Uncategorized, Writing

Just Another Day of Juggling

Some days I feel like I’m juggling. All the pieces of knowledge you, as a writer, must know–all those threads of plot, setting, character, story, show-don’t-tell, active verbs, character shown through action, story arc, etc.–are the balls that I juggle as I attempt to write. Anyone can toss a single ball from hand to hand. With a bit of practice, most folks can manage two balls at once. But three? That’s where the fumbling comes in. And the more balls in the air, the greater the risk of dropping one.

But when I drop one, I know. I lose the story, it wanders off on a tangent. I bend down, scoop up that ball–and oops! Now I’ve dropped two more; my ‘showing’ just became ‘telling’ and my setting simply disappeared. Frazzled, nervous, I reach out blindly to snatch those balls and get them back into the air. My brow breaks out into beads of sweat and my heart quickens. But then I smile; I’ve done it! I race to the end of the story, thrilled with my accomplishment!

And then, I discover it–the unseen fallen ball that rolled under the sofa. Hidden the whole time, I didn’t realize it had fallen until I read the finished work. ‘Aack! Where did the theme get to? How could I not see this?’ I rail to myself as it dawns that the story, while good, is nowhere near as gilded as it appeared in my mind’s eye.

Sigh. I know this is called “learning,” and that yes, this is exactly how I learn. I learn fast and furious for a while, and then, as my brain becomes saturated, my ability to grasp new things slows, stutters and then comes to a shrieking halt. My head feels logy, and I’m all-around tired and cranky. And then comes a night or two of bizarre sleep and dreams, making me worse than ever, ready to pull the blankets over my head, quit trying and just sleep. Just when I think I can’t continue, something inside me snaps, a clean break, and everything…just makes sense. I’ve assimilated the new information.

This doesn’t mean that my writing is suddenly effortless and golden–far from it! But it does mean that I can now keep a few more balls in the air while struggling to find the story in all those words, or while attempting to subtlety layer in a bit more complexity.

And finally, it means that just because you’re struggling, it doesn’t mean you should just give up. Not everyone will learn the way I do. Not everyone even knows the way he or she learns the best. But everyone learns, one way or another, and practice does make…if not perfect, then better.

Keep practicing. You’ll get better.

And share. What works for you? What helps you to grow and learn?

2 thoughts on “Just Another Day of Juggling”

  1. I totally grinned when you talked about how the knowledge snaps into place! I love that feeling! Once at a workshop in 2006, an editor gave me a piece of advice that I thought I understood, sort of, but it wasn’t until SIX MONTHS LATER that I suddenly had that “snap” feeling, because I finally had achieved what it was she was talking about, and at that point I could look back and see the flaw she had seen in my older work. And then a year or two later, I realized I understood it even better. The advice was about how you should be able to tell the characters in a scene apart even if their names are removed. I went through about three layers of thinking I understood this, and I expect I’ll continue to understand it in deeper and more complex ways as I learn.

  2. Bravo Mary! I will apply your writer’s juggling act to my home improvement planning. However, my balls are flying off into space, hence retrieval is quite impossible. Time for new juggling balls. S

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