Imagine a movie that tells the story of your favorite author writing your favorite book. Where might the filmmaker begin this tale? Perhaps in the author’s childhood when he or she first discovered the joy of writing. Perhaps on the day the idea for your favorite book popped into the author’s head. Where this story would probably not begin is the day the book was published to great acclaim.
Quite a dull story that, and quite an untrue one as well. I forget sometimes when I read a book I love that the novelist did not know that I would love it when they sat down to write. In fact, the novelist did not know anything about that book at all except that they wanted to write it. All other results, the actual shape of the story, its publication, its reception, all of it lay within the great unknown realm of possibility, as opaque to that writer as every other soul on the planet.
So in this movie of your favorite writer writing your favorite book, we would probably get to watch the writer discover writing, and then deciding to become a professional writer, and then beginning to write The Book, and struggling to find The Book, and perhaps struggling to have The Book published. But in the end The Book is published, and we see all the struggle was worth it, and the lights come up, and we go home.
If the filmmaker did a very good job of telling this story, we, the audience, should remain uncertain as to whether that book will ever actually be written, and once written that it will actually ever be published, even though we went to see the movie because the book was published and we have read it. The filmmaker knows all stories are stories of uncertainty and that there can be no drama without it.
Yet no matter how well the filmmaker did their job we seem to be afforded a certain comfort because we know how this story will end. And you may be tempted, if you are a writer yourself, and if you are writing a book and do not know how you will finish it or how you will publish it, to wonder if this story could ever be told about you. Perhaps you will be inspired by the story of struggle and redemption, but perhaps, alone at your desk, you will despair privately, because your own life seems to lack the thread of inevitability you felt traced through that film.
You would despair only if you forgot that your own story is already being told this very moment. The story of every novel ever written, of every bridge that was ever built, of every marriage, and of every nation, begins with that tiny, quiet moment of one person thinking, “I wish to.” And so it is begun before a single word is printed, before a single divot is drilled, before a single kiss is won—begun at the very edge of all possibilities, of failure and of success, of love and of loss.
The edge of the unknown is the berth from which all creation sails, and yet this very quality, the unknowable sea of possibility, is the very thing that can cause us to pull up our masts and turn back. “If I do not know where I am going to dock, then why am I sailing?” In this moment you mistake destination for destiny. Yours is not to know the place or time; yours is not to know even the route—yours is to know only that you set sail on purpose and that this decision alone qualified you to captain your ship.
The certainty you felt beneath the film of your favorite writer was actually not your awareness of the story’s conclusion. Rather, it was the inevitability of the journey itself, that it had to be taken, not because you are better or worse, but because you are alive and all living things must grow, and all living things grow through desire. This is your guide and your beacon, this is what navigates you through all possibility. Because some day from your bow you will spot a shore, and you will think, “Doesn’t that look interesting?” and so you will turn your boat, and so you will be headed home.