There is an old story about the eagle's nest -- supposedly, when the mother eagle begins building her nest, she makes the first layer out of thorns and sharp sticks and such. The next layer is soft and comfortable. But when she wants to encourage her fledglings to fly, she "stirs the nest," digging through that comfortable layer to the thorns beneath, so that the fledglings will be encouraged to leave.
Unfortunately, while I can find this story repeated endlessly on Christian websites and in sermons, I can't seem to find any natural-world support for the "stirring the nest" theory. (In fact, it seems that when Mama Eagle wants her fledglings to fly, she just dumps them over the edge.) But it's a nice analogy. (By the way, for any Christian readers who are getting concerned at this point: The "thorns" bit is not scriptural; it's one of those nice bits of folklore that has been retold so often that many people now believe it is scripture. For the actual quote, see Deuteronomy 32:11.)
The point of the story, of course, is that when things are comfortable, we tend to sit tight, stay where we are, and not stretch ourselves. When everything is going our way, we may not spread our wings. It's only when things get bumpy, or thorny, that we start casting around for alternatives. As writers, even though we know in theory that we ought to keep looking for new markets all the time, it's tempting to "sit still" when we have good markets in hand and all the work we can use. It's only when our best magazine folds, or a new editor decides he doesn't need our column anymore, or a publication suddenly changes its contract and demands all rights, that we find that our comfortable nest has suddenly gotten a whole lot thornier.
Right now I suspect a lot of us are feeling the thorns -- and a lot of us are also probably wondering whether, if we actually do stretch our wings and take a chance, we'll find any safer landing or better nest somewhere else. But the good thing about bad times is that, sometimes, that's what it takes to force us to seek out opportunities that may have always been there, but that we never bothered to look for before.
As an example, my sister works in stained glass. She's been worried that, as people find themselves on tighter and tighter budgets, those budgets will no longer have room for such "luxury" items as a stained glass window or panel. Then, just a couple of weeks ago, she got an e-mail from someone interested in having stained glass trophies made for a dog show.
Now, this made both of us feel just a wee bit stupid, because my sister was in the dog showing business for years, and I used to be the editor of a dog magazine. We both know that dog show organizers are always interested in finding something more interesting than the usual cups and plaques to give as trophies -- particularly if that something can actually illustrate the breed. But it never occurred to us to look into this as a market. My sister now has the commission, and the client has promised to forward her name to the national headquarters for this particular breed club. Now we're brainstorming ways to advertise to other breed clubs and breed enthusiasts.
It was while we were discussing this topic that my sister came up with an interesting potential market for my own photos -- something I would never have thought of myself, but that arose because of a church-related craft show she recently attended. Now I'm pumped -- all I have to do is, um, well, get back to those umpteen thousand photos that still need to be reviewed and edited! (I'll let you know how it comes out.)
Meanwhile, I'm working on a proposal for a particular book publisher, and it has been a long, slow process. In moments of gloom, I've thought -- "gee, times are tough, so maybe they aren't going to be interested in buying anything just now." Then it occurred to me that during tough times, publishers need just as much material as ever, if not more -- because if they don't have something new to offer, nobody is going to buy from them. That realization cheered me up enough to get me back to the computer (and away from the temptation of endless games of Spider Solitaire).
But finding new opportunities during hard times is only part of the story. We need to remember that hard times don't last forever (any more than good times). In fact, one of the worst mistakes we can make is to assume that things won't change. (After all, that's the assumption that brought on so much of the trouble we're having now -- the assumption, for example, that housing prices would never stop going up.) It may take awhile, but better times will come again -- and if we've taken the chance of spreading our wings and seeking out new opportunities, we're likely to find ourselves sitting pretty in a soft new nest when those good times do come back again.
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