Writing Wednesdays

Writing Wednesdays

Opportunities Are Bullshit

By Steven Pressfield | Published: January 9, 2013

Have you seen this clip from Harlan Ellison, the screenwriter? I rank it up there with Josh Olson’s all-time great rant, “No, I Won’t Read Your F*#king Screenplay.”

harlan ellison

Harlan Ellison, my hero.

What Ellison says is that anytime he has done anything for “exposure,” he has totally wasted his time. I couldn’t agree more.

Sometimes “opportunities” are presented to us. A chance to get our work exposed. People will see. It’ll make a difference. We’ll advance the brand.

Bullshit.

Almost every opportunity I’ve been exposed to (not all, be it said) is an opportunity for the promoter, not for me. I’m expendable. I’m interchangeable. It’s like that Jerry Seinfeld joke about bridegrooms always dressing in tuxedos. Why? Because one is the same as another.

But I don’t mean to be uncharitable. The blame in these “opportunities” lies not with the conference organizer or the radio host or the tour promoter. The fault resides with me, for rising to the bait.

Looking back over a long career in a number of fields of writing, if I ask myself, “Steve, when did your work get its most efficient exposure?,” it was when I did absolutely nothing and the work spoke for itself.

Why is that? It seems so unprofessional. So counter-intuitive. Is there some law of Inverse Effort, which states that if you try hard to achieve some effect, you will accomplish either nothing or the precise opposite of what you desire?

Maybe it’s a different law, the Law of Desperation, which declares that the more you need something to happen, the more that need is communicated to others and the more they will recoil from that need.

I know this: I feel bad when I pimp my wares.

My colon contracts. Bile ascends in my gorge. I hate myself and I hate everyone attached to the effort.

Yet that insidious voice keeps whispering. “But this is an opportunity, man! You gotta network. Get out there! Everybody promotes their stuff. Be a pro. Seize the moment, dude!”

One way to look at it is through the prism of money. If someone wants you to do something and the remuneration is “exposure” or “opportunity” … you have answered your own question.

I know, I know. Sometimes you gotta get a seat at the table. I can tell you this: in the movie biz, I’ve given more free options than I can remember. How many have paid off?

I won’t answer except to say that the word has four letters, starts with a “z” and ends with an “o.”

My friend and mentor David Leddick has an axiom: “Don’t chase after someone who should be chasing after you.”

He’s right. Harlan Ellison is right. Josh Olson is right. You can do it if you want to. It’s experience. You meet people. You see things. Maybe there’s a payoff somewhere.

All I can say is I haven’t found it, and I’ve been looking for a long time.

Posted in Writing Wednesdays

33 Responses to “Opportunities Are Bullshit”

  1. January 9, 2013 at 4:20 am

    It seems that this all comes back to three words that were a title of one of your books: “Do The Work.”

    It’s about the Work. Not the bullshit.

    Another excellent Wednesday offering, Steven.

    Thanks.

  2. Claude Knaus
    January 9, 2013 at 4:21 am

    Truth needs no marketing.

  3. Basilis
    January 9, 2013 at 4:32 am

    All I see is that the attempt to get Exposure in any way is actually the hidden Resistance…

    I understand “Exposure” when it involves something you love doing or to hang out with people that like the same things, but when the “you gotta do that”, “opprotunities” e.t.c. appear at the horizon, I worry…

    I think about that matter in every chance I meet to get the work exposed, and every time I end up to this question:

    Is this chance to get the work exposed a true chance to get the work exposed?

  4. karenlee
    January 9, 2013 at 6:11 am

    great article and reminder…My ‘voice’ is always telling me that I’m not doing enough in the exposure dept. but really I just need to do the work…honestly…

  5. largo kapasi
    January 9, 2013 at 6:12 am

    Wow, it’s hard to argue about this because it *feels* like Harlan’s take is right, but I’m left considering this:

    (1) I’ve turned several people onto your book ‘Killing Rommel’ by first pointing them to your “free” high quality videos on youtube about the same.

    (2) Several content creators suggest that they’ve come to accept that people will get pirated copies of their work for “free”. The hope is that these people will at least spread the word about the work so that more legitimate copies are bought.

    My take is that writers should be paid for every word. Period. The dynamics have changed though, no?

    • January 9, 2013 at 7:27 am

      Largo,

      I think the “opportunities” that Steve is talking about are the sorts of cross-promotional offers that abound on the Internet. It’s one thing to post free content to your own blog or website; it’s totally different doing it for someone else.

      Steve Lovelace

  6. January 9, 2013 at 6:49 am

    This was a Wednesday morning fire starter for me :) … take a peek behind the curtains to see where the “real” opportunity lies … I am so guilty of getting sucked into this! Harlan’s vid clip is right on the money! NO pun intended!!

    Thanks for the re-BOOT this morning Steven!!

  7. January 9, 2013 at 7:34 am

    Harlan is a hoot, I smile every time I watch it.

    Attention is a form of payment. Just be sure you value it appropriately, and don’t use the lure of the crowd to give you a chance to hide from the difficult work.

  8. January 9, 2013 at 8:17 am

    I agree with Seth. I think a writer must always keep in mind is her/his “Purpose.” It’s not just WHY you write what you write. It’s determines your marketing as well. If your desire is to give something of value to your reader then the marketing is a natural extension of that and flows joyfully from this Purpose.

    It’s all energy. Whether it’s the writing or the marketing it should be infused with the energy of your Purpose for doing it. The WHY. When it is, opportunities are drawn to you that jibe with your purpose. Then every bit of attention you receive, every book you write, every reader’s heart you touch, every marketing strategy you use works and feels right.

  9. January 9, 2013 at 10:05 am

    “Anytime he has done anything for ‘exposure,’ he has totally wasted his time.” I think I’d tweak this a bit, because I don’t think Ellison, or Steve, means we should all do our creative work as hermits in a cave. Pretty darn near all of us creative types want somebody to look at our work. And if we don’t expose it, who will? I mean, this very website is at least partly about exposure, isn’t it?
    So my title for this post would be Expose Yourself. Don’t rely on somebody else to do it for you, don’t let your efforts at exposure interfere with the creative work itself, and for God’s sake don’t fall prey to the lies of the sharks who, for a tidy sum, promise to make your work a blockbuster.

    • January 9, 2013 at 12:17 pm

      Your thoughts on today’s post are the same as mine, noting that this blog is an opportunity for exposure. I’m certainly happy, however, that Steve mans this blog.

  10. January 9, 2013 at 10:41 am

    There’s a great (and hilarious) flowchart Jessica Hische did called “Should I Work for Free?” Check out the answer to the question “Did they promise you ‘exposure’ or ‘a good portfolio piece’?”

    I try to live by this maxim these days.

    http://shouldiworkforfree.com/

    • January 9, 2013 at 4:47 pm

      This chart from Jessica Hische is hysterical. Thanks, Stacy.

      • January 9, 2013 at 11:08 pm

        I agree with S.J. Crown. It’s a great rant. And of COURSE you shouldn’t do a DVD interview for MGM and not get paid for it!! But there’s another end to that scale, isn’t there? And for those of us “starting out” as writers, I’m afraid there’s little option except to find our own way through this. We’re like children, incapable of taking lessons from our parents regardless of how painful it might be to keep making our own mistakes. It’s certainly true that I may have wasted a LOT of time over the past couple of years doing “free” promotional stuff. But the fact is that it’s also sometimes given me totally unforeseen leads and sales. And, after all, Steven, aren’t all our blog sites freebie “exposure”? Actually, now I come to think of it, maybe this reply…

  11. January 9, 2013 at 12:23 pm

    Word of mouth about a book or project can become, little by little, a hurricane. But I have found that doing select PR can sometimes add a worthy wind.

  12. January 9, 2013 at 2:46 pm

    Telling Harlan Ellison they’ll give him exposure is laughable.

    Now, if Warner Brothers wanted to put ME on their DVD free, for the exposure, I’d take it.

    Would I start from scratch to create something free? Probably not. But, there’s a slim chance I would.

    Change the story a little bit. What if Seth asked me to write a chapter in his next book? No pay, just the exposure. Unless the work was a total mismatch (in which case he’d never ask) I’d be a fool not to take the exposure. I’d be a fool to say “Pay me, or I won’t take your exposure.”

    I don’t work for free because someone asked me to. But I work for free, a lot, because I choose to.

    • January 9, 2013 at 4:48 pm

      I agree, Joel. I’ve probably overstated the case in this post. But you get the idea!

  13. January 9, 2013 at 6:37 pm

    “Maybe it’s a different law, the Law of Desperation, which declares that the more you need something to happen, the more that need is communicated to others and the more they will recoil from that need.”
    Quite possibly it is a broader general theory of marketing ourselves. Anais Nin: “Anxiety is love’s greatest killer. It creates the failures. It makes others feel as you might when a drowning man holds onto you. You want to save him but you know he will strangle you with his panic.”

  14. skip
    January 10, 2013 at 6:26 am

    and he’s a marine too! good stuff here steve…you are what you think you are worth…i think if its free, then you can keep it cuz i dont want it.

  15. January 10, 2013 at 3:09 pm

    This may sound cynical, but I wonder how many folks comment on other peoples blogs not because they are compelled by the article, but as a way to self-promote and advertise their own blogs? Further, I wonder what percentage of the typical blogs cherished subscribers are actually bloggers themselves who don’t even read the articles, they only subscribe so they can comment in order to get free exposure? Just wondering.

    Click here_____ if you want to know more, or go to
    http://www.pleasereadmystufftoo.con

    P.s. – Steve, this was a great article!

  16. January 13, 2013 at 12:09 pm

    I’ve loved Harlan Ellison from way back but every time I see this rant I love it! The Josh Olson rant was good too. I once let someone convince me I wasn’t a writer. I see now that was MY fault for believing it. I’m not ever going to let that happen again. One of the most helpful pieces of advice from Steven was labeling that critical inside voice Resistance and moving right by it.

  17. January 13, 2013 at 12:17 pm

    Love this.

    Underneath the desire to be exposed is often a fear that we’re either not good enough or that the work isn’t good enough. Confronting that inspires thinking differently about the quality of our outputs, in my experience. One of the most persistent battles a creative ever faces is the internal dialog around professional self-esteem.

  18. January 15, 2013 at 7:52 am

    This is a very enlightening post. But then again, everything you write is brilliant, Mr. Pressfield. :)

  19. CH Chapman
    January 21, 2013 at 2:04 pm

    People die from exposure.

  20. York
    January 25, 2013 at 3:41 pm

    I haven’t finished the 1st paragraph and I know this is brilliant. I was just thinking the exact thing sitting at my desk at work.

    If you have your mind set on your goal, all of these competitions or projects or clubs and whatnot are big time distractions. They present themselves as opportunities but they are tiny flies distracting one from their calling.

    Of course if your aim is to enter one of these then ignore my response and proceed with all your might.

    This is great!!

  21. February 7, 2013 at 2:15 am

    Exactly where did you end up getting the points to post ““Writing
    Wednesdays: Opportunities Are Bullshit”? Thanks for your effort
    -Frank

  22. February 20, 2013 at 7:46 am

    FABULOUS and i am contemplating having this post made into a tattoo and inking my arm. Really. I have done so many of these “it is good for the exposure, total bullshit, waste of time initiatives” that I should just hide under my desk. But not anymore. With my new tattoo I will stay the course I’ll take it one step further. Someone just asked me to be a presenter at their event and they said that I would pay a small fee “for the opportunity.” Really. I think not! So thanks for inspiring me to be stronger.

  23. February 20, 2013 at 8:47 am

    Great article, Steve.

    I think when you do free work because you need exposure, it never works. But when you offer free work or do a free effort, because you want, it always pays off.

  24. February 20, 2013 at 10:17 am

    Some of the hardest work some of us have to do is to decide to value our stuff enough to realize it’s worth selling, not giving away. I think once people start asking us to do free writing projects that benefit them: websites, marketing materials, ghostwriting articles, then we’re obviously worth being paid. If we’re asking folks to help them out on the free or cheap because we’re getting a feel and sense for an industry we’re new in, then we’re still in control and it makes sense. At some point, though, we have to decide we’re worth it and just start slapping price tags on ourselves.

  25. February 22, 2013 at 7:54 am

    Harlan is right, Steven is right, and Seth is right. The real key, it seems to me, is whether you are in control of the free. To do something for free for a corporation like MGM, especially if you have an established reputation, is silly. The benefit goes to MGM, who want you to do something precisely because you have a reputation. To write a blog where you control the content is not silly. You write what you want, when you want, and as a result your reputation grows. When you’re dealing with the movie industry, you’re dealing with an old model of creativity, and you should demand old-fashioned payment.

  26. February 23, 2013 at 11:25 am

    Don’t listen to him. He’s just trying expand his opportunities to get more exposure by reducing the number of you that answer the call ;-)

  27. February 25, 2013 at 9:55 am

    I´m perfectly OK with doings for free for your own audience, in your own media, in your own terms.

    What is very wrong is to do free stuff for others´ benefit, particularly if they´re making money.

    Thanks Steven for your free insight.