Writing Out My Regrets

A couple of days ago I went to brunch for my birthday with a dear friend that I have known since college. As we were walking back to her house, she says, “If I could go back in time and give myself advice, I know exactly when I’d go.” This is probably something that we have all thought about. I know exactly what time I would go back to, and I know exactly what I’d tell myself. For many years, I had only one time. I made a huge mistake in 2001 that jeopardized my relationship with my friends and family and ruptured my faith in myself. If I could go back and correct it, I would jump at the opportunity.

Since 2001, my list of regrettable events has slowly grown. I haven’t made the same mistake, nor any quite as severe, but gradually, the blunders have stacked up. They have become blemishes on my life that I sincerely wished to erase.

Later that evening, as I was driving from Los Angeles back to San Diego, I listened to a TED Radio Hour podcast. Low and behold, it was about regret: what is regret; why we regret; the effect of regret on the psyche, etc. So much of the talk was about learning from our past and forgiving ourselves for our mistakes. It rang with the hope that one day  the pangs of guilt and the aches of sadness will subside.

One thing I hadn’t really considered, though, was using my own regretful situations as inspiration for my writing. Sure, we all make mistakes and we mostly write from our own experiences. But what about writing about the doozies. The huge mistakes. The life-changing, fear-inspiring, heart-aching foul ups? What about telling stories about the things that we really never want to think about, let alone speak about? Could I potentially immortalize an event that has taken years of therapy to process?

It seems a daunting task, and if I’m honest, I’m not sure that I will. However, writing about it, even fictionally, may be rewarding in some way. This thing that took over my life for a while could actually serve some positive, productive purpose. It may bring usefulness and meaning to a time that feels hollow. It could erase, or at the very least, ease my regret. Somehow facing my gloomy past could turn me into a better writer – a courageous storyteller.

Now that is something to consider.

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Chapter 2 is DONE!!!!!

A few weeks ago I finished Chapter 2. I have bitched and moaned about this chapter for as long as I have been working on this book, and then one day, it just wrapped itself up. Admittedly, it was a little anticlimactic, given the hell I went through. Maybe that’s why I didn’t post this blog until now. But today, I feel like it was worth it.

I’m now working on the final chapter of the book. It feels a lot like chapter 2, but I know it’s just because I don’t have a clear picture of where I want to take my characters. When in doubt, return to the basics. I have relented and decided to outline the chapter in full. It’s what I should have done from the beginning, but alas…

Wish me luck.

The Shoemaker’s Wife

Cover art for Trigiani’s novel.

Writers are readers, and I love a good book. I decided to read Adriana Trigiani’s latest novel The Shoemaker’s Wife simply because it is historical fiction, and (ta-da) I’m writing an historical fiction novel as well. The book is the love story of two young Italians – Ciro, a poor orphan boy raised by nuns, and Enza, a young girl determined to keep her family together.

As I sit here writing about this blog, I’m finding myself at a loss for words (which hardly ever happens to me!) I liked the book. I read it as a tool to sharpen my own writing, which I think it did. Usually, when I read for that purpose, I find myself lost in the story and the emotion of being invited into the lives of the characters. I can’t say that happened too often in this book. By all means, Trigiani is a talented writer and a deft storyteller. The characters were likable, and the setting, both in Italy and America, proved to be ripe with opportunity and adventure. In fact, I wish I could say that I loved this book, and not just because I paid full hard cover price to receive it the day it came out, but I didn’t . I liked it.

What was most valuable about the book, though, was feeling a kinship with Trigiani. She appeared on a morning show to publicize the book and spoke about the process of writing it, and how long it took her. After reading the book, and seeing all the detail she poured into it, I understand why it took her so long. Everything has to be researched. What were the fashions then? How did one travel? What technology existed? What edifices? What medical treatments were available? What streets existed? What was the nature of industry then? So often I spend my days researching even the smallest thing. Can my character say that? How do they travel? What were the politics of that time? Is it a phrase based on something that came about much later. I think about my friend’s mother who wrote a story that took place during slavery. Her publisher immediately sent back the manuscript and told her to take out every “okay” because that phrase wouldn’t come about until much, much later.

I came away from this book with a healthy respect for Trigiani’s work, and a reassurance that my novel, though slow-going, can be completed with historical accuracy.

Literary License

I have posted on more than one occasion how much I hate Chapter 2 of my book. The fact that I am still posting about this particular chapter after many, many, many months speaks to my unique level of aversion. I’m aware that I shouldn’t feel like this about any chapter I’m writing, and in fact, seriously considered throwing it out all together. I brainstormed on creating different characters and pushing them through different trials, but inevitably, the truth came out. It wasn’t about the characters.

It was about me. I don’t hate myself. Not today anyway.

I was uncomfortable with the character because he is Judas. I have a pretty staunch religious background, and while I am not currently practicing, it still made me uncomfortable to play around with religious cannon.

I called my mentor to ask him about it, and he joked that I was going to hell. But in the end, it comes down to literary license. What that means in the eyes of God, who knows. I’m not turning Judas into a saint, but I’m not painting him as unforgivable either. I want to humanize him.

This chapter is indicative of much of the reconciliation I have had to make in my life. Gay and Christian (and Democrat). Do the three have to be mutually exclusive? This chapter became a symbol of my struggles over the last decade. (And here I thought I was just writing a novel.)

I had a productive conversation with a friend, and she made me feel much more comfortable with the chapter, which I hope will help me to move through it more smoothly. Opening up my black and white perception of individuals in the Bible, including Judas, and allowing for their humanity to be seen (or my interpretation of their humanity) has only helped me to understand myself better. I know that sounds cheesy, but with everything we write, we should learn a little bit more about ourselves. After all, we can only write what we know – even when it’s fiction – so seeing a piece of me in this character I’m creating is not wholly evil.

The point is, I am working on the chapter now, and hopefully it will be a little easier.

Using Storyist

For a while, I have been using Storyist to write my novel. I had been looking for a novel-writing equivalent to Final Draft. Storyist has been a near perfect fit. It allows you to break your book up into chapters and sections, which is immensely helpful. There are only five chapters in my book, but they are long, some over 60 pages, and are broken down into multiple sections. Storyist allows me to navigate between chapters and sections with only a click of a button. If Storyist provided no other function, that alone would be worth it for me.

Just a few days ago, though, I was going through Chapter 5, and became frustrated as usual. And then I asked myself the fundamental question to telling any story: Whose story is it? The lightbulb went off, I promptly kicked myself, and realized that I was telling the story from the wrong perspective. I decided to move the sections around. When I bought the program, I didn’t know that it had a notecard view that allows you to take a look at your sections within a chapter and move them around. I didn’t have to cut and paste and scroll. All I had to do was move the notecards, and Storyist moved the sections around within the story.

I don’t mind sounding like a commercial for the program. I love it. It’s a valuable tool. You can create character sheets describing your characters and include pictures of them; location sheets allow you to include diagrams and important information about the places you’re writing about (which was great for me since my book is historical fiction. Lots of places that I had to research and I can keep all that info in one place); not to mention section and plot sheets that allow you to create detailed outlines of your story.

The only shortcoming I find is the spelling and grammar check. It is not as sophisticated as Word or Final Draft, and if there is a way to make the spell check learn words, I have not found it.

That being said, Storyist is worth the $60. And since it’s downloadable on their site, you don’t even have to get up and go to the store to get it (who does that anymore?) or wait for it to be delivered.

You will be happy to know (or not) that Chapter 5 is flowing much better now. One day, I may actually finish this novel. I already have the idea for my next one…