true. When writing anything with the aim for publication–be it a book, a collection of poetry, creative non-fiction or short stories–there are certain things writers can do to improve their chances. Barring basic writing technique and craft, here are five ways we as writers can “make our own luck.”
1) Enter Stuff
There’s a lot going on in the writing community, online and in-person. One of the best ways to have a serendipitous moment? Show up. Go to the conference. While you there, attend the cocktail party. Don’t eat lunch in your hotel room. Meet people. I sat at a lunch table at the writer’s digest conference with a woman who has ended up being not only a great friend but also a great critique partner. We’ve been encouraging and supporting one another’s writing for years now. She convinced me to go to a retreat where I got my idea for my current WIP. And it’s an idea I never would have come up with on my own. Luck? Fate? Who knows? But I can say if I hadn’t been to that conference I never would have met her.
The same is true online. There are hundreds of contests every month, where you can win critiques of your queries, pitches or manuscripts. You can get one-on-one time with an agent. It’s not a guarantee, but it’s putting yourself in the path of opportunity. Which brings me to way number two:
2) Follow Up
Many writers are introverts. We don’t put ourselves out there. We’re worried about bothering people, over-staying our welcome or over-sharing. Also, many of us have been met with the dreaded blank stare when we tell someone, “I’m a writer.”
But you never know who you’re going to meet. For example, I met Gabi because I won a contest on her blog. She critiqued the first twenty five pages of my book. Her advice was invaluable, but nothing else happened. About a year later, I read on her blog that she was pregnant, and also that she was teaching a class. I decided to do something I normally don’t do–I reached out. I sent her an email congratulating her and wishing her the best in her class. Low and behold, there was an opening in her critique group at the time. Because I’d reached out and was on her mind, Gabi invited me to join. It was from this critique group that I met my entire writing community in New York and eventually started working for DIY MFA. Serendipitous? Yes. But that serendipitous moment never would have happened if I hadn’t followed up.
3) Read in Your Genre
This will make you lucky in both your writing and your community. It’s probably something you’re already doing. After all, we usually write what we love to read. But reading broadly within your genre–pushing yourself to study new authors–can only deepen your knowledge, experience and expertise. You’ll learn more about the conventions of your genre, what readers–and publishers–will expect from your book. Push yourself to try reading books that are outside your box.
For example, I write young adult fantasy, but am not a huge fan of romance. However, it was important for me to read Twilight, so I knew what everyone else was talking about! Just as scholars of Ancient Rome have gotta know Cicero, we as writers have to know our genre. Even if I didn’t particularly enjoy Twilight, it was a useful exercise to try to figure out why it worked, why it spoke to so many people. It gave me a lot to think about in my own writing–even if I’ll never write a sparkly vampire. Or any vampire at all.
Also, by reading and studying your genre, you can get to know other people writing in it. Following writers on Twitter or Facebook can be a great way to stay informed about what books are getting published, and also to meet friends and mentors who can help you on your writing journey. Sometimes, authors offer give-aways, critiques or host retreats or workshops. It’s a great way to get to know your “co-workers” in your chosen field, even if you live far away. And you never know when you’ll get lucky and win something–or meet someone–who will take your writing to the next level.
4) Read Outside Your Genre
Genres can be an echo chamber. While it’s so important to read the kind of books you write, it’s equally important to read books that are totally different. This will keep your mind–and thus your writing–fresh and unique. If you write Middle Grade, you probably don’t want to be inundated with only twelve year old voices. Reading at different age levels–or for different genres–can offer inspiration and also give your brain a break.
Sometimes, I read too much YA and have to back off it. This especially happens when I’m feeling down about my own writing. I’ll start comparing, seeing all my short-comings, or nit-picking the books I read because I’m, well, jealous. I can’t even enjoy the book, which is not good for anyone. That’s when I know I need to take a break. I’ll pick up a David McCullough book, or a book of essays. It will get my mind working in a new direction, give my brain a break, and maybe give me some ideas to improve my writing.
The important thing is to get to know your reading habits as well as you know your writing habits. Examine them. See what works. When you start getting fatigued or discouraged, or when your writing starts to sound like everyone else’s because you’ve read twenty paranormal romances in a row, it might be time to break out a historical. Most good books are not created in an echo chamber. We break out and change because we expose ourselves to new things. Your next great idea might be just around the corner, waiting in a book you’ve never thought to pick up.
A great way to find interesting books is to examine other writers’ Goodreads accounts. See what they’re reading. You might find some gems. You might also make a new friend. Because, as we all know, nothing brings people together quite like finding–and sharing–a good story.
5) Celebrate Others
If I ever get a book published, I want people to be happy for me. To tell others about my book. To read it. Talk about it. Celebrate the milestones along the way, like the cover reveal, the trailer, the publication day. When I’ve finished a draft, I want my friends to be excited for me. I also want some of them to read and critique it. And, of course, the flip side of this is doing these very things for others. In this way, we really do make our own luck.
By being good friends and supportive colleagues, we will naturally develop strong friendships and support networks. It’s incredibly important to have people who have your back, because, as we all know, the journey of writing a book and pursuing publication is anything but easy. Having relationships with people that you know you can count on is its own kind of luck.
And let’s face it–we’re writers. We’re a little crazy. A little obsessive. Maybe a little neurotic. We’re going to have some great days and some very bad ones. And even if craft, talent and a lot of hard work are what will take us the farthest, we could all use a little luck along the way.
Speaking of luck, Happy St. Patrick’s Day!