Friday, February 11, 2011

Spinning Plates

Lu Ann Brobst Staheli

First of all, let me say it feels great to be back. Okay, some of you may be wondering where I’ve been, and some of you may not even know I was gone because, other than a guest interview in 2009, I’ve been absent from the blog since 2008, when I was a regular columnist.

Where on earth did that time go? Honestly, I was surprised at how long it had been since I’d written a column for PEG. I didn’t mean for my absence to be so long, and I certainly hadn’t forgotten about our growing audience.

As a matter of fact, I’ve been working with many of our readers in another capacity, as an editor. So, a wave “hello” to all of you who I’ve been working with, a “thanks for welcoming me back” to the rest of the PEG editors who’ve been carrying the load while I was gone, and a “nice to meet you” to anyone who doesn’t remember me even hanging around here many years ago.

I’ll try to do better—I honestly will—but like many of you who are working hard at being a writer, I also have other full time jobs which sometimes keep me from doing everything I’d like to do, even when those activities are worthy and beneficial to myself and those I’m working with as an editor.

A few years ago, when I was on a panel filled with teachers and authors at a conference at UVU, I described myself as the Plate Spinner guy on the Ed Sullivan Show. If you’re not old enough to remember, this guy—did we ever know his name?—had several long poles that were flexible enough to keep in constant motion. He would put a plate on top of each pole and move it back and forth to start the plate spinning. His job then for the next few minutes was to keep all the plates spinning at the same time. Sometimes a plate or two would slow down enough to make the audience worry the guy wouldn’t get to them in time to keep the plate from crashing to the floor and breaking.

Such is the life of a freelance writer.

As freelance writers we want to write something for which we can be paid. That means we have to come up with an idea, write enough of a pitch or outline an article, then set it on the query pole and send it spinning on its way. Then we do it again and again and again until we get a response of YES from an editor.

Once that answer comes, we are busy spinning the drafting pole. How many words did we promise in length? We told the editor we could have the final copy ready by when? What could we have been thinking? This pole has to move fast, fast, fast if we don’t want to break the plate that also holds our future career with this publication.

Sometimes we have to do research which sets the next pole into motion as we try to find the facts we need to support the article or book we are writing. Check and double check, locate a reliable source, and attempt to do it all within the confines of our already ridiculous daily schedule.

Then there is the editing pole. This pole can start in motion all by itself at a moment’s notice and have a killer deadline. “I’ve attached the final edits on your 70,000 words manuscript. Take a look at it and get it back to us as soon as possible. We’d like to go to print the day after tomorrow.” What?! All other spinning plates may suddenly find themselves in jeopardy of falling as you give your full attention to maintaining this one. There’s no way you can let your book or article be printed without having one last chance to make sure nothing horrible has happened during typesetting. Your writer’s reputation depends on it.

If you’ve written a book, once it’s published, along come the marketing and promotion poles, which sometimes work in tandem, but often mean extra work as you try to increase your sales. Interviews, book launch parties, bookstore signings, TV appearances, blog tours, conference presentations, social networking—and the list goes on.

In the meantime, you’re back at pole one, working on the next pitch, writing the next piece for publication, and doing all in your power to keep all of those poles and the plates on top spinning in full action.

All because we want to be a paid writer.

Oh, and don’t forget the other poles you might be spinning—another job, a husband and children, church and service obligations, friendships, and even finding time for yourself can all have plates that must keep spinning.

With all this spinning, I’m suddenly finding myself a little dizzy. I think I’ll take a break from writing.

But I promise, I won’t be gone another two years before you hear back from this plate spinner. As a matter of fact, I already have an idea for next week’s blog entry...

1 comment:

Regina said...

I know that time flies when you are busy spinning plates. Sometimes I have too many irons in the fire but I thrive on chaos. Glad your back! Best Wishes.