Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Passion, Hard Work and Luck

There's been a lot of writer whining on the interwebs lately. I've spoken about the sense of entitlement ad nauseum. But today, I'm going to focus on the positive. Here's three things (beyond craft) I believe that a successful writer needs.


Without passion, without the driving need to record your thoughts and whimsy, your stories will lack that certain something. That ephemeral quality that will pull a reader into the world that only exists in your mind.

I'm not one of those people that says you have to write every day. Granted, I do, but that's my method to retain my sanity. But if you don't have that overwhelming need to spill out your creativity and knowledge, then you're probably not going to make it as a writer.


Once the initial high of your creative side wears off, you find that shaping your vision into a product of reality is difficult. It's tough. It's demanding. The image in your mind doesn't just coalesce on page or laptop. It has to go through what is essentially your brain's translation matrix from one hemisphere to the other in order for your fingers to record it to paper or screen.

This is the point where most folks give up. Writing should be fun, not work, they think. Actually, it should be both. As in, this is the work you love doing because it is fun. But nothing is ever 100% fun. Not even Halo. And I've had the thumb cramps to prove it.


No one in our highly Protestant-influenced American culture wants to believe luck is a factor in our success. Hard work and clean living should be enough to guarantee success. If you don't succeed, then you weren't working hard enough!

But in reality, hard work isn't enough. Otherwise, there's a ton of terrific books that should have been on a bestseller list. Sometimes, it comes down to sheer dumb luck. Alter Ego's wonderful sales are due to a book that came out the month after her first one. Maybe you've heard of Fifty Shades of Gray? Without readers looking for more books like E.L. James', no one would have given Alter Ego's a second glance.

"Oh, that's just a fluke," I hear you say. Yes and no. Blood Magick's sales had tapered off from it's initial high in 2011, but then jumped up again last summer. Why? Because the indomitable Nora Roberts had a brand new book up for presale. Wanna guess what her title was? Because we shared the same title, people were seeing my book pop up on their searches. A few gave mine a try while they were waiting for La Nora's.

Then there are the times when luck turns the other way. Ask David Hasselhoff about his big American concert that was supposed to launch his U.S. music career that was pre-empted by O.J. Simpson's police chase. Or my friend Kim, who's big paranormal debut came three days after Hurricane Ike ravaged Houston. Local appearances were cancelled, the orders for local bookstores were turned back, and she didn't have the electricity to do any phone or online promotions.

It would be nice if hard work was all we need, but sometimes it comes down to being in the right place at the right time.

So what does this all mean? The first two items you can control. The third one you can't. So ask yourself this--is the risk worth it?

For myself, I can say YES! As always, YMMV.


  1. I forget whom it's by, but there's a great quote that says, "Most people fail to recognize opportunity when it shows up, because it's wearing overalls and looks like work."

    I agree with you about those three things, and I'll point out that each one is necessary but not sufficient. One or even two of them isn't enough; you need all three. If you don't have the passion, you probably won't finish a novel, and not more than a few short stories, if that. If you don't do the work, you won't be ready to take advantage of a lucky opportunity when it shows up, and probably won't even recognize it. If you hadn't been working hard on your own BDSM books, the Fifty Shades wave would've passed you by, and at best you might've though, "Huh, I'll bet if I'd written that book I was thinking about, there'd be more of a market for it right now." Or maybe not.

    I'm one of those people who thinks that enough hard work will get you there. But to me, "enough" hard work means like one or two hundred short stories, or twenty-five to fifty novels. At that point, unless you're completely hopeless, you'll have enough product out there that if it's good (that's the passion and the craftsmanship) you'll have enough of a footprint to get some word-of-mouth going, even if you never hit the bestseller lists anywhere. And seriously, after you've written a couple hundred shorts or fifty novels, you're craftsmanship will probably be pretty good, unless you've been spinning your wheels and learning nothing that whole time. Which takes some effort. :)

    I think most of the problem is that a lot of wannabe writers think that a couple of shorts or one novel should be enough for them to take off. And sometimes writers with that tiny amount of work out there do take off. But those are the lottery winners who took the express elevators, not everyone else who had to build their own staircase before they could start climbing it, one step at a time.


    1. Ah, yes. The Lottery Ticket writers.

      If someone makes millions on their first published book, more power to them. I don't begrudge J.K. Rowling or Stephenie Meyer or E.L. James their money.

      What I hate are the jerks that point fingers and go, "Ha HAA!" like Nelson on the Simpsons because the follow-up books these writers create won't reach the heights their previous works did. Those situations can seriously mess with your creative mind.

      But then that's not what the lottery-hoping wannabes really care about, is it?

    2. There are people who know that's a lottery ticket win and are hoping to get a winning ticket for themselves, and then there are the people who look at Rowling and James or King or Patterson and think that that's how it's supposed to be, that because they're "good" writers (or at least, their mothers, best friends and English teachers said they were) that they should have the same success. The kind of people who get a happy call from a New York editor offering a nice but not huge advance, and go in and quit their job the next day, because of course they'll be able to write lots of books now, and sell them all right away, for the same money, yay!

      The first person I just shrug at. They know they're gambling and it's their choice to play. The second person makes me headdesk, and then want to grab them by the scruff of the neck so I can sit them down and explain the facts of life. [sigh]

      And yes, the folks who snark because, frex., Rowling's mysteries haven't been the phenomenal bestsellers that her Harry Potter books were, are idiots. [sigh]


  2. With self-pubbing, I think the first two are enough--provided you have the basic skills and keep writing more books and improving--to eventually get you a tidy little career that will allow you to pay your bills and not need a day job. But if you want the big time, you want to be famous, you want to be rich, you want to option your book to Hollywood, you still need that winning lottery ticket. The trick, for me at least, is to remember that the success I NEED to keep writing full time, and the success that I WANT are not the same thing. And if I can't be happy with the need level of success, I'm going to burn out long before I have a chance to even buy the damn lottery ticket. I think that's where a lot of new writers run into trouble. They don't manage their expectations properly. For me the ultimate goal is to be able to keep writing. And I can do that on a shoestring. I want all sorts of grandiose things, but that's the gravy. The meat is to be able to keep writing.

    1. Laura -- the way I look at it, every time you publish something, you are buying a lottery ticket. If you keep publishing frequently, which indie pubbers have much more control over than trad pubbers, eventually the odds will tip in your favor and that luck will strike. Even with indie pubbing, coming to the attention of that big circle of reader friends, three of whom have popular book blogs and five of whom have hundreds or thousands of followers on Goodreads, is getting lucky. We all want the word-of-mouth that really helps careers take off, and there's no way to actively make it happen. All you can do is write great stories and put them out there, like tossing bread out onto the water. Eventually we're hoping to have a huge-ass flock of ducks surrounding us, all clamoring for that next handful of bread. :) But reader-ducks are pickier, and there are a bazillion writer-people tossing bread.


    2. So we need to make sure we have better bread--and more of it!