Take The Scenic Route

IMG_2301There 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.


38 thoughts on “Take The Scenic Route

  1. Lovely, Helen! I also wanted to say that when I saw your photo the first thing that came to mind was, “She’s on the ‘wrong’ side of the road!” *grin* Cher xo

  2. You’re right – there are many skills for which there is no short cut. Writing is one of them (as are the martial arts). It’s kind of weird, given the ‘hack’ idea, that a jobbing writer is sometimes labelled a hack. The derivation (from Hackney) is different from the computer hack, but I guess that’s English for you.

      • The derivation is hilarious: in the eighteenth century, writers were being paid professionally to contribute to newspapers and the pulp magazines that began emerging. This was a novelty. I’ve seen two ways the term ‘hack’ was applied to them: one is that a lot of these publications were based in London’s Hackney district – hence ‘hack writer’ – and the other is that the term also applied to horses for hire (‘Hackney’, ‘Hacks’), and was swiftly applied to writers. Apparently it wasn’t the Done Thing to actually get paid for writing… and still isn’t today… sigh…

  3. I totally agree with you on this. We’re so busy with trying to do everything so fast and get it done, that we forget to enjoy the journey. Life is, after all, meant to be lived and experienced, so why rush things and risk missing out on the beautiful road you’re on, just because you’re driving too fast?
    Thanks for a great post!

    • Thanks, Johanna – so pleased you enjoyed the post. And I agree, life is for living. Sometimes it’s easy to get caught up in stuff and forget, but really, it’s an amazing thing 😀

  4. A beautiful post, Helen. I love the quote at the end so much I might steal it for myself—it so aptly sums up my life. I’ve ended up exactly where I needed to be and by the time I needed to get there. That may not be where I intended initially, and it certainly wasn’t within the time frame I wanted, but it’s perfect: I’m in the perfect place at the perfect time. 🙂

    • I love that, Louise, how very wonderful 😀 It’s a great quote, isn’t it? When I read it, it spoke to me too. Gosh, I hope we get to sit down together for a coffee one day x

  5. Gosh how right you are! My life has been full of surprises! Nothing has worked out as I had thought/ planned it would. Yet I think I still came to be in the right place at the right time, and I don’t just mean geographically. Is it fate? Perhaps we resist it as much as we can with the choices we make, but we still end up there anyway. So then, are the choices really choices?

    I know personally that I have less patience as I got older, and that has surprised me. I dont mind waiting and working towards the things that really matter to me, but just in general. I thought we were supposed to get more patient as we get older, along with wiser?

    • Hmm, maybe it’s that you don’t have time for foolishness any more? 😉 I know my tolerance for certain things has certainly diminished with age. And as to whether it’s fate, and we’re on a path with destiny, I don’t know. I think sometimes we can make decisions that take us so far off course we end up on a different path. A Thousand Rooms is a bit about that, actually – a decision changing everything. I love how you put it, that your life has been full of surprises – it’s a lovely way to describe it 😀

      • Yes maybe that’s it. I do agree with you about decisions and choices, but I’m just wondering how much of that choice is totally your own, and how much of it is the path you were meant to take. It is enough to drive you mad just wondering about it. 😊

      • Oh yes, you could spend your whole life thinking about it, and go mad doing so! But it does cross my mind from time to time, definitely 😀

  6. Yeah that’s a really good way of putting it – write what you want to explore. True too. I agree about time. I am constantly looking for life hacks. Anything to squeeze more time into my day so I can write just one more paragraph. I am bad, like really bad at present present and mindful and it comes from not appreciating the now because I am trying to do too much. Great post.

  7. Indeed – it’s all about easy, easy, easy with no hint of hard work and dedication. Nothing worth doing was ever done without hard work and dedication (as some famous person probably didn’t say).

    • Yes, so true, Colin. Hard work and dedication, sadly, seem to be out of fashion at the moment. Or perhaps it’s just the way things are reported – overnight success stories are rarely ever that 😀

  8. I have a writer friend who wrote a blog a while ago about why she writes. Being a christian and historian, she has come to realise that her writing is her way of praying. Shame I can’t find the blog again, it was a rather interesting take on things.

    • That is an interesting take on it, Barbara. I found Sacha’s question quite an eye opener for me, that’s for sure. In some ways it’s given my writing more direction now.

  9. Absolutely love this post. As I sit outside, listening to birds chirp and feeling the sun and breeze. I am taking a pause. (At least I was until I picked up my phone and read this beautiful post.) I agree wholeheartedly.

    ‘I may not have gone where I intended to go, but I think I have ended up where I needed to be.’ 💖

  10. I agree about the fast pacededneses of everything these days. My example would be that I used to love walking places or taking the bus. Now I can drive, I don’t do that and I sometimes miss it 😦

    • You can still do it if you want to 🙂 Though I know it’s a lot easier to drive. I’m a bit of a hybrid in that way – I don’t always have access to a car, and don’t much like driving anyway, so I still walk and bus quite a lot.

      • It’s totally changed me in a way I said it never would. I got angry the other day because I couldn’t park right outside my hairdressers and had to walk about 100m whereas I used to have to walk down and then back up a big street on a slope lol

      • Lol, oh, that’s too funny! I mean, it’s no good you had to walk that far, but as you say, compared to the distance you used to walk… 😆

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