Welcome Ambiguity

My brother-in-law emailed me a quote from Richard Rohr, and I printed it on a scrap of paper, taped it above my writing desk, and now read it daily:

Richard Rohr

“…you cannot grow in the great art form, the integration of action and contemplation, without (1) a strong tolerance for ambiguity, (2) an ability to allow, forgive, and contain a certain degree of anxiety, and (3) a willingness to not know and not even need to know. This is how you allow and encounter mystery…”

Ahhhhhhh. Read those words again.

In the early stages of writing a novel, so much is unclear. The characters’ motivations, the way the plot will unfold, the scenes that are necessary and the ones that aren’t—the writer has to sort out all of the details. The task is massive. The time it takes might stretch from months into years.

This early stage is the place where I find myself today. I’m creating new characters—nudging them, interviewing them, finding out what makes them tick, what they care about, what aspect of their story is worth telling. Little is clear, and I could despair about that. But Rohr reminds me to embrace the unknown. To forgive myself for the messiness and inefficiency of my writing process. To accept and tolerate ambiguity. To believe that somehow, somewhere along the way, a story will emerge.

If you’re embarking upon a new writing project as I am, post Rohr’s words above your writing desk. Hang in there with the ambiguity. No, don’t just hang. Embrace it. Welcome it. The story could go in any number of directions. Let yourself explore possibilities.

Let yourself encounter mystery.

Happy New Year!

7 thoughts on “Welcome Ambiguity”

  1. Happy New Year! 😀

    Wow, what inspirational words! They certainly make me feel great. I’m not starting any new projects until around February-March next year, but when the time comes, I will without a doubt come to this quote again, and hang it above my desk. 🙂

  2. Yep, Rohr has it. Writing is a process. I’ve returned to the first book I wrote. It is the weakest. After years of neglect while I moved onto other projects, I now see more clearly where I missed the mark(s). Practice has a lot to do with smooth writing.

  3. Congratulations and good luck on your new project! Last year at this time I was where you are now–and I’m well on my way to finishing the first draft. (I’ve had a busy year with moving and a new job, so I’m not as far along as I’d hoped but I did make progress.) I also have new things in the works this year because I’m moving into picture books, writing as well as translating.

  4. Yes, yes, yes, and yes! When the time comes… stealing what’s worthwhile… practice… returning to old manuscripts… drafting new ones… It’s all good. So good!

    I’m thankful to have been introduced to Rohr’s writings. I’ve just signed up for his e-newsletter.

  5. Sigh. I needed this post. There is a lot that I don’t know about my characters, which frustrates me at times. So I need to embrace ambiguity.

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