Posted by: devonellington | January 25, 2016

When Opportunity Knocks

When Opportunity Knocks — Answer!

It happens time and time again — at conventions, networking nights, general party conversation. Someone moans about the lack of opportunities. I give them a list of resources. The response? “I don’t have time.”

Going back to what I talked about earlier this month, if you “don’t have time”, it means you don’t want it enough. So stop moaning and move on. Let go of it and decide what you DO want, what you ARE passionate about.

Part of our JOB as working artists (or working professionals in any field) is to constantly hunt for possibilities to stretch and grow. If we wait around for people to find us, we’ll be sitting by the side of the road while others build viable careers. If we get out there and are active, we have a chance to do something. To build something.

For example: You’re a writer. Search out calls for submission. You find a short story deadline that’s next week? Look through your unpublished work. Is there something that fits the guidelines that needs a polish, or a bit of reworking? Do it. You don’t have something in hand, but the opportunity intrigues you? Sit down and write it. Is there a mixed media call — a mixture of visual and word? But you say you’re a writer? You have a point of view, don’t you? Create a piece. So what if it’s new to you. It’s an opportunity to grow and challenge yourself. So what if you’re “tired”? Get up earlier. Go to bed later. Get it done.

Each person who answers a call for submission starts out with a 50-50 chance. The answer will either be “yes” or it will be “no”.

You can tilt the scales in favor of a “yes” in your direction by following submission guidelines EXACTLY and by honing your craft. If you know spelling and grammar aren’t your strong point, saying, “Well, I never really learned it in school” is not appropriate. Enroll in an online or a continuing education course and LEARN IT.

You don’t have time? You’re going to keep getting rejected, and people are going to keep telling you your writing sucks. After the first time, you don’t get a pass. You’ve now refused to grow. To learn. To HONE YOUR CRAFT. Unless you’re completely brilliant (and few are), submission readers can’t get to the story if you can’t be bothered to learn the craft. They also don’t have time to coddle you, because there are at least ten thousand writers lined up behind you who are just as talented who BOTHERED to spend time learning their craft. That goes beyond writing and can be applied to whatever you want to do.

How do short stories help a novelist? Everyone knows the short story market is dead! Not exactly true. It’s much harder to make a living just writing short stories, the way authors did in the first part of the twentieth century. But the market’s not dead. Not only is it good to learn how to tell a compelling story in a concise format (which is what a short story requires), but short stories are shared. They are little bites that can entice a reader to hunt down a writer’s longer works. That’s why I love anthologies so much. An anthology introduces me to new-to-me writers; then I hunt down their other work, and now I’m a regular reader. As a writer, a short story is also a good way to test drive new characters or a premise. If the story is too big to fit the format, well, then, I start the research and outline process to see if there’s enough for a novel. If I discover that when I’m on a deadline, I put the story that “won’t fit” aside, and create a new one that fits the format. Or, I pare down unnecessary elements so the piece fits the format. Because if the guidelines say 1500 words and I submit 2000 or 3500 or 5000, it won’t even get read. Nor should it.

Whatever your profession, if you hate your job, get out there and look for a new one. Talented people get hired. Sometimes it takes time. It can take months rather than weeks. What skills do you have? What do you love to do? What skills need work? Work on those. Go to networking events. Check job boards that carry jobs that interest you.

Obviously, if someone tries to get you to “edit” a book length manuscript for $5, you say no. But what if someone asks you to work for free?

Ask yourself if it’s worth it. If you’re trying to change careers and the volunteer opportunity is in the field you’re trying to move into, it makes sense to spend some volunteer hours getting a foothold into that community. Can you work a few volunteer hours a week around your current job? Will you meet people and gain experiences you can put on your resume that will help you in future job searches? WHY does this organization want volunteers? If they can afford to pay people and are being cheap, walk away. If they are a small nonprofit with a mission in alignment with your passions, give them a few months and see what happens.

Don’t expect other people to do your work for you. A published author you just met at a book signing is not obligated to read your manuscript and walk you into his agent’s office. NO ONE is obliged to share their contact list. Contact lists are built op over years of work. Why should someone just hand you what’s taken them years to develop? Especially when all you offer in return is a misplaced sense of entitlement.

Do your research. Learn your craft — whatever that craft is. If you want to act, take class. Read plays. Go to auditions. Watch plays. Work your way up from community theatre into professional gigs. Read the trades. Every profession has trade journals. If you can’t afford a subscription, see if you can find it online.

Many libraries, even if they don’t subscribe to a particular publication, are part of a network of libraries and have access to data bases and publications online as part of that network. MAKE the time to find out what’s lacking in your education and then MAKE the time to fill in the gaps.

Your family is not an excuse. To say, “well, you know, my family . . . ” is a slap in the face to them. Get them involved and excited in what you want to do. Chances are, your kids are more internet savvy than you are. Have them help you look for classes and publications and information. Make them part of the process instead of excluding them. Let them share in why you love whatever it is you love.

If you don’t like where your life is right now, change it. The ONLY one who stops you from making positive change is YOU.

Stop whining.

Start doing.

When opportunity knocks, answer.

Step through that door.



  1. […] have an article on answering when opportunity knocks over on the GDR site. I hope you check it […]

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