The Uncarved Block: For Writers

When we write, we’re lucky if we start with a rock-solid idea that has the fortitude to carry through to the very end. Of course, every story will have its rough spots that need smoothing, and revisions and edits are necessities, but sometimes you have that one that clicks with you. And sometimes you may feel like you don’t, and maybe this is because you’re overthinking, overanalyzing, second-guessing, or having major doubts about your story (who hasn’t?).

When the latter happens, it’s time to become the Uncarved Block.

The Uncarved Block is an ancient Taoist principle. I’ll fully disclose here that I am not Taoist, so I’ll turn to a few quotes from The Tao of Pooh by Benjamin Hoff and the original Winnie the Pooh by A.A. Milne to illustrate the meaning of the Uncarved Block:

In The Tao of Pooh, Pooh is the Uncarved Block because of his simple way of thinking and being. If you feel like you need to simplify, here are some things that you may try:
Free-write a scene. Disconnect yourself from what you’ve already written, and write a self-standing scene, one that you want to write and do feel solid about. Most recently for me, this was the first-kiss scene for my characters. Relative to where I was in writing the actual story, the characters actually have a long way to go to get to that point, but one day, I wasn’t quite ready to focus on building up the reasons for that kiss. I just wrote the kiss, and it was simple and it was lovely. 
Free-write dialogue. Let your characters come out and play. If their voices are accessible to you, give your characters the freedom to have a spontaneous conversation. Sometimes I’ll dictate these using my memo app on my phone (so I have a record of it). While it may feel silly at the moment, it can lead to some authentic, simple dialogue and also help to strengthen voice.
Free yourself (and the way you write). Lately I’ve found myself too easily distracted by noise and longing for some quiet in the way that I write, not just in my surroundings. I recently purchased an Alphasmart Neo Word Processer (small and portable, no frills, no wi-fi, no distractions), which finally allows me to unplug. And it’s like taking in a giant breath of clean air after subsisting on smog.
If you’ve been missing the quiet, or if your approach to writing has become weighty and complex, maybe you should try Free and Simple for a while. Simplicity is freeing with the Uncarved Block, and it may give you to power to rediscover what you’re missing. 

Helen Boswell loved to get lost in the pages of a story from the time she could sound out the words. She credits her dad, an avid fiction reader, with encouraging her to read ALL OF THE BOOKS on his shelves from the time she was a teenager. An author of both YA urban fantasy and NA contemporary romance, she loves to read and write characters that come to life with their beauty, flaws, and all. She is the author of YA urban fantasies MYTHOLOGY, THE WICKED, THE ETERNAL, and NA contemporary romance LOSING ENOUGH. You can find out more about Helen at