Once, in the meagre shelter offered by a Russian hovel, with the snow howling at the door and the Cossacks closing in, Napoleon Bonaparte was presented with the name of one of his colonels. The man was being recommended for promotion. The French Emperor asked the colonel’s superior whether the recommendation was true – was this colonel really one of the best officers in the Grande Armee? The superior proceeded to wax verbose on the colonel’s many merits. Napoleon stopped him mid-sentence.
“All this may be so,” said the diminutive titan of military might. “But is he lucky?”
Now, heaven forbid that I, as a dedicated history student, should ever spread a historical inaccuracy.* The veracity of this story – that Napoleon Bonaparte asked whether an officer was ‘lucky’ before promoting him – is difficult to either defend or deny. True, the idea seems to fit this his personality, but there don’t seem to be any firsthand accounts of him issuing that famed “but is he lucky” one-liner. And in terms of him doing it at the heart of the Russian campaign of 1812, well, I just made that bit up.
Historical fiction aside, I’ve always enjoyed the Emperor’s quasi-quote. I like to apply it to my life. A man makes his own luck, I tell myself. Yeah, good things happen, but they happen most frequently to the people who put themselves in the position to be recipient of ‘luck.’ This, I believe, holds for writing as much as it holds for everything else in life.
But just how lucky do you need to be?
It’s a truth, and probably a sad one, that writers need a healthy dose of luck if they’re to see their work hit the shelves of the local bookstore. Luck to pick the right topic in the right genre, and send it to the right agent at the right time of the right day/month/year/life. If you thought about all the luck you’d need you may never even get started, and sadly I know of a few people who do just that.
So the question is, are you feelin’ lucky? Or, more accurately, do you think you can make your own luck, enough to back up all that hard work and get your book to someone who’ll sell it big? Is it all out of our hands, should we just not consider it at all? Or can we tweak the vagaries of fate and get the wind to blow that golden ticket in through our door.
In truth I don’t even really know what that last sentence means, and it’s getting late. I actually make my own luck – give me your bank account details and I’ll send you a box of it right away, right after I accept my latest writing contract.
I should be so lucky.
*I should also point out that despite describing him as a midget in that little story, it seems the man who lost so badly that he inspired one of Abba’s greatest hits was in fact probably average-sized.