Waste not, fun naught


I hate waste.  Unless food is pretty much inedible, I will clean my plate.  I hang on to old clothes, especially if they have sentimental value, because I figure someday I’ll make a quilt out of them.  It doesn’t matter that I don’t really know how to sew.  My parents raised me to work hard and squeeze penny until it screams.

Then Kris and Dean taught me to write fast.  So I pounded out my second mystery novel, 60,000 words.  But when I read it later, I realized it needed more of a plot, setting, and maybe more character and emotion–yes, just about everything.  I said to myself, “What’s at the heart of this novel?  A mother wants justice after her daughter is killed in a hit-and-run accident.  Plus one of my favourite themes, a love triangle.  Okay.”

I basically had to throw away the 60K and redo it from scratch, with just those ideas.  Another 75,000 words while taking care of our infant son, getting up every night to breastfeed, going back to work in emergency medicine, and my dad getting diagnosed with aggressive brain cancer.

I finished it, but I was so burned out, I didn’t write anything mystery-related or plot-heavy for, mm, almost two years.  I wrote romances instead. Now, romance was probably an escape from my life.  But it also curdled my milk to think of 60,000 mystery words gone to waste.  Sixty thousand!  You wouldn’t throw away 60,000 dollars, right?  So why throw away 60,000 words?

After a week-long tutorial with Kris, I realized that one of my psychological hang-ups was this waste.  I don’t mind putting in the writing time, but I would like to get paid for every word.  Every scrap becomes a poem, every paragraph gets knitted into a short story or novel and in the end, everyone fawns over me and gives me money for my work.  Sounds good, right?

Kris just looked at me.  “It’s practice.  You don’t think you’ve wasted time in medical school, learning with patients, do you?”

I had to think about that.  Sure, I’m grateful to all those patients who let me practice on them.  But if I could’ve just started practicing competently and making money at it instead of paying $8000 tuition, I’d take that.

I tried to come up with an example of practice not being a waste and what finally made sense to me was yoga.  I don’t usually have a specific goal when I do yoga.  I do it because it makes me feel good, because it’s like a physical form of prayer.  Yes, I grow more flexible and incrementally more strong, but I love the mental space it delivers to me.

I also realized that my parents had raised me to save, save, save.  Save money.  You’ll need that for university, for retirement, for the next generation.  Save your old clothes.  Everything comes back into fashion and you might get anorexia and fit into your jeans from middle school.

This served me well for most of my life.  I saved my money religiously.  We own our house and cars outright.  I don’t have student loans even though the government deregulated tuition when I was in the middle of medical school.  And so on.

But I didn’t have fun.  And I was afraid waste those potential money-making words.

So I’m slowly learning to let go.  The words come out.  I create new worlds, new people, new languages.  I may get paid or not.  But I try to have fun, even if I can’t monetize that phrase or even an entire novel or twelve.

Fun.  What a concept.

Copyright Melissa Yuan-Innes, 2010