It's the start of a new year and what better way to start than talking about regret. Sure, I could use the start of the new decade to look at the good that I've experienced. Perhaps I could project myself into the future half a year and consider the achievements I will have in place by then. But no, instead the topic most strongly on my mind is that of regret.
Let's just focus on regret in relation to our writing.
When it comes to regret, there seem to be two primary kinds which afflict us. Each of these have a thousand different nuances as befit their situations but then can be broken down into the actions you took and the actions you failed to take.
We all know a thousand sayings – "You miss 100% of the shots you don't take." We know that action is better than non-action, so I'm not interested in that kind of regret. Missing out is a painful experience, so much so that we're told again and again that we need to chase our dreams.
So if you have a manuscript, then pitch pitch pitch pitch that bitch. Get it in front of as many eyes as you can. What's the worst that happens? A publisher/editor tells you to fuck off? Who cares when you're already pitching it to the next one.
But that second kind of regret is more complicated. Regretting the actions that you did take. You come to a crossroads: Two publishers are interested in publishing your manuscript and now you need to decide who will get it. You go left and it the launch is botched and the book rots on the charts. So you start to think about what would have happened if you went to the right instead.
This kind of regret is much harder to come to terms with. You have to reframe your understanding of the event. Rather than looking at your selection as a mistake, you need to look at the experience as a lesson. You learned about which publishers to work with. You learned how not to do a launch, which means you improved your ability to launch future books. There is still a lot to be learned even when this happened.
There is also a third kind of regret, however. This comes out when the choices you made lead you into being unable to take an action, combing the two kinds of regret into one. There's a perfect example of this from Cronenberg's The Dead Zone. (1983) Johnny is asked to stay the night with Sarah. He decides to go home, gets in a car crash and ends up in a coma for several years. When he comes out, Sarah is now a married mother. His action to leave cost him all his future actions.
The Dead Zone manages to mine this regret for one of the most painful cinematic moments of all time. Sarah arrives to Johnny's house one day and they have dinner, share the night (and a kiss) and experience, for one fleeting afternoon, what it would have been like if they had ended up with each other.
What The Dead Zone does with this scene is walk down the painful road of visualizing that mental "What If...?" that every writer (every damned person) with this kind of regret has experienced.
But the problem with regrets of this kind is that you can't see them until afterwards. You only lost out because you had to make a choice. IF you don't make a choice to chase your dreams, you will find regrets. If you are too scared of making the wrong choice, then you are far more likely not to make that choice again. Look at every writer who has gotten back a rejection letter/email and then never pitched that project again. The regret at what could have been but wasn't prevents the actions necessary to keep chasing after what is desired.
This was more for me than you, dear writer, but I hope that maybe someone reading this found something they needed to hear.