If you play poker long enough, you will eventually hear the phrase, "I'd rather be lucky than good." Usually this phrase is delivered by a good player who has just gotten unlucky.
While dumb luck is certainly desirable when you're playing cards, good, skilled players will always triumph over unskilled but lucky ones in the long run.
This makes me think of something I once heard about working hard and staying focused, so when you have those inevitable encounters with good luck, it's like a collision of two peaks, rather than a peak and a trough. It went something like, "Work hard, and you'll be in a position to benefit from good luck." or "Hard workers make their own luck."
(For those of you keeping score, that would be poker and physics in the same post, and I'm just getting started. Go me.)
I've been doing more interviews than usual lately, and with all the talking about how I got where I am today, how I feel about it, and what's next, I've spent a lot of time thinking -- I mean really, seriously examining -- those questions, long after the interview is over.
"Who am I? Why am I here?"
(Oh, Admiral Stockdale. We are so glad that we hardly knew ye.)
I keep coming back to feeling lucky, and how grateful I am that I was in the right place at the right time with so many things, starting with the first post on my blog, all the way back in the middle ages. A lot of success is timing, and I started doing this at a time when not a lot of other people were, so I got to load up my wagons and hope I didn't die of dysentery while a bunch of us made permanent the trail that was originally laid out by guys like Dave Winer and Doc Searls. If I'd started blogging at any other time, I'm not sure I'd be writing this post right now.
I was also lucky to have my blog and my love of poker converge at a time when it made sense for PokerStars to hire me and take me on some of the most outrageously fun adventures of my life. If either event had peaked at a different time, I wouldn't have been a proud member of Team Blog in 2006, and made some of the greatest friends I've ever known.
When I realized I had Dancing Barefoot sitting within the manuscript of Just A Geek, I was lucky to realize that the rules for publishing were changing, that bloggers could be authors and authors could be bloggers. I know this seems obvious now, but at the time it was a pretty controversial idea. When it came time to publish it, I had this crazy idea of doing it entirely on my own, and my predictions about how it would work out were correct. Luckily for me, I was willing to take a very big and very scary chance. (Unluckily, when O'Reilly was mismarketing Just a Geek, my predictions also came true. Maybe I should change my name to Zoltan and sit in a box at the fair.)
Most of all, though, I've been blessed by the incredible generosity of people who had no reason to help and guide me, but did anyway: John Scalzi and Warren Ellis are two who you'd recognize, and the rest of the list could fill a 2 gig flash drive in a single-spaced text file. That I wrote in vi because I couldn't find the text editor in emacs. God, that joke never gets old.
There are countless other moments where I got lucky, and an equal number where I've gotten unlucky, but -- and this is where I get to my point, such as it is -- through it all, I've never relied solely on luck, and neither should you. Through it all, I always kept working as hard as I could to not suck, to never be satisfied, to not get complacent, to appreciate my successes and learn from my mistakes.
I guess what I'm saying is that luck sort of just shows up, I guess, whether you need it or not, while only you can decide to work hard, or not.
Now, all of that is prelude to what I really wanted to share with this post: some resources that I've come across recently that I think are quite useful for writers, especially noobs like me.
Oh! Jeebus, this is harder to put together than I thought it would be, so bear with me, okay? There's one other thing: don't ever take for granted the kindness and generosity of experienced people who are willing to help you, and when you're finally in a position to do the same for other people, do it.
Still with me? Here ya go:
If you're considering self publishing like I did, you should look at all of SFWA's resources for writers, but especially Writer Beware, which identifies many of the scams and dangers that are out there for those of us who don't know any better.
Books that I read when I was building Monolith Press that made all the difference:
- The Complete Guide to Self Publishing by Tom and Marilyn Ross
- The Self Publishing Manual by Dan Poynter
- Jumpstart Your Book Sales by Tom and Marilyn Ross
- The Purple Cow by Seth Godin
One book that everyone should read, whether you're a writer or not, but especially if you're working essentially on your own: Upgrade Your Life (aka The Lifehacker Book) by Gina Trapani.
Finally, an important note to all artists: nobody in the world will work as hard as you will to promote your work, nobody will care about promoting it as much as you do, and your work will be as successful as you work to make it. Hopefully, you'll get lucky like I did and get some good word of mouth and connect with a passionate group of people who will tell their friends about you, but that's never going to happen if you don't work hard -- really, really hard -- to make it happen.
Okay. That is all. Now, I am going to go for a jog with my wife.
Updated to add: VT makes a massively awesome point: get out of your own way. Or, as I put it, don't be afraid to suck. It's easier to fix something you don't like than it is to fill up a blank page. Trust me, I hung on that cross so you don't have to.