The Titanic was surprised by an unanticipated block of ice beneath the dark, frigid, North Atlantic ocean. It sank like a stone into the unknown depths. This needn’t happen to your writing.
In the process of imagining, initiating and completing a writing project, we have many opportunities to observe how we deal with the unknown. Each time I begin a new blog post, I feel a combination of interest, uncertainty, challenge and angst. I wonder if I will be able to write it, and what the post will eventually be. Something always happens, and I’m always surprised.
The unknown might be a sentence not yet right, a mountain of information not yet organized, an argument not yet developed, a problem not yet solved, or a story line not yet worked out. We know something more needs to be accomplished, and we don’t know exactly how we will do it. This moment of contemplating the unknown is fertile territory for spawning sinking feelings like anxiety, self-doubt, confusion and the dread of failure. The experience of ‘not knowing’ may also make a person feel that something internal is lacking: intelligence, creativity, or other unnamable attributes that “real” writers supposedly possess. It can make you panic that the whole project will go down.
What is your characteristic mode of responding when you don’t know how to proceed? During the writing of my dissertation I repeatedly confronted new problems andchallenges I had no ready solutions for. In my mind, each one of these problems was a dark torpedo screaming toward my dissertation’s brittle hull. I would back away from the project with each challenge because my catastrophic fantasizing made the writing hard to tolerate. Eventually I’d return to my desk and the problems would somehow be resolved after I wrestled with them for a while. Fortunately, the ship stayed afloat and I eventually learned to settle down and trust the process.
Be curious when you feel stumped. “Unknown” doesn’t have to mean terrifying, daunting, or painful. In fact, for many writers it is the appeal of creating something that doesn’t yet exist in the world that propels them to write.
Trust your writing boat to float, and proceed with curiosity and a sense of adventure. Something will happen.