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Weekly Wrap: Just Our Luck

by Susan Henderson on January 26, 2007

After I wrote my weekly wrap, I decided to send it to Huffington Post. If they run it, I’ll link it here. And now I’ll have to write something new, I guess.

The topic of luck sure triggered some emotions this week. I don’t know what I believe about luck. Certainly I work at my craft as if I believe that persistence and talent and good will are the key ingredients. But we all know lovely human beings who left this world with gorgeous manuscripts sitting on their hard drives. It’s a tough business, and I think we all hope we will be the ones to break through.

What I gave a good deal of thought to this week is the fact that 20-plus years of the following have not landed me a book deal: persistence, education, contacts, kindness, patience, awards, humility, stubbornness, conferences, panels, magazine publications, magazine editing, manuscript editing, knowing the market, prayer, hope, hopelessness, advanced praise blurbs, writing every day, taking criticism, taking risks, trusting agents, opening doors for others, listening to my inner voice, and having agents and editors say they’ve fallen in love with my books.

I say none of this out of self-pity. I am posting my quickie-history here as a reality check. It’s the reason LitPark exists – because this is the road we’re all traveling along. And even those of you with book deals and rabid fans know there’s no coasting in this business.

Maybe this week’s guest, Brad Listi was right to say that the most important ingredient in a writer’s career is luck.

Well, then – Can we position ourselves so we are more likely to get lucky? Is hard work, in all its various forms, akin to buying extra lottery tickets? If you buy 100 lottery tickets, are you more likely to win the lottery?

Your answers to the Question of the Week are so awfully beautiful and startling. Thanks to those of you who gave your thoughts: Lance Reynald, Simon Haynes, Betsy, Jon Armstrong, Gail Siegel, Richard, Kaytie, Heather McElhatton, Maria Headley, amy, Paula, Carolyn Burns Bass, Lauren Baratz-Logsted, Aimee, Robin Slick, mikel k poet, Julie Ann Shapiro, mattilda, Ronlyn Domingue, Kimberly, Juliet, Cherie Burbach, Dennis Mahagin, and Jason Boog. Somehow, the collective answers are the very definition of a writer’s struggle. I hope you’ll go back and read them. It is truly an honor to have your company and your voice here.

*

In the mail, I received a book from my friend, Richard Lewis. I’m so proud of him, I want to show off the cover.

Richard lives in Indonesia, and this is his second book about the Muslim culture in his region. This one happens to be set against the catastrophic tsunami we all know about and an American brother and sister trying find their parents who have disappeared in the storm.

Richard, thank you for what you said in the acknowledgments section. It means a lot to me.

*

Tune in tomorrow, especially if you’re a songwriter!

{ 19 comments… read them below or add one }

mattilda January 26, 2007 at 7:59 am

Thanks, Susan — this is very candid and touching.

mattilda

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Lance Reynald January 26, 2007 at 9:28 am

now I’ve got Sinatra’s “luck be a lady” playing on a loop in my head. clearly some odd tribute to my wondertwin.

fun week.

can’t wait to see what next week brings.

xo-LR

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Julie Ann Shapiro January 26, 2007 at 9:35 am

Susan,
I think when we put ourselves out there and have a big heart like you the universe does respond in lucky ways. It’s just not how we necessarily think or hope or even recognize until a while after it’s happened.

For instance, I’ve been working on a collaborate project that’s had a very tight deadline and has pulled me temporarily away from some paying client work as well as even some of my fiction writing. I had to put everything on hold to meet the deadline. I put my whole heart in the project. Yet, yesterday inside I was stressing about income saying to myself I have to find some time for client followup and to pursue new projects. But at the same time knew there was no time. In the midst of this I ran an errand and received a phone call. One of my existing clients wanted to meet. I was so stressed taking a break for a meeting seemed hardly the thing to do.

But it was everything I needed to do. The client expanded our relationship and wanted to introduce me to a couple of his clients. Referrals like this are so much nicer than hunting for new business opportunities. The timing of it is lucky. It happened just when I needed it.

By being out there and putting myself out there I was open to it happening, even if it has nothing whatsoever with my literary dreams or aspirations.

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Lori Oliva January 26, 2007 at 2:32 pm

What an interesting topic, evoking so much emotion and thought-provoking discussion. I held off on throwing my opinion in because I was thinking…I like to think. I’m not sure why we are driven to do what we do, but I am sure that we have all picked up a book along the line and said, “I write better than that!” only to go home to find another rejection letter in our mailbox. I also believe that there are days where we don’t feel as if we have the energy to write a single word, but there are also days of acceptance that reminds us why we are writers. Yes, luck plays a role, but so does timing, and of course talent.

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LaurenBaratz-Logsted January 26, 2007 at 2:37 pm

I just think we’re all lucky to have you, Susan.

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Tish Cohen January 26, 2007 at 2:48 pm

Susan,

I have absolutely ZERO doubt that you will be published–and published well. I’ve read your writing-it’s among the best out there.

But I have to tell you something (and I just blogged about this on the Debs this week). It was at the very moment I hit bottom–and decided to look for a real job that wouldn’t rip out my heart every time I checked my email–that I got “the call.”

You just never know what tomorrow will bring, that’s my theory. I don’t say this lightly–I’m certain your tomorrow is close.

xoxo,
Tish

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*Joe* January 26, 2007 at 4:05 pm

I think I’m pretty lucky to have found Litpark. Or did you send me an invite Susan? I forget. Even though I don’t always comment – when I think I don’t have anything useful to add – I read Litpark regularly and always find inspiration here. You have introduced me to many talented writers, guest columnists like Lance and Frank and of course you. So thanks. I’m lucky. I feel confident that your talent and hard work will bring you plenty of luck.

And there’s always the chance of a happy accident – like backing over Dan Brown’s literary agent.

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Carolyn Burns Bass January 26, 2007 at 4:22 pm

Susan wrote:persistence, education, contacts, kindness, patience, awards, humility, stubbornness, conferences, panels, magazine publications, magazine editing, manuscript editing, knowing the market, prayer, hope, hopelessness, advanced praise blurbs, writing every day, taking criticism, taking risks, trusting agents, opening doors for others, listening to my inner voice, and having agents and editors say they’ve fallen in love with my books.

Everyone in the publishing field knows how hard it is to break in as a writer. Right?

Could it be that this preconceived belief is a literary meme that actually blocks us from achievement? Its power passed from author to author in legend and blog feeds our subconscious fears. The more we believe the meme, the more power it has over us.

Susan, today I am believing differently for you. I am believing that you are one talented author whose time has come. This book, this market, this glorious year.

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Robin Slick January 26, 2007 at 5:16 pm

I’m going with Carolyn on this one.

Ha ha – this is the trouble with being a writer and showing up here after you’ve read a bunch of great comments from other writers. They’ve already covered what you want to say!

But yeah, this is your year, Sue. Count on it.

I just hope you aren’t too humble to announce it here big and strong when it does happen. You really are one of the most humble people I’ve ever met, and that’s a high compliment. I know we have to promote ourselves as writers but you and people here like Carolyn have found a graceful way to do it. You rule!

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Aurelio January 26, 2007 at 5:47 pm

Susan, I’m not sure what to add to these already excellent comments, but because I have developed such a personal fondness for you and appreciation of this site, I feel required to share a thought or two.

I cannot tell you why, but the biz part of writing seems to be a marathon rather than a sprint. It means taking the hills when you don’t know if you can make another one, choking down goo instead of real food, feeling the burn and pressing on.

And constantly asking yourself in your head, “Am I there yet?”

You have a huge group passing you water and cheering you on. Just keep heading for the tape.

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Susan Henderson January 26, 2007 at 6:07 pm

mattilda – It’s good to have you here.

Lance – You’re sweet. I’m afraid the song I have in my head is about chicken soup, and it’s Aurelio’s fault.

Julie – Thank you. And I’m glad good things are happening for you.

Lori – You said it perfectly!

Lauren – What a sweetheart.

Tish – Stop, you’re making me cry.

*Joe* – Ha ha ha! That’s hysterical!

Carolyn – What a wonderful thing when your friends believe in you. I’m very touched.

Robin – Somehow everything in the world is just fine when you click here: http://www.neilgaiman.com/journal/2007/01/mostly-pictures.html

Aurelio – The fondness goes both ways. I was never a runner, but I remember very much when – in the middle of a regatta – the coxswain would yell, “You’re half way!” And most of us, by then, were on the verge of passing out or throwing up in the boat, and I remember that feeling of “What the fuck? I thought we were near the finish line?!”

You all are wonderful, by the way.

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Maria Headley January 26, 2007 at 6:12 pm

Adding a voice to the certainty that this is the year for you, Susan! Your dashed-off piece at the Memoirists reading the other night was profoundly funny and a sweet (as in SWEEEEEEEEEET) piece of writing – anyone who can do that on a notecard, in a bar, surrounded by chatter and clatter is someone whose work I want to read – and I know I’m going to get the chance in the very near future. I’m sending some luck toward you. My feeling about this, your 20 years of the everything of being a writer minus the satisfaction of the book deal – and everything else, for that matter – is that whatever the struggle is, it prepares you, makes you the person, who can actually take advantage of the good when it comes. Sometimes I bitch to myself about things taking too long, about people not behaving the way I want them to, in the publishing world and elsewhere, but ultimately, if everything had always worked the way I’d wanted it to, I’d be a completely different person, and hell, I like the person I am. I like the person you are too. Your complexity, your struggle, your generousity of self will only enrich your career – and when that book hits the shelves, I’m planning to be leaping in the air and toasting you with a big bottle of champagne.

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Robin Slick January 26, 2007 at 7:36 pm

Susan, I have been looking at that photo of Neil Gaiman all day, just to stay sane.

I’m in that horrible waiting mode – you have no idea how many things I have going on which are causing me to “sit by the phone”. (More like lurk at the computer, but whatever)

So yeah, I figured while I’m here waiting and driving myself insane, that photo of Neil is as good as any scenery, glass of wine, etc. I’ve ever experienced. But you know, he realizes full well what effect that pic has on his female fans. He’s a brilliant businessman and a huge scamp. Now typically, that would make me like him less…the businessman thing, that is…but the fact that he’s a scamp cancels the other out.

Sigh…

I say we start a Petition. “HEY NEIL DON’T SHAVE THE BEARD”

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Susan Henderson January 26, 2007 at 8:48 pm

Maria – You are awesome, and thank you.

I really appreciate the support, everyone, I really do in ways you can’t possibly know. But I just want to be clear, I wasn’t meaning to post a sob story. There’s not a single writer I know, published or unpublished, who hasn’t walked one path or another up this steep mountain toward publication. I think artists, musicians, actors and directors know this feeling, too – just that, if we worked this hard in any other field, we’d have much to show for it. In this field, there’s no such sense of entitlement. In fact, being artists, we’re much more likely to believe that we suck than the system sucks. It’s just the way it is, and I think it’s important to acknowledge it now and then – how hard it is to get a foot-hold, even for those who are farther up the mountain.

Robin – I like that: Scamp. I’m partial to the scruff, too. And the reading glasses, though they’re off, apparently, when he’s typing.

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Gail Siegel January 27, 2007 at 2:48 pm

Susan, I do believe you’ve worked harder than most people, that your writing is fabulous (I’ve had the privilege of reading your unpublished work, and feeling awestruck) and that only a run of bad luck has kept you off the shelves. Even as your kindnesses have paved a golden path for others. I do hope that this is your year, even if it means breaking down and eating Lucky Charms each day for breakfast. Kisses to you.

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Susan Henderson January 27, 2007 at 4:32 pm

Gail – This is why you are my adopted sister. xo

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Aurelio January 27, 2007 at 8:16 pm

Lance, my nephew’s weird video is the reason why Susan was hearing a song in her head about Chicken Noodle Soup (with a soda on the side):

Chicken Noodle Soup

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MOM January 28, 2007 at 12:58 am

I’m reminded of the Tibetan Buddhists’ slogan “Abandon any hope of fruition”–and just continue your dedication to the process. This has been very helpful in my life (and even has lead to fruition) 🙂 MOM

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Susan Henderson January 29, 2007 at 12:17 pm

Aurelio – Noooo! Not the chicken noodle soup song again!

MOM – xxoo (I love my mom.)

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