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  • Mary Jane Nirdlinger

Changing my story.

Sixteen months ago, I started writing something that would change my story, but I didn't know it at the time. The pandemic had already changed everything. My oldest college-aged kid was back home, my high schooler was at home, and so was I. This was not the plan. I needed something to distract me from the endless fear-feed, so I dove into historical research for a "young adult historical fiction romance."


I'd never written a young adult novel, or a historical fiction work, or a romance, but we were all in uncharted waters, so why not? I had no schedule for this project, no expectations, and all our plans had gone to heck. I had nothing to lose.


What started as YAHFR turned into something that wasn't quite YA....or romance...but it was interesting. The historical fiction slowed me down, and all the craft skills I'd been honing over the past two years of my MFA program had time to come together while I figured out how exactly medical equipment was sterilized in the 1930s (thanks, youtube). There were constraints, but a new freedom to explore my writer's heart.


The story kept evolving, from young adult to adult, from a single timeline to two, and my characters grew in depth and complexity as I wrote and revised. It took about sixteen months and seven full revision before I reached a point when I could step back and feel it was ready to share with the world.


I don't know where this one will go, but I do know that no matter what its future as a book, it has been a huge gift to me as a writer. A few years ago, I could not have imagined spending this much time and attention on a single story. Those revisions were deep and time-consuming, but I could feel my fingers digging into my subconscious, unearthing unexpected words from the layers of everything I'd written before.


When I moved this past summer, I brought along dusty drafts of novels that will never see the light of day, old projects, and folders I hope still hold some potential. I suppose there was a time I would have looked at those pages as evidence that I'd never get it right, and tossed them out, but something's changed. They're my foundation. They're my 10,000 hours of intentional practice. They're my proof-of-effort. They're the evidence that when I dig in a new place, I'll eventually unearth gold.


The pandemic isn't over, but the kids are back in their schools and I'm (sort-of) back to the office.


I was dealing with a challenging interaction at work and felt like digging in my heels on principle. We'd invested a lot of time and money and effort in our "no." But while I was on the treadmill one morning, a small voice asked "what if you said yes, instead of no?" I didn't want to (as my loved ones can affirm, I can be a little stubborn) but the idea of yes was suddenly very tantalizing. Why not?


Yes, it was.


Life isn't as it once was, but we have moved into the next phase and I've started a new project. As I began mucking around in the idea, stirring the mud for clues, I found myself thinking "what about a mystery?" I don't know what exactly this project will grow into, but I am learning to hear the voice that whispers "wouldn't that be fun!?" and to whisper back, "yes, let's try."





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