These week’s post is a guest post from Dianna Gunn whose blog, Dianna’s Writing Den, is a wonderful compilation of advice and resources for aspiring writers. So please check out Dianna’s Writing Den for other great articles on writing.
Often you’ll be presented with opportunities that don’t have obvious bearing on your writing career. You discover a free knitting class. Someone offers you a job outside your field. You’re given the opportunity to travel for a non-writing event. Maybe you discover an opportunity to act in a short film.
It’s important not to dismiss these opportunities. You never know how they might influence your writing. Trying new things is a great way to get inspired, and if the opportunity involves learning a new skill, you could find eventually yourself writing paid articles about that skill. A seemingly unrelated skill might just be what you base the rest of your writing career on.
What you need to do is evaluate every opportunity by asking these key questions before you agree to anything:
1. How much commitment will this opportunity require? This is perhaps the most important question. Time is a precious commodity and if you don’t have enough, you don’t have enough. Without knowing how much time a specific commitment will take, you also won’t have a good way to figure out if it’s worth it.
Unfortunately I can’t give you a good rule of thumb for time. If you’re under employed, committing six hours a week might be fine and well worth it depending on the opportunity. If you’re trying to manage a job, a family, and your own personal writing, six hours a week might be a lot. So it’s up to you to figure out how much time you can commit to any given project.
2. What will this opportunity give me?Will you learn a new skill? Make connections? Make money? These things can be invaluable and well worth your time. Just because you’re focused on building a writing career doesn’t mean you should exclude all else. Everything you do can become fodder for an article or a story. Every connection could be a future job. Money from part time work can ease the tension in your writing business.
I recently took on a part time job doing street promotion for a dance studio. Although working has cut into my writing time a lot, I know that the money will allow me to invest in my education and my business. Once the school year ends in June, the 8-12 hours a week I’m putting into my job won’t be a big deal in a few months, and it means I won’t have to search for work in the summer.
Think hard about what you’ll get from the opportunity before you make a decision. If you’re likely to make long term connections or learn a life changing skill, it’s probably worth it.
3. How much do I want this? Even if the event/program/class is a great place to make connections and learn new skills at the same time, you won’t get much from it if you don’t want to do it in the first place. If you don’t want to make the commitment, don’t. It’s your time, and you should focus it on doing things that you enjoy.
When the opportunity involves money it gets a bit trickier. Often people end up with jobs they don’t really want because they need the money. When you accept a job like this, you need to make a clear exit strategy. If you have a plan to get out one day and you set aside the resources to retrain, a crappy job can be a great path to a good career.
Otherwise, only take the opportunities you’ll enjoy and stay committed to. There’s no point agreeing to participate in something if you’re not going to be able to follow through. Saying no probably won’t burn any bridges—not showing up when you’ve agreed to might.
It’s important to be prepared when opportunity arises and to keep an open mind. Why take a free Reiki class? Why go to a free reading event where you’ll meet other writers? Why participate in a series of workshops about spoken word? You never know where any of these one new skills can take you.
But it’s also important to think hard before making any big commitments. Make sure to ask any questions you might have before accepting any offer/invitation. If you’re not good at thinking these up on the spot, you might want to create a standard list of questions to ask.
By being open minded but discriminatory with your commitments, you’ll ensure that everything you do helps you grow as a person—and growing as a person means growing as a writer.
Dianna L. Gunn is a Canadian freelance writer/blogger who dreams of one day being a famous novelist. You can read more of her stuff at Dianna’s Writing Den