You know that old gypsy curse —May you always get what you want–?
If you’re not familiar, the idea is that you need to be careful for what you wish for, that your wishes can backfire. When I look at certain events in my life, I am left a little dumbfounded by the irony. My first boyfriend at the age of 14 called it ‘cosmic destiny,’ the way life’s course naturally unfolds and, right when you think two veins of your experience have absolutely nothing in common, you discover they are part of the same thread.
My parents followed their dream. They met as teenagers when they were both students at the same martial arts school. Both attended college– my mother studied business, my father went to art school. He thought he liked painting, but found he was not suited for it– he was too impatient to stand still at a canvas as he crafted an image. He switched majors to study photography, which was much more his style– he could take a snap shot of something that would take him hours to paint. But he could not tolerate the chemicals in the dark room. When the opportunity to teach kung fu for a living presented itself, he abandoned his school work. My mother finished her degree, and they opened a martial arts school together.
I grew up in a house where it never occurred to me to not follow my dream. My parents supported my interests, never argued when I wanted to go to a performing arts high school or question my studies when I designed my own major in creative writing and contemporary literature. I felt destined to do what I loved, and understood the work involved after watching my parents manage their own small business.
I have been keeping a record here, in this blog, of my process as I build my career. When I started, I didn’t know what else to do but write. My goal was to finish a manuscript to shop around for an agent– someone who would be willing to not only negotiate a single book deal for me, but help me manage my career.
I learned the self-discipline required to sit, alone at home, and draft new material for hours. I learned the importance of balance, and how it is essential to take breaks for your physical and mental well-being. I learned more about my craft– how to organize a novel-length manuscript and structure multiple plot lines in the same narrative arc. I also learned about things that I had been intentionally avoiding like web design and twitter.
I was happy to be doing these things as I worked on my manuscript. I started my work each day with a feeling of pride– see how far I have come, see how much I have learned. It felt good to be my own boss, and I was glad to have control over my own life. Something was missing though: monetary compensation. I knew that it would be possible to earn a living through writing freelance articles. I knew that I needed to devote a portion of my writing time each week to writing short pieces and querying magazines, but I didn’t.
And this is where the gypsy curse comes in.
I always hated applying for a new job. Not only because it was stressful, but I can’t stand writing cover letters. Working as a self-employed writer, I assumed I was relieved of the hassle of ever applying for a new job and wooing potential employers with a compelling, but staunchly professional letter. Except I was wrong– very, very wrong.
For every story I write, or article I think of, or agent I wish to meet, or editor whose opinion I seek– I have to write a query letter. A query letter could almost be called a cover letter and I’m not entirely sure why it isn’t. I have dragged my feet to writing query letters the same way I reluctantly sat down to apply to new jobs when I was deeply dissatisfied with my old jobs.
I am not dissatisfied with writing though, not in the least. I love what I do and I feel so lucky to be able to do it. Except I know that luck has little to do with it.
When I once suggested to my father that he was lucky to do what he loves, he frowned. “Luck?” He retorted, “Try ‘hard work.'”
Somewhat ironic, coming from a kung fu teacher. “Hard work” is the actual translation of “kung fu.” It does not describe the techniques used to defend oneself in a physical altercation, but a philosophy, a way of being, the dedication, perseverance, and focus with which someone attends their skill or craft.
In that way I will always be a martial artist. I have learned to tolerate what makes me uncomfortable in order to reach my goals. In the past couple weeks I sent query letters to an agent and an editor I will meet at this year’s Muse and the Marketplace Conference. I also queried the Boston Globe about a piece I hoped to write for the “Connections” column in their Sunday magazine.
And really, it was hardly as bad as the gypsy curse would imply.