I sat down for a conversation with my internal Life Editor. It didn’t go quite as I expected.
On a recent Sunday morning:
Hi, I am here for my mid-life crisis meeting with my life editor. I believe I had a 55-year-old appointment?
Oh, yes. Have a seat. Your editor will be with you shortly. Can I get you a mineral water? Green tea? Coffee?
No, I’m fine. I caffeined up on the way here. I’m jittery enough as it is.
Join the club. Take a look at everyone else in this waiting room . . . Oh, it looks like your editor is ready for you now. Just go right through that door, down the hall, second door on your left.
Mr. G.? Come in. Welcome. Have a seat. Did you find the office OK?
Yes, thank you. I was surprised by all the traffic getting here, and your waiting room is packed.
Yes, we have been hopping around here lately, baby boomers you know. I see you are just on the tail end of that.
Yes, I was born in 1960.
Well, I have your life manuscript right here and . . .
Yeah, I wanted to talk to you about that. I was hoping for a rewrite.
A rewrite. There is a lot I would like to scrap and start over with, I mean with all the recent societal changes and all.
I’m not sure I understand. You did submit this life manuscript didn’t you? It is your work?
Oh yes, I wrote it all, but it’s just that I feel like I got off track with the narrative somewhere along the way and I really want to go back and rework some of the parts.
OK, let’s talk about that. What makes you feel that the narrative is “off track?”
Well, I just feel that there’s a large portion of my story that reads inauthentic to me now.
Are you saying that this is a work of fiction? Because if you are, that’s not my department.
No, no, not that. It’s just, I don’t know, it’s just that things have changed. I have changed. I don’t know if change is the right word. It’s just that, with the way things are now, I wish I had made different choices.
The way things are now?
You know, socially and culturally. I mean people are more accepting, not all people, but certainly more people than when I was in my late teens and early twenties.
Well back in the late ‘70s and early ‘80s things were very different. LGBTQ people weren’t out that much. There were no role models. You didn’t see gay and lesbian families. They certainly couldn’t get married or have families very easily, if at all. There was the whole AIDS crisis. I was afraid of so much and I felt that I had to hide my true identity. And I wanted to have a family so badly that I thought there was only one way to do that.
I see. Well your life manuscript certainly isn’t the first one to cross my desk in recent years to explore that plot line.
Oh I’m sure it isn’t. It’s just that now young people are so much freer to be who they are and so much braver in coming out. Some aren’t even labeling themselves as straight, or gay, or bi, or anything. They are simply living their lives, their stories. And same-sex couples are marrying and having children. We are seeing incredible, out-LGBTQ role models in sports, and entertainment, and even politics.
And with all of these new freedoms and changes you are wanting a rewrite?
Exactly! If I could just go back to being 23, 24, or 25 I would – or could – make some different life choices, change my story.
Well Mr. G., it doesn’t quite work that way, and I am not convinced a rewrite is really what you want.
But I do. I want to start living my life authentically. I want to be true to myself! And I want to be able to do it without hurting those that I love. When I was in my early twenties my story was mainly about me, but now, at 55, there are all these other characters that I have dragged into my manuscript and their stories are all tangled up with mine. How am I supposed to get my narrative back on track when it’s all entwined with theirs? If I could go back to when my story was primarily about me and about my choices, then I could write things as they were supposed to be written.
Well, I’ve read your life manuscript and as your editor, I have to say that it is those intertwined narratives that make your story interesting. And how do you know how your story was “supposed to be” written? Just think about it for a minute. If you were to go back and rewrite your story from your early twenties, think of what your manuscript would be missing. Sure, there might be less conflict or struggle, but those are the parts that make for the most interesting reading. As readers, when we come across those sections of internal turmoil and struggle, we want to keep reading. That’s where your story becomes a real page-turner. We are held in suspense and are eager to find out how things turn out. No one wants to read a story without conflict, without some drama, without growth and change.
I guess so, but how do I get back to writing a story about the real me?
This manuscript is about the “real” you. This has been your story so far. Each and every plot point has helped to shape the protagonist who is sitting in front of me.
Yeah, but most of the people I interact with haven’t had a chance to read the whole manuscript. They look at me and see only a partial story, an inaccurate one at that, a story I falsely shaped out of peer pressure, fear, and wanting acceptance.
Listen, every reader will bring their own story to the reading of another’s. They project their ideas and perceptions onto every story they encounter and there is nothing any of us can do about that.
I know that, but if I want people to know the real me, or at least a “more real” me, don’t I need to abandon this false story I have been writing and start all over?
Even if that were possible, I am afraid you would lose too much character development and your story wouldn’t read any truer than it already does.
Then what do you suggest?
Well, you could add an addendum.
What do you mean?
It seems to me that you have had a sort of awakening during the writing process. By the way, many writers don’t ever experience that. You have come to realize that there are parts of you that no longer read true in your story. By adding an addendum at the end you will alert your readers that there was a divergence in the story that you have subsequently realized and amended.
Yeah, but they won’t get to that until the very end of the story. I want my readers to know the real me now, at this point in my narrative.
You could add a footnote at the bottom of the page.
Who reads footnotes? The type is always so small.
Hmm, well I can’t think of any other editorial devices that you can insert. You will simply have to readjust your story as it unfolds, make the correction as you move forward with your writing.
But what about the stories of those whom I love, those narratives that have gotten intertwined with mine?
Their stories will unfold naturally just like yours. The changes and conflicts your protagonist will explore will impact the development of their stories; however, their stories will unfold in ways unique to them and help shape their character development.
But I don’t want to negatively impact their stories. I don’t want to add to their drama.
I can understand that, but we are all the authors of our own story. There are no ghostwriters in this line of publishing. Besides, if you were to insert yourself into all those other narratives, and try to control the outcomes of their plot lines, you will most likely, at best, water down everyone’s storylines, and at worst, greatly impact your own character development. No, I think you should just let the story progress naturally.
But how do I go about making it more authentic?
By living your truth as best you can. Your story probably won’t change drastically overnight, but rather in small and subtle ways. No one really likes a radical plot twist that seems to come out of nowhere anyway. I suggest you start out by just being more aware of when you are and are not living your truth, then try and structure more of your narrative around the truth. Go ahead and throw in a footnote if you like, and when it feels right, draw your reader’s attention to it. Some will appreciate the extra information, some will not, and some will have figured it out on their own from the subtext of your story. Also, you really need to show more compassion for your protagonist. He may slip back into old storylines from time to time. Those old storylines have been a part of him for 55 years after all. They probably feel comfortable and safe. But you need to remember, he’s still the same character, it’s just that he is now evolving and developing in a new direction.
Thanks, this has been helpful. Any other advice?
Yes, try not to worry so much about how others are reading your story. Remember, that without even realizing it, they are going to project their stories onto yours and there is nothing you can do about it. Everyone is going to read your story differently. Keep that in mind when you read someone else’s story as well.
Can I ask you one last question? What is the “more true” story you are wanting to tell?
I’m still trying to figure that out.
Well I can’t wait to read the next chapters. It’s been a pleasure.
Do you need your parking validated?