Not knowing is the goal.

2chairs

Here’s one way to deal with writing anxiety: know that the story you’re writing is already happening.

What if your characters are already living their story, and you don’t have to make them up? What if it wasn’t your job to come up with personalities and invent settings and conflicts and relationships?

If you believed that your plot was already happening, you wouldn’t expect yourself to have to make it. Instead, you’d discover it, and then write it down as you see it.

Way to take off some pressure.

Try this: believe that the story you’re writing is already in process right now, the characters living their lives, their actions hovering somewhere in the air around your desk, not unlike radio waves or Wi-Fi. What you have to do is tune in to receive it.

This means clearing your mind and going to your page without assumptions or threats. Believe that it’s there for you already: go gently. Be open.

Trust the relationship you have with your writing.

Meet TJ Jagodowski and Dave Pasquesi – two improv actors from Chicago who practice the art of listening and paying attention to stories every week in their 50-minute live show. The actors were interviewed for Radiolab (please listen to it: the piece is about 15 minutes).

Think of your writing desk as a stage. When the lights go on, you stand there and wait: for a glimpse of a shoulder or a voice; for a line; for a feeling that you want to know more about. You wait as long as it takes, reminding yourself: not knowing is the goal.

It’s terrifying at first – there’s nothing there! You want to bolt, but you don’t. You breathe. You stay in your chair. You tell yourself, I’m here: I showed up. Now I have to pay attention.

When you are paying attention, you can write what happens in each moment of the story without overthinking it or forcing it. This is how you will feel surprised by your own story: you will be writing it as it reveals itself to you.

“It's so encompassing,” says TJ in the interview. “It's a really still place. No one's going to ask you for anything, no one's going to call. You're just in this kind of sealed bubble with someone that you trust implicitly.”

You and your writing can work together to uncover a story that already exists. But for this to work, you need to trust your creative mind implicitly.

Do you feel that trust? How do you develop that kind of bond with your writing? Let me know in the comments, below.

xo,  

Sarah” width=

Your writing rehearsal.
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17 comments

Beth Follett

A Zen archer does not try to hit the target. With intense concentration, he draws the bow and waits: the target releases the arrow, and draws it to itself. - *Meditations from a Movable Chair* by Andre Dubus I come to my writing practice with a whole bunch of enculturated attitudes about writing, attitudes that have to be released before I can muster intense concentration of the kind Dubus is referring to, of the kind these two improv artists use in their work. Waiting, paying attention, concentrating, having *implicit trust*: writing is a counterculture practice. No wonder it sets our nerves jangling.
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Thank you so much for this! This is actually how my stories begin to evolve and then during the rewrite/review I forget it. My mind takes off and… At some point my characters take over. They know where they need to go. Sometimes I resist and that's when I become blocked, too critical. I can see now that resistance is self-imposed. Solution: return to the free flow of improv and see where it goes. Again, thank you, Sarah. This was time well-spent.
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Fabulous! Thank you for this ~
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RLBrockmeyer

Awesome...it has been hard for me to explain to others that, yes, I wrote it. I feel it, I think it, but it is fiction, even in poetry which is my primary medium. This was perfect! Thanks for sharing.
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My writing usually just writes itself. I'm merely the tool...
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If I don't surprise myself, it's not good. It means I had a thought and where it goes to in mind, and then "translated" that into a poem. It is never fresh, not in the writing or in the perception/ insight.
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Lynn Corrigan

Thanks for sharing this Sarah. Discovery is my writing mode. This helps me move toward "right effort".
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Rea Tarvydas

thanks for this. i needed it today. i've been walking through sludge with my work these past few weeks and worrying. you know how it goes.
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Very cool. I feel like this piece is very in line with some of the things you teach in SSMind, specifically the idea of holding one's pen like a divining rod!
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Stephen D. Forman

Interesting POV, thanks for sharing. Sort of an "infinite universes" concept: all these stories and characters are happening around us, we just have to have the eyes to see. (Of course, it wouldn't hurt to be able to turn a phrase well)
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Mark Johnson

Suddenly I realize/That if I stepped out of my body I would break/Into blossom. -James Wright 'A Blessing'
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Sharon Coleman

Thanks for that. It was amazing. What a great way to approach writing. :) Sharon
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Jon Shanahan

Just read this on the subway yesterday: "As for the origin of one's wind-blown germs themselves, who shall say, as you ask, where they come from? We have to go too far back, too far behind, to say. Isn't it all we can say that they come from every quarter of heaven, that they are almost always there at any turn of the road? They accumulate, and we are always picking them over, selecting among them. They are the breath of life - by which I mean that life, in its own way, breathes them upon us. There are so, in a manner prescribed and imposed - floated into our minds by the current of life." ---- From the Author's Preface to Portrait of a Lady, Henry James HOLIEST OF HOLIES!
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Jawaad Ahmad Khan

I've been taking Improv classes for the last several months, and performing semi-frequently. I took them because it's probably the most fun I've ever had, but it was also at the recommendation of a good friend of mine who became an actor (and was always a writer) after taking Improv. The way he explained it is that Improv is pure creation. I want to be a writer, and improv is literally writing and creating characters, worlds, and plots constantly. It frees your mind so much and I have never felt so creatively confident in myself as much as I have on stage. You start with nothing (as all us writers do), and the pressure of a spotlight, or an expectant audience, or a publisher, or a desire to create...they force you to write something, anything. And the more times you have to take that chance, move forward, and start something, the better you get at it. It's like your advice to write every day, Sarah. You don't know what it'll be, but you won't get better unless you keep constantly trying. Thanks for this post, and I hope other writers benefit from learning about the amazing art of improvisation and how useful it is in the creative process.
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Needed to read this today, Sarah, as I begin my next novel. Torn between obsessive-compulsively plot outlining and just, you know, not. Deep down I know I have enough details to simply take a deep breath and begin... So, thanks :)
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Wow. This is exactly how my novella happened. I was given a challenge (and, frankly, I was dared to write it). I thought it was impossible. But I agreed to it, and told the person who dared me to expect that it would take a long time before I actually did it. Then ideas just emerged in my mind, pretty much the very next day. Plot points sort of waved to me; scenes insisted on being written. The characters decided how they wanted to deliver dialogue, or what actions they wanted to take. Two months later--BOOM! Nineteen thousand words, and the best thing I've ever written. And all because I allowed myself to be open.
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This morning I came to experience Synchronicity in full force. In one of my dreams last night a strange little girl with dark curly hair passing by points at me among a group of people as if I've committed a crime or she's accusing me of something, she says, You are a writer. You need discipline. This morning I received one of Sarah's emails. And I ended up reading two of her articles that spokes as if directly to me. This article and the first sentence " Here’s one way to deal with writing anxiety: know that the story you’re writing is already happening," and "What You Need to Know About Fear." So, there. Pay attention, I'm told. Thanks Sarah.
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