Starting a new project always elicits in me a frightening mix of exhilaration and trepidation. On the one hand, I envision a finished outcome that expresses the inspirational insight that makes it seem worth doing. At the same time, I tremble at the prospect of the many wrong turns and dead ends I will encounter in getting there. The dark side of any creative undertaking is the utter impossibility of achieving the vision in the creator’s mind. This is why artists are their own harshest critics. For many creative people, the art never attains the possibilities first envisioned in its inspiration.
And yet we begin, striving to make something worthy of the muse. Not really knowing the way there, we set out on our creative journeys, reaching for that beautiful destination first imagined. As novelist E.L. Doctorow put it, “Writing a novel is like driving a car at night. You can see only as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way” (quoted in Anne Lamott, Bird by Bird, 18). We see only the road just ahead in the glow of headlights and keep moving, knowing that we will arrive safely.
In fact, we need not see even that much. I am reminded of an elderly friend, Helen McMillan (now deceased), who would travel each summer from central Ohio up to a cabin in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. She would often drive the entire way by herself, despite her failing eyesight. When asked about the wisdom of undertaking such a journey without the ability to see well, she quipped, “You don’t need to see if you know where you are going.” As a metaphor for the creative process, Ms. McMillan’s trust in her inner vision can serve as a source of encouragement. Unable to see where I am or what lies in my immediate path should not prevent me from venturing out, as long as I have the vision of my destination to guide me. As I begin a new project, excited about the possibilities but nervous about how I will get there, knowing where I am going calms my nerves and urges me onward.