I’m partial to theories of an indifferent universe. In my experience, fate does not generally arrive bearing gifts. If you want something, you have to work for it.
And yet, there is a pattern in my life I have come to know. In it, I work very hard toward a goal and, despite serious, sustained effort, I fail. I give up. And when I finally give up, I succeed. There have been examples of this throughout my life.
For example, as a young woman I desperately wanted to have a child but it didn’t happen after years of trying and significant medical intervention. It did happen, however, when I decided to immerse myself in the most consuming job I could imagine. At the time I was a physical therapist. I spent the first day as supervisor of a one-woman clinic (mine!) moving incredibly heavy equipment around a small gym. That night, my pregnancy test was positive.
As an adolescent, I thought I might be a writer. Throughout my college (and post-college) years, readers of my essays, letters, and papers often said, You’re a really good writer. But because my (truly) dear father was footing the education bill, my three sisters and I pursued the practical careers common to the first college-educated generation of a family. Unquestionably, my work as a physical therapist informs just about everything I write.
And yet, it wasn’t until my last child took his first class at college that I took my first writing class at the Loft Literary Center in Minneapolis. I’ve spent the last fifteen years making up for lost time and trying to honor an aptitude I’d never explored. I’ve had pieces published in literary journals and one of my stories was even listed in the very back pages of the 2015 Best American Short Stories, under “Distinguished stories of 2015.” If you’re ever in New York and on the subway, you might be able to read that same story in the New York Public Library subway collection.
One place I continue to fail, however, is in publishing a book. I’ve had a wonderful agent working with me since 2011 but we haven’t sold a thing. I got so discouraged with writing fiction about five years ago that I began freelancing for some local magazines instead. In time, I gave up fiction altogether.
Freelancing led to staff writing, which led to editing a tiny magazine, which led me to connect with people throughout my fair city whose remarkable stories were begging to be told. I stopped writing fiction, but I didn’t stop telling stories. I loved being the editor of that magazine. I could have done it until the end of my writing days.
And then, through business restructuring, someone else was offered my job. I was out. This disappointment left a big hole, which I decided to fill with an old friend: fiction. I’ve written a few (or more) hundred words a day since I lost my position at the magazine—20,000 words to date on something new, on a story that needs to be told. And I did something else, too, totally on a whim: I entered december magazine’s short story contest, judged by Anne Tyler. I hadn’t entered a contest in years.
Might this totally unexpected win lead to more? To a publisher’s attention on a previously completed novel manuscript based on this same short story, for example? It may. Or it may not. And I’m OK with that. Seriously. I’m OK with accepting that I can’t necessarily MAKE anything happen.
Here’s what I’ve learned: there’s a lot of caprice, luck, and timing in the writing business, as in life. You do what you can, but in the end you have to let the uncontrollable be uncontrolled. Sometimes it’s Plan B (or C or D or E) that gets you what you want. But you’ll never know if you keep butting your head against Plan A.
Let it go. Let Plan A go and be open to succeeding in a way you might not have imagined. And if the universe is helping you out? Fate bearing gifts, and all that? Well, that works, too.