Spinning Plates or Spinning Wheels?

Over on Writer Unboxed, Kristan Hoffman blogged a couple of weeks ago about the challenges writers face in juggling not only the many elements of a novel, but in balancing personal responsibilities and their writing careers. Here is Kristan’s post. It was a thoughtful post and it resonated with me.

As I chugged toward the finish of my first draft of my work-in-progress, entitled, Life of the Party–A Tale of Politics, Rap Music and Social Media, I got an email this week from my graphic designer. The cover art for my first novel, Small Change, was ready. There was nothing stopping me from uploading the manuscript through the Kindle Direct Publishing program. I would soon be a published novelist. Not so fast. After seven rounds of line edits, there were still nagging doubts. I didn’t see any major problems, but there were scenes that weren’t as strong as they could be and characters that needed some polishing. I decided to do some “tweaks.” I’m still at it with no end in sight.

Writers can identify with the desire to make their work perfect. A novel is never really “done.” The writer simply reaches a point where he has to let go. So there I was. Kristan used the image of juggling scarfs in her Writer Unboxed post. What comes to mind for me is the Radiohead song, Like Spinning Plates, from the band’s 2001 CD, Amnesiac.

Anybody old enough to remember The Ed Sullivan Show will recall the spinning plates act (where did Ed find these acts?). This guy would line up a series of poles secured to a table and then spin plates positioned on top of the poles. The idea was to get the plates spinning fast. The trouble was, the plates would slow down. To keep them from falling, the guy would run back and spin them again. I feel like that guy right now. I’m itching to get back to my WIP, but I have to focus on my novel, and my marketing plan, and my launch. And, then there’s my family and my job. Spinning plates? Sometimes it feels like I’m spinning my wheels.

Kristan said it well in her post. She urged writers to  start slow with the juggling act.  Don’t add too many things at once, focus on what’s important to you, and accept the fact that at some point you will drop something. Even if it’s a plate, those can be replaced. Too many tasks result in spinning one’s wheels or crashing plates if you prefer.

Right now my sole focus is on my novel. Oh yes, and the need to maintain my blog, and follow other blogs, and read the latest novel. As Thom Yorke would say, “And this just feels like spinning plates.”

Do you ever feel overwhelmed by the number of tasks and priorities associated with your writing career? How do you manage these multiple priorities?



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6 responses to “Spinning Plates or Spinning Wheels?

  1. Nice post Chris, I like your music selection. I’m a die-hard list maker. The ability to cross things off a list is very important for me – I like the visual satisfaction. Some items stay though till the next day, and even the next, but that’s okay, that’s life. I know that I can’t do and be everything, ever day. Something has to give. As long as I don’t give up entirely, there is always some measurable success. Best to you on the novel – happy tweaking.

    • Nancy,
      Thanks for your comment. I also like lists, but mine tend to be too long. It’s difficult to shift gears on the fly and just focus on one thing. Right now I have a laser-like focus on my novel. I had not even looked at it since last summer and now I’m seeing all the flaws. It’s not major stuff but there are a lot of tweaks. Best wishes on your work in progress.

  2. So glad my post resonated with you!

    Sometimes spinning plates FEELS like spinning wheels, but I think you have to trust your instincts (and maybe a few close friends) to let you know when the time is finally right to push forward to the next step.

    • Kristan,
      Thanks for your response. I think I need to go to a monastery so I can push this novel out in peace and quiet. Best wishes on your WIP and kudos to you on your blog. I always enjoy your posts.


  3. Hi Chris,
    Balancing our lives in the 21st century is challenging to say the least. One of my favorite writers, and I’m sure he’s not alone, has a room in his upstairs without any connectivity or other distractions that he calls the “Monk’s Cell.” That’s where he’s pushed out at least a dozen novels and countless short stories.
    I might suggest taking advantage of one of the benefits of ebooks, which is reposting. Publish your work now, and republish later with the tweaks. Of course you need to consider what it takes for you to continue with those tweaks and not forget them, but it’s a way of getting your work out there and improving it as time goes on.

    • Doug,
      Thanks for the great comment and advice. I once attended a party where the host had a small one-room cottage in the woods on his property. It was heated and well appointed. If I had the money…


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