Friday, June 11, 2021

When Life Feels Like Plate-spinning By Tim Shoemaker

 I don’t know beans about spinning plates on sticks, and you probably don’t either. You’ve seen plate-performers amaze their audiences, though, right? They actually make plate-spinning look fun—but you and I both know they’re working hard.

Sometimes this writing life is a lot like spinning plates. We’ve got projects, proposals, family, church, jobs, and more . . . all needing our attention. And we don’t always succeed. Sometimes it feels like all we’re doing is walking on broken glass. I’ve noticed that my creativity goes down as my stress goes up. The more I worry about how I’ll get everything done, the less productive I become. Ugh!

The truth is, having more than one project to do—and rotating between them—sometimes raises the quality level of all my work. I stay fresher. More creative.

So how do we pull off this writing-life balancing act? Here are a few things that help me.

Deadline Driven. Every project has a deadline—or I create one. If I’m assigning the date, I leave some decent margin for the unexpected.


Image from Pixabay

Break Down Each Deadline. What steps do I need to take to make that deadline? I map out a route on my calendar.

Stick to My Routines. I roll out of bed and spend the first 15 minutes stretching and exercising. Have breakfast while reading my Bible. Walk two miles. Clean up. That’s my normal workday morning routine. When I deviate because I’m extra busy, I feel “off.” All day. And if I’m off, likely I won’t be as productive.

Dress the Part. I’m a writer. For me, dressing like a professional makes me feel professional too. Clean, comfortable jeans. Nice shirt. I don’t want to get sloppy with any part of my day. Not with how I dress—or how I write. 

Some like writing in sweats. They may choose a T-shirt with a neck stretched wide enough to drop a watermelon through. That’s not me. Even COVID never changed that. So much of our writing is impacted by our frame of mind, right? 

I dress in a way where I can go work in a public place without being embarrassed if someone recognizes me.

Follow Your Personal Tide Charts, and Navigate Your Day. High tide. Low tide. The water level on our coasts is constantly changing. And for me, there are high and low tide times of my day. Periods when I’m more creative—and less. I want to navigate my day so that a job needing high productivity or creativity is tackled when my energy tide is high.

And I tend to plan out tomorrow when I finish working today. First thing in the morning I have a hard time even picking out a shirt. That isn’t the best time for me to make decisions on how to schedule the day efficiently. 

Do the Worst First. Save the Best for Last. If there is a part of a project that I’m dreading or maybe I find it nagging at me when I head to bed at night, I may just schedule that as Job One tomorrow morning. If I procrastinate, it tends to keep tapping me on the shoulder all day. “Hey, remember me? I’m still here.” It’s distracting—and that isn’t good when I’m writing. 

I balance this by planning to work on a project that I really want to do later in the day. It becomes an incentive. A reward to get the pesky job done first.

Stay in Your Lane. When I’m driving the expressway, I have a feel for what’s happening in the other lanes, but my focus is on the one I’m in. With writing, I need to stay in my lane. If I’ve dedicated two hours to a particular project, I don’t check my emails while I’m at it. And I tend to keep my desk clear. I’ll only have the materials visible that I need for this project—right now. 

We hear how men tend to compartmentalize things. I’ve found this is a really helpful trait when there are lots of projects to do. The more I compartmentalize and focus on just the one thing I need to do right now, the less overwhelmed I’m going to get. I don’t have ten plates to keep spinning. I don’t have ten things on my list to get done. Well, I do, but I only focus on one thing—knowing I’ve blocked out enough time to get the segment done.


Image from Pixabay

Take Frequent Breaks. It’s hard to stay focused for long periods of time. I’m better off pushing hard for a bit—resisting the temptation to multi-task. So set a timer. Work for an hour—then take a stretch break before setting the timer again.

Make It Fun. I feel if I’m having fun, it will show in my writing. Readers will know I love what I do.

Work Outside. I made a “standing” desk that I can set up in a wooded spot behind my house—or I can pop it in the car and drive somewhere. The desk breaks down into just three parts, and I can set it up in a few minutes. Now I’m mobile, and I can work anywhere I want.

Fast food restaurants. Driving to a place where I can get a coffee—or a soft drink with a side of fries? It fuels my writing. To me, that’s fun. 

Snack time. I’ll almost always have a snack planned. If I’m taking my writing desk to a location, I might have a cooler with me loaded with fun stuff.

What is fun for you? How can you incorporate that into your writing routine?

Picture the Audience. It helps if I think of who will benefit from each project I’m working on. When I’m writing for kids age 12 to 14, I’m not writing for a nameless, faceless group. I’m thinking about people in that target range—or those who will be. So as I was writing Escape From the Everglades, I pictured about how Lily and Caleb and Claire and Miles would love it someday. And Norah and James and Daniel and Grace. Real people that I know. When I imagine their faces as they’re hearing the story for the first time? Well, that’s fuel to keep me going.

Build in Time for Family. I don’t care how busy I get, I’ve always got time for family. I’ve heard other writers talk about locking themselves in their room for three weeks before a deadline. They warn their family not to disturb them for anything less than an emergency. So in essence they’re shutting out the ones they love—to impact people they’ve never met? Something feels off with that approach. Family time keeps me balanced—and staying balanced keeps me productive. 

Ask for Help. If you watch any of the plate-spinning videos on YouTube, for example, often the plate spinner isn’t alone. Sometimes there’s a helper. I’ve got two helpers. I share my schedule with my wife. She’s really good at encouraging me along and helping me guard that time. She’s also good at telling me when I’m planning too much. And I pray—especially when the schedule is packed. I need God’s creativity to write well. His help to be efficient. And I’m not too shy to ask for it.

There’s instructional videos on YouTube that teach exactly how to master the art of plate spinning. But the truth is, I don’t have time to learn a circus act. And likely you don’t either. We want to write. Do you have a busy life—lots of projects or family that need your attention? Thank God . . . and remember you can keep everything in balance, with His help. 



About the Author

Tim Shoemaker is the award-winning author of the Code of Silence series and a popular speaker—especially for school assemblies. When he isn’t on the speaking and teaching circuit, he’s busy working with kids and writing more great stories!

He’s the author of eleven books, including Super Husband; Super Dad; Code of Silence; Back Before Dark; Below the Surface; Smashed Tomatoes, Bottle Rockets . . . and Other Outdoor Devotionals You Can Do with Your Kids; Dangerous Devotions for Guys; and more.

He speaks for schools, churches, and parachurch organizations (such as Focus on the Family, Iron Sharpens Iron men’s conferences, International Network of Children’s Ministry, and the Moody Pastors’ Conference). He also speaks at men’s retreats, women’s gatherings, couples’ retreats, youth worker conventions, homeschool conventions, and writers’ conventions, and he conducts family devotion workshops all across the country.



About Escape from the Everglades


Escape from the Everglades
is the first book in the High Water series and blends contemporary mystery and suspense, dramatic situations, and high adventure that both boys and girls will love.

A park ranger’s son hates the Everglades, and he thinks he’ll just die if he doesn't escape Southern Florida soon . . . and he’s right. After Parker Buckman is mauled and nearly killed by an alligator, he sees the glades as a place of death. All he wants to do is get out of the area, and he’s convinced he won’t truly be okay until he does. But he can’t leave until he finds a friend who goes missing.

Escaping a bad situation isn’t a matter of a geographical change. Sometimes the best way to a brighter future is to face the darkness of your past.









Giveaway

Thank you, Tim for stopping by Seekerville! 

Tyndale Publishers is giving away a copy of Escape from the Everglades to one reader today. Just leave a comment below for Tim and you're entered.

(Seekerville's Giveaway rules applied. Open to US residents with a US mailing address only.)


29 comments:

  1. Welcome Tim to Seekerville. Thank you for sharing with us!

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    1. I'm happy to be here! I like the pictures they inserted in the post. The one with the fountain pen? Wow . . . I wish my handwriting was that neat!

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  2. Tim, great tips for writers at all levels... I find a routine keeps me focused and productive. If I do my writing first, the whole day opens up for whatever in our crazy big family/farm life needs my attention. Well done, sir, and thank you!

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    1. Hi Ruth! You are disciplined!! And that's a great way to do it--with plenty of time for family later. Love that!

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  3. Such a great blog. Thanks, Tim!

    I agree about dressing the part. And makeup. I always wear makeup! :)

    So glad you can be with us today. I've got an 8th grade grandson. ESCAPE FROM THE EVERGLADES sounds like a good read for him! Thanks!

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    1. Hi Debby,

      Well, I skip the makeup, personally . . . so I guess I have it easy. I was just working out of a fast food barbecue place yesterday afternoon . . . and sure enough--met someone I knew. Dressing the part works for me.

      And an 8th grade grandson? I love writing for that age. Yes, check out Escape From the Everglades. And Easy Target just came out in March. Even check the Code of Silence series. If he likes mystery, suspense, adventure . . . he'll love it!! Isn't it fun to find a book that someone else totally enjoys?

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  4. Tim, I needed this today. I was already spinning plates -- fiction writing, nonfiction writing, news reporting which is how I earn my daily bread, retired husband etc. Did not need One More Thing. Found out last weekend that it is time to sell my father's house and my sister needs my help. That is the One More Thing. Yep, that was all I needed. Had this beautiful summer planned out where I would work on my historical romances, nonfiction local history books, grow my career and grow tomatoes. The Lord never gives us anything we can't handle, but he does give us stuff where we might have to manage our time more closely. Mine is like a house of cards.
    I'm a professional but I still have trouble asking people to treat me like one. My mentality is "nobody asked you to do this" and I still have a tendency to fit writing around what everybody else is doing, and what everybody else expects of me. Room for improvement...
    I agree with Tim and Debby. I NEVER work in my pajamas unless I'm sick. You have to respect yourself. Which means I should probably take my own advice. (See paragraph 2.)
    So many good tips here, not only for writers, but for anyone who works from home.
    Kathy Bailey

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    1. Oh, Kathy . . . I'm so sorry for the pressure you're feeling right now. And you know, God does give us more than we can handle--otherwise we'd push ahead and tend to forget about Him. He wants us to come to him for help. A verse that was really helpful to me recently is Psalm 63:8. "My soul clings to you; your right hand upholds me." That's just what we need, right?
      I love how you paired "growing your career and growing tomatoes" in the same line, by the way! I would have known you were a good writer by that line alone.
      So, I don't want to step over a line, but my heart goes out to you here. It sounds like you've been there and family has depended on you for a long, long time. That says a lot of good things about you. And you don't have to ask people to treat you like a professional . . . just be professional yourself. Think about a doctor. They don't ask patients to treat them like a pro, but they have appointment books. If you need a doctor, they're happy to help. But you have to fit into their calendar. What I'm suggesting is that you have a calendar. Your writing time is an appointment. So as others need help, you can't cancel the appointment you already have (your writing time) . . . all you can do is schedule them into another slot. Be the kind, giving, family person you already are. You'd give family the shirt off your back. That's all fine. Just don't give them your writing time. If you're like me . . . I need family time--and I need writing time. I need both to be balanced. And if you want to help family--you must stay balanced. Don't give up your writing time any quicker than you'd give up food and water. Anyway, thanks for taking the time to respond to the post. I'm praying you have a really, productive day!!

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  5. These are fantastic tips! I never thought of a standing desk to work outside, but what a great idea if that's what fuels your creativity. I haven't written at a coffee shop or anywhere out of the house for over a year. A change of scenery might do me good. Love this list, Tim. Thanks so much for sharing!

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  6. Oh, Glynis . . . yes . . . get out a bit and see how that makes a difference. And I've abandoned the coffee shops for working. Often the atmosphere is tense. So many people hunkered over their laptops--working on something like their career depended on it. Nice fast food places are more relaxed. A bit more fun. And that helps me with the writing. And an order of fries doesn't hurt, either!!

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  7. Welcome, Tim. This was a great post. I struggle with the plate spinning in trying to find my time for writing. I like your suggestions.

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  8. Finding the time really can be a challenge! Sometimes we really have to fight to get that time. But it sounds to me like you're already on your way to carving out a little extra time soon. Good job . . . keep going!!

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  9. Thank you for sharing Tim. As a reader I spin plates trying to find tie to read and review all the wonderful books I see.

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    1. Ha, Lucy . . . I hear you! I have books by my office chair, the chair in the den, and in the bedroom, too. I'm always thinking I'll have more time to read than I do.

      I have a friend who would bring a book to a fast food place. Without a phone, he would go off-grid for a bit and enjoy a good read with a meal.

      A neighbor went the audiobook route. He popped in his earbuds and took a 30-minute walk each day. He got exercise--and "read" a ton of great books that way.

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  10. Hi Tim:

    I like your take on deadlines. I worked in the control center of two moon shots and we had a theater size screen with dozens of tasks that needed to be completed on time. There was a vertical line that moved from left to right to indicate the passage of time. All the supervisors in the control room could see what projects were underway and if they were on time.

    One day I came in and there was about a six hour gap with nothing showing on the big screen. I asked what was going on and was told it was a window that was built in so that those who were behind in their projects would have the time to catch up. I think building a window in one's timelines is a very good idea.

    I saw of famous photo of Hemingway standing up and typing with the typewriter on a high chest in his bedroom. He liked to type standing up to keep the blood flowing. I think this is a good idea. I think it helps creativity to type standing up.

    I also like visualizing the audience when I write. In advertising we are told that even if we are writing an ad that will have a 3 million circulation, we still must write as if we were in the prospect's house talking to them over coffee. In this situation you would never talk 'advertisingese' to them in their home but when writing to a large impersonal group it is all too common. I think for story writers the same can be said for 'fictionese'. Write like you're telling a story around a campfire.

    Now I have a question: on Amazon "Escape from the Everglades" is listed as having 464 pages and be for those 12 1/2 and older. Would you say this is a midgrade book and that you have found that young readers are welcoming to such large books? At that age I found a book with over 400 pages to be very intimidating.

    Please place me in the drawing if I can get a Kindle version. (I can't read regular print type.)

    Thanks for coming today and best of luck with your new book series.

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  11. Hi Vince! Sounds like we're on the same page on a lot of things here. Except I never worked in a control center for moon shots. Wow . . . I'll bet you've got some stories there!

    But to your question. Yes, I write for the high end middle grade reading level. I think one thing we learned years ago with the Harry Potter series is that this age will read a longer book-if they're totally wrapped up in the story. Escape From the Everglades is a little shorter than it sounds--because I write short chapters. Average length of a chapter for that book? About 5 pages. So there are plenty of half-pages for chapter starts and ends. I've found that readers this age want to "read up" . . . and so I don't write down to them. They're smart--but they lack experience. I've found they love a good, full story like this--and never had any complaints of it being too long. If anything, they burn through the book so fast, parents are amazed. The short chapters--each with a cliffhanger--really helps.

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  12. the standing desk is a great idea! Thanks for sharing these terrific insights with us, Tim :)

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    1. It was fun to be here, Meez. And the standing desk is so easy to make--and set up/break down. I'm standing at it right now, in fact!

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    2. You know, now that I look at this, I'm thinking your name is Carrie. Me-is-Carrie. Okay, I get it now. Sorry I called you Meez in the response!

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  13. Great post, Tim. I definitely empathize with the analogy. But I am like you. I can't write in lazy clothes or pjs as well as I can in my everyday clothes.

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    1. Thanks, Amy! And the clothes thing . . . I like the way you say that . . . lazy clothes. That really describes it for me. How I dress seems to impact how I write.

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    2. Hey, Amy . . . it sounds like you won the book! That's great . . . I hope you love it!

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  14. Tim this is such good advice, all of it except............clearly I do not own ANY clothes that aren't cool. So I never need to worry about that.

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    1. I might stay in my pajamas all day except....trust me........my husband is judging me!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

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    2. Ha . . . I love it, Mary!! Maybe that's why I have such a hard time parting with some of my older clothes. Maybe they're too cool to toss out . . . although I'm not sure my wife would see it that way.

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  15. I have a questions, Tim. How scary is it. I've got a 12 year old granddaughter and a 10 year old grandson. They are avid readers. For sure Harry Potter but mostly anything they can get their hands on. Am I giving them this book too early? (I bought a copy but will maybe read it first and decide but I'd like your take)

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  16. I like that you plan to read it first. That's always a good move. Are you talking about Escape From the Everglades? My gut feel is that if they're reading Harry Potter, you're not going to be putting anything in their hands that is scarier than that.

    If the kids live nearby, another thought is to read TO them. Yes, they can read great on their own, but sometimes it is so fun to read to them . . . to watch them drop off into story world. And you can monitor how they're doing with the content as well. If you do this, do all you can to make the atmosphere fun. You can even read in a darkened room by using a glow stick (from the dollar store) as your light source. Just lay it in the fold of the book and you'll have enough light to read. Or take the kids out for a snack and read a couple chapters (they're short) while they eat. If they don't live close, you could read to them over Zoom or FaceTime. Not quite as ideal, but it works.

    I don't write down to the kids, and the books are clean. I don't make parents look like idiots, either. Yes, the characters make mistakes, but they figure it out. I like good endings. So I think you'll be okay. Another suggestion is to get the earlier Code of Silence series and start there if you feel they're not ready for the other yet.

    Easy Target just came out this past March, and is very much at the same level as Escape From the Everglades. I tested that book at the Great Homeschool Convention in SC--which was also in March. I got really great feedback from parents afterward--with kids in the same age range as your grandkids.

    All that to say, I think they will be fine with the book. I'd love to hear what you think after you read it.

    Thanks, Mary! I love to see how you are working to get good books in the hands of your grandkids--and how careful you're being!!

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  17. Thank you for the great tips!

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  18. I was happy to be here, Angeline!

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