Sunday, November 21, 2010

Don't Look Back...The Past Might Get You

I've been reminiscing a lot lately. I guess it's a bit strange to say that as I'm sure we all spend a good amount of time looking back. They say you shouldn't spend too much time looking backward, or you'll never move forward. But, sometimes, you can't help but look back and wonder how you got from point A to point B, and whether or not you should have done something differently.

We all have one. Whether you'll admit to it or not, you probably don't need to think that hard about it. That moment that you'd change if you could. That moment that you might do differently if you had a second chance. Mine is from my Junior year in high school. Probably mid-September. Soccer practice for the Varsity squad. Opposite foot kicking drills. I had spent the last three weeks impressing the coaches with my ability to contain attackers and get the ball back downfield in a hurry. I was going to make the squad and probably start in the first scrimmage of the season. For someone who had never really stood out in anything, this was a big me. So, we were wrapping up practice. Just one last good one with your left, Mulraney. So, I gave it all I had...and immediately regretted it. I pulled my hamstring. Three weeks later, I would eventually play in my first Varsity game. But, I never recovered from that setback. And, to this day, I can see the coach rolling me that last ball...and I wish I would have duffed it.

Not that I had a pro soccer career ahead of me, but it's one of those moments that I look back on and see as a turning point. Instead of being a confidence builder for me, it became something I could have been better at. I know...why hang on to a memory you can't change? Well, it's not like I think about it every night. It's just one that sticks out. It's like anything we remember vividly from the past. It's usually a memory steeped in emotion. Otherwise, we rely on others to remember for us. Luckily, I'm still very close with people from most parts of my life; grade school, high school, college, and early jobs. My buddy from grammar school never ceases to amaze me when he produces a story of us that I have no inkling of. But, that's how it goes.

I think this is why I enjoy being a writer so much. You see, we get to control everything about the story. And, though no one wants to read a story where everything turns out perfectly, we can certainly go back and recreate moments of triumph we might have missed out on in real life. We can say the right thing to that girl...instead of fumbling over our words. We can win the race, hoist the trophy, get the girl, etc. But, at the same time, we can expunge the demons of past failures by writing them out. The true value of past victories and failures (for a writer) is the emotion they stir and the memory of those feelings. If we can harness those emotions, we can easily translate them into good reading. Can I write about my failure on the soccer pitch? Sure...not that anyone really wants to hear about it. But, what about a character who 's on the verge of a breakthrough, only to fall short before he/she even gets a chance to shine? That kind of story line could be applied to a character in any given situation. Take it to the extreme and you have a life-changing event that has shaped and made your character who he/she is.

So, feel free to reminisce. Feel free to use those emotional memories for source material. You may never look back and find a book plot, but you may find useful little gems of life that can really bring a lot to your writing. Just don't get hung up on looking back. You've got a life to live and a book to write.

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