Posted by: Alice Fitzpatrick | April 15, 2013

Keeping All the Balls in the Air

I once took a summer drama course where we learnt how to juggle.  With 15 years of dance training behind me, I thought this was going to be a piece of cake.  After all I could kick over my head and do a double pirouette, so how hard could this be.  I started with the practice exercises, throwing one ball from hand to hand.  Then I moved on to two balls.  But once the third ball came into play, I lost my co-ordination.  I didn’t know what my hands were supposed to do.  I could throw one ball up in the air, but then what was I supposed to do with the other two?  Inevitably one or more balls would hit the ground.  I never did learn to juggle.

ImageI realized much later that this whole experience was a metaphor for how I conduct my life because I still struggle to balance all the things that are important to me.

As a high school counsellor, I have seven weeks off during the summer.  Every June I look out over that great expanse of time and make a list of all the things I’m going to achieve.  My project last summer was to complete the first draft of my second book, This Thing of Darkness.  I had written over 150 pages, so I planned to edit what I’d already written and complete the draft.

My favourite expression is “If you want to hear God laugh, make plans for your life,” or in my case the summer.  Well, God was bent over double that summer.

An agent was interested in my first manuscript and among the supporting material she wanted to see was my marketing plan.  Now I’m of the generation that grew up believing that all you have to do is write well, and someone will publish your book and send you on a cross-country promotional tour with a PA in tow.  The world of social media was a rude awakening, but that’s what I did with my summer.  A great amount of time was spent tweeting, gathering followers, begging friends begging to follow me on every site they could, making connections through LinkedIn, finding a web designer, blogging — well, you get the idea and many of you are doing the same.

But with all this going on, when was I ever going to write?  I re-edited my first manuscript and sent it off, along with my marketing plan, synopses of the first two books, blurbs on the next six books, and a bio.

I was now left with three weeks to work on the second book.  Needless to say it didn’t get done.  With no completed draft of my second book, I felt I’d wasted my time.  I heard the dull thud of a ball hitting the floor.

To my way of thinking, blogging and tweeting are like washing dishes.  There are lots of other more exciting and productive things I could be doing and besides social media doesn’t give me much satisfaction.  I can’t hold blogs and tweets in my hand, find them on bookstores or library shelves, or sign copies for friends and admirers.  I’ve been told that I need to see social media as a necessary and productive part of my writing career since it will help to get me published.  But happens when a publisher wants to see that all elusive second book?

ImageThe balls I juggle are my singing lessons and concerts, my real job which pays the bills and buys the cat food, my writing, and the necessary evil of social media.  And as for a social life, a partner, and a family, well, there just isn’t time.  Virginia Woolf famously wrote “A woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction.”  She was wrong.  I need a whole life of my own.  It’s no wonder that so many people wait until they retire and the kids have left the nest before they turn to serious writing.

The thing I realize about about juggling is that just when you think you’ve got it all under control – three balls in the air, all in perfect symmetry – suddenly one ball grows bigger and your rhythm is thrown off.  It demands more of your attention and effort to throw it, to catch it.  Or its texture changes into something spiky like a curled hedgehog so that it hurts to catch it.  Or it flashes in your eyes, blinding you to other balls.

Image It’s when all the balls compete for your attention that they tend to be dropped.  I know established writers who have voluntarily dropped their social media balls, blogging or tweeting only when they have an appearance or a new book to publicize.  But those of us who are still trying to attract the attention of an agent, publisher, or readership are still juggling as fast as we can.

But who’s to say that all of the balls have to be in the air at once?  There are days when I just don’t have enough hands or concentration.  On those days, the only ball I want to see floating through the air is the shimmering sea blue ball which is my next novel.  On those days, I just let the blue ball fly solo.



  1. Alice: Thank you for your post – you’ve inspired me in a couple of ways. I stumbled across your blog by way of a search on: “keeping all the balls in the air” in an attempt to provide some sage advice to an employee who’s having difficulty doing just that. I then had the pleasure of reading the remainder of your blog – I’m so glad I took the time to do so. I too am a lover of: islands, of all things Welsh, & of archeology (with Wales having more ancient castles/fortifications per square mile than anywhere else in the world, they go hand in hand, don’t they?) I also have fond boyhood memories of Denby (& Govan Head & Saundersfoot) from camping & cycling trips in the late ’50s/ early 60s. The main inspiration I received from your blog, however, was for the seed of a mystery novel that I’ve been writing various chapters of for almost 15 years now, the difference being that the source of my writing is Vancouver Island where I had the absolute pleasure of living for 15 years when our family 1st arrived in Canada from the West Country of England back in 1975. You’ve inspired me to publish it incrementally via WordPress &, at the very least, move it from a cloistered MS Word file into a forum where it can be shared. Thank you again & I look forward to your continuing posts. Mel Hughes.

  2. Mel, Thank you for your wonderful comments. I’m so glad if anything I wrote inspires you to continue with your novel. I have been rewriting and reediting my first novel for ten years (I have heard of writers going for 15+ years before getting published) as well as working on the second. I keep going because of encouragement from other writers, and because I am managing to myself into the finals and semi-finals of writing contests. I was
    recently a finalist for the Malice Domestic. If you haven’t done so already, “friend” some writers on Facebook (they will all friend you back). That way you can feel part of a serious writing community. I would love to read your novel once you post it. Keep in touch. Alice

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