The Uncertainty of Writing

by | Apr 13, 2017

Lately I’ve been dipping into Pema Chodron’s book Comfortable with Uncertainty (Shambhala, 2002). I’m at an uncertain point in my life and needing reminders to breathe deeply, face my fears, and accept that everything is impermanent. I’m reminded that all of this is good advice for the writing life as well. After all, what’s more uncertain than the writer’s life?

When we open up to writing, we, perhaps unwittingly, open up to uncertainty. We cannot predict where the act of writing will take us. Deeper into ourselves? Into new worlds? Into untapped tombs of passion, tenderness, or rage that find a way onto the page?

It takes courage to face the blank page, to explore new areas of our own minds and hearts, and then to put words down without knowing where they’ll lead. It takes courage to face uncertainty. In the process of developing courage, I’ve been exploring these three approaches:

~ Practice accepting that writing, like life, rises from the uncertain places in ourselves as much as the certain ones. We may not know where our writing is leading us, and that’s fine. It’s part of embracing the mystery of being engaged in creativity, of having the courage to breathe and live.

~ Consider handing off some of your uncertainty to your characters. All humans feel uncertain at some point or other, and so readers will be able to identify with the uncertainty of your characters. Vicariously experiencing a character’s uncertainty, and how they handle it, can help us (and readers) gain a new perspective.

~ Place your need for certainty in areas where you have a fair bit of control. If you set aside time to write daily, even if it’s only 10 minutes or 30 minutes, you are in control of this agreement with yourself. There is too much about writing that is beyond a writer’s control. When we have expectations about particular outcomes, or anticipate who might like our work down the road, or carry around other unfulfilled hopes, we end up creating a lot of unnecessary uncertainty because we’re looking for it in places where it doesn’t exist.

Cultivating the courage to deal with uncertainty, in writing and in life, doesn’t make it go away, but it does make us more resilient creators of life and words.


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