“You can’t get there from here.”
by S. H. Aeschliman
The other day I was explaining to my friend Johannes, who is from Norway, about the expression, “You can’t get there from here.”
“Oh, it’s kind of a joke,” I said. “Like, you’re out in the middle of nowhere and you stop to ask for directions, and the local says to you, ‘Taggart Road? No, sir, you can’t get there from here.’” And I laughed and explained to Johannes, “Of course that’s funny because you can get anywhere from where you are now. So it’s ridiculous to say that you can’t get to where you want to go from where you are.”
But a couple of days ago I started thinking about this expression again, and I realized that it does actually make some sense. Because the point is not that there’s no way to get to Taggart Road from where you are. The point is that there isn’t a direct route. No straight shot. It’s going to involve some work on your part, potentially some retracing of steps to figure out where you took the wrong turn. The point is that it’s going to take first getting to somewhere else, and then somewhere else after that, and potentially even another somewhere else after that before you can even see Taggart Road.
The point, fellow writers, is that the path from where our writing is now to where we’d like our writing to be isn’t going to be some magical leap that we achieve in one step. It’s not going to be a straight shot. It’s going to be a lot of work. You can’t get there from here.
Let me back up for a moment and introduce you to this talk on the creative process by Ira Glass. Click on that link, listen to it – it’s only two minutes long – then come back here.
Okay? Got it? Good.
Basically what I hear Ira saying is: You can’t get there from here. It doesn’t mean you can’t get there, it just means that perfection is probably not just around the corner. We can’t expect that our writing is going to be wonderful right out of the gate. Or even a few stories/poems/whatever in. He’s saying that we should expect our writing to fall short of our aspirations for a long time. Many years, even. And that the writing falling short of our aspirations is not a reason to give up.
Giving up at this point is like saying “Well, if it’s not a straight shot from here to Taggart Road, then it’s impossible to get to Taggart Road.” Which, as we all know, is not the case. Giving up at this point is tantamount to saying, “If this next story doesn’t live up to my aspirations, it means my writing will never live up to my aspirations.”
Either that, or you’re admitting that writing doesn’t merit hard work. Did someone lie to you and say that writing comes easily to those who are meant to do it? Because that’s a load of crap.
So if you can’t get there from here, how do you get there?
Unfortunately, I don’t think there’s any one right answer. I think it takes a lot of fumbling and experimentation on the part of each writer to figure out what works for him/her.
But I do know that it won’t happen unless we write a lot. And in order to write a lot, lots of writers – myself included – spend lots of time playing psychological tricks on ourselves.
Fellow #ROW80 sponsor Sandy Taylor Fowke sets word count goals and then tricks herself into exceeding them. “I aim for 500 but then I check and the count [is] like, 524 – Well I may as well take it to 600 – I check and it’s 632 – May as well take it to 700.”
In July 2012 I wrote this blog post about how I trick myself into overcoming some of my barriers to writing. And in a September 2012 post called “On never being good enough,” I suggested that, rather than let the fact that my writing does not yet live up to my aspirations keep me from writing, I can “affirm that where I’m at right now matters too” and not “devalue it just because it’s not where I someday want to be.”
In other words, I may not be able to get to Taggart Road from here, but I can make it to the gas station. The gas station may not have that comfy bed and fireplace I’m looking forward to, but it’s got some good stuff too. Like gas. And cheese puffs. And a bathroom. And from the gas station I can see how to get to the bridge across the river. Across the river’s good. At least then I’m on the same side of the river as Taggart Road. And so on and so forth, until finally, possibly a long time later, I get to Taggart Road.
Which is all just another way of saying: keep writing, even if you don’t like what you’re producing. Even if you’re disappointed in what comes out, keep going. Write on.