Uncertainty in writing is possibly the sagest teacher. I’m not talking about the blind “I have no idea what I’m doing and I love it” enthusiasm of the beginner, but when the core concept, practice, and process of who you are as a writer goes “poof!”. That when you come to the page, you are blank—you don’t know where to begin.
Transformation is one of those key aspects of writing that is buried amongst a myriad of technical terms. We are taught to see transformation in the concrete—in concept, world building, revision, etc. Transformation, and the imagination it needs to prosper, are most visible in genres like magical realism, surrealism, and fantasy, but we can’t all become the next Gabriel Garcia Marquez. So, what happens when the writer transforms by choice, circumstance, or necessity? When profound or inevitable experiences sever us from our writing?
Our writing must also transform, and most of us don’t give much thought to that. Why? Because our writing is part of us. It becomes so much a part of us that we don’t even question that it too may need to be supported in an evolutionary process. And while personal or creative transformations can happen concurrently, and even conveniently, more often than not the “Surprise! It’s time to time to change!” message is beyond inconvenient.
Yet, it is in these stressful, bewildering, or joyful times that we often rush to the page to take down our feelings and observations. To make sense of our changes and transform them to art. And when nothing comes….
Take courage! Nothing is lost. This is just a new season.
Often when weathered writers face significant changes in their lives, many find that their current practice stalls, ends, or enters a new and nebulous phase. Those who have stopped writing altogether for a time find that, when they return to their work, they no longer like their voice or style, cannot find the right language, or can only scribble shallow automatic writings when they have everything to write.
Even novices can experience this. They’ve just found their voice, their style and poof! They’re faced with a chasm of “Oh no! Why isn’t this working?! Do I have to do all that hardwork again?”
No, not exactly. It will come back, stronger than before, you just need to be patient.
Artists of all genres and outputs spend years defining their art, which makes transformation difficult because there’s no absolute guide on how to grow your craft. Workshops and mentorship help, but often listening to our emotions and instincts is more fruitful. Fear and anger are excellent teachers for overcoming, but not for transformation. Patience—sweetly smug, all-knowing, and in perpetual cahoots with uncertainty—is the last rest-stop on this writers’ hell road. But whether the gas tank is brimming or verging on empty, a pit stop can remove the stress of urgency, if you let it.
Uncertainty may seem like that creepy traveller in the “there’s gotta be something wrong with that person” hat who sits down next to you on the bench and offers you half of their snack, but what can it share with you? Maybe a bruised banana or a handful of psychedelic granola will bring you clarity.
Clarity brings peace.
Listening to our thoughts and probing writerly intentions is a pain in the ass. Yep, I said it. We all want to be taken away by the winds of creating, which means that pit stops are frustrating. But inside these thoughts and intentions are belief systems about who we are as individuals, and as writers. Do they still serve you?
Even if all is peaceful or unchanged in your personal life, transformation can drop in for a long, unexpected visit, like a drunk uncle, and just disorder everything. It has that intrusive power to reverse engineer our creative impulses. I don’t know about your drunk uncle, but mine is hilarious until it wants something, then it’s obnoxious.
Places of great change can be heavy spaces for artists. Mostly because our resources, our skills, seem to fail us. It may feel like those years of skill building weigh down our craft rather than bear it up.
While some writers resist the wreckage of a hurricane autumn or soft “that’s not my style” spring blossoms, others consider how they will ford an intimidating current. It’s not easy, as by this time most of us have seen what it is to create ourselves on the page, or write solely for ourselves, and that is only the way forward.
Still, we typically feel disconnected as we cross. And although it is painful to feel severed from our craft, most of us find our way through with community. Our creative friends and families shore us up, reminding us of the things we love most in our writing, perhaps even offering the tools or wisdom we need to transform.
This is not like facing imposter syndrome. I’m talking about Rumi level “the wound is where the light enters” changes and the spaces and people you can be vulnerable with. Not everyone has to be a creative to understand or support you. But if you’re facing negative reactions when making the choices that are best for you, give yourself the freedom you need. Flip them the bird and fly away.
You may need solitude and your own wisdom.
Also, you don’t need a plan to move through this change successfully. I’m the kind of person who has backup plans for backup plans. Yet, when great change swoops in, that all goes out the window. Planning just doesn’t fit in the mechanism. I have to trust that I will figure it out and my creative instincts will lead me in the right direction. That is, if I overcome my resistance. If I listen, take a handful of what may or may not be LSD-laced granola, and ask if I can wear that awful hat, I usually land beyond where I need to be.
None of what I’ve written here today may be helpful. By that I mean productive. Still, you’ve received a gift—to go to the page and create in a transformed state as a writer in a different season. Patience brings balance, and steadiness, to uncertainty. Connect with those who love you and what you do on the page, sharing experiences strengthens you. So, bravely ford your river, push through those currents, and follow the direction that calls to you. And know in any season, you can redefine what it means to write you.