I have never been a risk-taker. Where others find joy in the unpredictability of adventure, I prefer the safety of routine; I go to the same coffee shop every Sunday, always turn in my assignments ahead of time, and frequently re-watch my favorite tv shows instead of taking the massive leap of selecting a new one (and if all that doesn’t convince you, please allow me to refer you to the worryingly-high number of personality surveys my friends and I have taken, all of which say I am a “homebody” who “detests change”). If the future is an investment, I’ve always been careful to ensure that mine was a very, very stable one.
For the majority of my college career, this risk-averse approach was the lens through which I viewed my studies--and my eventual career--as well. My love of literature drove me to become an English major, but whenever one of my peers attempted to label me as a “writer” I strongly resisted them. Writers, in my mind, were the definition of unstable; they worked for themselves, rather than having steady employment; they lived in tiny studio apartments crammed one on top of the other in dingy neighborhoods; they attended dimly-lit poetry readings where people snapped instead of clapped and glared at you if you didn’t take your coffee black (I can’t manage anything harder than a mocha). No, I insisted, that was not, and would never be, me.
I can’t say exactly why I applied to the New York Arts Program. Perhaps because I wasn’t ready to graduate, and studying abroad allowed me to delay what would have been a semester-early farewell to my friends. Perhaps because a dear family friend, after allowing me to help her at the bookstore she ran, recommended that I look into publishing internships. And perhaps it was just a little due to the fact that my boyfriend had broken up with me, and the prospect of putting a few states between me and my past didn’t seem like the worst idea at the time. All I know is, whatever my reason for stepping on that Newark-bound flight, I will be arriving back home a completely changed person.
My time at Inkwell Literary Management allowed me to gain a better understanding not only of the publishing world but also myself, the skills I have to offer and my hopes for the future. I arrived on my first day eager and slightly intimidated by the 26-floor ride up to Inkwell’s suite, expecting to spend the semester completing typical “intern tasks” such as scanning memos and filling out reader’s reports on unsolicited manuscripts. What I found instead was a dynamic environment comprised of vastly different agents specializing in vastly different areas of publishing, from memoirs to graphic novels, and who at times seemed to believe in me more than I did myself. I will never forget the day a senior agent called me into her office and told me that after reading my report on her client’s new project, she wanted to know if I would consider sitting in on her next call with the author and deliver my critique of the manuscript personally. “You articulated exactly what I was trying to say” she told me. The next day, she sent me another project with a note tacked on: “Lydia--would you mind taking a look?”.
Encouraged by her support, I began to behave in distinctly un-Lydia like ways. I stopped the agent specializing in graphic novels in the elevator and told him that I’d never gotten to work with that medium before but wanted to learn, and would he mind my reviewing a few proposals for him? When a coworker mentioned that single-handedly managing Inkwell’s social media was overwhelming her, I volunteered to help out. I knocked on doors, made coffee dates, and read more than I ever had in my life. I took risks, and crazily enough, they paid off.
And bit by bit, I started to believe that this life was one I could have, this job was something I could really do. Instead of viewing literature as a static object comprised of an already-established canon the way I had in past English classes, I now saw writing as something active and ever-evolving, something which took the thoughts of one individual and, through the simple act of putting words on a page, connected them to the entire world. An act which I could, I realized, be a part of.
As this is a reflection paper, I know I’m supposed to close by stating something I learned from my experience. The truth is, I learned many things--how to analyze and critique a manuscript, decipher royalty statements, and calm down an author who’s furious that no one asked for her autograph, for instance--but to me, the most important lesson I gained is one which is intangible, and which is better comprehended by the heart than the mind.
It has to do with love. More specifically, the feeling that we all carry within us which we sometimes call our passion, or our calling if we’re religious; that ever-present pull towards a field or mode of expression that extends beyond salary or prestige or a degree and touches something deep within us, something like our soul. This kind of love is often scary to us, because it cannot be controlled. If we let it, it will burn past our boundaries and our comfort zones and eventually it will ask us to take the scariest risk of all, which is the risk of failure.
It was my unwillingness to take this very risk that, for the first twenty-one years of my life, kept me locked in a cycle of almost-trying. I wrapped myself in good grades and a strong resume and thought that as long as I never pushed myself beyond activities I knew I would succeed in, I would be safe. What I failed to realize is that I was safe, but I was not happy. Ironically, it was not until I allowed myself the freedom to mess up that I discovered almost-trying made me fully miserable; by attempting to control every part of my own life, I was actually suppressing the things I loved most. And so I had to travel one thousand, six hundred and twenty-eight miles to admit that which I’ve always know, and which I will admit to you now: that I am a writer.
And of that fact, I could not be more proud.
Written by: Lydia Gregovic