There was one vaudeville act that always fascinated me. It wasn’t the clowns, the guy juggling the swords or the lion tamer who managed to stick his head somewhere near his pet.
The act that always fascinated me was the plate spinner.
This was the guy who kept thirteen plates spinning on the end of thirteen poles … and none of them fell. He ran back-and-forth from pole to pole, giving the plate the slightest wobble, steadying it and giving it enough momentum to keep spinning.
It was more than skill. It was more than hand-eye co-ordination. It was a commitment to the plates, and never letting them fall. It was knowing that each plate needed to be watched and needed to have attention paid to it. It was knowing that the whole act depended on everything being kept moving.
You know, that vaudeville act is so much like writing.
If you’re a writer, you will more than likely identify with the plate spinner – keeping everything moving and not wanting to (or feeling like you can’t) let any of them fall. If any of them develop speed wobbles, we drop everything and head over to it to give it a bit more of a push, all the while hoping the other plates have enough momentum to keep going.
I was looking at my project list for my writing and all I saw was thirteen plates on the end of slowly speed-reducing poles:
- A new blog post, which feels like it is way overdue, even though my calendar says it isn’t
- Writing some more content to feed the hungry beast that is social media
- Adding another 1,000 words to my current work-in-progress, because the deadline I set three months ago is getting closer, not further away
- Editing that character in my completed manuscript to fully flesh him out because I’m starting to wonder if he’s a cardboard character with no soul
- Writing up that idea for a new novel that broke into my head at 4am yesterday and could be the best thing I’ll ever write, but won’t be if I lose the idea
- Following up that agent who I queried five weeks ago and hasn't troubled my inbox, even though I’ve been refreshing it every two minutes
- Preparing a proposal for another agent who I am absolutely convinced will be ‘the one’
- Reading two books at once to inspire me to improve my craft and because I can’t put either of them down
- Researching other authors to see how they are marketing themselves to see what I could learn
- Connecting with other authors on social media to check that my delusions of grandeur and massive insecurities – in equal measure – are normal
- Dreaming about the cover of my first novel and what it might look like sitting on bookshop shelves
- Exploring the professional development opportunities I would love to undertake if I had some money from this writing gig
- Reading those five web articles about writing that will help my writing process improve by at least 10%
But the main skill I have to keep up is the ability to keep everything moving. Maybe this is one this you face as a writer yourself – the constant movement, the constant checking and the feeling like momentum needs to be propelling you forward.
But the one big lesson for writers actually came from a plate spinner I once saw. One of his plates dropped. The audience gasped and sighed in collective sympathy as they saw a failed act.
I looked at those remaining twelve poles and saw a guy who had managed to keep twelve plates going at once. That was amazing.
And it’s a lesson I continually remind myself when I comes to keeping my own writing plates spinning.