On Not Knowing What You’re Doing

Whether you succeed or not is irrelevant, there is no such thing. Making your unknown known is the most important thing. ~ Georgia O’Keefe

I ran across the quote above this week and it fell right into my problem-solving nexus. You know, the one that’s working on three novels, two short stories, an essay, and a poetry manuscript all at the same time.

It speaks to me of the need to understand our life’s work as a never-ending task that may yet be taken up by someone else after us, but which will never be “done,” because there is almost always a way to push a process, a thought, a concept deeper, truer. In the same way that modern painters have been influenced by, even directed by, O’Keefe’s work. So why worry about success, rather than completing the piece at hand? Completing it should, if nothing else, show you why you created it, a very important thing to know in order to see the bigger picture of our work.

I like to think of my work as all related, even when the characters, or even the setting, are wholly different. For example, one of the new novels takes its title from the last one, Eve’s Garden: It’s called The Fruit of Queens, and it’s about five daughters, all named aftImpassionataer queens, in the aftermath of their mother’s death. It hooks onto the loss in Eve of Maisie’s mother, Evangeline, and asks what we really know of our mothers’ lives, and how signicant our emotional connection, or lack of it, to them might be. It explores how we build confidence and find our centers.

But the O’Keefe quote speaks to something even more important to us writers: the act of creating when you don’t know the ending. What’s important is to know what the problem is, what is driving you to create a specific piece of work. Writing to know that, the why, and to learn the rest, the how, will keep us going when the well seems dry. Make your unknowns known. When you have done that, you can see, perhaps, the next piece of the puzzle that you want and need to complete.

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