Prompt #55: New Beginnings
My brother-in-law is an actor, and you would probably recognize him if I included a link or a photo, but I’m guessing he wouldn’t like that very much, so I’ll keep you guessing for now. He’s going to be 86 this year and hasn’t acted in a some time, but he has recently taken up writing, proving that it’s never too late to start something new (and it really isn’t ever too late—another friend of mine published his first novel at age 85. You can read about that here).
My formerly public brother-in-law has become very private, and he will not let anyone read his work, including his wife, my sister, but he knows I work with students and mentor and coach writers, so he sent me a few short pieces, asking for my feedback. I know he doesn’t really like feedback, but he asked me, so I decided I would do what he asked for, even if it might mean he doesn’t speak to me for a while. In one of his pieces, the whole first paragraph seemed like throat-clearing, so I drew a big, fat X across it (making the piece significantly better, of course). And I am happy to say he took it well.
We all do that sometimes, the throat clearing with beginnings; we say this and that and the other (all superfluous) before we get to what we really want to say. What we need to say. I would encourage you to stop reading this right now (but please come back for the actual prompt) and have a look at some of the beginnings you have written that aren’t yet working. Can you cut a sentence, a paragraph, a page, a chapter, 100 pages? If you can cut it, then do so. It will make the piece better. I promise.
After you have gone and butchered your beginnings and returned, I would like you to think about the things you have started later in life than the usual? Writing a novel at 85? Mountain biking at 50? Skiing at 40? Pole dancing at 35? Ballet at 25? Learning to swim at 15?
And what might you like to start but believe (incorrectly, I assure you) that you are too old? My friend Rebecca Makkai (I have recommended her books here before and now I am recommending her Substack newsletter here) is writing a new novel that includes skiing, but she’s never skied before. She asked me if she should learn to ski now (she’s 40-something). Of course she should, I said. She just took her first ski lesson this past week.
For this writing exercise, we’re going to write about something we started or began very late in life (or later than usual). OR we’re going to write about something we would like to begin but have been too scared to do it, because we believe (incorrectly) we missed the chance. Here’s a secret: