My elementary school gym teacher was also a clown, so my gym classes included things like juggling, riding a unicycle, and balancing a feather on your hand (and getting occasional opportunities to watch his ventriloquism act). I learned valuable lessons in those classes, ones that I can readily apply to my life now — especially my writing life.
When we started juggling we used scarves. Up goes one scarf, catch it. Up goes one scarf, up goes another, catch, catch. Throw, throw, catch, catch. You learn a pattern, start out slow, and then build. After mastering three scarves, you switch to juggling balls or bean-bags. Throw, catch. Throw, throw, catch, catch. And then, when you get really good at that: throw, throw, catch, throw, catch, throw… or something like that. I never quite managed to build to three very well.
I can sometimes keep three small stuffed animals in the air (enough to entertain toddlers), last time I tried a unicycle was probably about two decades ago (I think I did okay), and I still can balance a peacock feather on my hand like a pro.
But some people I know, they can juggle three, or even more exciting things. Some of them can even do it while balancing on a unicycle. They didn’t get there overnight, it took a lot of practice, dedication, and some amount of skill.
As writers we’re always juggling. There are paying jobs (writing or otherwise), families, friends, self-care, and writing to keep up with. Within the writing itself there are often multiple characters, plot-lines, plot-snags, grammatical rules to obey (or not), scenes clamoring to be written, and scenes presenting problems. Add to that social media, the “writer/author platforms,” networking and (if you have work already produced) marketing. It is a lot to keep moving.
I’m early in the process. I have to remind myself of that. Just like juggling started out with the lightweight scarves, slowly building to more challenging things to catch. We have to build up slowly, taking on too much at too quickly can end badly, like a novice juggler deciding to try knives or flames.
We’re all move at our own paces. While the kid next to me may have been able to move from the scarves to the juggling balls faster than me, I might have been able to master the unicycle with more ease.
Writing is about balance. “Just keep writing,” is bandied about as an important phrase, when you don’t feel like writing, keep writing. But sometimes this isn’t the case. Sometimes you need to just STOP writing, to give yourself room to breath. When you’re juggling, if you start to lose the rhythm, you can quickly lose control, and it wont be long before they all fall. You have to pace yourself. You have to keep an eye to the rhythm. Yes, it may speed up or slow down, but it is still there.
Same with writing. Sometimes you’ll push and move fast, sometimes you’ll slow down and there will be more space between writing sessions. There is a rhythm unique to you, and you need to learn to listen to that.
There are times when you can do it all. When you can sit on the unicycle, juggling flaming knives while playing the kazoo and causing the tree to sing the alphabet backwards. Embrace those moments when the world comes together and you are in “the flow” and able to do it all. For me they are relatively rare, and I need to remember that they are not the bar to which I should hold myself, but rather a dream to reach for.
Other times you have to do things one at a time. Start slowly and allow yourself space to breath. There’s nothing wrong with only riding the unicycle for a while, or going back to scarves for a while to get your grounding. Take your time. It’s okay to have stumbles, to not get something written — because you can only do so much. We can’t all always be juggling masters.
So.. it may be a somewhat jumbled metaphor but… I think it works. Especially right now, in the starting stages of NaNo where I need to be reminded that, while it is a bit of a marathon, I still need to pace myself, and keep balancing in mind.
This is my monthly post as part of the Insecure Writer’s Support Group, a great group of supportive writers, helping one another through our writing ups-and-downs.
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