In third grade, they made us learn how to juggle. We started with scarves, because they have good hang time in the air, and they don’t make any noise if — okay, when — you drop them. So picture a room full of 8 and 9 year olds throwing these dingy, neon-colored squares of cloth all over the place. Worst PE class ever, right? I mean, what does juggling have to do with anything? Couldn’t we have climbed the monkey bars or played kickball instead?
Now that I’m an adult, I recognize that juggling is an everyday part of our lives. Figuratively, of course. But the principles of literal juggling still apply.
- Start with one scarf. Establish a rhythm. Let your hands get used to the motion, until you don’t even have to think about it anymore.
- Add additional scarves one at a time. The learning curve can be steep, and there’s no reason to go to the next level until you master the one you’re on.
- Go at your own pace. Like most things in life, juggling is not a race, so take your time to do things right and set yourself up for success.
- If you drop something, don’t panic. You can keep going and pick it up later, or you can pause to get it now. Either way, it’s not life or death.
- Keep your eyes on your own scarves. First, because juggling takes tremendous focus. And second, because the successes or failures of jugglers around you have no effect on your performance. Don’t be distracted by what they’re doing.
These are good guidelines to follow for most things in life. And you’re a smart crowd, so I know you can draw your own metaphors, but allow me to make one for you: writers are jugglers. We have to manage so many different elements within our stories — plot, character, setting, theme, dialogue, prose. Each one is a scarf that we must throw and catch, throw and catch, over and over again.
(Tip: Tackle one or two “scarves” per draft. You’re not going to spit out a perfect novel on the first try.)
And we don’t just juggle in our stories, either. Like it or not, we have to live in the real world sometimes, and that means balancing family, jobs, pets, friends, chores — not to mention our own physical, mental, and emotional well-being. Then there’s the blogosphere, with its emails, blogs, Twitter, Facebook… The juggling never ends!
(Tip: Figure out which “scarves” are the most important. Focus on keeping those in the air.)
For anyone who feels overwhelmed (as I often do) let me repeat: start slow and simple. Add carefully, and accept the fact that at some point, you’re going to drop something. If you need to stop following a few blogs, or skip vacuuming this week, that’s okay. No one — and I mean, no one — can juggle all the balls all the time.
Trust me, if you try to, you’ll just end up like little third grade me, sitting on the dirty PE room floor surrounded by colorful scarves and bawling her eyes out.
Photo by Helico