Friday, January 18, 2013

3 Ways to Make Your Own Luck

The latest issue of Sprout magazine features an interview with yours truly. If you're not familiar with Sprout, it's an inspired and inspiring online magazine fun by Amanda Fall. Go check it out. Anyway, the first question Amanda asked was tied into how I went from unpaid intern to well-connected editor.

Confession time: I believe a lot of my success over the years has come from "lucky breaks." Even my unpaid internship position with the Writer's Digest Writing Community, it was a lucky break. Of course, I'm willing to take credit for hard work and taking advantage of opportunities, but many of my best opportunities found me, not the other way around. How did that happen?

Serendipity can play into making your own luck.

Three Keys to Make Your Own Luck

I've given this topic a lot of thought over the years, and then decided to tackle this subject after reading Nick Usborne's posts on catching lucky breaks around the end of 2012. Here are my three keys to how I make my own luck:
  • Experiment
  • Engage
  • Share
Three simple words that I'll explain more below, but these actions are responsible for all my luck.


If I wanted to use more than one word, I might also say this key is "taking chances." For instance, I was exclusively an expert on publishing--as the editor of Writer's Market--before I started building a reputation as a poet.

My appearance at the Red Clay Writers Conference...

I still remember the meeting in which Writer's Digest magazine editors were trying to expand their site by offering editorial blogs. While many editors opted out of this "extra responsibility," I immediately saw an opportunity to share my rekindled love of poetry with the community. So I pitched Poetic Asides, and here's the funny part... reputation was so entrenched as a publishing expert for fiction and nonfiction freelancers that I received some push back on the idea. In fact, the poetry blog was only accepted after I recruited then Poet's Market editor Nancy Breen as my co-blogger (quick aside: I was already friends with Nancy and lucky to have her as a resource in the beginning). The rest of my poetry luck is history.

I went on to be named Poet Laureate of the Blogosphere in 2010--hosting super successful poem-a-day challenges in April and November. I've been hosted as a featured poet at several events around the country, including the Austin International Poetry Festival (AIPF) and Poetry Hickory. My debut full-length collection, Solving the World's Problems, is due out from Press 53 on September 1.

Of course, there's more to that luck, which I'll get into below, but none of it would've happened if I didn't experiment by pitching and launching the Poetic Asides blog. Before that, I was receiving speaking opportunities as a publishing expert by absolutely zero opportunities in the poetry world.

...led to me being invited to the Blue Ridge Writers Conference...


Speaking of the Poetic Asides blog and the April PAD Challenge, the idea was simple enough: I would offer a prompt each day in April (along with my own attempt at the prompt) and ask others to write a poem too. I hoped to get some participation, but I really didn't know what to expect and even worried that only one or two people might show. But the poems came.

And came. And came. That first post is still up on the site, and there were nearly 300 comments. But it didn't end there. The response was so overwhelming through the whole month that I started sharing poetry prompts on Wednesdays and created a November poem-a-day challenge dedicated to crafting chapbooks of poems.

These are experiments that worked out, but I also truly feel they are an example of engagement. For instance, one way I've built traffic on My Name Is Not Bob is through challenges and shining the light on other bloggers and tweeps. I didn't ask for or expect anything in return, I just felt that engaging with others is the right way to do things.

This engagement has led to "lucky" opportunities, including invitations to read at poetry festivals and events. Those speaking opportunities led to face-to-face engagement opportunities that led to more speaking opportunities. For instance, I would've never been invited to Houston Poetry Fest "Out of Bounds" if I had not met Mary Margaret Carlisle at AIPF. My invitation to speak at the Blue Ridge Writers Conference came from speaking at the Red Clay Writers Conference and it (the BRWC) led to an opportunity to speak at Poetry Hickory.

...which opened up an opportunity to speak at Poetry Hickory.

I have so many similar examples, both online and in person, of engagement with others leading to lucky breaks and opportunities. These speaking opportunities weren't pursued by me; they were offered, because I was engaging with people--and they saw the opportunity for me to share my passion and experiences with their audience.


There are many ways that sharing can lead to "lucky breaks." I mentioned Mary Margaret Carlisle above, and I met her at the Austin International Poetry Festival. She was a fellow featured poet, and we did a book swap--I'd recently self-published a limited edition chapbook of poems that have since sold out.

Without realizing it, my act of sharing set the wheels in motion for me to be invited as the feature for her Houston Poetry Fest "Out of Bounds" event--an event that raised money for me to come out, stay the night in Webster, sell some more chapbooks, and read my poetry before an engaged audience. I didn't expect anything to happen, but it did. And I've had other examples of this happening--without expectation on my part.

With Mary Margaret Carlisle at Austin International Poetry Festival.

Share your words, your thoughts, your ideas, and good things will happen. Don't spend all your time trying to trick people or get something tangible out of them. Trust that good works lead to good opportunities.

As one last example, one key reason the April PAD Challenge has been so successful from day one is that I shared my own example poem with the prompt. It's a way of showing that I'm in it with everyone else--writing horrible first drafts that more often than not never amount to anything. Sharing that vulnerable part of my writing process, I think, encourages others to then share--and we all benefit when that happens.

Have you experienced luck yourself? Or helped create luck for someone? Share your experiences below in the comments.


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Satia said...

Well, two internships later I still can't say I've had any luck but I've helped a lot of others. More than one person has been published because of my encouragement and my editing skills. I've shared connections, introduced people to others who have employed them, and definitely opened doors. Even my step-sister, who has been published in three anthologies and had two memoirs traditionally published, says I inspired her to write.

Now if only I could figure out how to bottle all of this up and use it for myself, I'd be thrilled!

Unknown said...

Robert, I've been looking to you as a kind of "writer icon" (more like "writer demigod," but ... let's keep it grounded, ha-ha!) for years now, and have always been stricken by the amount of hard work you put into the work you do and opportunities you've taken on. And that's not to say that the two are opposites, "luck" and "hard work" ... I think it's even more encouraging, actually, that you look at it as a series of lucky breaks! Encouraging in that it's a great reminder that you never know which things will pay off, but it's always wise to go at it as though anything or nothing could happen! Thanks for this.

Lara Britt said...

I couldn't agree more with you, Robert. My own personal luck was in play last April 6th when I was sent home from work with a concussion and stayed up all night creating my new blog and joining your MNINB April Platform Challenge. What a community of wonderful souls I happened into. And yes, it was serendipitous, but not surprising given that we all had you in common. Good luck with you newest adventures.

Sabra Bowers said...

Robert, I agree that a key reason for your success with your poetry challenges is that you share your "attempt" at the prompt. I know it made a difference for me that you were willing to be real and be you and share with us. All the best to you.

De Jackson said...

Excellent advice, Robert. And I'm so glad you took those chances, because Poetic Asides rekindled my passion for poetry - as well as sparking the energy to get my own poetic voice out there. I'm so thankful.


Amanda Fall - Sprout editor said...

Robert, what a joy to interview you in Sprout--one of the highlights of this job to date! Thank you so much for working with me and for sharing Sprout here.

One of the aspects of your journey that inspires me most is how dedicated you are to helping US ("other" writers) succeed. Kindness and generosity are refreshing goals to keep in mind as we "make our own luck."

Julia Tomiak said...

Thanks once again for inspiring and encouraging us all. I heard Lysa TerKuerst speak at a conference last summer and she said that if you take advantage of the small opportunities that come in front of you, bigger ones will follow. It helps make an overwhelming task seem possible. Thanks for sharing, and keep up the luck!

Linda G. Hatton said...

Robert, I enjoyed reading! Regarding this, "Sharing that vulnerable part of my writing process, I think, encourages others to then share--and we all benefit when that happens." So true. It has partially been from the support of you and all the Poetic Asides poets I have gotten to know that I've been able to begin taking risks and send my writing out again after a long hiatus. Many heartfelt thanks to you for starting the community!