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What You Need to Succeed


Thank you for your attention. I’ll stand by for questions.


This past weekend Terry Brooks told a rapt crowd of 150 people at Write on the River that the #1 thing you need to succeed as a novelist is luck. He told a marvelous story of how luck factored into the sale of his iconic book, Sword of Shannara. And he had the humility to admit that for all the appeal of his stories, he still believes that luck is #1.

It’s not all you need, he said. You also need perseverance, determination, courage, a bit of talent and all the rest. But isn’t it interesting that coincidence, chaos, timing–however you define luck–plays so large a role?

The other point he made regarding luck is that you have to put yourself in a position to be lucky. That means you have to write and put your stuff in the mail (having practiced and worked at your story, etc.) So it doesn’t really mean that its all fated to happen or not, and we can coast.

That got me to thinking whether I was putting myself in a position to be the beneficiary of luck. And whether, also, I am letting Terry’s point take root in my attitude.

Opening Up to Luck

We need to do the writing work or luck cannot find us. That seems obvious. But what kinds of things happen that can be considered lucky? Consider these:

  1. The editor on whose desk your manuscript landed loves your novel, whereas five previous ones thought the manuscript wasn’t promising.

  2. An anthology editor just happens to have a theme that coincides with something you’re working on that he happened to overhear you describing in a hallway at a convention.

  3. The publisher is tired of dealing with difficult artists and you struck the right cord with her when you were briefly introduced at a con.

  4. A writer just informed his publisher that he can’t turn in his manuscript on time. They’re very eager to fill that slot, and now here is your manuscript . . .

  5. You hit it off with another newbie writer who then goes on to have a best seller and offers to co-write a novella with you. (That means you write it and he polishes and his name goes ahead of yours.)

  6. A future big-time agent has just opened her agency and is now (very briefly) looking to build her stable. You have a finished manuscript and meet her at Write on the River.

In one form or another four of these six things happened to me. Am I a great writer? I don’t know, but I sure am lucky!

You get the idea. Go to gatherings where you will meet editors, other writers, and agents. Write novels and send them out. Write short stories and talk about them. Attend social gatherings of writers. (Note to introverts: You walk into a room, and tell yourself “all I need is one lucky thing.” You don’t need to make a splash. You don’t need to be witty and always say the right thing. Just one good interaction. The bar is low!)

Luck in the Attitude

At a more profound level, it occurs to me that understanding the role of luck could have a great influence on a writer’s attitude. It would allow us to relax and stop berating ourselves for outcomes. If we are working very hard indeed on our writing, then we can let go of the angst about how long its taking to break in or win an award or whatever.

Over time, if you do not keep a positive attitude, the writing life can grind you down and shrink your heart. I’ve seen this among writing acquaintances and it isn’t pretty.

Let go and let luck.

Here are some more benefits to attitude:

  1. Realizing the profound role of luck, one develops a balanced life. We pursue a sport, learn Italian, pay attention to friends. All of these things are necessary because one might hit a long unlucky patch and need them.

  2. We learn to shrug off the bad stuff. Oh, that awful review? He must have missed his morning coffee. He had just written ten stellar reviews in a row and had to make an example of someone.

  3. We are better defended against envy. Why does he sell so much better than I? (Class?)

  4. We become kinder to stray animals and mean people. Because we have compassion for them. They have not deserved everything that happened to them. Why is it a benefit to be kind and compassionate? Because it will make us happier.

It will put us in a position to receive luck.

I stand by for questions.

Also, I want to heartily thank Louise Marley for her marvelous Red Room blog on Write on the River.


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