According to A Year of Living Consciously, there are three zones of learning:

  • Zone 1: You know what you know
  • Zone 2: You know what you don’t know
  • Zone 3: You don’t know what you don’t know

Those of us of a certain age will remember Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld discussing the invasion of Iraq in terms of known knowns, known unknowns, and unknown unknowns. And that is probably the last time we will discuss Donald Rumsfeld on this blog absent the term “war criminal.”

Perhaps a little more definition is in order.

In Zone 1, you can list the skills and concepts you’ve mastered. You know how to drive a car and you are aware of that knowledge.

In Zone 2, you acknowledge there are things you don’t know. You’ve heard of calculus, but perhaps you don’t know how to use it.

In Zone 3, we are unaware of things we don’t know. For example, it took a long time for me to realize that I get grouchy when I’m hungry. I never knew that was a thing. I’m sure my friends did!

For Gay Hendricks, the greatest learning occurs in Zone 3, where we become aware of concepts that we need to identify before we can learn about them.

What does this have to do with writing?

Writing requires continuous learning. A lot of advice columns won’t say it that bluntly, because “learning” sounds boring to a lot of people. It’s a turn-off. Too bad, I say! Get used to it. Every time you write, you’re learning something, even if you’re merely learning how to tell the story in your head. Hopefully more.

For today’s exercise, think about what you know about writing, perhaps what you do well. Consider what you don’t know or the elements that don’t come easily for you. According to peers, I’m proficient with narrative, dialogue, and character. I don’t need anyone to tell me I suck at plotting.

Finally, acknowledge that there are things you don’t know that you don’t know. Accept – and look forward to! – writing a story that doesn’t let you rely on your old tricks, skills you’ve already learned and mastered. Anticipate having an idea for a story structure or narrative approach that comes from so far out in left field that you’ll have to start from scratch to figure out how to accomplish it.

Today, make a promise to be open to learning whatever you need to learn.