While reading an article by Kathleen McCleary titled “5 Ways To Get Luckier,” it hit me that the very same strategies she listed for shaping the good fortune in your life could also be used to shape your success as a writer.
Take, for instance, McCleary’s first way to open yourself to good luck and serendipity.
Bet you’ve heard that one before. Writers need to take in life’s details as though peering through the lens of an optical microscope at ten times magnification. Okay, that might be an exaggeration, but observe we must. And one way to do so is to turn off that smart phone, step away from the computer, and look around. Who knows what opportunities might arise—yes, from out of nowhere, when we least expect them—while we’re paying attention.
I’ve finally reached the point where I understand the value of descriptive details in making my writing come alive. And in order to add descriptive detail to my writing, I’ve learned to focus on everyday objects and occurrences, zero in on the seemingly unimportant details, and write them down.
Open Your Calendar
Down time? There aren’t enough hours in a day to complete our “must dos,” let alone make time for our “want to dos.” Right?
Funny thing is, serendipitous moments, those instances of happenstance when we make fortunate discoveries by accident and find something valuable or delightful when not looking for it, rarely happen while we’re performing our “must dos.”
We need to leave time open in our Day-Planners for serendipitous moments to catch up to us, instead of allowing them to fly right by? Zip; gone; like the flybys Victor Smith writes about in his post “The ‘Flyby’ in Visionary Fiction.”
“Without attention, recognition, curiosity, and capture,” he says, “they remain fussy potential no-things buzzing about in an ethereal soup, alien vessels without a place to moor.”
Increase Your Odds
Try more things and more good things will happen, McCleary suggests. But don’t wait until you’re sure of success. Doing so, she warns, actually decreases your odds of serendipitous life moments.
There are many ways you can grow as a writer while writing or revising your fiction for submission, such as taking a creative writing course and experimenting with another form of creative expression.
I thought of this while standing at the podium in front of 70 people at a Tule Review reading, sponsored by Sacramento Poetry Center.
I was there to read a poem called Messy, Slick Roads that I’d written as an assignment for a creative writing class through UC Davis Extension.
When my creative writing teacher said that she wanted us to learn how to “identify and shape our own unique style and structure when writing in any genre” and “to expand our repertoire of possibilities,” I was not a happy camper. She introduced us to the poets Hayden, Carruth, Merrill, Thomas, Justice, and Kizer, and to poetic pattern forms, including Stanza, Villanelle, and Pantoum. I can get through this, I thought, until the dreaded moment arrived when she asked us to write—I wasn’t sure my heart could take this—a poem.
As my instructor is my witness, I went into this assignment unwillingly. Therefore no one could have been more surprised than I was when she handed the poem back the following week with the suggestion that I submit it to Tule Review for consideration. I was even more shocked, when a few months later I received notice that Messy, Slick Roads had been accepted for publication in their summer edition.
Sometimes the road to publication is slick and messy, and inspiration, cool and wet, is all around you. Your mind might be ready for a good soaking. Push a little deeper, come a little closer, to that nugget within you, that you can mine and present proudly, a finished, polished gem. Your voice, a voice the world has not heard before, a finished, polished gem, your small contribution…
Composing Messy, Slick Roads and reading it to an audience of “real” poets stretched me in a way I’d never stretched before, as have so many other ultimately rewarding experiences on my journey as a writer.
McCleary’s next action for working on serendipity is to take a “risk and step out of your comfort zone.” Oh my.
When I was asked to speak at the California Writer’s Club/Sacramento breakfast meeting about how I’d built my website and decided on my platform and marketing strategy, my first thought was: Hold it! You’re talking to a technological greenhorn here—miss trial and error, miss whoops that didn’t work out too well, miss if you don’t at first succeed, try, try again.
In other words, I was hardly qualified. But then I thought: Maybe that’s the point.
It’s no secret that many writers take on website building and marketing strategy because they must, not because they have a talent for it or even remotely want to. So there was a strong possibility that many of the writers attending the CWC breakfast meeting would actually be favorable to hearing how an amateur managed to accomplish a task that at first seemed overwhelming.
Well, not only did I say yes, but I built an entire website just for that talk, featuring short, step-by-step posts, reiterating and augmenting what I’d be sharing that day . Yes, I worried and complained and had moments of regret for agreeing to do something that took me so far out of my comfort zone, but what a wonderful experience it turned out to be. Plus, as an unexpected bonus, I’m about to start a author/community outreach program with a new set of partners I met that day to help writers in our area publish and market their books.
Let It Go
McCleary’s last suggestion on how to increase one’s luck is to let go of bad experiences and concentrate on the good.
I’m talking rejection, here, fellow writers, something we know a lot about: critiques that often feel like rejection from teachers and writing partners, rounds of revision notes from editors, those thanks-but-no-thanks letters from agents and publishers.
It takes courage, diligence, faith, and hope to stay on track during good times and bad.
Don’t let disbelief in your ability outweigh thoughts of success. Discard the bad news like yesterday’s newspaper. When you hit roadblocks along the way, face your fears, clarify your purpose, and re-imagine new visions of success. Then hold that success in your mental eye until you realize it in your outer world.
Success as a Writer
Successful writers are always on the alert for serendipitous moments to reveal themselves, so when they show up in your life, capture them and give them “a place to moor.”