Getting to the Corner of Luck and Hard Work

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During the last few weeks, my young adult book has had a giddy-crazy burst of attention. In November and December I sent out query letters to literary agents about my book Freaks and the Revolution. Several wanted to read it. Last week, four offered to represent me and I made a choice between them.

I have a literary agent. I haven't really been able to wrap my head around that yet.

So, in the last week, when things really got to that terrible/awesome fever pitch of excitement, I’ve heard a lot about luck. I belong to a website where I tracked my query letters and was able to chat in forums with other writers in a similar situation. Whenever I reported a request, someone would invariably say, “you’re so lucky!”

And then the other day a friend reminded me of how hard I’ve worked.

four leaf clover

Credit: Bill S on Flickr

Is luck part of it? Hell, yes. Luck that I had an idea that fit in the marketplace in the time when I was ready to shop it around to agents. Luck that I hit certain agents at a time when they were receptive to what I wrote.

But there is the hard work part, too.

I started writing fiction, like I said in my last post, in November 2004 when I successfully finished NANOWRIMO for the first time. That’s just about exactly seven years. (Easy to keep track since the baby that was 8/9ths cooked then is now almost exactly seven years old.) In those seven years, I’ve:

1. Spent two good years revising that first novel. I learned to write actively vs. passively with that novel. I learned how to use its/it’s the right way (most of the time.) I learned how to write believable dialogue, put a sense of place in my stories and about a hundred other skills. Revising that book (and it went through easily a dozen revisions) was a master’s class in novel writing. Eventually that book won first place in a contest. I will always believe that working on Devil You Don’t was what took me from wanting to write to being a writer.

2. Learned how to work with a critique partner.

3. Wrote three more full-length novels, each being progressively more well-written than the last. In other words, I kept writing.

4. Wrote and sold two novellas for epublishers. This brought me through the acquisitions and editing process. Twice.

5. Finished 3/4 of a BFA in Creative Writing (and counting.)

6. Read approximately all of the writing craft books ever written (give or take.)

7. Studied great literature, in depth, and wrote about it. I also read literally 1000s of books of all stripes and paid attention to how they were written and why they worked or didn’t work for me.

8. Participated in writer workshops, sometimes with prestigious leaders and sometimes not.

9. Went to three major writer’s conferences where I spent time in workshops, talking to authors, agents and editors, and generally soaking up the wonderfulness of those experiences.

10. I learned how to write a good query letter. This took more work than you might think, given that it is basically a one-page sales letter.

That’s a lot of work. I’m pretty proud of it, if you want to know the truth. I loved every minute of it, even when I was crying or in the depths of self-doubt so deep that I’m not sure how I managed to stay the course. But I did.

And maybe that’s the best luck of all. Luck that came from deciding not to give up. There is some luck involved, I think. Sure there is. But if you put the work in, and keep writing and reading (and then writing and reading some more. And then some more. Etc.) you’re going to find that eventually the need for luck lessens, I think. And it definitely makes it more likely that at some point your hard work and luck will intersect.

I'm pretty sure this applies to just about every aspect of life. You close the gap between luck and inevitibility with every ounce of sweat you put into your endevors. Except maybe craps and video poker.

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I blog about body acceptance and athleticism at Live Once, Juicy, and about writing on my new Tumblr.



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