Often, it is in the wrong turns we take that we find our next story, or the narrative that will connect universally with our audience.
When a writer seeks an idea for her next novel she might look toward a current event depicting a heroic action or tragedy, or she might research through pieces of history that intrigue, inspire, sadden or anger her. Or perhaps, she will look within herself for her own tragedies or pain. Regardless of the place from which our stories might come -the objective is to find and write the story that stirs our hearts, connects with a piece of our soul or haunts us so much that we can’t let it go, until the story enhances our life in some way or it ultimately heals us.
Over the course of the many years I have been reading and writing, I’ve read and written projects inspired by loss, regrets, abandonment, dysfunction, and forgiveness to name only a few, but the theme that seems to thread its way through my own work lately is guilt and the feelings of regret and shame that come with it.
How do we forgive ourselves for the wrong choices we’ve made and the subsequent events that changed the direction of our lives and the lives of those we love? How do we forgive ourselves for going off course and how do we move past the guilt and regret that plague us like a splinter throbbing deep under our skin?
Yet despite that burden of shame that we carry, it is in those wrong turns from which we grow stronger and learn, and it is in those bad choices we made that we are able to share the gift of forgiveness and healing with our readers.
If we look for those pivotal moments of our lives, or to the torment that follows us around like a shadow from which we are powerless to separate ourselves, it is possible to discover and develop a story of breakthrough and mending.
Part of the enjoyment of writing is the cathartic relief it provides as we work through our self-doubts and misgivings. As we sift through our mistakes and confront the cause of our guilt, analyzing what or who inspired us to make the choices we made, the story and its lesson will rise up like the proverbial phoenix rising up from the ashes of destruction.
When we look to the wrong turns we have taken and our regret over the choices we made, we often find ourselves asking what if?
What if I wasn’t in too much of a rush to kiss her goodbye that morning before she left for school? Or- What if I took more time to see the signs of his illness before he let it go so long that it became too late by the time he finally sought help? Or- What if I did not let him take the car out that day, or what if I didn’t let her walk home from school? What if I did something wrong to cause the miscarriage that perhaps could have been prevented? What if I did not get divorced? What if I had been a better daughter, mother, wife, sister or friend?
Often, it is not in the right turns we have taken that we find the most evocative stories but in the wrong turns. That is because readers want to connect with a story that resonates with their own self-doubts, torture and pain. Our audience seeks a story to which they might turn for the answers to their own painful questions and to a place in which they won’t feel alone.
It is in the writer’s story that our audience looks to find their own stories.
The writer will open a vein to bleed in order to face the honesty she has been dodging. It is what we have been afraid to admit to ourselves that we can somehow confess on the page. It is that deep honesty of our guilt that gives rise to the story that transcends universally with our readers. After all, which of us on this earth has not made a wrong turn in our lives to which we wish we could go back and re-do. It is those wrong turns from which we gain the strength to rise from our own ashes of shame and regret and it is from those wrong turns from which we can eventually heal and ultimately, from which we discover our story.
If we look into our past for the moments we wish we could change, or to the decisions that led us down the wrong paths, we might finally recognize what really conflicts us, haunting us like an old ghost who won’t go away.
It is those stubborn old ghosts that trouble us and the wrong turns we’ve taken, and our courage to finally face and accept our choices that provide the inspiration we seek and ultimately, the gift of healing.