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Tips, Inspiration, & Resources

The cure for writer's block: Embracing the "I don't know"

Not knowing is supposed to be a bad thing. However, with storytelling, not knowing can be the best thing that ever happened to you.


Because if you surrender to the "I don't know," then anything can happen.


Suddenly, you're in a magical world of endless possibilities.


You are a kid in a playground. A park. A candy shop. A toy store. You're in a place where you can have anything you want, be anything you want, go anywhere you want, travel to any time you want. It's one big game of pretend. No limitations.





Rule number one: Don't freak out.

It'll just waste your time and make you feel worse. Know that whatever you are going through is temporary. Tell yourself that you WILL get yourself out of that blocked place. Tell yourself you have nothing to lose by trying the methods in this post. 


Rule number two: Step away from the vehicle.

Stop trying to turn over that engine in your head. It's flooded with too much analytical, know-it-all thinking. The know-it-all is not your friend. The know-it-all is not going to get that sentence, that page, that chapter written. Because you are going to step into the land of "I don't know." Willingly!


Rule number three: Decide that you are in the wonderful land of "I don't know," where magical answers appear without any effort.

If you're saying to yourself, "yeah, right," with a big dose of sarcasm, tell that naysayer voice inside to take a hike. Tell yourself that it costs you nothing to believe in the magic of "I don't know." Go ahead, just give it a try. Allow for the possibility. Suspend disbelief. You don't have to tell anyone. And what do you have to lose?


Rule number four: Go into a quiet place inside, close your eyes, and ask to receive whatever comes.

Ask? What's that supposed to mean? Whom are you supposed to ask? 


You can ask no one in particular. Or you can ask your character. Or you can ask your inner wisdom. Or whomever you turn to (or wish you could turn to) for guidance. Ask whatever or whomever to show you what happens next.


Rule number five (which is an alternate or adjunct to rule number four):


Summon something sensory: A smell, a word, a phrase, a taste, a sound, a picture, a thought, a texture. And let your mind roam from there.

  • If you're having trouble summoning something sensory in your mind, reach for the spice rack and inhale deeply.
  • Or smell the freshly washed clothes in the laundry basket.
  • Or feel the nubbly nap of the towel, the smoothness of the silken blouse.
  • Touch the flower petals  in your garden.
  • Breathe in the scent of the earth and feel the dirt on your fingers.
  • Taste something you wouldn't usually eat.
  • Listen to a brief clip of music you've never listened to before.
  • Open the dictionary and randomly pick a word.
  • Let your mind roam, without censoring anything that comes, and WRITE IT DOWN.  


Rule number six: Trust that whatever you need to hear or see will be revealed to you.

Just WRITE IT DOWN, no matter how disconnected or nonsensical or alarming or unfamiliar it may seem. 


Rule number seven: Don't censor what comes. Just run with it.

What comes to you may be quite different from what your analytical mind would have thought up. Just WRITE IT DOWN.


Rule number eight: Do something mindless.

If you start getting frustrated sitting around in silence, or you second-guess the process and start grinding your analytical thinking gears again, decide that the answer will come to you in good time.

  • The trick is to get up and do something mindless, something you can do on auto-pilot.
  • Like go for a drive--but see safety note below first.
  • Do the dishes.
  • Take a shower.
  • Work in the garden.
  • Fold laundry.


*SAFETY NOTE: Do something mindless without being reckless. For example, if you start getting a flow of ideas while driving, pull over. I once got so lost in a flow of creative ideas while I was pulling out of a parking space that I scraped the car parked next to me. In other words, don't try and operate heavy equipment while your muse or character dictates to you. Besides, if you pull over, you can actually take dictation on paper or record it all on your phone. 


Rule number nine: Have faith. Because the answer WILL come.

You'll see: Like magic, the ideas start flowing. You'll see/hear the scenes or words unfold in your head. At times you'll be hard pressed to keep up with the flow of words and/or pictures as you try and write it all down.


Rule number ten: Don't forget what just happened!

Decide to remember the exhilarating, mind-opening experience you've just had. Which will help you put into practice all of the above the next time you think you're stuck.

  • WRITE IT DOWN. The ideas as well as the experience.
  • You are, after all, a writer. And you'll never want to forget this breakthrough, especially if your ego would like you to forget it.
  • Then you'll be able to say, See? I wrote it down. You can't fool me. Begone, naysayer!
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