It seems I’ve been spending a lot of time lately in the unknown. Or maybe I’ve been here all along, and I’m just now realizing (or accepting) the way my feet feel on that cold, clammy ground.
Anyway, a couple of things I’ve read lately got me thinking that it would be okay to impose this idea on the students in my advanced creative writing class at Antioch College. (As with most of my teaching, I always feel like I’m learning more than my students, and certainly I risked imposing my shit onto my students in this case.) Last night, we tried this prompt, and I thought it would be fun to likewise impose my shit onto anyone reading this blog post. (If you try it, please post here about how or whether it works for you!) Here it is:
Writing prompt: Step into the Unknown
(inspired by Nick Flynn and Lynda Barry, February 2015)
Lynda Barry writes about the two questions that plague her: “Is this good?” and “Does this suck?” “To be able to stand not knowing long enough to let something alive take shape! Without the two questions so much is possible. To all the kids who quit drawing…Come back!” –Lynda Barry, What It Is, Drawn and Quarterly, 2008, p. 135
Nick Flynn, in his memoir The Reenactments, writes, “It was easier, when high, to take photographs than to write—photography requires focused attention, and I could focus when high, my world in fact was nothing but focused, reduced to a pinpoint, to a chunk of hash impaled on a pin. But writing requires both clarity and a willingness to step into the unknown, and there was nothing clear about my days, not then. Getting fucked up every day is about maintaining the status quo‑it has nothing to do with change, or the unknown.” (Nick Flynn, The Reenactments, p. 77)
If these ideas resonate, then writers must “step into the unknown,” and “stand not knowing long enough to let something alive take shape.”
Start with a situation that you have in mind, one that is unknown to you. It might be something you are facing, a new phase of life. Or start with the phrase, “I don’t know” and do a freewrite.