Frank Sinatra fans know the words: “Regrets, I’ve had a few…” Of course, he’s talking about things he’s done – or not done – he wishes he didn’t. In other words, mistakes. But each stanza ends with “I did it my way.”
I’ve made a few (dozen) mistakes in my life. Everything from minor things (grabbing that cookie sheet in the oven with my bare hand because I was engrossed in a book) to slightly more major (not slowing quite enough on the NYS Thruway in a winter storm, resulting in a crumpled back-end and a demolished light post). But true regrets? I have to echo Frank. “I’ve had a few. But then again, too few to mention.”
Honestly, there’s only one major thing – okay, maybe two – I really, truly regret. Both of them center around writing.
When I was in college, I was a journalist. Sports journalism, to be specific. I covered swimming, tennis and basketball. And I really loved it. I got to watch the games, meet some fairly terrific people, and then tell the world about it in a story. Pretty cool, right? But when it came time to decide on a career, I abandoned what, in retrospect, made me really happy: writing. Long nights, yes. Frustration when deadline loomed and the story wouldn’t come together, sure. But words on the page, that made me happy. My friend Amy, my co-editor, stuck with it. She’s a successful sports journalist now. Has won awards from our alma mater’s journalism school.
Yes, I am slightly jealous.
I am also one of those people. Someone who had a pen in her hand at an early age, full of stories to tell. It’s how my best friend and I coped with the horrific jungle that is middle school. We wrote stories. I (mainly) did the narrative. She did the illustrations. Since neither of us were cool, witty, or popular, we got to be all three on the page. I moved on to writing (bad) urban fantasy. The character was a total Mary Sue, surrounded by people who were carbon-copies of those in my life. But hey, I could lose myself for a while and was happy.
In 1998, my husband said to me, “You read mystery all the time. Why don’t you try writing one?” So I did. A traditional mystery, with an amateur sleuth, set relatively near where I grew up. Again, the character was a Mary Sue. The others were ripped from my friends. And then, life happened. And I made my second mistake.
I stopped writing.
Working, paying a mortgage, raising kids, the car payments… they were all more important. Or so I thought. Who cared if I was, deep down, dissatisfied? So what if I felt something was missing. This other stuff was important I tell you. Adult stuff. Serious business. I wasn’t in middle-school anymore.
Then, in 2011, I got fired. Now what? I still had kids, a mortgage and car payments. What was I going to do?
“Why don’t you take the summer off?” my husband asked. “You know, finish that novel.” My uber-responsible eldest child personality objected. I was an adult. I had responsibilities. I couldn’t just take the summer off. Was he insane? With the aid of an Excel spreadsheet, my husband mapped it out. I qualified for maximum unemployment benefits. Our bills were manageable. Yes, I really could take the summer off.
I was still tempted not to. “This is a mistake,” I said.
“Trust me,” my husband said. “Take the summer off. Write your book. It won’t be a mistake.”
And it wasn’t. I rediscovered that love of words. That writing was, in fact, the thing that I was called to do, what made me feel good. Now, the book, well, it was full of mistakes. I think I made every single one of them – everything a writer is told not to do. Mary Sue, too much backstory, slow pacing, blah, blah, blah.
But I wrote it. And that opened the door.
Looking back, I want to say 2011 was the time I corrected my mistake. And yeah, maybe turning away from writing all those years ago wasn’t the best decision. But my older, wiser, self now wonders if it was really a mistake. As Kait and Diane talked about this week, maybe those wrong turns brought me to where I am supposed to be. Maybe if I hadn’t made them, I’d be in a completely different place, one where I didn’t have a finished novel and an interested agent. Maybe I hadn’t lived enough to be ready to write those stories. If that’s the case, were those decisions really mistakes? I don’t know. Maybe. But maybe not.
Standing here, I can only echo Frank again: I certainly did it my way.
Mary Sutton | @mary_sutton73