The Reset Button (An Imperfect and Overly Parenthetical Metaphor)

7 12 2010

Most of us have had these kinds of situations come up in our professional or personal lives: we are working on our computer, minding our own business, and then the screen freezes, or you get an error message, or windows start popping up everywhere on your desktop nonstop, or something starts smoking somewhere inside your laptop. (Okay, maybe that last one doesn’t happen all that often … at least, I hope not.) What do we do? We call tech support if that is an option, or those of you who (unlike me) know something about the detailed internal workings of a computer would start trying to diagnose and fix the problem.
Time after time, tech call after tech call, I usually obtain some variation of the same answer: reset, or turn off, or even unplug. Then we start the machine up again. More often than not, this solves the problem.
So, why am I rambling on about tech stuff I really have no real understanding about? Well, because I think there’s an application of this to our writing lives, or at least there is for mine. (I hate to generalize because I can’t really say what will work for you — I’m still working on understanding what works for me!)
Every now and then we (I’m using the proverbial “we” here, but feel free to insert “I” if you want to because I’m speaking from personal experiences here) are working on a manuscript and get stuck, or write a scene with a character who may have died off fifty pages back but we forgot that (ahem) minor plot point, or lost track of what season it should be in the manuscript, or the details of a setting described earlier, or any number of other problems you find come up when working on a large-scale project such as a novel or even a lengthy short story or novella. Anyway, any number of things can pop up that freeze the writing process. What do you do?
I guess you could call tech support, but I don’t really think that will get you too far, unless another writer happens to answer the phone which is actually remarkably probable in a technical call center environment.  But, I can’t really recommend calling tech support or say that is a route I’ve ever tried. At least not yet…
Here’s what works for me: I hit reset. Sometimes this involves lighting the old manuscript on fire and then dancing around it naked while drinking wine in a bacchanalian fit of ecstasy (most unlikely for yours truly – after all, I prefer beer to wine); sometimes (more likely) it involves shelving the project; but for me, it usually (most likely) involves going back to the beginning, or at least an earlier part of the story, and starting a rewrite from that point forward.
As manuscripts grow, they inevitably change (at least they do for me) away from the initial vision written out and outlined or scrawled in the random pile of post-it notes cluttering your sock drawer. You have two choices: resist the changes or accept them. I prefer to accept them. Writing is an extremely organic process for me. I usually have a vague notion of where I’m going, but no idea how to get there (and, for me, getting there is the fun part).  Most of the time, what stops progress is related to my manuscript shifting in some way. Sometimes it is a matter as minor as forgetting the season and having to write in a different date or seasonal indicator (such as leaves suddenly becoming fall colors in the middle of June), or sometimes, unfortunately, it can be as major as realizing that a story is told from the wrong character’s perspective which could require an extensive rewrite. Either way, no matter the problem, resetting and revising can usually get the manuscript working again. Sometimes, like I said earlier, it must go on the shelf, but even then the idea is there waiting to be turned back on. Who knows? Maybe it will work for you after spending a little time away? This has worked for me on a few occasions.
I find most of the technical problems I have with my manuscripts — much like the problems I have with computers — can be solved simply by hitting reset.




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