I’ve been reading lots of airplane stories this weekend and came across one that I felt applied almost as much to writing as it did to flying. 

Naval aviators tell a story of an old timer with three buckets that they would give to the new recruits. The first bucket was experience. It started off empty but the more they flew, the more experience they would gain. Each experience went into the bucket and when they were stuck on something, they would be able to pull an experience out of the bucket to help them out. There was no limit to the amount of experience you could fit in the bucket.

The second bucket also started off empty. It was called knowledge. To fill that bucket the new recruits had to study as hard as they could and then the bucket would begin to fill as well. And of course that knowledge would come in handy to them again and again. But there was a catch. If they didn’t continually study and learn new things the bucket of knowledge would begin to dry up. And then they could find themselves in a world of hurt when they needed to know something and reached in the bucket and everything had dried up.

Starting out was tough on these young pilots because they had to work hard to fill those two buckets with experience and knowledge. But the good thing was, the more they learned, the more they could put in their buckets and they could continue to fill them forever.

There was a third bucket. this one was given to them full up, overflowing to the top. This bucket was called luck. But the luck bucket wasn’t something you wanted to dip into very often because once you took something out of the bucket, it was gone and there was nothing they could do to fill it up again.

They quickly learned not to depend on the luck bucket. To be sure, they dipped into now and again but the best pilots tried not to. Knowledge and experience were within their reach. They alone could control what they put into those buckets. The more they put into them, the better pilots they would be come. 

Isn’t it the same with writing? We write, revise, submit, get rejected, get published and everything goes into the experience bucket. We read books, go to conferences, network with other writers, listen to our critique groups and agents and editors and it all goes into the knowledge bucket. 

Sure, sometimes we get lucky. Sometimes there are movie options or giant book club purchases that send your Amazon rating down to single digits. There are movie stars that fall in love with your book and buy hundreds of copies to give to all their movie star friends or donate to their favorite charity. 

Luck happens. The thing is, you can’t count on it. 

Fill your knowledge and experience buckets. Work on what you can control. The publishing will take care of itself.