So a few weeks ago I made a belated new year’s resolution: I was going to stop regretting the mistakes I’ve made over the years. And not for the reason you think. I resolved to do this because my embarrassment and regret over my mistakes has holding back my writing.
For instance, I’ve been working on a story about two kids during the Warsaw Uprising in 1944. Basically its a coming of age story, two young teenagers trying to sort out confusing new emotions and feelings while at the same time trying to survive one of the worst atrocities (aside from the Holocaust itself, of course) of World War II. So what does this have to do with my own mistakes? Well in keeping with the old writing mantra of “write what you kn0w” I’m drawing on my own experiences in order to write the about relationship between the two. Obviously I wasn’t in Warsaw in 1944, but I was a thirteen year old boy with hormones frying my brain just as effectively as streamlining heroin and completely infatuated with a girl I knew.
So that’s great right? I mean if I can draw on real life events to make my story more believable, so much the better! Well this is where my misplaced shame and embarrassment come in.
You see, things didn’t exactly go well with that girl.It actually started out fine, trading emails and we even hung out a few times, but over time things got worse. I started proclaiming my undying love for her in emails, calling her excessively, and generally acting like a complete maniac. Understandably she politely told me to stop contacting her. I…uh…didn’t react well to that, and decided that I just needed to profess my undying love some more, because clearly she wasn’t getting the message. Eventually it got so ugly that her parents had to move in as a screening force before it finally ended. One of the most embarrassing events in my life.
In my defense not only was I being savaged by an angry army of hormones, but I was also suffering from depression that was only getting worse.
So what does any of this have to do with my writing?
Well, dragging this back on point to the young boy in Warsaw, while the circumstances are drastically different, the emotional and mental aspects of their relationship aren’t all that dissimilar from my own experience. The problem being that I started feeling so embarrassed about that incident, that I did everything in my power to make sure that boy in the story didn’t have to go through the same thing. So in the first draft that I completed, everything went so well that the two were practically married by the time the story was finished, and the whole city burning down around them was just a minor inconvenience for them. When I set the story aside and read it again a few weeks later, I found myself bored reading my own damn story. It had no teeth, it never felt like the kids were in any real danger despite the Nazi’s burning the city block by block, and worst of all, their relationship didn’t feel real. Without the heartache, without having problems for them to overcome, and without the danger of death lurking around every corner, the whole story was flat, and uninteresting. Like I wrote to Hali two weeks ago, the setbacks and failures in life define who we are just as much as our successes. That first draft descended into cybernetic oblivion.
Now a small part of the problem stems from my actually liking my characters and wanting them to do well (which I’ll be talking about more in detail next week), but the bigger problem is that as much as I tell myself that everyone makes stupid mistakes, I feel like if the main character of my story makes the same mistakes I did then the reader is going to lose all sympathy for him. Yet people still love the story of Romeo and Juliette despite the fact they act even stupider than I did (I mean holy crap, couldn’t you have just eloped!? What’s with all the poisons and daggers!)
I was young and stupid, like most thirteen year-old boys, and truthfully nothing I did was really all that bad. I didn’t go on a school shooting, or hang myself, or stalk her through the streets in a white windowless van. It was just a case of puppy love that ended badly. I should give myself a break, right?
Absolutely I should, and now I’m going to have to force myself to do it. Half the trouble in writing my book It’s Always a Sunny Day is the fact that most of the time I’m struggling to keep from censoring myself, trying to filter out all the stupid things I did and making myself look like a teen prodigy rather than the barely functional neurotic teenager I really was. Once I can get past my mistakes, and look at them as a learning experience rather than as black marks in that big report card in the sky, my writing and I will be better for it.