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
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.