The Two Little Words That Writers Fear

Image cc Leo Reynolds -

I loved being in Paris with Laura recently. The weather was just perfect for walking and the city looked great under blue skies and in the sharp light of spring days. There was a chill in the air that meant we didn’t get too warm as we walked but when we sat in sheltered spots in the sunshine, it was warm enough to sit for an hour and people watch – as we did in the Luxembourg Gardens – with no fear of getting too cold.

In fact, it was Laura who did most of the people watching in the gardens, as I took the chance to whip out the Air and crank through 1,000 words of an updated marketing plan for my client-facing business. It didn’t feel so much like work sitting amidst the beauty of Paris.

As I’ve said in previous posts, I’m no stranger to Paris. But I hadn’t been there for about 15 years. (Laura was mightily impressed how well I found my way around on foot. I explained that the streets still go to the same places.)

I remembered some of my previous visits to Paris. It was hard not to, when walking past cafes and bookshops – and even a couple of subterranean cinemas – that appeared unchanged. And as I remembered those visits, it was easy, too, to remember the plans and ambitions I carried with me.

There are two words that you never want to use when thinking of your past. When you apply them to your past, what you’re really doing is taking stock of your present and recognising that some – or all – of its key elements are not the way you want them. The words, as if you needed to be told, are ‘if only’.

Two short and seemingly innocuous words.

They’re not. They carry venom. They are a Tardis of regret and lost opportunity. If you’re invited in, turn and run. Screaming.

If, as a writer, you turn away from writing, you start to imbue these two little words with power. And it grows and grows.

Here’s a quotation from Jim Rohn that sums things up with a striking metaphor:

We must all suffer from one of two pains: the pain of discipline or the pain of regret. The difference is discipline weighs ounces while regret weighs tons.

If you are a writer and you don’t write every day – you don’t accept the pain of discipline – then you’ll spend much of your later life trying to lose that weight.

And diets don’t work.

I know.

If only I didn’t.