Old Things Make New

A long time, in a lifetime far-far away (or maybe just 10 years ago, a few neighborhoods away) I wrote a book.

It was a good book, if messy, broken, flawed and confused. I sent it to a few agents but the overwhelming silence buried my enthusiasm for the book, as much as I loved it, and I set it to one side. Since then, I have written. Plays, short-stories, scripts and other things that have all received some small measure of success. But then came the drought.

Three years ago, all confidence evaporated, all ideas seemed gray and every word I wrote was like ash in my mouth.

But all things end, and so did this drought, and when I recovered, it was with two minds. The one was the young man who wrote a book a long time ago, eager to see his work find an audience. Another was an older man with different interests and skills and outlooks eager to work on new material. There was no way to reconcile the differences, it was bi-polar. The old book became an anchor to the past, an albatross of failure that threw a long shadow over the future.

So, I came to a solution, after some counseling with my wife – I would fix the old story as much as necessary in a short amount of time, and then I would move on. Good or bad, fail or succeed, I would move on. Two months, I said, to change anything, fix anything, and on May 1 I opened the file, cracked my fingers, and I worked on the opening chapter.

And then woke up the next morning, and I worked on it again. And then again. And again.

There is a level of anxiety about beginnings that is perhaps unique to my own process, wherein the beginning guides the rest of the material. It has to be strong, it has to be compelling, it has to be the sort of thing that sketches out a universe that I am interested in quickly, and while that’s easy to do in a short-story with its focused scope of attention and time, I find it difficult to do in a book. The scale is too large, too many themes and textures and undertones, and I always feel like I’m missing something.

Somewhere around the fourth revision, I decided, that maybe I should just write the first chapter like any other chapter. Forget the text book definitions of first line, first paragraph, first page – just write it like chapter 27 instead. And so I did.

I’m so far behind schedule now, that I’ll have to made a mad dash to catch up. But at least I’m past the first turn.

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