Where We're Going, We Don't Have Roadmaps

By Serdar Yegulalp on 2021-06-14 21:00:00 No comments

Steven Savage made a post about how he just sort of happened into making some of the most significant work of his writing career (his how-to creativity guides). "Our creative journeys aren’t linear, and our creative selves not always apparent," as he put it.

I am most fascinated by the creative careers that seem like happy accidents. Akira Kurosawa thought he was going to be a painter, but when that petered out, he applied for a job as an assistant director at a movie company. Look where that got him, and us. Hubert Selby, Jr., had to scotch any plans as a ballplayer (or as a merchant mariner) when tuberculosis landed him in a hospital and left him with only a quarter of the lung capacity of a normal person. He got himself a typewriter, and that in time got us Last Exit To Brooklyn and Requiem For A Dream. Heinlein figured he could write a story as good as any of the ones he saw in the SF pulps, and besides, being a retired military man was getting dull. You know how that story plays out.

Contrast this with folks who seem to always know what they want. I know there was a time early in my life when I didn't know what I wanted to be, but it ceded pretty quickly to the certainty that I most definitely did want to be a writer of some kind. A good one, if possible. Jury's still out on that last bit, but I've certainly got the "writing" part nailed.

Steve's point is, I think, that even those of us who know what we want to do don't know how we're going to end up embodying that impulse, or to what end. In his case, he found a great motherlode to mine out in books about creativity itself. I started off thinking it was the Thomas Pynchon and David Foster Wallace axis that I'd be most aligned with, but in time I shrugged that off for my own thing. I eventually realized such work only appealed to me in the most rarefied way, and that I wasn't interested in reading to impress other people. (Not that I think interest in such work exists solely for that reason, only that my own interest in it never rose much beyond that rather pathetic motive.)

It took me a lot of trial and error to find out what I was most interested in. I don't want to write things that are just easy recapitulations of existing marketable concepts, but I also don't want to write things that have no accessibility, things that exist entirely as embodiments of my insularity and arrogance.

And I'm still trying and erroring, as my recent posts about what I've been working on have indicated. Some of these projects might never come to fruition because they're beyond my scope, or turned out to have no there there, or are Too Silly. Threading my specific needle has not been easy, but each time 'round, I get a little better at doing it without needing glasses.

Books I wrote near the beginning of my career now only seem associated with me in name only. A project like The Four-Day Weekend, I would not write today (at least, not in that way). But I wrote it once upon a time, and so I have to accept it as a roadmarker along the way to where I am now. In that sense, it's worth preserving. In another ten years, I might look back on all I'm proud of now and wonder why the hell I was bothering with that horse puckey. Or I might look back and wonder what happened to all the great risk-taking in my career, and launch off in another direction I couldn't have foreseen taking even a day ago. Anything is possible only if you strive to keep anything possible.

Who said it like this once? "No roadmaps, just journeys." They got it right as far as this goes. I should track them down and shake their hand.

Tags: creativity creators