How to Edit Old Story Ideas: The Delete Key Is Not Your Friend

About six years ago, maybe more, I started writing a short story about a retail cashier dealing with the back-to-school rush at her store. Yeah, that was inspired by my own time in hell, er, retail, which was especially awful during back-to-school because the store was flooded with bratty kids trashing the store.

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t have a problem with kids. I have a problem with parents who refuse the discipline their kids. When I was little, if I pulled something off a shelf in a store, my parents told me to put it back, where it went, and neatly, because it wasn’t fair to leave a mess for someone else. And then they stood there and made sure I did it. Probably one of the few things they were right about, and that’s a very short list.

So, fast forward to when I’m an adult and working in a store, and I discover parents today don’t seem to teach this shit to their kids. Maybe a few do, but the majority that visited my place of employment didn’t. So I had to always put shit back so as not to inconvenience a cashier, but when I grew up and became a cashier, no one returned the fucking favor. Meanwhile, the parents did manage to find time to yell at me about things I had no control over, like the store being out of stock of something they wanted, or prices not being cheap enough, or limits on the really cheaply-priced items because they had ten kids and six erasers at the deep-discount price wouldn’t cut it, and somehow it was all my fucking fault they couldn’t use a condom.

So to make myself feel better, I started a short story in which a bratty little kid at a store gets abducted by aliens while his mom yells at a cashier about something stupid. I never finished it, because I wasn’t really inspired to figure out what happened when the aliens got him up to their spaceship. I always thought it was a great scene and I’d come back to it later and finish it, but for a long time, I didn’t.

I wrote other stuff.  I wrote my first book, Stupid Humans, and I wrote other short stories. I kept thinking I’d use that half-finished story as a scene in something, but I never had an “Ah-ha!” moment where I found the right place for it.

One day, while contemplating the Aliens Abducting Annoying Assholes series I do here on my blog, I started thinking about all the former coworkers, bosses, and annoying customers I’d dealt with at work. Could one of them inspire the next piece of flash fiction?

Then I remembered my half-finished story and decided to find it, which involved digging out my old terabyte hard drive, hooking it up, and combing through hundreds of badly organized files trying to find the damn thing. Naturally, I had no idea what I’d named the file. I found all sorts of stuff, including a couple other unfinished stories I decided to save for future use, and a couple of trunked second drafts of first and second novels I wrote years ago. Definitely didn’t feel like dealing with that.

After about three hours, I managed to find the damn thing. Now, how to finish it? It occurred to me that having the kid abducted wasn’t really fair, since his mom was really the asshole in the story. Also, I had played with the idea of the cashier getting abducted, since I often fantasized about being beamed up into an alien spaceship when forced to toil in that miserable hellhole. If the aliens couldn’t take my damn customers, maybe they could get me off this damn rock?

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But I still didn’t know what the aliens wanted, and I’d already written a story about an alien abduction from a busy store, so I wanted to do something different. I’d always wanted to write a parallel universe story, so I decided to get rid of the aliens entirely, leave the annoying asshole customer at the register, and have the cashier sucked into a parallel universe.

Suddenly, I had lots of ideas. How could things be different in this other universe? What if no one over there ever decided the customer was always right? Ultimately, my short story turned into a next-novel start. I’m currently at about 28,000 words, and enjoying my custom-designed universe. (Who doesn’t want to be in charge of their own universe?)

A couple people in my writing group like to say you should never throw away anything you write, even if you think it’s awful, because you might re-purpose it someday. Me, I never throw anything away because I’m too lazy to find the file on my computer and delete it, but you get the idea. (I’m also too lazy to delete anything in my inbox, so I can pretty much find any email I’ve ever sent or received ever. Laziness is handy.)

All this thinking about parallel universes has made me ponder if there’s another universe where I decided to stick with the alien abduction story. I wonder how it turned out?

Aliens Abducting Annoying Assholes Taking Nominations

Do you know an annoying person (coworker, boss, neighbor, relative, whatever) you’d like to see beamed up into a spaceship? I can help. I mean, I can’t actually get the aliens to come pick them up, unfortunately—if I could, I’d be long gone from this rock. Sadly, despite my best efforts, the aliens have refused to talk to me. (The people at the Very Large Array did finally drop that pesky restraining order though, so maybe I’ll try again.) Anyway, I can’t get the aliens to abduct the annoying people in your life, but I can sure write a piece of flash fiction in which they get abducted by aliens.
Here at Stellar Sarcasm, I do a series of science fiction stories about alien abductions called Aliens Abducting Annoying Assholes. Here’s the deal: Message me here or on my Facebook page and tell me about a person you’d like to get abducted by aliens. Names will be changed to protect the guilty and me from lawsuits. When I’m not working on my next science fiction book, I will write a piece of flash fiction in which this person gets hauled off to another planet in a comical and satisfying way, and post it here on my blog.

 

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