Grasping the nettle

I’ve been thinking about opportunity.

Like probably every other human activity, getting ahead in the writing game is about two things – putting in the work whenever you can and seizing opportunities whenever they arise.

(The Rio Olympic Games are on in the background as I write this. I’m tempted to make a sporting analogy to illustrate my point, but I’m trying to stay focused so I’ll just supply a picture instead).

Writing. You're competing against yourself and sometimes you are upside-down.

Writing: you’re competing against your personal best, you’re only as good as your last work and sometimes you’re upside-down.

The work is obviously the key part. However you happen to define success, it’s likely you can’t get there without putting in the writing hours. Bum-in-chair time, to put it crudely. Whether or not you subscribe to the ten thousand hours of mindful practice theory of skill mastery, the truth is that it takes a lot of repetitive trial and error effort to get better at writing. More still to get good.

So hard work and persistence are essential, and if life were fair, grinding out the hard yards would be all it takes to get to the top (again, depending on where you perceive “the top” to be). But there’s another part of the equation: luck. You could be a good or even great writer, but if you happen not to be a lucky one, you might never reach that next level.

Since there’s no way to plan for pure, blind, one-in-a-million lottery luck, where you hit the big time through sheer coincidence, I’ll ignore it. If you’ve got that kind of luck, you don’t especially need persistence or talent, right?

Motivational speakers and sports coaches talk about the kind of luck that comes with persistent effort – “The harder I work, the luckier I get.” Persistence means staying in the game, improving over time (maybe not at a consistent rate – there are always peaks and troughs of skill development) and staying alert for new opportunities.

Opportunities to learn something new. Opportunities to work with someone new. Opportunities to try a new style or medium. Opportunities to find an new audience.

In the past year or so I’ve volunteered on committees, supported marketing campaigns, helped publish a book, attended workshops, participated in community outreach activities and built a website.

Some of those – not all – have opened doors of various sorts. I’ve met interesting people. I’ve had some good ideas and run with a couple of them. I’ve had conversations that might lead to interesting projects (or they might not).

Along with learning how to be a better writer (and a less prodigious procrastinator), the lesson I am beginning to learn is to walk towards the open doors of opportunity rather than away from them.  On the good days, I’ll even stick my head through to see what’s going on in there.And if I’m paying attention, sooner or later I might find a door leading somewhere irresistible.

If I’m lucky, I’ll know it when I see it.


(And yes, this has mostly about me talking myself into doing something scary but cool. Details soon, or if you simply cannot wait to know, you can sign up to my newsletter for a sneak preview).


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