We Can't Unchoose
Do you ever wonder what writers go through to keep all the details right in their WIP (work in progress)?
I thought I’d share this photo of a page that covers the genealogy of the Hastings family. I have five other charts like this, one for each major family in these last four Biscuit McKee mysteries.
I don’t know how clear this will be on your computer or phone or tablet, but there’s a note on the righthand side of this page that says, "Whoops! Baxter was only 4 years old in 1865!" I’ve had other mixups where someone was twelve the year he was supposed to be getting married. Or somebody else had already died five years before I show her interacting with her grandchild.
So far I’ve managed to correct each of these problems, but no matter how much charts help — they help only if the author pays attention to them.
In teaching the Memoirs class last Tuesday, I read something to my students from "Learning to Walk in the Dark" by Barbara Brown Taylor. She talked about people reaching a certain stage of their lives when they "live with the consequences of choices they cannot unchoose." I’ve had many of those moments in my life when I realized that the path I was on was one I’d plotted out for myself by the numerous choices I’d made throughout my life. I haven’t always been happy with where those paths led me.
"What I’m asking you to do," I told the memoirs class, "is to pick one of those choices you can not now unchoose. Then go deeper." You see, there’s no need to dwell on the anguish that might have resulted or on what appears to be a dead end you’ve gotten yourself into. "Tell us about what you learned from the experience," I told them. "Tell us the rich lesson that awaited you there at the end of that path."
Just like my genealogy chart, though, we may not see the lesson unless we look for it.
Who was it who said, "The unexamined life is not worth living"? Socrates, you say? Thank you. I thought so.
Now, for a writer who simply writes the wrong character at the wrong age or the wrong place in the story, it’s a simple job of editing out the mistakes or correcting the timeline. I take that back. It may not be a simple process at all. But at least it can be done.
The "choices we can’t unchoose," though, the ones we make in life (as opposed to those in a book draft) need a different approach. Perhaps we could embrace them, so that they no longer frighten us. Perhaps we can welcome these lessons, hard as they may seem.
It’s worth thinking about, wouldn’t you say?