As some of my readers may have gleaned over the years, Handsome Jack is a bit of a motorcycle enthusiast. He loves riding them, working on them, and modifying them. I think it stems from all his years playing with legos. Anyway, he builds things for his bike. Some of this is out of necessity and some of it is driven entirely by him. He wanted a cruise control for his bike so he can release the throttle on long rides. He did a search and there were some products available but none specifically for his non-Harley bike. So, what did he do?
He built one.
He took his bike apart, figured out how it worked, and built a cruise control for it (like the badass he is!).
I was blown away by it all and, of course, told him how proud I was that he built something so complex.
He turned to me and said this:
Most of creating anything is guts. I’d say it’s 60% guts, 30% skill and patience, and 10% luck.
My hubby, he's more than a handsome face.
His comment isn’t limited to engineering cruise controls. He may not have known it, but his comment applied to the whole wide world of creativity. And I don't know about you, but I could use a strong dose of fearlessness these days. So let’s dig into this wonderful comment, shall we?
Creating is 60% guts – How many times have you heard someone say, “I have a great idea for a story but can’t find the time,” or; “I don’t want to share my work with other people [insert reason],” or; “I’ve always wanted to write….”
The many reasons why someone can’t or won’t do the work (in this case, writing) are all fear based reasons. Fear is the opposite of guts. Fear can be a terrible thing. In its most primal capacity fear was there as a signal to keep us alive like this:
Fear: Hey, don’t go into that cave.
You: I don’t know, the cave looks very nice.
*growl emanates from inside cave*
Fear: RUN AWAY NOW!
You: Okay *runs away*
But in our current reality, where primal fear isn’t always necessary (whose still afraid of the dark sometimes? *raises hand*) the fear response stands in the way of accomplishing our dreams. Fear, in our reality looks something more like this:
Fear: Hey, why don’t you do anything else other than write that book because you know you’ll never be as successful as [insert a person].
You: I really want to try this writing thing. I think I could be good at it and I think I love it.
Fear: You ‘think’ you could be good? You ‘think’ you love it? What a joke. If you don’t know for sure you are wasting your time. Why waste your time? You know what’s fun….eating. Why don’t you eat some of those cookies?
You: *eats all the cookies*
It takes guts to look fear in the face and realize that fear is controlling your motivations. It takes even more guts to kick fear in the balls and move ahead with your dreams – whatever they may be. Check out this recent post from the lovely Delilah S Dawson on fear.
Creating takes guts above all else. Think about all the books out there that you’ve read and thought, “Hey, I can do this,” or even, “I could do this better.” The difference between you and that author who actually has a book out there is 60% guts. They had the guts to push forward and write. They had the guts to do what it takes to get the book published. And they had the guts to keep going even when someone told them no. Check out this awesome post by the acerbic Chuck Wendig on F'ing fear right in the ear.
It takes guts to survive in publishing but that’s not all it takes.
Creating is 30% skill – skill is important. You have to learn the rules and the tools of the trade.
Just like Handsome Jack had to learn what the carburetor-what’s-it thingie worked and the role it played in moving his bike. Creators gotta learn storytelling skills. And skill is relative and subjective, isn’t it.
Some people say some writers are more skilled than others. There are finite rules of grammar and storytelling but there is also finesse and personal taste. Just look at the recent hullabaloo with Chuck Wendig’s StarWars Aftermath. His book sold well and debuted on the list (congrats on making list, Sir). But at the exact same time his book is doing well sales wise the one star reviews were reproducing like rabbits after rabbit-prom. Sidebar – how cute would a rabbit prom be? Someone needs to get on that.
Who can say why his book is getting such crappy reviews. But ultimately his book is performing well. He got this gig (writing a StarWars book) in part because of his skill as a writer so skill matters. But skill is not the Triforce. It will not grant your wishes and make you an instantly beloved author. Skill alone ain’t jack. Skill plus guts, however, is a powerful combination.
I think it’s important to note that skill and guts are entirely within your control. You can become a less fearful, more skilled writer.
You can choose to ignore the fear and actually write the darn book. But there is a part of the equation that is outside of your control, and that’s luck.
Creating is 10% luck – yeah, it sucks. But there is a small, tinsy-weensy, piece of this pie that ain’t yours to control. Luck can be any number of things. It can manifest itself as ‘right genre – right time,’ or ‘right elements – right time,’ or even ‘right place- right time.’ The business of publishing is outside of our control and it’s a good business tactic to be aware of what’s driving the business you wish to be a part of. However, it’s not wise to alter your path and change genres to hop a trend. That’s a little like running after the cool kids in school and smacking right into a pane of glass.
Take a deep breath and repeat after me:
The business side of publishing is outside of my control.
To be successful in publishing requires guts, skill, and luck.
I can control two of those three elements and I choose to let the third, the element I cannot control, go.
I will not chase after trends.
I will not fret over other’s success.
I will strive to become a better writer.
I will strive to become the master of my fear.
I will strive to be a better me.
And who knows, after all of that (the guts, the skill, and the hard work) you may just find yourself the next lucky one.