The Joy of Juggling

I love juggling. Projects, not projectiles.

I’m happiest when I’m writing a book, pitching an article assignment or two, and researching a handful of topics for new books and new articles in the future.

I’d like to think it’s because I’m constantly needing to seek out fresh challenges, learn new information, stretch myself. But I’m guessing it’s more about my increasingly short attention span.

Here’s what I mean:

I devoted most of February and March to researching and writing a book proposal for a biography of William Moulton Marston, who popularized an early version of a lie-detection machine and, more famously, created Wonder Woman.  Then I worked on the query letter that I’d use to find an agent for this project.

But I’ve never written a biography before. So I needed to look for other projects that might not be so speculative. Because, much as I enjoy writing book proposals and query letters, it’s nice to actually get paid for writing.

I contacted my friend Chuck Moore, with whom I wrote a CompleteIdiot’s Guide back in 2006, to see if he had any ideas. Turns out, he did. And the one that resonated most with me was a book on how to live each day to the fullest. (I know: Fullest is neither logical nor grammatical. Still. It’s how we talk.) So even as I was researching agents and writing queries for the Marston biography, I began pulling together material for a proposal for Live for Today.

At the same time, I’ve been itching to get back into magazine work. The mid-2000s had been awful for most magazine writers, with publications shrinking in size (meaning they needed less content), cutting pay rates, or going out of business entirely. Bad enough, right? But I’d also grown weary of constantly building new editorial relationships, only to see those editors leave publishing entirely or move to magazines well outside my comfort zone. (I had the opportunity to work with a fantastic editor at Ladies Home Journal. Then she moved to CosmoGIRL.LHJ was one thing; I’ll never have a CosmoGIRL idea in my life.)

But that was, like, eight years ago. Time to try again.

So I got in touch with a couple of writing friends I know through the American Society of Journalists & Authors to see if they had any leads. Two of them did. I contacted the editors they suggested. And one of those contacts ended up giving me an assignment. I’m now working on my second assignment for that editor.

Back to Live for Today. I knew we’d need an agent. So once the proposal and sample chapter were finished, I started querying agents. After hearing nothing from the first agent I queried, I got an enthusiastic follow-up from agent #2. He not only liked the idea, he had a brilliant concept for turning it into a series. We signed up. But if you’re going to pitch a series, it really helps to show as much of your writing style as possible. So I started working on a second sample chapter.

Here’s the thing about working on projects like these: Once you prime the idea pump, it’s hard to turn off the flow.

Every writer-in-waiting who wonders where writers get their ideas only has to start brainstorming. Chances are, you’ll soon find yourself having more ideas than you can handle. (I actually track them on a spreadsheet.) Suddenly, just about everything in life starts to look like fodder for the next book proposal, the next magazine pitch.

It happened to me. I’ve now got three additional book ideas I’m developing, even as I wait to hear how our agent fares with Live for Today (and its two possible follow-up books), begin working on magazine article #2 for my new editor, and continue to market my novel to potential fiction agents. Never mind making occasional tweaks to my Web site – including this long-delayed blog post! – and working to build up my social-media presence.

Maybe that sounds like a lot. Maybe it’s nothing compared to what you’re doing. But it seems to be a good fit for my own temperament. And the more projects I work at juggling, the better the chances that one of them will pay off.