Sunday, April 10, 2011

Stepping Into The Unknown

In my work-in-progress, I feel that I’ve arrived at a turning point, and the question that keeps repeating itself is this: Where does the story need to go next?

To be honest, I don’t know.

The outline that I started weeks ago doesn’t help. Since writing the opening pages, I’ve veered off the path.

I don’t feel like I’m stuck in a swamp. It feels more like I’ve found my way into open terrain, a vast plain, with nothing visible on the horizon.

The trouble with being unable to see anything on the horizon is that it’s not clear which way to go. There is no path. I have to remind myself no one before has ever traveled this route.

My initial impulse to this overwhelming uncertainty is to flee. I want to leave the manuscript in my backpack and take out another project to work on.

But then I stop myself from reaching for another project. There is no reason to flee, I tell myself, no reason to shy away from the unknown.

If I can pause for a moment and notice the world around me, I can see where I am.

It may not be familiar territory. It may be a place where I’ve never been before. But if I can let go of my fear of the unknown, I can sense what’s in front of me.

Not a path, exactly. Just the hint of a faint vibration pulling me one way rather than another.

I can take a risk, step into the water, and swim toward whatever's pulling me to see where it will lead.

If it begins to feel like I’m swimming away from my story, I can start over. I can set off in another direction.

So I begin to reread the pages of my work-in-progress.

I review the outline hoping to detect the hint of an arc, an arrow pointing the way that I need to go next.

Two hours later... after re-immersing myself in revisions... I found something unexpected.

The plot began to unfold.

But only after I took that first step into the unknown.

Stepping into the unknown--taking that leap of faith--was the key.

What about you? What do you do when you no longer know where the story needs to go? How do you find your way? How do you convince yourself to leap, to step into the unknown?

Write and let us know when you get a chance.


Kelly Fineman said...

Lovely post, Bruce. And helpful, too.

When I find myself out there on the darkling plain, I do just what you did - and it invariably works.

Bruce Black said...

Thanks, Kelly.
The darkling plain... a perfect poetic description of where I find myself sometimes.