On Sunday mornings, soon after posting on Wordswimmer, I'll drive over to Dunkin’ Donuts for a cup of coffee (and one or two Munchkins) and spend an hour or two writing.
Sometimes I’ll know in advance what I’m going to work on, but most often I'll have no idea what will happen.
All I know is that I have my notebook and pen in my knapsack, and a few bills in my pocket to buy the coffee and doughnuts. Beyond that? I never know what to expect.
For years this not knowing proved intimidating. Indeed, it was the most painful part of my writing process, and, often, I’d seek ways to avoid writing just to escape from the pain of not knowing.
Inevitably, I'd find it too great an obstacle to move past, an impediment to getting the words on paper.
The pain--maybe I should say the pain and shame that I felt on not knowing--was enough to send me scurrying away from my writing desk in search of a safer, less exposed place. (The basketball court, for instance, when I was younger, or, more recently, the pool.)
But I've come to learn (over years and years of practice) to accept the not knowing as an integral part of the process.
I have to be willing to sit down to write not knowing what will come.
I have to be willing to work past the momentary feelings of pain and shame (which still haunt me when I don’t know something but feel that I should know) and summon the courage to explore whatever is on my mind or whatever I’m feeling, even if I don’t know when I start writing what it is that I’m thinking or feeling.
Working past the not knowing--or, rather, working through the not knowing--is the only way that I can discover through the physical act of writing what’s on my mind or what I’m feeling.
Not knowing isn’t just part of the writing process. It is the writing process.
Not knowing is like a door: you don’t know what’s on the other side until you turn the knob and open it.
Or like swimming: you don’t know what you’ll find in the water until you dive in.
When you fear what you don’t know (as I often do) or feel embarrassed by not knowing (like me), you’re responding to fear, not just the fear of what other people will think, but fear of your own inadequacy or ignorance.
If you’re going to write, you cannot allow fear to rule you.
You must be willing to sit with not knowing. Only when you sit with it--sometimes for hours, sometimes for days or weeks--will you be able to write from a deeper place, a place beyond what you know or think you know.
If you can accept the fact of not knowing, the not knowing will lead you to a place where you'll find what you need to know.
It's that place where your inner truths--and your inner voice--are stored, waiting for you to find them.
For more on not knowing, visit: