Get Out of the Way

Stephen King writes that writing, when it’s good, is “inspired play” for the writer, and he also claims that stories pretty much make themselves.

Yet letting this happen this requires trust. And confidence.

Some novice writers imagine themselves as puppeteers, controlling characters in order to make them do their bidding. “Yes, my little pets, we will take over the world by permeating our readers’ minds with our brilliantly sophisticated and completely original ideas.” Or something like that.

The same goes for plot. Dream up the most elaborate theoretical construction you can imagine, and when you sit down to write you’ll run into problems. The blank space of the page teaches you that attempts to control it are misguided. Whenever I try to control a story I end up stuck, wishing I never had it in my head to try this whole ‘writing’ nonsense. ‘Who needs words,’ I’ll say in a huff.


But, you may be asking, what does Albert Einstein have to say about all this? So many quotes from famous people, particularly Einstein or Gandhi, are paraphrased or mistakenly attributed. One such quote is this, that “the significant problems of today cannot be solved at the same level of thinking we were at when we created them.”

Apparently this is a paraphrase of the following quote, which appeared in the New York Times Magazine in ’46: “A new type of thinking is essential if mankind is to survive and move towards higher levels.”

Anyway, authenticity and truth-seeking aside, one interpretation of this statement is the need to shift from logical to holistic thinking in certain scenarios. When you try to logically navigate through a problem and wind up frustrated, take a deep breath and stop thinking about it. Play around with it. Get messy.

Writing, try as we might, is not rational. Editing may be, but to write you must take that deep breath and approach it with a mind free of judgment and thought. Delve into the imagination, trust your instincts, and get out of your own way. Done right, the process will endlessly surprise you.

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