Thursday, July 27, 2006

All the Things I Should Have Said

By Nichole Giles

I have a bad habit. Whenever I have a confrontation with someone, or when I have avoided a confrontation I should have allowed, I stew for days. In the shower, the car, lying in bed at night, at the gym while I’m working out, I will go over and over in my mind the conversation as I think it should have happened. I think about my own reactions and why, and eventually the inevitable happens. Days later I come up with the perfect response to the thing I avoided or ignored. And I want to kick myself for not saying all the things I should have said.

The good news is, since I’m a writer I can still go back and say it. If I’m smart, and take a few minutes to write down the conversation as I heard it in my head, it will be well preserved for the characters in a future story. I love that! Never again will I have to stretch my knees into undesirable positions so I can put a shoe in my own behind for not saying something that needed to be said.

It can work the other way as well. Do you ever wish you could take back something you said? You didn’t really mean it, it came out wrong, or was taken wrong, or maybe you were just in a mood. But you find yourself with your foot in your mouth, wishing desperately that you could push the rewind button on life’s remote control and un-say that thing that just flew out of your mouth.

Okay, so maybe you can’t really take it back, but one of your characters can. This is your chance to fix all the mistakes your big mouth has made—or not made—for you. Write it down! Write it down! Find a napkin, or a post-it, or a gum wrapper if you’re desperate and write down that stupid thing you said—or the thing you wish you had said but didn’t.

As writers we have a rare opportunity to be someone else for a little while every day. When we climb out of our own head and into the head of our characters we get to leave behind all of our real-life mistakes, and go out into a fantasy world to make new, bigger, more life altering mistakes. What better way could a person rid their mouth of the taste of their own toes?

Next time you find yourself struck dumb and speechless by something you want to say and can’t, give it to your character and let them say it for you. And when you next find yourself in one of those inevitable foot-in-mouth situations, spit, smile, and write. You’ve just taught your character what not to say in the same situation.

There is probably no way to avoid confrontations that make us react in a way that is uncharacteristic of our normal selves. Too bad for us, we’re human. In the world of writers though, our own human traits become part of our characters. Maybe the characters in our stories will be able to project the person we all wish we could be.

PS. This knowledge is in no way a license to allow your mouth—or your fingers—to run amok among the world of real-life people. Only a writer will buy the “I hear voices in my head” excuse. The rest of the world might think you’ve lost your marbles.


Tristi Pinkston said...

You remind me of Meg Ryan's character in "You've Got Mail." I think all of us have regrets about things we've said or things we should have said. I tend to regret things I've said more, though -- you can always go back and say something left unsaid, but once those words are spoken, you can never take them back.

Amazing how theraputic writing can be, isn't it?

Nichole Giles said...

Tristi, Amen to that! You are so right. I guess we wouldn't be human if we didn't say stupid things sometimes.

Writing is definitely cheaper than therapy. That must be why we do it.