Sovereign Standard, Issue 34 The writer looks like she is sitting at a keyboard or scribbling furiously in a journal. She seems to be occupying the same space and time as everyone else in the room, but, in reality, she’s exploring territory that she can explain, but never let you view directly.
Whether it’s fiction or theory or even marketing copy that comes from the heart, she’s deep in her own inner landscape. This marvelous space is only limited by the scope of her own imagination and knowledge.
This private world is not infinite. Instead, it’s an eternally elastic territory. The borders are pushed outward by everything she learns and by every experience that invites her to grow.
And yet, there are limits. The writer will reach her edge. Then what?
The Blogger’s Dilemma: The Question Without an Easy Answer
When I worked on the first draft of this week’s blog post, I found myself writing into a question without an answer.
It was something so close to my “expertise” that I was shocked when I hit a big “I don’t know…”
Often the best questions don’t have ready answers - that vast unknown is the seed of a book, a career, or a life's passion. By the same token, the best blog posts don't necessarily follow the "proven" formulas.
But, in my case, it felt like I should have an answer (and I don’t even let myself use the word should). After all, I was writing about storytelling and this was “just” a blog post… Finding myself at the edge of my frontier of knowledge was as unexpected as it was unsettling.
Sitting quietly in front of a Word doc, I felt uncertain and exposed.
I felt horribly vulnerable - even though no one ever needed to know that there was something really important about storytelling I couldn’t write about with ease.
And then, the magic of the writing practice kicked in: describing the view from my own intellectual edge became more important than the expertise I thought my readers would need.
This is the Vulnerability Business, right?
Last week’s post was about being in the vulnerability business. If you seek to transform lives and make this world more beautiful, bearable, or bold, you have a stall in the marketplace of vulnerability.
You hold space for your clients’ shame and uncertainties. And you strive to recognize vulnerability when you see it - starting with your own.
The writing process gives you a perfect window into your own vulnerabilities. After all, it’s about showing people how you organized ideas and crafted them to be understood by others. It's about being seen.
Something that wasn’t in the last post - writing can also expose what you might perceive as your “weaknesses.”
Remember, before Brené Brown taught us that “Vulnerability is the birthplace of love, belonging, joy, courage, empathy, and creativity,” most of us just equated vulnerability with weakness.
The gift of “I don’t know”
That unexpected “I don’t know” dropped me into the “fraud, fraud, fraud” pit. I’m sure I needn’t tell you that no decent writing has ever been produced in that despairing hell hole.
Let’s take a moment here to celebrate one of the many gifts of the writing practice: you can write your way through despair all the way to retrospect - sometimes in the same writing session!
Now, I can see “I don’t know” as a tremendous gift.
It’s an invitation to see things in a new way. It’s an opportunity to forgive myself for being a mere mortal who is still learning every day. It’s a chance to hit pause and do some really delicious research - and perhaps even read those books on writing that I love to buy but never have time to read (because it would eat into writing time, of course).
But what if you don’t have time receive the “I don’t know” gift?
New perspective, self-acceptance, mindful pauses. Lots of people tell you how wonderful they are.
Truth is, it is hard to see all the opportunities in “I don’t know” when you simply don’t have the time to wander and wonder and expand the bounds of the known world.
There is only so much writing time per week. This time is not meant to be lavished on research or stumbling into terra incognita. It’s not meant to be spent on Facebook either, but that's another story.
So, what happens when you write yourself into an "I don't know" shaped corner but you just need to hit publish?
4 Ways a Writer Can Respond to an Unexpected “I Don’t Know”
Research. The universe just may be telling you that it IS ok to skip this week’s post and put your writing time into developing your own answer to that big, scary question.
(Admittedly, this week I told the universe I would get back to it about expanding my mind after I found a way to write something worth publishing, baked cupcakes for my 6 year-old’s birthday, and finished the outline for my new membership group. This may be an instance of “do as the writing coach says, not as she does.”)
Release. “Release” may be about skipping or delaying a post (see above). Losing sleep or publishing something that isn’t ready just because it’s supposed to be on the editorial calendar is never in your best interest.
(Personally, I find it almost impossible to break the publishing promise I've made to myself. I often choose to understand “realease” as letting go of the troublesome topic and allowing another idea to emerge.)
Repurpose. Look back at past posts, particularly material that appeared on old websites or on guest blog posts. Redo the intro and the conclusion and let yourself off the “must create original material” hook. Remember: this is always an option.
(Do you even remember what you wrote last year? Chances are there's real gold there. Looking back to your past posts isn't cheating - it's using all your resources wisely.)
Reach out. As I wrote this late into Wednesday night, I whined to my husband about being stuck in the blogging vortex. While I was happy that I had been able to release the original idea and repurpose the feelings that “I need to do more research” stirred up, I had well over 2000 words of wandering wonder. All I wanted was an intro, some useful content, and a compelling Invitation to Action! That was when the light went on - if only I had a writing coach!
All day long, I look at clients’ snarled up brilliance and help them pluck out the brightest, most evocative ideas and stories. It’s nearly always impossible to get perspective on your own work. If you can relate to this story, reach out to me and we’ll see how I can help you uncover your most brilliant thoughts.
This week’s post was inspired by many factors including my big scary “I don’t know,” the conversation that last week’s vulnerability post has generated, and the Bravery Blogging Project I stumbled across this week (thanks, Molly!).
Illana Burk of Makeness Media is looking for her community to make “Real, original, difficult content.” I’m new to their world, but finding yet another circle of people who want to dive deep into an idea and risk writing outside the blogging “shoulds” stretches my mind in a wonderful new way. And it makes me feel like I can keep blogging about the “I don’t know” stuff and it encourages me to ask you to do the same.