As I’ve mentioned in previous columns, I pay my rent by working as a bartender. The two biggest holidays for a bartender are of course New Year’s Eve and the upcoming St. Patrick’s Day. The latter is often filled with an oversaturation of the color green, drunken patrons screaming for another Guinness, and buttons and hats pleading “Kiss me, I’m Irish!” (which, by the way, always amuses me that everyone is Irish on St. Patrick’s Day. I’m often reminded of college applicants claiming to be 1/64 Native American to get scholarship money).
“I’m also black. And a Pacific Islander. And Jewish. And Muslim. And a refugee. Please give me money for college.”
What has been interesting me lately, however, is the luck of the Irish. More specifically, the concept of luck itself. In one of my favorite films, Match Point, the main character, Chris, has a belief in the power of luck. During the opening narration, Chris says, “The man who said he’d rather be lucky than good knew a lot about life.” Then later, during a dinner conversation, Chris says that he thinks everyone is afraid to admit what a big part luck plays. This isn’t to discredit hard work, but rather that without luck, hard work will only get you so far.
This got me thinking about writing. The life of a writer is highly glamorized and I think in general, people tend to focus on the perks. You can create your own schedule, you have the freedom to work from anywhere, you can grow a magnificent beard.
Fuck yeah, Hemingway. Fuck yeah.
But getting to that point, getting to the perks (beard included, I presume), can be one hell of an upward climb. The rejection letters get overwhelming, the pay is either terrible or nonexistent, and each good idea feels like it could be your last.
It’s like Matthew Inman from The Oatmeal is in my head.
Then, presuming you write something you don’t completely loathe, you need to submit it for publication. As much as I with Random House would knock on my door to ask for my manuscript, it doesn’t quite work out like that unless you’re a celebrity.
Yeah. This is a thing.
So you send out query letters, manuscripts, nearly everything short of your first born as you basically beg someone to love your blood, sweat, and tears enough to publish it. But even with all that hard work and dedication, you still have to hope for that right amount of luck that your work will fall on the right person’s desk at the right time. The first time I had a story published, it was with a Buddhist literary magazine, Sugar Mule, that I found quite randomly through a writer’s website. I picked it with a dozen numbers and flooded them all with my story. One by one, each of my submissions came back with the polite “thanks but no thanks” rejection form letter to the point where I’d become so accustomed to seeing the word “no” that when the editor at Sugar Mule said yes, it felt surreal. It just so happened that the editor, Mark Weber, happened to enjoy darker fiction and my story was just the right kind of messed up that he was looking for. But had I not submitted by chance to that specific editor at that specific magazine at that specific time, I might have received yet another rejection letter.
Sorry, you suck.
Another example pertains to a writing collaboration I’m currently working on. I happened to meet my writing partner while I was cocktailing at my job last summer. It was sort of random how I ended up at my current job in the first place and then on this particular night, two cocktail waitresses were scheduled (which almost never happens) and I ended up chatting with a customer who was only in town for one night. We got to talking about writing which led to him giving me his card. I followed up and he invited me on to what could result in being a fairly significant project for my writing career. So many elements had to fall into place to make that particular connection happen and had one thing been different, that connection and subsequent collaboration wouldn’t have happened.
One could argue that these markers in my writing career were fated to happen, if you believe in that sort of thing. I’m not trying to discredit what anyone believes but I think the overarching theme of it all is luck and fate is just the name we give luck because fate sounds more final, more predetermined and we don’t like the idea that our lives are victim to so much chance.
The Chance Monster. Rawr!
If you’ve hung out through all of my ramblings in this column, you’re probably wondering what on earth my point is. Should we all just give up trying because our lives are ruled by luck? Of course not. Hard work is essential to getting where you want to be and what you want out of life. However, I don’t think we should discredit the role that luck plays in success. Who would Lana Turner have been had she not worked at Schwab’s? Would we even know who Harrison Ford is were it not for his working as a carpenter for George Lucas?
Hard work is important but opening ourselves up to opportunities, especially as writers, as crucial. My husband often says I’m lucky which may be true but I think a big factor in my luck is that I take advantage of as many opportunities as I can. As a result, I’ve traveled through Europe multiple times, I have my Master’s degree, and, most of all, I’ve been published. By strangers who thought my work was worth publishing. I like to think I’m talented (because really, what’s the point in trying if I don’t believe in my own work) but I put myself out there and hope for a little luck.
I think that ultimately, I’m not sure if I agree with Match Point’s Chris in his assessment of how it’s better to be lucky than good. I’d rather be both but we certainly can’t be solely one or the other. You can be good and unnoticed or you can be lucky and untalented but to be both good AND lucky–that’s what we’re all looking for. But better than that, I think we, the we struggling to break into creative industries, need to keep putting ourselves out there. The more we expose ourselves to, the more opportunities we create to allow luck to grab us.
Or vice versa. Whatever’s easier.
And hey, if nothing else, it might turn out to be a great story.
Written by: Emily Regan