Hey, everybody. It’s time for the final Monday Musings post, as explained in a previous post. To summarize, I’m going to be focusing on writing more fiction on this blog from now on. This isn’t to say I’ll only be writing fiction, though. If I have any life- or writing-related thoughts to share, I’ll share them on Saturdays instead.
For today, I’d like to talk about the unknown — the very thing I can’t talk about with certainty and concreteness. And because I can’t talk about it with any sort of certainty and concreteness, it’s one of the things that I dislike the most. I have such a strong bodily fear toward the unknown that I often procrastinate on a lot of things that I know I shouldn’t be procrastinating on.
Yet how can it be that I, who loves to create stories out of thin air, still be afraid of the unknown? How did I become so comfortable diving again and again into the blank page — plunge into free writing sessions, not knowing where my stories are coming from or where they’re going to end up? It doesn’t make sense.
Something’s got to give.
A Sense of Peace
My grandmother passed away in June this year. My family and I attended her funeral, and my second-uncle on my father’s side gave the sermon. He mentioned how fear was a “mind-killer” and that for all the major fears in life, God had an answer. One of them — you guessed it — was the fear of the unknown, and he said that (paraphrasing here) so long as you had faith in Him and the plan that He had in store for you, the fear of the unknown would disappear.
Now, I don’t consider myself a deeply religious or spiritual person. But for those that do practice a religion or have any kind of spiritual practice that gives them peace, I admit that I kind of envy them a little bit. They’ve got a big powerful God on their side that listens to their prayers and has a greater plan in store for them. They don’t feel alone and helpless in times of struggle, and if they do, it won’t be for as long as they would had they not had that inner strength.
Logic and Faith appear to be at wits in this regard.
Faith says, “Everything’s going to be all right, in the end.”
Logic retorts, “You don’t know that. You can’t know that. You could walk out the door and get hit by a bus tomorrow.”
Then Faith responds, “You’re right. I could be hit by a bus tomorrow, but it also means that there’s a chance that I won’t be hit by a bus tomorrow because I might not leave my house tomorrow.”
To which Logic says, “And there’s also a chance that you might still get hit by a bus while in your house because a bus driver could swerve onto your street and bulldoze into your wall.”
To which Faith quips, “And how likely would a bus driver have a personal vendetta against me so strong that he’s willing to drive his bus into my room and kill me? I hardly know any bus drivers, and most bus drivers I know have to stick to a route that doesn’t go near my house, anyway. It’s not logical for me to worry about bus drivers not doing their jobs because even if I do get on a bus, they’ll likely forget who I am unless I cause someone else trouble, which is unlikely because I’m a fairly good and orderly person. I’d rather have faith that the bus driver and I are both polite and respectful as we move about our lives.”
To which Logic fails to reply because it’s a logical answer.
Because Faith and Logic are two sides of the same coin.
A Sense of Practice
If you have a fear of the unknown, it’s not so much the unknown that frightens you. What you really fear is being wrong and the subsequent loss of power that comes with it.
Knowing what happens next, or what is likely to happen next, is a powerful thing. It makes us feel safe. It’s why I outline my novel so much and why I count the change for the bus in my pocket, even though I’ve counted it a bunch of times. It’s not like the coins will disappear within my pocket, but feeding my paranoia gives me a tiny sense of calm each time I check. It’s addicting. And in that addiction, I give myself a false sense of security and certainty.
But it’s not healthy. Sticking to what I know all the time won’t cause self-assurance; it’ll cause more self-doubt. Instead of challenging myself to grow and adapt to new situations, I’ll be in a rut. And the more I’m in that rut, the more I’ll doubt my ability to get out of it.
A vicious cycle, am I right?
So, let’s bring things back to writing. How can I go back time and time again to the blank page and jump right in?
Because I’ve done it a bunch of times, and I’ve developed my own sense of security about it, not someone or something else’s.
A Sense of Self
Humans love certainty. We love ordering burgers over the phone or over the Internet because we can rest knowing that the people at the restaurant will have it ready for us once we pick it up.
But in order to understand the unknown, we must first understand our craving for certainty and flip it on its head:
No matter how carefully we plan and prepare for tomorrow, tonight may find us frozen as solid as those famed Siberian mammoths, refrigerated for centuries like giant sides of beef by a blast of frigid air so sudden and so devastating that they died with buttercups still in their mouths.
Incidentally, science and the objectivists haven’t yet figured out just what happened that day.
The only true certainty in life, so far as we know, is death — at least what we call death.
As a writer, to deal with this world, you must accept it and your own ever-so-finite limitations as they are. Facts are something you have to take for granted. But you don’t worship them, for your security, your certainty, is in yourself.
In your feelings.
— Dwight V. Swain, Techniques of the Selling Writer
I don’t know what lead me to read one of my favorite books on writing again one night. Perhaps it was sending off one of my stories to a magazine and the anxiety from it, or not feeling like reading the other book I was mid-way through. But whatever feeling was inside me, I went with it, and cracked open this book again.
And lo and behold, I found my answer fourteen pages in:
A Sense of Wonder
“The only true certainty in life, so far as we know, is death — at least what we call death,” says Swain. But for all the rest of the stuff in life, don’t bother with it. If you must do any worrying, make sure that it’s a healthy kind of worry — the kind of concern that drives you to keep a healthy level of curiosity and wonder in your heart, the kind that keeps you safe while taking risks.
It’s not easy. I know. It’s never easy. And I don’t expect you or I to instantly fall in love with the unknown and have it excite us all the time. Sometimes, it’s better not to eat that soup that’s been handed to you even though you don’t know all of what’s in it. But don’t let not knowing what’s in it keep you from asking what’s in it or taking a sip to see for yourself what’s in it.
Don’t let the unknown freeze and restrict you.
Let it compel you.
Prepare for it.
And do it all again.