Each time I sit down to string words together, something grand is happening. Not necessarily grand in that day’s output—too often the words I collect are cranky instead of friendly, and even I don’t care for them. But the output is grand in the overarching sense that I am building toward something, and that something is my voice.
Voice is that distinctive part of a creative’s offering that makes it her own. It is the common-to-her way she turns a phrase or adds color to her canvas or lilts her voice in song. It is what sets one creative apart from another. It is something all creatives chase.
Developing your own personal style isn’t easy. It is easier to see what is working for someone else or what the world is clamoring for, and then take on that style. It is much more safe to replicate and echo what’s already accepted and in demand. How hard it is to take the long way around when the shortcut is beckoning. Taking the long way is, indeed, longer but as C. S. Lewis said in Mere Christianity, the longest way around is the shortest way home.
If I am to arrive at the grand in my writing life, where my voice is mine, the shortcut is the worst path I could choose. This same idea is found in Manage Your Day-to-Day: Build Your Routine, Find Your Focus, & Sharpen Your Creative Mind, a book I’ve recently been digesting–and applying!—that encourages creatives to go the long way toward home. One of the entries included this quote by Thomas Merton:
“There can be an intense egoism in following everybody else. People are in a hurry to magnify themselves by imitating what is popular—and too lazy to think of anything better. Hurry ruins saints as well as artists. They want quick success, and they are in such haste to get it that they cannot take time to be true to themselves. And when the madness is upon them they argue that their very haste is a species of integrity.”
In essence, Merton is warning the creative against imitation, as that is merely another sort of shortcut. The trick, I think, is reframing the shortcut for what it is. The shortcut will never lead to the grand; it will never lead you home.
Years ago, I was on a road trip with friends whose children were quite young. As the excitement of the trip faded into monotony, the kids began asking those how-much-longer questions. My friend said that if the kids would just close their eyes and get some sleep, she would take the shortcut. This was amusing and effective, and I see it as a helpful principle for my writing life.
When I am tempted to hurry and anxious to arrive with my creative work, the adult in me can extend an offer to my inner-child: Close your eyes, and I will take the shortcut. Which just happens to be the longest way around and the only way there.