Al's Axiom #3: A Shortcut is Often the Longest Distance to Your Goal

A GOOD NUMBER of years ago, several decades actually, my wife Becky and I were planning a trip. We wanted something to help us pass the time in the car so we checked out an audio book from a library. (I told you this was a long time ago.) We stumbled on it and, since it was a wacky Stephen King short story we were eager to hear it. “Mrs. Todd’s Shortcut” was first published in the May 1984 magazine Redbook, then added to the 1985 collection of King’s stories published as Skeleton Crew. The tale didn’t disappoint. Becky and I still talk about it. It is one of our favorite King tales.

Mrs. Todd is a young woman obsessed with shortcuts. She’s always trying some rarely traveled road to see if it will cut a little time and miles off her trip. She soon discovers that there are shortcuts that defy physics. Soon she’s traveling a road that is shorter than is possible. Something else is happening: She is getting younger. Of course, such a road needs a bit of drama. Things, abnormal things like trees and bizarre animals, live along the road. One critter that looks like a rodent with a head full of poison, gets stuck to Mrs. Todd’s grill. It appears that the road works like a wormhole but comes with a set of unique dangers.

Fun story. We all like a good shortcut. We like to get where we’re going faster and with less miles traveled. When it comes to our work, we often look for, “a better way” of doing it. Yep, even we writers like to work faster. Except, like Mrs. Todd’s famed shortcut, there can be dangers and other unwanted nasties. Taking shortcuts can lead to disaster. We don’t want a surgeon to take shortcuts (pardon the pun), or a dentist, or our auto mechanic. No, what we want is a proper job, not a rush job. Don’t get me wrong. There have been technological advances that have helped creatives ply their trade more efficiently, but writing still takes time, planning, and maybe even some trial and error.

Quality work takes more time and effort than subpar work. Often cutting corners requires more time spent fixing things than times spent doing it right. (Don’t ask how I know this. My answer would require revealing dumb things I’ve done.) The question should never be, “How fast can I do this?” but, “How well can I do this?”

It is good to also remember that creative work is played on an uneven playing field. Yesterday you may have cranked out your work like a madman and felt good about it only to plod along today like a man with lead tennis shoes. There’s no one to blame for that. Life is lumpy. Work is lumpy. Creativity is lumpy. Sometimes ideas come so fast we’re certain we’ve advanced to the rarified air of creative genius, only to have reality slap us back into our place by forcing us to trudge forward like a herd of turtles.

Seek quality output. If it comes easily and fast, then great; if the arteries of creativity are a little clogged, then continue on. Keep moving forward. Speed is secondary. Quality is eternal.