I’m sure from the title that this sounds like it’s going to be about that old saying, “No use crying over spilled milk.” I want to clear up now that the saying was not the impetus of the post. It may factor into a small portion of the post, but it’s not the main message or rumination I want to share. The impetus of the post was literally the title: spilled milk.
At work the other day, I discovered a gallon of milk dripping from a bag onto the end of a checklane in an ever-widening puddle. Running the floor at the time, I flagged down our cleaner and asked him to clean up the mess. With a characteristic grumble, he went off to get his cleaning supplies and did so. A few hours later, I was cleaning up damaged items we’d slowly been compiling on the end of the same checklane. I picked up a few of the bags (we put damaged items in plastic bags and tie them up in between finding them and processing them out) and found milk under them. At first I was confused. I’d seen the cleaner wiping up the puddle earlier. Why was there still milk there? Then I realized he’d cleaned up the spill but left the damaged gallon in its bag on the end of the lane, instead of taking it back to where it needed to be processed out and disposed of. I shook my head, cleaned up the mess, and sent the milk to where it needed to go, before it could make a third puddle.
I was thinking about the milk incident a bit later and decided that it could be an analogy for how a lot of life’s problems are handled. Like the cleaner in this particular case, we clean up the mess, but we don’t take care of the underlying cause, and it ends up making more messes later. Instead, we should seek to address the underlying cause of the problem and prevent things from getting worse or recurring. If we don’t, maybe the mess will be gone for a while, but a new mess will come from the same source soon. The cycle will continue until the underlying cause is neutralized.
I know I struggle with this, both in life and in writing. It’s easier to just stick a bandaid on the problem and hope it goes away. Bandaids don’t work for everything. Sometimes, doing a surface fix and leaving things to resolve themselves actually ends up causing a lot more trouble in the long run.
Take my writing, for example. The first WIP I ever seriously started has some major character issues. I struggle with character personality and differentiation, and this work in particularly has issues along that line. Instead of fixing them, I’ve added more action and excitement and a handful of plot twists to try to “fix” the story. Unfortunately, the story didn’t end up fixed. In fact, it just ended up convoluted and crazy, but with boring characters that don’t reach out and grab the reader like they need to. Now, I’ve got 110k of this story that I have to go back and basically rewrite to finally fix the problem. I have to rebuild my characters, which will affect how they react and make decisions and therefore change some of the plot, which means some worldbuilding elements have to be changed, which will then impact future plot points, and so on. It’s a huge, tangled mess. If I’d fixed the character issues before, instead of continuing to add plot twists and action sequences and things to fix just the immediate “mess,” I wouldn’t be so overwhelmed trying to replan and rewrite just about the whole thing now.
I guess I’ve cleaned up a lot of spilled milk, over the years working on this WIP. Now I’m finally taking care of the busted container it’s leaking from. Or trying to, at least.