On Not Looking Back, Sort Of (February Theme from Jody Feldman)

There’s an earlier scene in the 2003 version of The Italian Job where Charlize Theron’s character Stella cracks a safe for her legitimate, insurance company employer and is asked, “Don’t you want to see what’s inside?” Her reply? “I never look inside.”

As I pondered this post, I kept coming back to Stella’s, shall we call it, wisdom, perhaps? She does the job, she knows she’s done it well, she walks away, and she doesn’t look back. Maybe there is something to be learned from that.

I don’t know how many times I’ve cringed over elements I might have included (or excluded) in my published books—scenes I could have switched out, dialogue I could have sharpened, characters I could have brought to life more fully and with more nuance. But unlike Stella who won’t own the contents of those safes, I must own up to the contents of mine. And though I don’t like the fact that I can’t go back and change anything about my work once it hits the bookstores, I have to accept it.

During school visits, I am sometimes asked  to revisit those regrets. A student will raise his or her hand wondering if there’s anything I wish I’d done differently in my books. In my head I’m, thinking, “Oh, you sweet thing. You don’t even know what you’ve asked.”

I give my stock answer about why I wished I’d had the contestants wear matching Gollywhopper Games t-shirts. But if the students wanted to listen for hours I could bore them with details—of struggles to move the people and places and scenes from my mind into a more fully realized version in print, of writing so there will be no regret when that book goes to press.

At some point, there are no do-overs in publishing. It’s time to release those words into the world, to move on. But for me at least, my human nature makes me glance back into that safe from time to time. Maybe that’s what propels us to strive to be more careful next time. To pause and make sure our words and sentences, our paragraphs and chapters convey just enough detail to portray the facts and feelings as we, in perfect form, want to portion them out. And maybe that’s not a bad thing.


  1. My first novel was actually written during grad school (a portion of which was my thesis). Every once in a while, I start to reach for the thesis, wanting to read how far I've come. But I can't quite get there. I'm terrified reading it will be utterly embarrassing...like finding the diary you wrote in the 9th grade!

  2. Yep. Those 7th - 9th grade diaries are in my basement, and I haven't opened them in decades.


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