Talking Point - Luck vs Grind
Is writing about hard work or sending the right query at the right time? Adite Banerjie, Rhoda Baxter, and Lara Temple reflect on their careers, weighing the fortunate against toiling at the keyboard.
Adite Banerjie―May the Force be with You!
Luck is the “force that causes things, especially good things, to happen to you by chance and not as a result of your own efforts or abilities”. That’s the definition of luck in the Cambridge Dictionary.
We all do get it that talent without hard work will lead us down the path to failure and eternal damnation. Yet, whenever there is news of ‘something good’ coming our way, we inadvertently hope for a bit of good luck. I wonder what it would be like to have our well-wishers bless us with plenty of ‘good efforts’ or ‘good abilities’. Perhaps someone might just say something like, ‘wishing you tons of good hard work’?
Oprah Winfrey has famously said―or perhaps she was simply paraphrasing Roman philosopher Seneca?―luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity. No truer words have been said.
It reminds me of the time when I came across one such opportunity and grabbed it with both hands: Harlequin had just launched its Aspiring Authors contest in India and I turned my short story idea into a contest entry. In hindsight, the opportunity itself was something that emerged totally out of the blue—a lucky break. After all, if I hadn’t been in the right place at the right time, the opportunity would have simply sailed past me. I ended up winning the contest and thus began my journey as a romance author. There was another such happy situation of preparation meeting opportunity when I wrote a screenplay for a filmmaker which went on to become a produced short film.
For me, preparation is all about working on my craft while having an ear to the ground for possible opportunity. But I have learned that in life, there is always a ‘force’ at work. You may choose to call it a combination of enabling elements. Or you may call it luck. Without that special ‘force’/enabling elements, your best-made plans can come to nought. Haven’t we all experienced it at some point in our lives? Just when everything is going swimmingly well, and we’re that close to achieving a goal, one small factor can jeopardise it all. Sometimes you don’t have a clue as to what the ‘wrench’ in the works was! The high moment dissipates as if it never was, as if it was simply a figment of your imagination. Poof!
Having experienced it multiple times, I have come to believe that there is one more factor at play in all this. Resilience. The ability to bounce back from challenges and setbacks while keeping a positive frame of mind is perhaps just as important as talent and hard work, opportunity and luck.
If it weren’t for that crucial trait, we would never have had the pleasure to read the works of JK Rowling, Stephen King, Margaret Mitchell, Agatha Christie and many others who were rejected multiple times. Resilience is perhaps the ultimate force that can see us through our writing journey. May the Force be with all of us!
Rhoda Baxter―You know I’m going to say it’s both, right?
I mean, that old thing about the harder you work, the luckier you get… It’s kinda true. Although, I’m going to add a caveat. It’s not how hard you work that helps. It’s how hard you network. The first time I went to a writer’s conference, as an unpublished author, I saw all these published authors who hugged each other and chatted like long lost friends. They seemed to know each other really well. ‘Ah’ I thought, ‘that’s how they’re successful. They already knew each other’.
Oh boy, was I wrong. By the end of that conference, I had made friends with writers that I’d never met until that weekend. It seemed only natural to carry on chatting to them over Twitter afterwards. Before I knew it… I knew people. Or at least, I looked like I knew people. The next conference I went to, I was there, hugging people and greeting them like long lost friends. It was at that point I realised that the authors I envied the year before weren’t successfully published because they knew each other… They knew each other because they were published and they went out and made friends.
Networking is a such a cringe-making word. It smacks of shiny suits and sweaty palms. Really, networking is just about talking to people. Making friends. If you’re shy like I am (no really, I AM, stop laughing), try to be helpful. Find the person who is standing alone at an event, looking lost or hiding behind a pot plant and say hello. If you’re at a writing event, you already have your first question ready to go: ‘What do you write?’. That’s a great conversation starter.
Another great way to network is to be helpful. Can you answer someone’s question about publishing? Can you get the speaker a glass of water? Can you point out where the loos are?
People like to do business with people they know. So become a person they know. If you’ve spoken to someone at an event and generally been a lovely person, when they hear something relevant, they will immediately think of you. Likewise, if you hear of something relevant to them, you will immediately think of them. Even better, you’ll encourage each other to have a go at these opportunities. The more you try, the higher your chances of succeeding (if you don’t try, your chances of success are pretty much zero). Each time you succeed you appear to be … lucky.
There are many ways to get noticed, of course, but it’s probably better to be known for being nice and friendly and positive than for picking a fight with a celebrity. If you do want to talk to an author more famous than you, take a good gulp of prosecco, go up to them and tell them you love their books. It’s a good ice breaker and they’ll love you for it. So work hard on your networking. It’s better than blind luck. Even if not, you’ll end up with a group of lovely friends, so there really isn’t a downside.
Rhoda Baxter writes romantic comedy (and multicultural women's fiction as Jeevani Charika). Rhoda's latest release is Girl In Trouble. You can find more on the websites for Rhoda and Jeevani, or on Twitter.
Lara Temple―Finding Balance
My father was a big believer in luck.
He was a supremely talented pianist―he studied at Julliard and was taught by some of the best piano teachers in New York and London. Everyone expected him to be a great star. He, certainly, was convinced of his greatness.
“All I need is that one lucky break!” He would say again and again, his eyes lit with missionary fervor.
As children we lived for that pot of fame at the end of the rainbow he painted for us. We were his groupies and nothing anyone said convinced us he was headed for anything else but world fame. It was inevitable. All he needed was that “one lucky break".
It took us a long time to realize it was never going to happen.
Once we did, I realized that luck is only worth the hard work you invest in finding and grabbing and nurturing it.
Yes, some people win the lottery, and some authors have their manuscript snatched up by the first publisher they submit to and they become overnight sensations. But they are the very very few, and that’s hardly a great choice of career path. Anyone who hopes they’ll be ‘one of those’ is likely to end up like my father.
I don’t think you have to be obsessive or a workaholic to succeed as a writer, but you’d better be dedicated to your writing as a craft and a trade, and not merely as a talent. Writing (and publishing!) is work, not a miracle of inspiration
But I also think you do need luck. Just not the kind of Cinderella’s-fairy-godmother-luck my father kept hoping for. A prince won’t stumble over you and fall head over heels in love, but if you date enough men, you might understand what works for you and what doesn’t, and increase your chances of stumbling on the right guy or gal.
So you need to actively make your good luck. I think I’m a case in point.
I’ve been writing forever but aside from one brief attempt to submit a book while in university I never thought I’d actually publish anything. Still, the dream persisted as I pursued my non-writing career, especially after my kids were born and I had to dial back my job which involved far too much travel. One day my mother drew my attention to a writing competition and convinced me to try and submit one of the many books I’d written ‘for the drawer'.
Long story short I submitted a historical romance to the SYTYCW 2014 contest and was shocked when I made the top 25, then top 10 and then was offered a contract for two books (the first of which saw the light in 2016). Since then I’ve published seven Regency romances with Harlequin Mills & Boon and three more are coming out this year.
There’s a good dollop of luck at play here―my mother noticing and mentioning this contest, the fact that I had a manuscript in semi (very semi) decent shape with three chapters somewhat ready to be sent in, and of course the fact I made it through the voting rounds.
This ‘lucky’ combination literally changed my life.
But just as important was the fact that after sending in three chapters of a book that was a horrific 200,000 words long. I had to re-write this monster to fit Harlequin’s very specific needs. In a week. I still don’t know how I did it, but believe me I saw my father’s example (of what not to do) before me―I might have been given a chance, but lady luck had vacated the stage and it was now completely up to me not to let her melt away.
So I worked my butt off. I slashed and revised and rethought and slashed some more. The end result was as different from the original as War and Peace is from a Hemingway short story―and obviously nowhere near as good as either―but it managed to get me that contract.
Ever since then I go through the agony of the damned with each of my books to make it better, to improve my style, to understand my audience. I listen to my editor and even where I disagree, I know she has a point I have to take into account.
Writing is as much a job as any in my career―if I don’t take it as seriously, my good luck will wither away. And like every job, a good portion is hard, distasteful, annoying, and unavoidable.
So I don’t think it’s really a question of good luck vs. hard work―those two often (not always) come together. Good luck is sometimes no more than an opportunity grasped.
I still think I was very, very lucky to get my break into this business. But the thing is, you have to be ready for your luck, and you have to be ready to work like the devil to keep that faint spark burning for you.
So, good luck! And work hard!
What do you reckon? Are you published? Did it take the hard work you put in or a stroke of luck to finally get your book in front of readers? What are your networking tips? Let us know in the comments below or on social media