how to start over

How To Start From Scratch

I loved yoga, but it didn’t love me back.

It took me years to admit this. Hobbling around after a particularly grueling practice, I catalogued my injuries thus far: an L5 disc herniation, infraspinatus tendonitis, bilateral hip bursitis, and ulnar neuropathy. Clearly, all that twisting wasn’t exactly doing wonders for my health. But, while yoga didn’t help my body, it did change my life.
Week after week, I would sit in the locker room with women of all ages, shapes, and occupations. All of us equalized by ninety minutes of yoga in a kiln, drained and dripping with sweat. And I would stare at the sign placed prominently above the window.

“You’re never too old, never too bad, never too late and never too sick to start from the scratch once again.” ― Bikram Choudhury

Irony check: I was in fact too bad, too old, and too sick to continue yoga. But the sign nagged at me, stirring up something, a tiny sapling of a dream. A dream deferred maybe, but not yet explored. My dream of writing a book.

The writing bug had struck back in fourth grade, after publishing a horrendous poem called “The Mope” in the school paper. Yes, I remember every word. No, I won’t torture you with a reading. Fast forward twenty years or so, and I had finished one novel and abandoned several others. Fast forward ten more years, and I’d given up writing altogether. Why?

I had plenty of excuses, all well-illustrated by the Bikram sign.

Let’s start with number one: I was “too bad.” This point was driven home after I wrote my first book, a medical thriller. I loved my book. I sent it to fifty agents who did not love my book. So I sent it to fifty more. Which meant fifty more agents who did not love my book. After a hundred rejections, I sort of got the message: I just wasn’t good enough to get published.

Number two: I was “too old.” This excuse is simple enough, especially so long after my first failure. The mantra running inside my head went something like this. “I’m older now. My brain is too slow. My writing days are over.” And repeat. Believe me, if you say it enough times, you will eventually start to believe it.

And finally, number three: I was “too sick.” Substitute the word “tired” for sick here, and I think we can all relate. As a full-time neurologist with two kids, by the end of the day, I was tired. Damn tired. Time to start working on another chapter? Forget it. I still had to clean the kitchen and do some laundry. I barely had enough working brain cells to comprehend “Duck Dynasty,” let alone work on a book.

Put all these excuses together and you are left with the final admonition: “it is too late.” But sitting in the locker room, exhausted and sweaty, I stared at the sign and wondered. Was it really too late? Maybe Bikram was right. Maybe I could start from scratch again.

So I did.

How did I do it? As a doctor, I analyze patients’ symptoms all day. As the saying goes, “physician, heal thyself.” I did some self-examination. First off, I re-read my first novel and was horrified. Not because it was scary, mind you, but because it was terrible. And I mean, really terrible. Suffice it to say, a hundred agents weren’t wrong. So I got to work. I bought some books on writing, studied the craft, and dissected the mistakes from my first try. (Boring protagonist? Check. An overabundance of adverbs? Check. Clichéd villain? Check…) Then I analyzed the barriers to my writing. I am exhausted after a day at work and then a second shift at home. Instead of beating myself up over this, why not write in the morning? Before everyone else gets up, when the time is mine, and mine alone. This small change opened up a world. It gave me time not only to write, but to find myself. In a year, I had written a novel. One month later, I had an agent. Six months later, a book deal. Yes, I was going to be published.

I might never be the twistiest pretzel in yoga class. But, I still keep the words of Bikram in my mind. You’re never too old, never too bad, never too late, and never too sick…to follow your dreams.

Sandra A. Block (@block_sandra) graduated from college at Harvard, then returned to her native land of Buffalo, New York for medical training and never left. She is a practicing neurologist and proud Sabres fan, and lives at home with her husband, two children, and impetuous yellow lab Delilah. She has been published in both medical and poetry journals. Little Black Lies (Grand Central Publishing; Feb 17, 2015) is her first novel.

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