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Creativity coach, writing and creative process instructor, speaker, author of Around the Writer's Block: Using Brain Science to Write the Way You Want (Penguin/Tarcher 2012) and Dancing in the Dragon's Den (Red Wheel Weiser), Teaching Artist at the Loft Literary Center.

Feeling Blocked? Don’t Know What’s Next? Don’t Worry!

Writers are more likely to feel blocked when they’re trying to start a new piece of writing and don’t where to start or when they first get into a piece and don’t know where to go next.

But not knowing is not the problem. It is the combination of not knowing AND thinking that you’re supposed to know. Throw in the misguided assumption that you’d better figure it out before you take another step and you create a substantial block.

So what if you don’t know what’s next? Only half of writing is communicating what you know – the other half is discovering something worth communicating. Too many writers forget about the discovery part.

You Can’t Really Discover What You Already Think You Know

There are times (lots of times) when you aren’t supposed to know what’s next. These are the times when you get to play around, experiment, try it one way then try it another way, see what others have tried and modify their approach. Not knowing can be very freeing when you give yourself permission to not know.

Ask lots of open-ended questions. Then ask even more open-ended questions. Then ask other people what their questions are. Later, you can go looking for answers, but first take the time to relish the not knowing.

Of course you make mistakes when you don’t know something. The not-knowing period is when you’re supposed to make mistakes. Remember what Thomas Edison told the person who asked if he was ready to give up after 999 failures: “I haven’t failed 999 times, I’ve found 999 ways not to make the electric light bulb.”

You probably won’t need to discover 999 things that are not next in your writing before you find out what is next. But if you do, you may as well get started now!

What do you not know? What do you want to discover?

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