First, a quick note re: the June 8 Class/Retreat I wrote about last week. It’s been pushed back to September. Permit issues for the site. Ugh. 

In a couple of ways, this is much better, though. First, it’s a longer run-up for scheduling plane flights and hotels, etc. June 8 was a tight window. But better than that is the weather. “June gloom” is a real thing in Southern California. For an outdoor event, September should be much sunnier and warmer. So …

My apologies for the mistake. I got a little ahead of myself.

A website with full details will be up very soon. I’ll announce it and give the link here.

On a slightly tangential subject, working on the event got me thinking about writing prompts, i.e. the “assignment” you and I might be given if we attended a writing workshop.

Here’s the one I would hope someone gave me:

Write a piece (of any length) about something you know absolutely nothing about.

If you’re a Mom who graduated from Harvard and has never lived anywhere except in an affluent gated community, write a prison story. Write it in the first person as someone of the opposite gender. Make it brutal. When a scene occurs to you that you’re afraid is too “over the top,” take it further.

If you’re a Navy SEAL freshly home from six consecutive combat tours, write a story (also in the first person) as a nine-year-old girl in Victorian England who steps through a magic portal in her grandfather’s garden and enters of world of elves and fairies.

You’re not allowed to do any research, not even ten seconds on Google. Make everything up. When in doubt on anything—say, what a conversation between a butterfly and a worm might be like—write the first thing that pops into your mind … and keep writing that way.

No ruminating. No self-censoring. No correcting of spelling or grammar. 

Write fast. Don’t stop. Don’t think.

Why is this my favorite prompt?

Because when you’re pulling everything out of thin air, you have no time to get bogged down in the ego. You go straight to the Muse.

A truth from my own writing: when I would write actual facts from my real life, readers would say, “Sounds phony to me.” When I completely MADE IT UP—especially about characters and universes I knew nothing about—people would read it and say, “Wow, that was so REAL!”

Don’t write what you know. Write what you DON’T know.


Steve shows you the predictable Resistance points that every writer hits in a work-in-progress and then shows you how to deal with each one of these sticking points. This book shows you how to keep going with your work.

do the work book banner 1


A short book about the writing of a first novel: for Steve, The Legend of Bagger Vance. Having failed with three earlier attempts at novels, here's how Steve finally succeeded.



Steve shares his "lessons learned" from the trenches of the five different writing careers—advertising, screenwriting, fiction, nonfiction, and self-help. This is tradecraft. An MFA in Writing in 197 pages.



Amateurs have amateur habits. Pros have pro habits. When we turn pro, we give up the comfortable life but we find our power. Steve answers the question, "How do we overcome Resistance?"



  1. William Marcuse on May 15, 2024 at 1:44 am

    Hi guys,

    It’s been 9 years since I last made a comment.
    But I’m in the phase that Steve analyzes here, while “wrestling with my alligator” :p

    I liked the timing of the post, so here I am 🙂

  2. Nikhil Kashyap on May 15, 2024 at 1:46 am

    The one who knows knows nothing but the one who doesn’t know knows everything. Thank you Steve, I’ve always questioned this, “Write what you know,” if I know how come it’s going to move; what I don’t know, now therein lies what I missed (including my own locked experiences in the depths).

  3. Claire T on May 15, 2024 at 2:17 am

    Love this exercise! I’m going to give it a go… having been writing about what I know, I think maybe I’ve been doing it all “wrong”
    I wonder if the reason it seems so real to the reader (when the writer doesn’t know) is because the reader doesn’t know either? Or maybe it’s just the magic of the muse at work.

  4. Tolis on May 15, 2024 at 2:32 am

    Thank you very much dear Steve!

    So you have seen a difference between writing about what you know, and writing about something entirely unknown, even the exact opposite.

    Yes, when I started writing my book in 2018 I knew very little about that historical period. So I would write fluently – what happened was, I concentrated to write as I imagined the period would be, which was pretty accurate not historicaly, but in terms that my mind was cunning, able to ellude the period’s details while at the same time the heroes would move inside the **essence** of that period, like I (and thus the ordinary man) felt it

    But then came the hardness. The details started accumulating; the heroes of the times came in, full of their vigor; and also I was starting to feel the emptiness of the meaning, a few chapters after the first. Suddenly all -not the previous but the present ones- would become like “paper backdrops”, they would lose the essence of meaning.

    BUT (again) that may had been a very important phase too, because then I had to STRUGGLE and when we struggle who knows what happens. Mr. Jim Rohn said, “Life has a strange way to hide it’s most important secrets, and preserve them only for those who are motivated enough (I’d say, forced) to search for them”

    On the other hand, the completely new territory is where the flow is. And, like you say, it is paradoxically real-er than the real knowledge one can have, for the audience. MAYBE because when we write through energy, energy in risk in this case, energy is actually a much better bridge to the souls of others than is knowledge.

    So the two forces collide. Or do they only collide for some reason?

    I wish my best to all <3 Thank you!

    • Lisa Lanzetta on May 15, 2024 at 8:08 am

      energy is actually a much better bridge to the souls of others than is knowledge.. BRILLIANT!!! I so needed to hear that today. Thank you!
      And as always, thank you Steve for the bootie boot.

      • Tolis on May 16, 2024 at 4:07 am

        Thank you so much Liza, let’s always hunt these fundamentals! I believe they re infinite so our journey will not end before we do!

  5. Jackie on May 15, 2024 at 2:58 am

    It’s a good day to make shit up! Thanks for giving me a boot to the butt to get me moving.

  6. C.M. O'Slatara on May 15, 2024 at 4:34 am

    Funny you should say ‘conversation (with) a butterfly’, that is exactly what Peter S. Beagle did in The Last Unicorn and it was completely believable– just snippets of songs rumbling around in his head interspersed with possibly valuable tidbits. But it left you thinking ‘that’s exactly how butterflies would talk. If they could. Which they can’t.’
    Somewhere between the shared narrative of what we think an experience should be and empathy, the unknown can become believable. Of course, it can also become ‘Prison Mike’ from The Office, but hey, it’s just an exercise, a stretching of what we are not into something maybe real.
    Thank you for the prompt!

  7. Tiffany on May 15, 2024 at 5:14 am


    And also, am happy to hear the one-day retreat got pushed to September!!

  8. Randy Gage on May 15, 2024 at 5:29 am

    This may be the most insightful truth bomb post you’ve ever written. Really.

  9. Anastacia Shimek on May 15, 2024 at 6:25 am

    Great prompt! Plus it makes me feel better about using true facts from my own life — people won’t even believe these things happened! Thanks, Steven.

  10. Sys Trier Morch on May 15, 2024 at 6:41 am

    Steve, ALL your suggestions and examples are so helpful. But this one is the absolute BEST!!

    I have just spent the week with my brother’s dog, and there is no doubt that something was going on behind those probing eyes, especially when he wanted something!! Would be fun to put those thoughts into words!!


  11. Anonymous on May 15, 2024 at 7:03 am

    May 15, 2024

    Thank you, Steve, for organizing this retreat. Due to my schedule, I could not have attending a June meeting. September is much better for planning purposes.

    I can’t thank you enough for your goddess- informed coaching.
    Best regards, Bonnie

  12. Twotrackguy on May 15, 2024 at 7:37 am

    It’s been a while since I last joined the discussion, but I couldn’t resist diving in today.

    Steve, your prompt hits home for me. Just as your event got postponed to September for better planning and weather, this writing exercise offers a similar opportunity for a longer runway to explore new terrain. It’s like rescheduling a trip to a sunnier destination—more time to prepare and anticipate the adventure ahead.

    The idea of writing about something we know absolutely nothing about is intriguing. It’s akin to stepping into uncharted territory, embracing the unknown with open arms. Much like the excitement of discovering a new hobby or interest, there’s a certain thrill in venturing into unfamiliar realms of imagination, akin to exploring The Finest CB Antenna Collection.

    So, here’s to embracing the unexpected, whether it’s rescheduling plans or embarking on creative journeys. Who knows what treasures we might uncover along the way?

  13. Brian Nelson on May 15, 2024 at 7:40 am

    September is way way more doable. Now I’m excited. Knowing I could not make 6/8 gave me my own June Gloom in May.

    I’m gonna try this prompt today. Interesting.

    This post surfaced a memory from elementary school, we had to mimic another story–maybe ‘Where the Wild Things Are’ in our own story. I struggled. My story didn’t received high marks compared to some others, mostly because their stories were nearly identical to the model.

    Funny how little things in childhood alter trajectories so profoundly. I never thought I could ‘make up stories’ since that time, and have always thought my work must be non-fiction. This will be an interesting assignment.

  14. Fabiana Lenz on May 15, 2024 at 7:46 am

    eu caí nesse trabalho porque minha mãe trabalha aqui há doze anos. ser caixa do mercado da cidade era um título importante.
    eu sei de todas as compras, das pessoas mais humildes e dos mais abastados que moram no prédio novo. no final das contas, todo mundo compra doce. compra fubá, café, macarrão, e um chocolatinho. uma goma. um bombom da gôndola que for.
    mas tem umas caixas de chocolates finos que eu nunca provei. ficam na sessão 5, onde também tem coisas que dizem ser saudáveis. é a prateleira mais cara de todas. e de onde eu menos provei coisas.
    naquele dia, o filho do dono da joalheria passava um pacote de biscoitos daquela sessão.
    – vou fazer um café da manhã pro meu pai
    – oi?
    – é aniversário do meu pai amanhã e vou fazer uma surpresa
    – ah
    não me atreveria em dizer que eu esperaria um ovo frito com queijo e uma fatia de pão com manteiga ao invés daquele biscoito.
    – você mora aonde?
    – na rua da rádio
    – nunca te vi andando lá
    porque ele diria isso? de repente ele me vê?
    – eu também não
    ele riu de cantinho, e estranhamente eu senti algo por aquele sorriso. me subiu um aperto no ventre que eu nem tenho.
    – obrigado, e tchau
    tchau garoto da sessão 5. mais um desejo que não sabia se um dia iria provar.

  15. Fabiana Lenz on May 15, 2024 at 7:48 am

    I really loved this exercise. I wrote in Portuguese because it’s the easiest for me, and I realized that I operate -sometimes- like that. but this activity showed so clearly what it is like to let yourself be written by the unknown. I loved!

  16. Maureen Anderson on May 15, 2024 at 8:00 am

    On a related note, this also works in conversation.

    I love a good pop quiz, a question I’ve never been posed before. And when I answer without thinking, I’m almost always rewarded with something I didn’t know about myself.

    Surprise is my truth serum, the payoff for engaging.

  17. Vicky G. on May 15, 2024 at 9:03 am

    Wow, Steve! Talk about really turning things upside-down! I come from the Children’s Picture Book genre, and it’s ALWAYS been ‘Write what you know”, which is SO LIMITING, really! I’m going to try your prompt and see what the Muse presents. I can’t thank you enough!!

  18. Rebecca T. on May 15, 2024 at 9:17 am

    This is a very interesting idea. Thank you.

  19. Amy Martinsen on May 15, 2024 at 9:30 am

    Go straight to the Muse. I love this! Thank you

  20. nick sherman on May 15, 2024 at 10:36 am

    this prompt is amazing

  21. Enrico Cerretti on May 15, 2024 at 3:05 pm

    Miles Davis used to tell his sidemen: “Don’t play what’s there, play what’s not there!”.
    Great post Steve, as usual.
    A presto,

  22. Carole on May 16, 2024 at 1:57 am

    I love this! Going to use it to push through the shame blocks I’m encountering in writing autofiction.

  23. Philip Ebuluofor on May 16, 2024 at 11:59 am

    A kind of freeing prompt. You can go any where and still sound believable.

  24. Regina on May 16, 2024 at 1:38 pm

    Isn’t that how rooms get added to your house with a beautiful shining chandelier? June at the beach is never gloomy here…that’s a new concept for me! Maybe you just need to travel to the East coast! HA!

  25. ariana grande perfume cloud 3.4 on May 23, 2024 at 12:15 am

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