When You Practice What You Preach

June 21st, 2016

A Non-Preachy Post

“Sometimes,” I say to kids when I’m speaking at their schools, “if you turn a question on its head, you find answers.”
Today, I found answers.

For years now—not consistently; actually way more off than on and nearly always when I’m between writing projects—I’ve flirted with finally doing justice to a story idea I first toyed with 25 years ago. Maybe 30. The story centers around a girl on the cusp of her 10th birthday and some strange goings-on in her neighborhood. There were elements I liked including the climactic scene, one woman who lived up the street, and several specific facts. But trying to get these pieces to play nicely has been like herding very boring cats.

The question I’d been asking all these years was this: How can I revise the original story to make it live up to its promise?Walking

Then came this morning’s walk. Something—I wish I knew what—had me thinking differently. What if I stopped focusing on the facts that lead to the climactic scene? What if I stopped focusing on the woman? In short…

What if I put aside everything I’ve always thought this story would be and focus on the girl telling it?

Yeah. Not so novel an idea. Hey. I’ve even spun that question with other books. But in this circumstance? It was like a shiny, new object. And I followed it to an aha! moment: I’d fallen in love with the adult-neighbor character and not with the girl. In fact, she was a total stranger to me.

In 10 minutes, my mind was swimming with answers that had eluded me for decades. And now I need to stop and apologize. No, this post will not end in a fully satisfying way for you. I will not tell you the one word that came to me as I realized who this girl is. She did come with a name. An odd one. I’ll be thinking about Burdy for the rest of the summer. And if I continue asking the right questions, there’s that chance I’ll fall in love with her for years to come.


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