Monday, August 9, 2010

Back to the Beginning

Sometimes you just have to start over. Not saying that's always an easy thing to do. In fact, sometimes it can be downright painful. It can hurt. A lot. Even when you know it's the right thing to do, the knowing, in advance, of just how much it's going to take out of you can be enough for you to want to put it off. That is part of the appeal of procrastination, as we tend not to put off those things we enjoy, but instead delay those things we do not want to do, the things we dread.

I'm convinced there is also the tendency to not want to erase all the work that has gone into a project right up to that point where it becomes necessary to start over. No matter how deep the quagmire, there is the belief that some of what went before could be salvaged. A complete overhaul isn't really required, no, instead it will only take a little tweaking here and there, a couple of edits, and then it'll be easy to pull free of the muck and mire.

That Hollywood seems to defer to a re-boot every time a franchise stalls out may be part of the problem. For every Star Trek - which I still haven't seen - or Batman Begins - which of course I have - there are countless other attempts to rejuvenate a storyline or character just be starting over with new faces. Comics are guilty of this, too, often in the interest of sidestepping a particularly thorny plot issue that the writers backed themselves into. It very rarely goes well.

So the temptation to not hit the universal delete, and start afresh, is a strong one. It can trap even the most well intentioned author. You plug along, you edit, you move things around, but you do not start over because you have already done all this work, and it would be a shame to waste it. Not to mention disheartening, because why, oh why, did you invest all those days/weeks/months (years?) into something only to throw it all away?

All of which belies the fact that we all know it's not only necessary, it is at times the only way out. There was a Micheal Douglas film some years back, Wonder Boys, in which he plays a writer. A famous writer, who has been laboring for years on his latest opus. Laboring and not going anywhere, which as you might expect has not left him in the happiest of moods about writing in general. Ignoring the merits of the film - though I liked it - it stands out for me because of a scene, near the end, where this manuscript he's been working on for years is suddenly, literally, thrown to the wind, with hundreds of pages flying everywhere.

(This was the year 2000, when it was perhaps more conceivable that a manuscript would be in paper only format. I suppose there are still some writers out there who work that way, but I also suspect most of us would view such a scene and ask "why didn't he just save a back-up copy?")

The manuscript, as overblown, tiresome, and voluminous as it had become, was lost, leaving him with no choice but to start over. One jump cut later, we see him typing away on the final pages of his new, much shorter - and presumably much better - manuscript. More importantly, he seems happy again with the writing process, thus ending that part of the movie on a high note. (There's a great deal of other material to the plot, so this is hardly a spoiler if you haven't seen the film.)

Most of us will not have such a divine intervention. Any windstorm strong enough to blow away my laptop is going to leave me with far larger problems. Yet it needs to be noted there is nothing stopping me - or any other writer in a similarly stuck vein - from being our own winds of renewal. I rarely completely delete something, because you never know when you might want to mine that dusty idea for new inspiration, or those few gems buried in the dull dirt of the rest of your prose. However, this is not to say I cannot start over, that I cannot, instead of staring at the same text that has vexed me for days/weeks/months (years?) call up a new document, a blank slate, and take those initial ideas that I found so exciting back in the beginning for a brand new spin on a brand new surface.

Because sometimes, that's what it takes.

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