It's okay to start before you know the whole story.
Written by
Alissa Johnson
November 2017
Written by
Alissa Johnson
November 2017

At a workshop on how to feel confident as a creative writer, one of the participants told me that her story ideas don't come to her fully formed. Instead, she sees an image in her mind: a specific scene where something is happening.

She has tried to ask herself questions about these scenes hoping to figure out what the story might be. But the more questions she asks, the more the scene fades. It doesn’t hold up to interrogation. And since she doesn't know the story, she doesn’t write.

I instantly recognized a mindset that is notorious for stopping writers in their tracks: I need to know. It’s this belief that you must have the answers before you begin.

But when you wait for answers, you put off writing. 

If you’ve been getting stuck lately (or avoiding writing altogether), it’s easy to figure out if this mindset is at play. Grab a pen and paper and respond to this prompt:

•    I can’t write because I don’t know…

Whenever I lead this exercise during a workshop, the room goes quiet and pens move quickly across the page. Nearly everyone writes until time is up.

The reasons they come up with are varied: I don’t know what happens next. I don’t know if I’ve done enough research. I don't know how the story will end.

Yet I’ve learned that 99.9% of time, writers can find the answers they seek simply by writing. 

If you sit down to write with an open mind, the next scene will come to you. If you write the story first, you can narrow your research and make it more effective by tailoring it to what you’ve written. You will figure out how the story ends. 

Even if you’ve uncovered something a little bigger—you don’t know what your family will think or if you’re creative enough—you can figure out that out too. You can decide how to address your family once you know what you’ve written. You will get creative by actually creating.

Perhaps you’ve picked up on this already, but the best antidote to “I need to know” is “I can figure this out.” And you can. Maybe that will even become your mantra: I can figure this out.

With that as your guide, you can start writing before you know the whole story and discover the rest as you go.

P.S. Ready for a writing breakthrough? Break free from writing rules that don't work and find your way with my FREE three-part series: Inside the Writers Mind. The first insight (and writing prompt) could be yours today.

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