I’m not usually one for encouraging the pursuit of rabbit trails. They typically lead nowhere except a swamp or tangled underbrush or quicksand, and the only recourse is to turn back and to return to the beginning. That being said, rabbit trails can serve a purpose. They can lead to the finding of a new path or a new way around the quicksand. Unlike early computer games, one can make choices other than right, left, or back.
The trick with rabbit trails is knowing when they are leading nowhere. The usual indicators for a nowhere rabbit trail are frustration or the inability to continue writing or drawing because one has been forced into the proverbial corner. It’s what happens when one is mopping the floor only to come to the realization that one went about it in the wrong way. A person not only must cross the treacherous terrain known as the wet and slippery kitchen floor but also leave footprints that must be mopped away yet again.
A somewhere rabbit trail can be equally frustrating, but it’s a different sort of frustration. It’s the type of frustration that says if one continues on the current trail that the real trail will be found. It’s the one that says to grab the towel from the counter and to use it to shuffle across the wet tile or linoleum. The frustration has a solution even if it’s not the nice and tidy or expected one.
The truth is that any time I write or draw, I’m pursuing some sort of rabbit trail. I may know where I want to end but not know the way to reaching that conclusion. Usually, though, I only have a beginning. I have a word. I have a sentence. I have an idea, and I have to follow it to its conclusion even if it means arriving at a dead end and having to turn back or happening upon a new trail that leads me where I was meant to go in the first place.
Photo: hj_west (CC BY-SA 2.0)