Never Regret What You Don’t Write

Abraham Lincoln provided the title of this post. The context is this:

His Secretary of Treasury said: “Oh, I am so sorry that I did not write a letter to Mr. So-and-so before I left home!” Lincoln responded: “Chase, never regret what you don’t write; it is what you do write that you are often called upon to feel sorry for.”

Yep. His Secretary of Treasury was named Salmon P. Chase. How’s that for a coincidence?

We all have regrets, right? As a human, I have many regrets. As a writer, I have millions. Why did I use that word? Why did I cut that scene? Why did I include that scene? Why did I have the character do that? Why didn’t I include this? On and on ad infinitum until I just want to whack myself in the head with a hammer so that I can think about something else for once.

Regret is compounded by the fact that you can never really fix a story. Once it’s published, it is what it is. Sure, you can make a new file, include or remove stuff, and upload a new file so that the next reader will get the story as you really wanted it to be. But it’s not the same story anymore is it? Furthermore, a creative could drive themselves absolutely bonkers this way because you’ll eventually realize that you’ll never be completely happy with your story. It doesn’t matter how many files you change and upload.

There are many things I regret each day as a writer, but most of them are fixable things. I’m working to show more and not tell as much. I’m working on grammar, spelling, punctuation, descriptive passages, passive vs. active voice (though PASSIVE HAS ITS PLACE), and learning to self-edit a bit as I write. I’m working on learning that not every piece of dialogue has to have dialogue tags, especially those with adverbs (though ADVERBS HAVE THEIR PLACE). I’m working hard to trust others in the industry more–especially those who are invested in my success and betterment. I’m trying to get better at giving critiques when they are asked for by others. I’m trying to get better at not putting up walls around myself and sequestering myself from others who just want to get to know me and share knowledge about the industry.

I have trust issues. What can I say?

But…those are all things I can work on, right? Do you want to know my biggest regret about one of my books that absolutely gutted me for the longest time?

In my book A SURPLUS OF LIGHT, there wasn’t a scene involving Independence Day. The book flat out celebrates Americana as seen through the lens of two gay teens growing up in Texas, coming-of-age, and coming out. AND THE BULK OF THE STORY TAKES PLACE OVER THE COURSE OF FIVE SUMMERS! I had 5 whole opportunities to have an Independence Day scene! ARGH!

At least once a day since A SURPLUS OF LIGHT was released on September 6th, 2018, I’ve mentally beat myself up over missing a prime opportunity. That’s 537 days, people. Mike, Ian, fireworks? That would have been an amazing scene. Or scenes. Five summers, after all…

Over those 537 days of calling myself all kinds of names, I’ve perfectly crafted what I thought that scene would look like in the book. What would have happened. The sights, sounds, smells–all of the sensory experiences I would have injected into the scene. And I think fans of the book would have absolutely adored it. I’ve even toyed with the idea of writing a “bonus scene” and adding it to a “deluxe” edition or something, but I’ve always stopped myself.

Why?

Well, the book is done. It is what it is. If I let myself go down that path of constantly fixing and adding to work (I call it “George Lucasing”), I would never be done. The paperback is a tight 159 pages. In my opinion, I told the story the way it was supposed to be told. No fat, nothing extra, just the story of two boys, their summers of friendship and love…and now it belongs to the universe. To change it would be to dishonor it. Would adding an Independence Day scene make it closer to perfect? Probably not. Would readers enjoy it? Maybe. Would it make me think that there was nothing else about the book I could make better? Definitely not.

At some point, all of us creatives have to send our art out to live its life. We can’t keep tweaking and “fixing” it. To be honest, I never knew that ASoL was going to end up being one of my most loved pieces of work. I thought it was just a sweet, touching story about two boys who find their person on the banks of a creek in Texas over the summers of their high school careers. To know that so many people have connected with the story and enjoyed reading it amazes me, but makes me so happy.

For them, I will never change ASoL. I don’t want to take something that so many people have connected with emotionally and say: “But it’s not good enough.” Obviously, it was good enough. And I have to respect that.

Besides, now I have a fully crafted Independence Day scene that I can use in any future book of my choosing, right? It won’t be Ian and Mike that readers see in the scene, but they can still experience it through the lens of a new story. That will just have to be good enough.

Furthermore, as Lincoln pointed out, what you don’t write can’t get you into trouble. Maybe the Independence Day scene would have ruined the whole book. I never have to worry about finding out if that’s true, do I?

Tremendous Love & Thanks,

Chase

What Does Your Title Say?

It’s no secret that I love a quirky–some might say “long“–title for a book. Titles like A TREMENDOUS AMOUNT OF NORMAL, A SURPLUS OF LIGHT, and THE GRAVITY OF NOTHING are just a few of my seemingly strangely titled books. People will often comment on my book titles and we laugh about them. Because it’s funny. Some of my book titles are a bit wordy and strange–I can’t deny that. It makes me laugh sometimes, too.

One thing most people who have followed me for a while know, I’m highly inspired by songs, song titles/lyrics, quotes, and advice given to me, as well as things I see and hear when I’m being a creepy people watcher in public spaces. A coffee shop and a book are my two best friends. It allows me to appear normal while listening to everything going on around me. I also draw from my own life at times. It’s easier to write a character if I can relate them to a person I knew.

As far as titles go, for example, the title for ATAoN came from the running theme in the book of how relationships and families that don’t seem “normal” have just redefined what “normal” is to them. Some families who have different circumstances have to figure out how things work best for them, regardless of the status quo. When people actually examine these families, they often find that these families are incredibly normal on the inside. It’s only when looking from the outside in that things seem different.

For the title of TGoN, I took the title from a running them in the book about how trauma can turn people into a shell. Make them empty. That’s hard to pull oneself out of, even with resources and time. A person I interviewed for the book said to me (word for word, because I took notes): “Man, when you’re left fucking running on empty and don’t even know who you are anymore, there’s just no escaping that. You make yourself feel nothing so that you don’t feel anything. It feels like you’re anchored to the ground and nothing can pull you out of it. You want to give up.” So, the running theme and that interview quote provided my title.

For ASoL (and I’ve mentioned this before), I was inspired by the Jeanette Walls quote from THE GLASS CASTLE: “One benefit of summer was that each day we had more light to read by.” In the book the main characters, Mike and Ian, are only friends during the summers–when there’s the most light in a day. Hence, the title.

So, some of my titles, while they seem pretentious, actually apply to themes in the stories and pay homage to the people and things that inspired me to write the stories.

Inspiration comes to me at the weirdest times. Usually in the shower, to be honest–but I never have a pen and notebook with me for some reason…

Regardless, I love having new experiences, trying new movies, music, and books to get my creativity humming. Inspiration comes from the most unlikely places for me. All of my books have LGBTQ+ elements (so far) and many are young adult/new adult, but I look outside of that genre for inspiration. Sometimes just thinking of a unique title for a book makes a whole story unfurl in my brain; I have to rush to write all of my ideas down so that I can start writing it.

In fact, a friend recently sent me a copy of Tanya Tucker’s album While I’m Livin’. (Like, an honest to goodness CD. I hate to admit that I don’t have a CD player and it took me far too long to remember that I could use my laptop to play it.) My friend knows that country is not my preferred genre of music, but thought I might connect to the lyrics of it. They were absolutely right. So…look for something that came from that in the distant future. Additionally, if you haven’t heard the album, I highly recommend it. When I think “Americana,” it definitely is an album that comes to mind.

I imagine that everyone is wondering what the point of this entire post is, so I should probably get to that point.

Besides wanting everyone to know that it is okay to draw inspiration from anywhere, that there’s no right way to dream up a story, I also want to point out that titles should mean…something. A quirky, catchy title is cool, catches the eye, and makes a book cover even more compelling, but if you named a book “Blue” and the whole story was about the color red, it would make no sense. It would also leave your readers bewildered and feeling as though they had been misled in some way.

A title for a book should capture the spirit of the book, give the reader an idea of what type of book they are going to read, and draw parallels to the theme and plot. There’s really no right or wrong way to decide on a title–other than what I just wrote. Some people will tell you to avoid really long titles because it will make readers avoid your books.

I mean, there is some wisdom to that. THE STAND, IT, CARRIE…Stephen King’s most popular novels have short, succinct titles. Stephen King is who I used as an example since so many people in the Writing Community on Twitter revere him.

However, a book that a friend gave me, that I absolutely loved, was titled THE GUERNSEY LITERARY AND POTATO PEEL PIE SOCIETY. He simply referred to it as “The Potato Book.” The full title has everything to do with the book, so it is not misleading, just long.

However, as shown above, if readers really, really love your story, they will find a nickname to avoid having to say the complete title.

When readers give your books nicknames and share them with others, to me, it means that they really connected with your book. When my friends/readers say “Enzo” or “Surplus” or “Normal” or “Surfer,” it makes me smile. Especially when I see or hear them saying those words to each other. They don’t have to use the full title in conversation to know exactly what they’re talking about. How cool is it that someone says “Surfer” when talking about my books, and people know which book/series the person is talking about?

Ultimately, I guess my main purpose in this post is to remind writers that we often worry about things that aren’t the most important things. Covers are important–whether we like it or not. They draw the eye of a potential reader and make the first impression. Titles can be catchy and make a person want to read a book. However, what I’ve found to be most true is that readers just want a damn good story. They want good editing. They want characters they connect with emotionally. They want a solid plot. They want to have a near sensory experience, as if they are drawn into the scenes you craft. They want the story to match the genre you labeled it as so they don’t feel deceived. They don’t want to feel that they wasted time or money giving you a chance. If they are still thinking about your book for days or weeks after they are finished, they will likely be life-long readers.

Do your best with your covers and titles…but make sure you use your inspiration (whatever it may be) and write a good damn story. Everything else should be secondary.

Tremendous Love & Thanks,

Chase