Imagine, she said, that you've survived a shipwreck and are clinging to a piece of driftwood in the middle of the ocean. You've been holding onto that driftwood for a long time. You're getting sleepy, your arms are getting tired, and the sharks are starting to circle.
Then, just when you think all hope is lost, a rescue helicopter swoops onto the scene and dangles a rescue ladder in front of you. You know that the helicopter can carry you to safety. There's just one catch. In order to grab hold of the ladder, you first have to let go of the driftwood...
That sounds easy enough, doesn't it? Let go of something that's not working in order to grasp something that you know will work better. Ah, but the catch is that terrifying moment between letting go of the old thing and grabbing onto of the new, that seemingly interminable moment when you're holding nothing.
And what happens if the helicopter and the ladder are just optical illusions, or if you grab for that ladder with the last of your strength and you miss it? These terrifying possibilities can leave you clinging to the driftwood forever...or at least until the sharks get hungry.
Over the last few months, I've found that growing a writing business is a series of driftwood vs. ladder choices. I faced one just last week. The "driftwood" in this case was a high-volume, low-paying job. It took up a lot of my day, and it wasn't very satisfying, but it was guaranteed work. The "ladder" was a high-paying, short-term job that might--or might not--lead to bigger and better future assignments. There wasn't enough time in the day for me to work on both projects at once. I had to choose.
The low-paying job covered my rent and expenses...barely. I could exist doing it. Surely I would be a fool to let it go when gigs can be so hard to find. But the higher-paying job offered me the opportunity to do more than merely survive. No promises. Just an opportunity.
What should I do? I wondered. Stick with what was familiar and unfulfilling or take a chance on something new and potentially much better? The devil I knew, or the devil I didn't?
The dilemma cost me more than a few sleepless nights, but in the end I gave up the safe job. And here is the amazing thing: Within 24 hours, I had not just the project I had expected, but three new ones lined up as well. They all came from sources I would not have had time to investigate if I had stayed tied to the low-paying job. The devil I didn't know turned out not to be a devil at all. It was an angel.
I couldn't help wondering how many other angels I've missed during the times in my life when I did chicken out and refuse to let go of the driftwood.
Do you have any driftwood in your writing career? What do you think might happen if you let go of it?