Before I launch into this discussion as something that applies exclusively to writers, I’d like to add an opening disclaimer that I heartily expect this is something that all artistic types might suffer from. I give you this scenario byway of testing the theory: you have recently announced a new publication/an art showing/a gig for yourself or your band. It’s a huge accomplishment and people are delighted for you. It’s one of a few good things that have happened to you in your career this year, and you’re delighted to share the news. People congratulate you and tell you that you deserve this, on account of the hard work you put in.
You respond by saying:
Earlier this week, my fourth book of the year was announced. I am incredibly lucky. I’m also incredibly self-conscious about what a good year it’s been, on the off chance that people think I’m somehow undeserving of it. However, the real truth of the matter is that those books came out of a lot of writing hours and an awful lot of editing ones (and then some more editing hours on that). I approached publishers – too many to even remember, for my first novel – and I collected rejections like rare stamps for a scrapbook. All of that aside, I still count myself as being lucky, or getting lucky, to get those books past the finish line and into print – as though there weren’t literally hundreds of hours of work put into those books beforehand.
On the day that book four was announced, I said, ‘I’m just so lucky,’ to three different people – and they all had the good grace of correcting me. One of them – a fellow writer – told me that every time I felt like telling people I was lucky, I should instead tell them that I’m proud. That’s something else that I am, of course, incredibly proud, but somehow it feels inappropriate to say so.
I don’t remember anyone ever sitting me down and telling me that I shouldn’t feel proud. My mum – my number one fan – has always been hugely supportive of my work and she’s always been quick to tell me, and anyone in the English-speaking language who would listen, how proud she is of everything that I’ve done, and everything I do. So why now, nine years into adulthood and eight years into writing, have I decided that luck somehow trumps pride? There’s nothing wrong with modesty, but there’s a fine line between being modest and down playing your achievements as something that happen outside of your control. When the reality is in fact much closer to the opposite when it comes to trying to establish a career in the arts. Everything has to be at least a little in your control, because you have to go out there and make these things happen for yourself, and for your work.
At one time or another, we’ve all heard the idea that you make your own luck. Or even, the more luck you have the more luck you’ll get, as though it’s something that advances with the right rub of the right pot of gold – and maybe that’s a little bit true. That said, it seems more likely to me that the Jefferson quote that opened this essay is closer to the truth. The harder you work, the “luckier” you are. It’s that mentality entirely that I’m going to try to adopt a little more often – and I’m writing it down, and sharing it, in the interest of voicing these ideas and these hopes in a public forum.
The friend who told me to be proud is right – I won’t name and shame her, in case she’d rather I didn’t, but she’s absolutely right. It is okay to be proud of your accomplishments without passing them off as something entirely independent from you – i.e. something that exists elsewhere in a field of leprechauns and unicorns (oh, what a place to live). On the contrary, our accomplishments and achievements are actually inextricably bound up with us; they’re the fruits of hours of labour, the products of a hundred missed family occasions, and a hundred more missed nights out with friends. And I think it’s okay – more than okay, entirely acceptable and justified, in fact – to be proud of the results of that work.
Or at least, I think it’s entirely acceptable and justified when others are proud of it. I’m not there yet. But I’m going to work on it.