A raging fire destroying a house
Burn, baby. Burn! Photo by Dave Hoefler (unsplash.com).

Back to Formula

Sometimes you can edit a piece of writing to death. Don’t believe me? Take Tex-Mex at Chico’s for example. What’s that? You’ve never heard of it? Despite containing roughly 4,500 words and being drafted back in 2010, Tex-Mex is still unpublished. I was in college when I started writing it. That was twelve years ago!

I recall the first draft being rushed. My friend Andrew and another classmate helped me collate pages from the printer and staple them together. The ink had scarcely dried as I handed out copies for peer review. In particular, the story’s ending was abrupt. It felt tacked on because it was tacked on—about an hour before it was due. A fat, lazy paragraph summarized all of the loose ends. It wasn’t satisfying then. It’s still not satisfying now.

No matter how many times I edit the piece, I can’t imbue it with new life. I can’t edit my way around its structural problems or its lack of character development. The piece should be alive and vibrant, but it’s dead.

Whether you’re a writer or a window washer, your skills should improve over time. You pick up new tricks, develop your own style, etc. Tex-Mex is a mashup of my various “styles” from the intervening years. It’s been stitched together with bits and bobs. My decade-spanning edits have turned it into a Frankenstein’s monster.

What’s the solution? No more editing, for starters. Not on the piece as it stands. As Norman Osborn once said, I need to take the whole story “back to formula.” I won’t be happy—nor will anyone who reads it—until I burn the house down and rebuild from the ashes. If my commitment to the story was lackluster in 2010, how can I drum up enthusiasm now?

Starting over is painful. It’s embarrassing. Sometimes you’re bound to repeat the same mistakes. My friend Andrew—the same Andrew who helped hand out copies in class—recently encouraged me to keep working on the piece. I was resigned to let it fade into obscurity (or rather remain in obscurity) until he challenged me. Thanks a lot, Andrew. Now I’ll never finish my novel.

So yes, I’ve decided to tackle Tex-Mex at Chico’s one last time. Going back to formula means tossing out all of the additives and reevaluating the core ingredients. A new beginning is already drafted. For the first time, working on the piece feels interesting again. I think I know how to end it properly. I think I know how the protagonist needs to grow. Creative inspiration was the missing ingredient—the lightning bolt of life, if you will.

Tangentially, this reminds me of another piece I have yet to edit: Frankenstein in Love. It actually features Frankenstein’s monster but shouldn’t need as much remedial work. For now, I’ll wet your whistle with a synopsis for Tex-Mex at Chico’s (subject to change pending rewrites, naturally):

Soup hits the fan when truck driver John Dodger, who may or may not be inebriated, gets involved in a convenience store rip-off across the street from a restaurant named Chico’s.