Martin Luther King once said; Take the first step in faith. You don’t have to see the whole staircase, just take the first step. By taking the first step upward we are at least on our way toward someplace more elevated than the place from which we stand idly.
Likewise, in the 1970’s song; We’ve only Just begun, The Carpenters sang these lyrics:
Before the risin’ sun, we fly
So many roads to choose
We’ll start out walkin’ and learn to run
(And yes, we’ve just begun)
By taking the first step, we start something. We head in a direction. We begin. But, what if after we start our ascent we realize we made a mistake. We miscounted a step, or we misjudged our footing, and slipped. Or, perhaps we realize as we stand at the precipice of recognition, this is not the right staircase for us at all. We should be climbing a different staircase that leads to some other destination.
Moreover, in the 1965 song; Turn, Turn, Turn, the BYRDS sang about turning back to see how we have done and consequently, in recognizing our mistake -if we made one, or where we slipped, they tell us it is not too late to change our direction. There is always time and opportunity to try again.
A time to gain, a time to lose
A time to rend, a time to sew
A time for love, a time for hate
A time for peace, I swear it’s not too late
To everything, TURN, TURN, TURN, There is a season, TURN, TURN, TURN, and a time to every purpose, under Heaven.
We are not required to continue our trek up the same staircase if we realize it is not the one we should have chosen, and in fact, it is more than okay to turn back and start over.
Whether we are looking to start a new relationship, or launch a new job or career, begin a new life in a different town or in a new school, or embark upon the next season of our life, it takes courage and determination to close one door before we are able to open another one and start over.
It is the same in writing as in life and vice versa.
We get halfway through our story, and something happens. That something does not feel right anymore. Our story lost its momentum. The characters no longer tug at our heartstrings they way they did through the beginning chapters, and suddenly we no longer know where we are headed; the destination upon which we were once focused has faded from our view.
In other words, our plane has run out of fuel and it is about to take a long, slow nose- dive into nowhere. Unless we can find a way to refuel.
In “When It’s Time to Start over”, Author Ruthanne Reid writes about her own experience in recognizing the need to start over from scratch;
I couldn’t just give up on the book. This book contains too much of my soul; it couldn’t just become a trunk novel. I had to find a way to finish it. So last week, I did something insane and bold and also boldly insane: I started over from scratch and wrote it fresh from page one.
I share this long and rambling tale to help you out. There will come a time when something you’ve been working on forever needs to be put aside and started from scratch.
Often, we have become immersed in our story, or in our life situation, so deeply that we have a hard time identifying, or accepting that it is time to give up on what is not working. We may feel comfortable, safe, or too invested in our current circumstance or story, despite feeling deep down that the narrative, the relationship, the person, or the situation is no longer good for us, that it has no place in our future. Yet- ironically, the more we direct our energy toward the something, or the story that is not working, the more doubtful or lost we become.
What we tend to focus on expands, especially if it is negative, no longer working or not good for us.
If we spend our energy trying to revive something that is not working- only because of the time and energy we have already invested, we expand upon our disappointment, anxiety and impending failure. Its like trying to fix a recipe after we have already added the wrong ingredients. Nothing we can do at that point will make it taste right.
It is time to throw out the bad batch and start over.
Similarly, how many of us start a new diet and then, after falling off the wagon we give up because of our slip up. Rather than focusing on the added weight we gained or the dessert we regret eating, we should instead, redirect our focus from where we went wrong to what we need to do right; to eat better, to exercise and to drink more water.
Expand upon the positive, upon the goal at the top of the staircase, and throw away what does not work.
Ruthanne Reid further provides us with food for thought with these questions;
Do you keep trying to write more from a specific point, only to find the new stuff just isn’t right and has to be abandoned?
Do you keep editing and editing and editing the old stuff?
Does the beginning thrill you, but no matter how long you’ve been working at it, you just can’t find your way to the end?
Have you been working on the same !@#$#^ book for more than a year?
Then you, my friend, need a fresh start.
Like emptying our closet of our outdated clothes that no longer fit, it is time to take a deep breath and throw out what does not work. Whether it is the manuscript upon which we’ve spent months writing, or the relationship we thought would remain permanent, our second, third or seventh draft or attempt toward our objective, or a bad habit or lifestyle, it is time to discard what does not work and start over.
Kimberly Key, in Psychology Today’s “ Tips for starting over and rebooting your life”, says:
the squeaky wheel gets the oil, the problem will get the energy, which only serves to reinforce the rumination. They key is to focus on the opposing force of the problem -the solution.
Her suggestion is a reminder of the idea that the same recurring themes show up everywhere; in stories, situations and places, (and in my blogs!), expanded upon from and to varying perspectives. Closing one door to open a new one requires opening oneself to change and metamorphosis, while adhering to the basic rules and themes of life that our heavenly father put in place for us.
To further illustrate Key’s point to focus on the solution, rather than on the problem, she uses the seven deadly life sins of pride, envy, sloth, greed, anger, gluttony, and lust in her message, like pointing to themes in our writing;
Numerous stories throughout time teach caution about succumbing to these behaviors. The message is reinforced to us at a young age by parents, teachers, books, and the media. For instance, recall Star Wars, episode 3, where Anakin Skywalker transforms into Darth Vader after allowing fear, envy, anger, and pride to mask his heart and intuition. In the episode, Yoda warns Anakin not to focus on the dark side of the force.
Like Darth Vader, human beings focus on the dark side of the force much of the time.
Rather than focus on our weakness or mistake and flounder there with it as it drags us further down, writers must confront the story that is not working, just as individuals must face the relationship that is failing, or the situation that is holding them back, head on.
In “ On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft”, Stephen King, tells aspiring writers to;
Kill your darlings, kill your darlings, even when it breaks your egocentric little scribbler’s heart, kill your darlings.
By courageously discarding what no longer works, we gain the opportunity to pursue and potentially fulfill the hopes and dreams we deserve, or write the book we were meant to write. By cutting the strings, we free ourselves to rise higher, to reach a place far better than the place from which we have held ourselves prisoner.
Letting go of what is not working frees us to write our better story.
I don’t know about anyone else, but whenever my computer freezes, or I have any type of technical issue, the first instruction I’m given by my IT guy is to turn the computer completely off, before rebooting.
Like we must do with the computer that stopped working, the recipe that failed, the story that fizzled, the relationship that hurts us, or the situation holding us back from becoming our better self, we must shut whatever is not working down. Throw it away. Change direction. Turn, turn , turn…
Consequently, when we do reboot, we will be able to start over from scratch with the right words, the better or best words; the words that were always meant to be to begin with.