There are a lot of articles around these days about “Life Hacks’. Ways to do things quickly, so you can move on to the next thing and not waste any precious time. Some of them are actually pretty cool and useful, but at the same time I feel that, as the pace of life grows ever faster, we are losing our capacity to wait for things, to work for things, to enjoy the reward that comes after time spent moving towards something. You see it in queues, in shops and restaurants, people getting frustrated when they can’t have what they want straight away, instant gratification, constant moving between this screen and that screen, updating emails, Instagram, Facebook. Hack, hackity, hack.
I’ve studied martial arts for many years and one of the basic tenets is that ‘The journey is the reward.’ That the years you spend training, improving your technique, working with other students, mastering breathing and focus and control and becoming the best person you can be, is the real reward. At the end of it, sure, you get a belt. A signifier of the journey taken, a signpost in the road. But black belt is only the beginning. There are levels above it requiring even more study and dedication. You can’t hack this stuff. And I believe that to be true of creative endeavours as well. Of course there are always going to be prodigies, people in whom talent shines so bright it is oozing from their pores at an early age, their lives dedicated to that one thing that fills them. But for most of us creativity grows and changes as we do – the things we write or create or dream a product of our experiences, of the journey we’ve been on. And writing a book is a journey in itself. Resting your manuscript is essential, it really is. For a minimum of six weeks. You can’t ‘hack’ this, there’s no way around it, you need to leave it alone.
I sometimes think about ‘what might have been.’ I think most of us do. About what would have happened if I’d chosen a different path. Sacha Black wrote a post the other day asking us why we write, and I responded by saying I wrote stories where characters explore choice and consequences, how one act or decision can change everything. This was actually a bit of an eye-opener to me. While I knew this already on a sub-conscious level, it was interesting to acknowledge it and put it into words. I suppose when they say, ‘write what you know,’ perhaps they mean ‘write what you want to explore.’
So, when I chose not to do the Creative Writing degree I was offered at eighteen, I set myself on a different path. But I don’t think I’d be the writer I am today if I hadn’t had the life I’ve had. That all the years in jobs I really didn’t love, the time spent travelling, the people I’ve met and the things I’ve experienced, have brought me to this point. I know that I’m fortunate to have had a lot of choice in life, and so I choose not to hack any of it. It’s far too much of a gift to fritter away.
I’ll end with a Douglas Adams quote I particularly enjoy: ‘I may not have gone where I intended to go, but I think I have ended up where I needed to be.’
This is an updated version of a post first published in 2014, when my blog dwelt alone in a barren wasteland, and no-one ever came to visit. I’ve re-worked the first two paragraphs, but the rest is new.