3 years ago I graduated from college (holy cow I’m old) and Andy and I moved in together. Our condo came with all the necessary appliances, including a nice Maytag refrigerator. The unit was pretty standard: ivory white, vertical doors, with the refrigeration side on the right, freezer and ice/water dispenser on the left.
We put a lot into that fridge. Milk, cheese, fruits, veggies, ice cream, pot pie, leftovers, etc. And of course we took quite a bit out again too. Some of the stuff, we forgot about, and over time it grew moldy, became inedible. Every now and then we would purge the fridge of these horrors, then re-stock it with fresh new goodies.
One day, for no apparent reason, the ice/water dispenser decided to stop dispensing. We Googled for help, and even paid $15 to chat live with a serviceman, who instructed us on how to take the dispenser out of the door, fiddle with the wires, etc. Nothing worked. So we shrugged our shoulders and bought a purifying water pitcher to use instead. Life went on.
Fast forward 1 year.
Last week, a small windstorm knocked out power in our neighborhood. When the power was restored a few hours later, we went around to reset all the clocks. As I walked into the kitchen to set the microwave and oven, I noticed two strange little lights on our refrigerator door. The ice/water dispenser had come back to life!
In case you hadn’t figured it out by now, this is not only a true story, it’s a metaphor. As writers, we fill up our manuscript with words and ideas. Sometimes they get old and moldy before we can put them to use. Sometimes they keep for years. And sometimes part of the manuscript just stops working. You can hire someone to try and repair it, or jiggle the wires and hope for the best. Or you can accept that it’s broken and walk away. Find an alternative. Maybe work on a different manuscript altogether. Then one day, when you least expect it, maybe a light will come on, and your original manuscript will start working again.
I started my first novel, The Good Daughters, 6 years ago. I put it aside 2 years ago, when I realized that in spite of the great characters, themes, and prose that it contained, the story wasn’t working. The plot was broken. Then a couple weeks ago, a light came on in my head. Without consciously trying to, I had figured out the perfect plot to dispense my story. The Good Daughters works again.
My guess is that this metaphor applies to a lot more in life than just writing. To be clear, it’s not about “magic” solutions to your problems, or waiting for things to happen for you. It’s about not trying to force something to work before it’s ready. Because maybe it’s really you that isn’t ready. Maybe your brain is trying to figure something out but you’re getting in the way. Or maybe your mind just needs a little time and a little space, a little spark or a little storm, to jolt it back on the right track.
Or maybe I’m just overextending the metaphor because I’m so shocked by my dispenser’s miraculous revival…
Either way, would you like some ice? I can get it for you from my fridge.