Many years ago my father’s friend Tommy offered to drive him home in his new car. It was a 1955 Morris Minor, more rust than metal, but it was the first car Tommy had ever owned and he was proud of it.
Dad gets into the car and off they go through the dark Irish lanes. After they’ve driven maybe thirty feet, Tommy stops the car and gets out. He stands there at the roadside for a few minutes, then gets back in the car and drives on.
A minute or two later, the same thing happens.
And then it happens again.
At this third time, Dad’s curiosity is getting the best of him and he says, “Is something wrong, Tommy? Why do you keep getting out of the car?”
Tommy says, “I want to check the road ahead.”
To which dad replies, “Why don’t you just turn on the headlights?”
Pause. Then, “It has headlights?”
Needless to say, Dad didn’t accept any more lifts from Tommy.
Recently, I started teaching creative writing in the local resource centre. We have a nice group and they’re very enthusiastic. But they seem to have some trepidation about facing the blank page. They want to know what the next town is, the next landmark. How can I write this page if I don’t know what’s on the next one, or the one after that?
E.L. Doctorow had a piece of advice that has stuck with me over the years, and it’s this:
You can’t see the end of your journey. You can only see as far ahead as the headlights on your car. But you can make the entire journey that way. You can write a whole book that way, too.
One word at a time.