Monday, May 15, 2017

Why I'm a plate spinner ...


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:
  1. A new blog post, which feels like it is way overdue, even though my calendar says it isn’t
  2. Writing some more content to feed the hungry beast that is social media
  3. 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
  4. 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
  5. 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
  6. 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
  7. Preparing a proposal for another agent who I am absolutely convinced will be ‘the one’
  8. Reading two books at once to inspire me to improve my craft and because I can’t put either of them down
  9. Researching other authors to see how they are marketing themselves to see what I could learn
  10. Connecting with other authors on social media to check that my delusions of grandeur and massive insecurities – in equal measure – are normal
  11. Dreaming about the cover of my first novel and what it might look like sitting on bookshop shelves
  12. Exploring the professional development opportunities I would love to undertake if I had some money from this writing gig
  13. 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.

14 comments:

  1. Hi David, I love those acts too. They're so mesmerising to watch, and you've definitely nailed their similarity to authors. Wow, there's always so much going on. As I read down your list, it strikes me that we 21st century writers have so many more plates spinning than ever before. Gone is the stereotype of the single-minded, reclusive writers who could focus on just one thing.

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    1. Got it in one Paula. The reclusive writer huddled over a typewriter in a dusty old study has been replaced with a writing, reading, promoting, connecting Jack/Jill of all trades!

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  2. Hi David - love your analogy of plate-spinning to writing. It is just so apt. Add, editing for publication while writing new material, promoting your book & and checking whether anyone has bothered to buy or review your baby this month, asking for beta-readers & reviews while reviewing and beta-reading for others, going to conventions or fairs, with books in tow & hoping you don't bring back more books than you brought (because you're a compuslive book buyer even if other people are not), writing guest blog posts while your own blog languishes - and I know exactly what you mean. Love your point that even when one or two plates crash - it's still a feat worthy of celebration that those other plates are spinning :)

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    1. I think that's the main thing I wanted to get across Jeanette. Losing a plate is seen as catastrophic, but the performer has kept 12 plates still going. That's amazing in itself.

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  3. After reading this and agreeing,I came to the conclusion we are a clever, busy and very mad lot, we writers!

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    1. There's a fine line between creativity and madness Rita ... ;)

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  4. Thanks David! This made me smile.
    Love you humour in your personal list of thirteen 'spinning plates'.
    May we all be spurred on to keep those plates in the air and spinning!!

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    1. Thanks Di - may well all be spurred on indeed!

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  5. Such a perfect analogy - thanks David.

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  6. Loved this. And of course this article assumes our only job is writing. For me that is only a 5% of less of what is spinning. And what if I was a wife and parent as well? Lord give us wisdom about which plates you want us to spin!

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    1. Thanks Christine. The first draft of my post actually had 25 plates when I counted everything else I've got to get through - family, work, kids, church etc.

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  7. Christine, I was thinking the same thing - I am also involved in ministry and admin for said ministry...writing comes a very poor second much of the time! David - I really enjoyed your blog, thanks, and can well relate. We do have to laugh at ourselves sometimes in all the madness. It did leave me with a question though: at what point do we spend so much time juggling that something really important is on the plate that drops? Perhaps this is part two in the series ��

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    1. Thanks Ruth - maybe that will be part two: how to work out how many plates you need before you're spinning them for the sake of keeping them going.

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