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How to Deal With Uncertainty While Writing

How to Deal With Uncertainty While Writing

mindset plotting writing skills Feb 19, 2024

Writing is a time machine, right? So, when you receive this, I will be dead.

Just kidding.

I will be alive, but hopefully, I will not be losing my head and my temper facing a new story. ´Cause you´re going to read this at least a month from when I'm writing it. 

It's January 12, and I´m looking at my screen with the desperation of someone who has a lot to say but doesn't really know where to start. I know the words are on my sleeve like a master trick, but I can't slide them into the palm of my hand where I need them to be. 

I got all these boxes where I put stories in and look at them, expecting them to change shape and shimmer through the place. But the boxes are just boxes; they are cardboard at best. They are nothing if I don't pick them up and make them my summer project. So, with a heart full of hope and my sparkling will, I choose one like a tarot card and face my destiny.


Summer Project

As the year begins, I like to choose something to work on throughout. But in this case, I already committed to two months. I'm planning to write 80.000 words in January and February, knowing that I pick up this mess of a project with 20.000 words written and knowledge of what this story is going to be about. 

ALSO: It Takes a Village to Write a Novel

So, putting it like that, I'm trying to achieve this goal knowing I want to spend my Argentinian summer writing an amount of 80.000 words in a period of two months. Now, that sounds like a lot. 

It is not a challenge; it is suicide. 

But bear with me.


Divide and Conquer

So, rationalize this, I tell myself in front of the mirror. 

Any big objective can be broken into little tasks. It is a lot to say: write 80k words in a period of two months but let's do some math: per month, I need 40k words. That's a lot less. Per week, just 10k. It's going down. 

One more time: I just need to write 2000 words per day.

And I'm totally capable of doing that. 

I work remotely, am on vacation, and spend a lot of time at home. I know that I'm used to this amount of words because of my job. So what seemed impossible doesn't anymore.

This is how we break a challenge into something we can actually do.


Pick your battles wisely

This doesn't have to work for you; maybe you write less than 2000 words per day, maybe more. Maybe you don't write during the week, but get your job done on a single weekend. It's not about going fast but choosing the right objectives. It must be challenging for us, and also exciting – so we don't get bored – but not impossible that we end up giving up. 

ALSO: Why Writing Routines Suck


A moment of darkness

When crafting a new something – a short story, novel, poem, or project – there's always a moment of uncertainty. This is the very first moment of diving in a pool without being able to look at the bottom when everything is dark, and you know you need to keep going so you don't drown. It feels like walking naked in a forest… Not that I have done that. 

This is how I feel every time I start something new. Every time an idea pops up in my head, I feel illuminated by it, but as soon as I get to write, I realize that I don't have an idea; I just have pieces of it. It's like putting a puzzle together without knowing the image. 

This moment is beautiful because it's free and can develop into many different things. As long as you continue to write, the possibilities are infinite. 

But it's also really exhausting and terrifying. You need to relax and let go of the need to know everything; for some people – us, control freaks – this feels impossible. But I promise you that if you keep walking, and writing, and sitting in the dark, there's a moment when the path becomes clearer. 


A moment of light

What brings us out of this moment of chaos is a source yet unknown. It might be fate or luck, or our brain connecting dots that were not connected before. It's this AHA moment! This EUREKA brilliant scream. 

When this moment of light finally happens, everything falls into place. We can see clear as day. We´re no longer swimming inside a dark pool, we can see the bottom, we can see the future. And we can work word by word to build that immense monster that is our new story. 

It is a movement in the air, a new idea, our psyche rediscovering something new, something that was tangled before. A deep unconscious thought that came to the surface. 

But the problem is, how and when will this moment happen? We don't know. We can't invoke it like a demon or pray to it like a god. There might be times when we even finish our story without this moment of clarity at all. So what do we do?

Writing a new story is accepting we don't know what it will end up being. It requires a lot of hope and patience; sometimes, we must stop thinking about it and simply do it. Just sit and write. If it sucks, then it sucks. If you´re lost, then you´re lost. 

Make peace with this feeling of uncertainty and just go along with it.


Plotting will be your life jacket

Fear and uncertainty will haunt you during the entire process. But it's fine 'cause, in a way, we're worried enough to do it right. We show respect for the work, and we keep thinking about how to do it better. But a way to release this tension and to actually carry ourselves with confidence – or something akin to that – is to plot.

ALSO: How I Plan My Novels

My advice is: plot like a Machiavellian king, or don't plot at all. 

You can do it the way you like it, there are really no straight rules here. You can separate your story in chapters and plan them in advance, or you can do a timeline and follow it. Structure your story in three arcs or five, or past-present-future. It doesn't matter how; the important thing is that you create your own compass – something to follow.

The way I do it is like this: I sit very quietly, staring at nothing, without talking for days, freaking all my acquaintances at once. 

I dive into my story, I ask myself questions, I build a timeline, arcs for my characters, I think about everything I'm sure is going to happen, everything I want to happen, possible finales, quirks for my characters. I deeply ask myself why I'm doing all of this, what it means to write a story like this, and what I'm really trying to say with it. 

And when I'm ready, I pour everything into paper. 

I know it sounds very messy, and it is, but the moment I start to connect dots like a detective, it becomes much clearer. 

But there are still… some blank spaces. There's still some chaos.

Plotting will not do the trick of making all uncertainty just disappear. Doesn't work like that. Even when we’re fully into our story, we are still, for the most part, going blindly to the battle. And that's okay; that's what we must learn to deal with.

ALSO: Pantser vs. Plotter: Which is Better?

Some things will make sense for you only after a first finished draft.

Why plot, then? Why bother? 

So that every day, when you sit to write, you have something to work on. A schedule to follow. This is the way we fight against uncertainty, by making something concrete to battle the abstract. This way, there's no place for doubt. We fight the darkness by diving into it without thinking about it. 

The absolute intention is to keep writing. To keep pulling the strings, walking towards somewhere, it doesn't matter if we don't know that place yet. You can choose a finale and a beginning and let every element of your story evolve, change, and take you there. 

Plotting will only serve you if you´re willing. If you trust yourself enough to follow your gut. If you´re writing, the story is already inside your head, whether consciously or not, so you're gonna have to take the risk and trust your instincts. 


Final words to all that is to come

I'm not sure if I'll be able to finish my story. But I'm willing to try. I have all my tools with me.

My job right now is to be present. I show up. I do the work. Let the muse know I'm here. I'm at the door, and I'm knocking. If she wants to respond to me, I'm open.

If not, it's her problem. I'm still going to write.


Juliana Palermo
Written for The Plottery

Juliana Palermo lives in Buenos Aires, Argentina. She's 22 but hasn't learned how to do her taxes yet. She works as a freelance editor and book cover designer, but you will find her drinking coffee and daydreaming during working hours. She is currently writing her first fantasy novel. You can find her as @julippalermo both on Instagram and Twitter. 

If you need her, you can say her name three times in front of a mirror and she will appear with a cynical smile. But let me warn you, her jokes are not as funny as she promised, and if you invited her in, there's a chance she will never leave.



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