You never get a ‘skilled break’, do you?
I remember reading recently someone famous (an author, comedian, musician – I can’t recall) talking about how they made it big. They were recounting their lucky break, and mentioned that it’s funny how it’s referred to as their lucky break, considering they had to work hard for several years to get it.
This got me thinking. In my journey towards becoming an author, am I waiting for my hard work to pay off, or for my luck to change?
Why it’s all about hard work
There’s a quote that goes along the lines of ‘There’s a word for a writer who doesn’t give up. Published.’ I like it, because it implies that how hard you work makes a difference. Which is the right way for things to be, I’m sure you would agree. I’ve been working on my first novel since I was about fourteen. It’s changed and evolved so many times, it’s fair to say Politics in Blood is now a completely different book to the one I started writing. Plot, character, title, setting have all evolved so much, the original would be hard to recognise as the genesis of the work I hope to get published one day (one day soon, please).
Every day I would come home from school and work for an hour on the book. I learned to touch type because I was so engrossed in writing that when it grew dark outside, I couldn’t be bothered to get up to turn the lights on, so had to feel for the keys in the dark. After a while, it became easy. I thought nothing of hitting the 50,000 word mark, deciding the plot was wrong and starting from the beginning. If you add up all the drafts, I must have written somewhere between 500,000 and a million words for this one book.
I’m not saying that was hard work. Other people do the same thing on top of having jobs to go to and kids to raise. But it’s also not as if I was holding a pen next to a notepad, sneezed, and looked down to find the completed manuscript. You have to believe, as a writer, that if you work hard enough, you’ll reap the rewards. Otherwise you have to look at the fact that people don’t always get want they want, and that’ll kill you.
Some lucky people are lucky to have a lucky amount of luck
But I expect the majority of people in the world work hard to get what they want, and they don’t. You can work as hard as you like for the pound it costs to play the lottery; it won’t guarantee you will win the jackpot.
You read a lot of stories about people having the most extraordinary amounts of luck. People who trip over in the street, their manuscript falls out of their bag and skids to a halt at the feet of a bigshot in the publishing community. In picking it up for you, they see the first few lines and are hooked. A few phone calls and meetings later, they get a massive publishing deal.
Honestly, I expect there are a lot of writers out there who are not waiting for their hard work to pay off, but are waiting for their lucky break. When you read about the remarkable coincidences that get some people published, you start to think that there is no point in doing any of the hard work, as ultimately it doesn’t matter. What matters is that you run around your house backwards three times, consult a witch doctor, don’t step on the cracks in the pavement. Those are the things that will get your book published just as much as working hard, promoting yourself, getting your work out there.
A rather unsatisfying conclusion
I think it comes down to both. There’s no point tripping over in the street in front of a publisher if you haven’t done the hard work so that you actually have a manuscript written to be in your bag. If you have never bothered to write it, what’ll happen is that publisher will end up with the skin of that banana you had for lunch on their shoes. That probably won’t result in a publishing deal. No one is that lucky.
Not everyone can get what they want. Unfortunately, there are people who can’t make the grade, who can’t write well enough for their work to ever be published and widely read or acknowledged. I’m not saying I’m not one of those people, simply that it is a fact that not everyone is a good writer, or a good artist, or an amazing singer. If we all got what we wanted because we had worked hard for it, the amount of terrible books out there would be a millionfold what they are now (a topic for another post would be if you have worked so hard, should you deserve it automatically?).
Getting published is about doing the work so that when a big opportunity comes along, you are prepared to make it work for you. It’s a paradox; without the lucky break, your hard work will go to waste, but without the hard work, you won’t even notice that it is a lucky break.
So, if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to run backwards around my house whilst reading The Elements of Style.
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