I spoke to a college class a few weeks ago. I have a friend who teaches graphic design and communications (at least that’s what I think he teaches…) and when he introduces blogging and WordPress to his students, he invites me in for a guest visit.
I talk about writing on the internet, social media, using WordPress, and a bunch of other things associated with this weird thing I do. It’s an interesting hour. I accidentally said three curse words when I visited this time.
I’m not sure my friend will invite me back.
One topic I have to talk about is viral posts and the good and bad that comes with that much attention to your site and your words. I know it’s intriguing to hear what being on the receiving end of one of those posts is. I’m three (?) years out from my first one and I still think it’s odd.
When the students asked how they gain an audience, how they grow social media followings, how they get posts to go viral, I always answer truthfully: a lot of it is just luck. Dumb luck.
You never know what’s going to resonate with people. You never know what people will love and what people will hate. You never know what people will do with the thoughts and words you share. It’s a crap shoot.
And so I tell them that.
I also tell them I don’t write for the “share-ability.” I don’t write with the idea that something will bring me attention and fame. That actually sounds kinda horrifying. I write because I don’t think I can stop. I write because I feel healthier when I do. I write because I enjoy it.
After I left the campus, I was thinking about the question and my luck-answer. To some extent, luck is true, but it’s not the whole truth. I unintentionally misled them. So I want to clear that up here, even though they probably won’t ever see this.
The thing about success is it is partly luck. There are random occurrences and relationships and showed-up-at-the-right-moment bits that all factor into success. But the other part–the part I failed to mention–is that luck has to have something to work with. We have to put in the hours and the time and the failure to give the luck part something to support.
For me and this blog thing that led to a part-time career as a writer: I started doing this in 2009 when I had no idea what I was actually doing. I didn’t know my voice. I didn’t know my audience. I didn’t even have an audience. I wrote for over two years without sharing a single post or blog address. I just wrote because I like to write. I put in hours and creativity and long nights at a thing I didn’t have an expectation for. I did it because I loved it and because I found joy in it.
So success for me didn’t come suddenly with a viral post that led to bigger writing gigs, speaking opportunities, and a literary agent. It took hundreds of posts before that. It took hundreds of posts after that. I kept my head down and my goal in mind (goal: just write) for a long time before anyone took notice.
It was nice when people started noticing, but it wasn’t the goal. So it was just a little side bonus. Lots and lots of hard work were ready and waiting when luck showed up and sent a post I wrote about my marriage to the masses.
The internet disagrees about who to credit, but the quote “The harder you work, the luckier you get” seems to work well here. Luck is never really just luck. It’s setting yourself up for success and then when success comes, suddenly everyone thinks it’s easy.
No one saw the hours I spent at home every night writing after working a full-time job and taking care of kids and making dinner and training for half-marathons. Chris Graham saw. He was there in the next room while I ignored him because I had to write. But no one else was aware of those times. No one saw the work part. People normally don’t. The boring bits aren’t glamorous or popular. You give some stuff up to work on something else.
Luck is never just luck.
When I visited the classroom that day, sharing funny little stories about blogging and being someone (a few) people know from the internet, I did it wrong. I forgot to say it took years to get that break. It took years to gain that audience. It took years to make people trust me. It took years to figure out how to tell a story.
And I’m still figuring it out. Luck might come around again or it might not. I’m still working hard just in case.
*A note about luck: As a Christian, “luck” is a tricky word. I accept and fully acknowledge God is in control of my life, my circumstances, and my opportunities. I hesitate to use the word because sometimes I think it diminishes the role and hand God has in my life. I don’t believe in coincidences, and I don’t believe in luck so much as God showing off in big, creative ways to remind me (and you) He’s got a sense of humor, He has fun things up His sleeve (robe?), and He delights in throwing off expectations and plans. So read this post about luck with a grain of salt and a whole lot of Jesus.