Literary Juggling Acts

As both a writer and a reader, I used to be a one-story-at-a-time kind of person. But in the last few years, I’ve discovered something awesome: I know how to juggle!

For much of my writing life, I always felt like I had to finish my current project before I could move on to the next one, even if I was so stuck that my forehead was leaving dents in the metaphorical wall I kept slamming it against. But a few years ago, I realized that unless deadlines are involved, I don’t have to do that.

So I started juggling.

When I got stuck on my novel, instead of trying to force my way through one painful word at a time, I started working on a play. When I got stuck on that, I switched back to the novel. And when I became stuck on that, I switched again, back to the play or on to a short story. Rinse and repeat. I found that whenever I circled back to a project, I wasn’t stuck anymore. I knew how to move forward. It was like my subconscious had used the time to perform a banishing spell on whatever issue had me previously bogged down.

Of course, in a recent post I mentioned how I had to stop working on short stories for a while in order to finish a novel. Because that’s another thing I discovered about my process: knowing how to juggle doesn’t necessarily mean you should be juggling. At that point in time, I wasn’t feeling stuck on the novel—quite the opposite, I was super excited about it—so there was no need for me to keep jumping back to short stories. Yet I kept doing it anyway because short stories are shiny and fun and distracting.

So that’s the writing part of this post: juggling can be a great way to keep yourself moving forward instead of wallowing in writer’s blockian anguish. But it can also keep you from finishing a project if you’re not careful.

Now for my more recent discovery: juggling with reading material!

As with writing, I used to feel like I had to finish a book before I dared pick up another one. In college, though, that was impossible. When one half of your double major is English literature, you have to read a crap ton of books each semester. So college forced me to not only juggle, but to read faster than I cared to (I’m usually a slow reader). But when it came to reading on my own time, I was strictly a one-book-at-a-time kind of gal.

Until I tried some more juggling.

Back in September, someone recommended a writing book that I really wanted to dig into (Screenwriting Is Rewriting by Jack Epps, Jr.). I was in the middle of reading a novel (Star Daughter by my awesome friend Shveta Thakrar), which normally would have dissuaded me from starting something else, but 2020 is the year of tossing norms out the window, so what the hell, right? I think it helped that the books were in different formats. Star Daughter was a hardback I could read while curled up in a chair with my morning coffee, while the Epps was an ebook I could easily whip out while doing stuff like brushing my teeth or waiting in the lobby of the doctor’s office.

Then I got really crazy in October and tried reading three things at once.

I doubt I’m going to graduate to having four books going at once. But I’m liking the balance of having a fiction and nonfiction read going simultaneously. Now maybe slow-reading me will be able to get through a few more books per year than usual.

Because juggling.

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