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.
2 thoughts on “Step into the unknown”
Hi Rebecca–I just finished reading your Story “Rabbit, Cat, Girl.” It was captivating. I liked it so much. My roomate picked up XIII here in Baltimore at our hippest bookseller, Atomic Boks. And your blog is great. Here is my start on a travel piece that contains notions of “stepping into the unknown”:
“I don’t know the language here, but people everywhere are using it and I am mute in my newness. I also cannot smile. I have been warned, in fact, about smiling. Back in my hometown I smile at strangers, but here, on the streets of S_________, there is an unwritten rule that smiling leads to, well, it leads to things unknown. A smile is like the darkness on the basement stairs befiore the light is switched on. In fact a smile just now would be for you like an invitation to take the first step down a set of old, rickety, dark stairs. You see, here, in S_____, it works like this: If I smile at you I do so, accordng to your way of thinking, because I intend to hurt you; because I may know something about you I shouldn’t know; because I am signaling to the gentleman behind the issue of P________that you are the target; because history has brought us together at this point and all we can do is pay tribute to fear. So, no smiling. So, no words. The unknown invigorates the cold winter air. Yes, I can breathe. I begin my search for the Forlon Cafe.”
Thanks for the kind words about my story, John! I’m glad you liked it. And thanks for posting your work, too. “A smile is like the darkness on the basement stairs befiore the light is switched on. In fact a smile just now would be for you like an invitation to take the first step down a set of old, rickety, dark stairs.” Nice!