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Pulling The Trigger and Starting Over

It wasn’t working. It felt forced. Too difficult. If I could describe that feeling with one word, it would be “not right.” Was it even salvageable? Had all my effort and work been for nothing? What I needed was a new beginning (and after that a new middle and even a new ending). I wondered if I ought to pull the trigger, so to speak, and start over.

My mother was an expert at pulling the trigger and starting over. She did it so often and with such apparent ease you would’ve thought she was firing an Uzi.

I’ve used those words- not working, forced, difficult, not right- to describe life at times, but on this occasion it had to do with a book. A story that just wasn’t working.

As soon as I finished Secrets To Keep, I started, as always, on my next project. This one, another novel, contained some of the same characters.  I’d gotten an idea and I followed my process- mapped out the story as best I could and made my notes- before I started writing. From the beginning, it, the story, felt “not right.” Nevertheless, I pushed the feelings aside, telling myself these thoughts were nothing more than the first draft blues, and I plowed on, piling up fifty-five thousand words and a few hundred pages. As I worked, I started to lose track of all the plot lines and deviations that would later require attention. “I’ll fix that later” became a running joke to myself.

The draft contained a number of good, independent scenes, but taken together they added up to very little. If I were honest, the book was a mess.

One day, an afternoon or an evening I can’t remember, I heard or saw something that sparked an idea. I can’t recall what ignited the inspiration. All I know is the story ideas flowed so fast I had trouble writing them all down. This was something, I told myself. I felt reinvigorated by idea number two. I put the first aside and started in on the second. I was so eager to get started I broke all my rules- no planning, no notes- and just went with the ideas I had, writing the story blind so to speak. Within a week or two I’d accumulated ten thousands words.

But the second idea stalled as fast as it’d started. This wasn’t writer’s block. I could continue creating interesting little scenes with these characters but they were going nowhere. I had no direction, no end, and no idea what to do. I tried returning to my process, putting together some sort of plan and outline, but I remained stalled out by the side of the road. Now I had two stories going nowhere.

Christmas brought an upper respiratory infection (later to be followed by pneumonia). Sore throat, hacking cough, and an inability to breathe. On the third or fourth day of the first round of antibiotics, beginning to feel somewhat better, I stood in the kitchen and stared out at the backyard while eating a tamale and sipping a Big Red. My thoughts, for the first time in days, returned to my two stories. What was I going to do? The first was a sprawling mess with too many characters while the second had no direction. Could either of them be fixed?

Out of nowhere, a third idea struck me, one I’d considered before and long forgotten. It wouldn’t work with the second book, but it might with the first. I let my mind wander and visualized the story. I liked where this third story was going. I had a beginning, a middle, and an end. Instead of starting a third book from scratch, I figured I could use some of the material from the first one, although I might have to delete thirty thousand words and rewrite another ten thousand, but the whole thing wouldn’t be a waste. I scribbled some notes on a piece of paper, fearful of forgetting what I’d found.

I stopped writing and looked up. Could I do it? Could I pull the trigger and start over on a third idea? As much as I was excited about idea number three, a small part of me considered pushing on and at least finishing the first draft of my first idea. Maybe it wouldn’t turn out to be as bad as I thought.

What to do? Pull the trigger and risk it not working out? What might I lose? A lot of time and effort? What if it did work out? Yes, what if it did?

In writing, you draw on life lessons. I thought back on the times I’d pulled the trigger and started over. Although it didn’t always work out, I’d never regretted taking the plunge and I always liked it when it turned out well.

Lest you think I experienced some extended, existential crisis over a book, a story, one that consumed me for days and days, such was not the case. Five minutes later, I left that tamale on the counter, grabbed my cup, and sat down to work.

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