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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.

Certainty is a Certain Route to Resistance


Questions breed insight; certainty breeds resistance

Questions breed insight; certainty breeds resistance

Don’t know where you’re going? Excellent!

Not sure how you’ll get there? Outstanding!

On your way anyway? Kudos!

Know everything? My condolences. But take heart in the fact that you’ll be able to get back to not knowing eventually.

Most resistance is caused by fear. And fear of the unknown is the biggest fear of all. But it’s not not knowing that causes problems, it’s the fear of not knowing.

At the heart of all resistance – block, paralysis, procrastination, postponing, perfectionism, waiting for inspiration, following distractions, criticizing yourself and others, sabotaging yourself, etc. – lies the inclination to fight yourself (or despair) because you’re imperfect.

Resistance arises from the assumption that you should be someone other than who you are and your process should be something other than what it is.

The opposite of (and solution to) resistance is surrender. Accept that you are who you are. Celebrate that your process is what it is. That doesn’t mean you and your process will never change, but you can never change what you do not accept. And you may discover that what you think is a weakness is also your strength.

The creative process is a cycle of not knowing to discovering to sharing what you discover and back to not knowing something else.

Being uncertain can be uncomfortable, but it is essential. Uncertainty is the necessary first step to discovery. You can’t discover what you already know (or think you know).

Asking good questions is the first step in the creative process. Discovery doesn’t show up until step four.

Knowing a lot may stroke your ego, but it’s the boring part of the creative process (which is why know-it-alls are such bores).

Complete expertise, aka knowing everything, isn’t any part of the creative process at all. When you know exactly what you’re going to write and how to write it, writing becomes routine, rote, uninspired – aka no longer creative.

Embrace uncertainty as your only route to creative discovery. Of course you don’t want to stay in uncertainty forever, just as you don’t want to stay in certainty forever (because you’re a creative person, you’d get bored).

But there is no need to fight with your uncertainty. As you relax into uncertainty, you become more comfortable with not knowing. When you stop fighting, when you stop thinking you’re supposed to know what you haven’t yet discovered, your resistance melts.

What uncertainty fuels (or could fuel) your writing?

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19 Comments on “Certainty is a Certain Route to Resistance”

  1. cursos de fotografia costa rica July 5, 2013 at 3:55 pm #

    Hello friends, nice piece of writing and good urging commented here,
    I am in fact enjoying by these.

    Like

  2. Michael Ireland February 15, 2013 at 10:06 am #

    Excuse my French, but I am a bloody brilliant writer, and even though my mind feels like mush, with the medications I am on to keep my thought life and emotions stable, I believe that is just the ‘State of Mind’ I need to be in to create something absolutely marvelous.

    If we are too concrete, too solid, there is no room for creativity to swirl around and produce something fresh, something of note, something of worth, something that will last and stand the test of time.

    Writing, like life, needs flexibility, the ability to flex, and be fluid, moveable, transparent, adjustable and adaptable. We need the ability to change our minds, to prefer something other than ‘standard fare.’ The diet of standard fare is for the masses, the ‘Un-thinking’ ones, those who will soak up just about anything that is dished out to them, and believe it to be true.

    I want to dish out more than tripe, more than fodder, more than just plain old trash. I want to write something that will stop people dead in their tracks, yet move them at the core of their beings. Yes, ‘shake, rattle, and roll.’ I intend to stir up people to think outside the box, to renew their thinking patterns, to leave their old, well-worn ways of thinking about things, to question their hidden core beliefs and to examine them in the fresh light of a new day, a day they haven’t lived before. I want them to rethink their old ways so that if something is really and realistically, ‘truly true’, they will know it at the core of their beings and their belief system. A rut is just a grave hole with both ends knocked out.

    At its least harmful, Doubt is well worth examining – at least once in a lifetime, if not more. We do not grow by not questioning, by not examining, by not scrutinizing, our thinking. If we truly ‘doubt our doubts and believe our beliefs’, the Truth will shine through, and found to be of worth, and our belief systems will prove themselves to be worthy of our trust, our belief. If our beliefs cannot stand the time of trial, the time of testing, they might not be worthy of our trust.

    Let us endeavor to be worthy of our beliefs, and in turn, find our beliefs to be worthy of our trust in them. Let us move on from a milk feed diet, and start to grapple with meat, real meat, meat that can provide nourishment and nutrition for our souls. That way we can leave ‘the elementary things’ behind and grow into Maturity.

    Like

    • rosannebane February 15, 2013 at 5:26 pm #

      Thanks Michael for sharing your insights. Me too, about wanting to transform readers’ perspectives.
      One of my coaching clients and I were talking about her collage for 2013 and I noticed the phrase “Never stop unlearning” — seems to fit, no?

      Like

      • Michael Ireland February 15, 2013 at 5:33 pm #

        I appreciate the affirmation! This piece came out of just that first thought, that first sentence and, before I knew it, I had written for more than than 15 minutes (as you propose in your new book “Around the Writer’s Block.” !

        Like

  3. Michael Ireland February 14, 2013 at 9:19 am #

    As for coninuing uncertainty, I find that self-doubt arises any time I emerge from my journalism, making me question whether I can pull off a novel, or work of creative ‘faction.’ I seem trapped by ‘just the facts’, and find difficulty tapping into my imagination. Hoping your book and the class (if I’m successful in winning the scholarship) can help pull me out of the doldrums!

    Like

    • rosannebane February 14, 2013 at 4:18 pm #

      Hi Michael,
      I’m sorry to hear your imagination was driven underground when you were growing up. At least you know who your Dr. Claparede is(p. 25) and that’s a step forward. And I notice you’re doing an okay job writing about yourself right here. 😉 Maybe give imaginative/fictional writing 5 or 10 minutes a day, just to play around, knowing no one is going to criticize it…

      Like

      • Michael February 14, 2013 at 4:29 pm #

        Thankyou for encouraging me to give myself permission to dream/ imagine outside the box. Much appreciated!

        Like

  4. Joel D Canfield February 14, 2013 at 8:21 am #

    I’m feeling a tingling uncertainty all around the edges of my craft.

    This is my year to go from being a good writer to being a great writer. I’m reading everything I can get my hands on about craft and process (LOVE your book; I’m savoring it slowly like an expensive old vine zin.)

    What I’m discovering is that most of the broad sweeping profound truths are things I’ve known my whole life, things I used in my earliest writing because I’ve been an avid reader since I was 3. Not avid, insatiable, voracious, unstoppable.

    But here and there, one of these brilliant writing teachers will toss off some little tidbit, as if to say “Of course, we all know this simple little thing” and it’s a game-changer for me.

    Little tiny screws, adjusting the whole machine.

    (No, of COURSE I can’t think of an example right now. When I do I’ll come back.)

    Like

    • rosannebane February 14, 2013 at 8:47 am #

      Thanks for your inspiring response Joel! Studying our craft is a writer’s responsibility and reward all in one. I appreciate the tiny screws adjusting the whole machine metaphor, but feel free to add a revision comment if a better one occurs to you.

      Like

      • Michael Irekand February 14, 2013 at 8:58 am #

        Rosanne and Joel: How about going to the orthodontist to get your braces adjusted? It can either be painful to have them tightened, or a relief when they are loosened and/or removed… :~) I also bought your book and am savouring like Joel is doing.

        Like

        • Michael Irekand February 14, 2013 at 9:05 am #

          Just saw my first typo of the day — my last name is IRELAND. :~(

          Like

  5. Fredi February 13, 2013 at 8:58 am #

    Not really a comment related to the post per se, but about what Rosanne said on product time… A few days ago, the Prime Minister of Canada (S. Harper) told the press that he had written a book on the history of Hockey. When ask how on earth he found the time to write it, he answered: “15 minutes a day”… He must have read your work 😉

    Like

    • rosannebane February 13, 2013 at 9:15 am #

      That would be a great endorsement! 😉 At the least it’s evidence of the effectiveness of small, consistent blocks of time.

      Like

  6. Michael Ireland February 13, 2013 at 8:26 am #

    Rosanne: Thank you for the encouragement! I signed up for a scholarship for your online class in “Getting Around the Writer’s Block.” At the time, there were also three others who applied, so we will wait and see…

    Like

    • rosannebane February 13, 2013 at 9:17 am #

      Good for you Michael! Sometimes just registering for a class or applying for a scholarship can be a place where resistance (especially the Saboteur) can push us away. I’m glad I’m not the one who has to choose who gets the scholarship.

      Like

  7. Michael Ireland February 12, 2013 at 1:50 pm #

    My uncertainty is about whether or not I have a story to tell in the first place, and secondly will I ever get it done if I have one to tell! I am unsure about both.

    Like

    • rosannebane February 12, 2013 at 2:01 pm #

      Only one way to find out… start writing! Hint: if you think you have something to write about, you do; if you think you maybe want to write, you can. Steven King says the stories all already exist and that our job as writers is to uncover the story (like uncovering a fossil). I know lots of people who have completed book-length projects in just 15 minutes of Product Time a day… I have faith in you Michael.

      Like

      • Michael Irekand February 14, 2013 at 9:11 am #

        Thank you, Rosanne, for extending faith/trust toward this blocked writer! I find I can write about anything and anybody else in my journalism, but when it comes to writing about myself, I’m stymied. On closer examination, I think I might be able to fit into the creative non-fiction genre with my story, if I decide to go in that direction. I had most of my imaginative (fictional) writing beaten out of me while growing up in the UK. I was told my essays were too journalistic in nature!! :~(

        Like

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