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Beginner Mind

Sometimes when I'm trying something new with something I do a lot of (writing!), it becomes a real struggle. My brain doesn't want to take in the new information because it says, "But I already know all sorts of stuff about this topic!" Even though I know the information I'm trying to take in is new or might give me a new perspective, I run up against all the things I already know, and I think I know enough and don't need the new stuff.

The thing is, new stuff is pretty much always good. A new perspective, a new way of approaching something, all of that can lead to creative growth. But you (I!) have to bring yourself to a place where you can let in the new stuff. You have to get back to beginner mind.

When I'm in that place I return to Natalie Goldberg's writings about beginner mind to help me open up to new things and look at new things the way I would have as an absolute beginner. This article shares some of her thoughts on that. I'd like to also add a few ideas of my own.

  • You can't unlearn what you already know to get to beginner mind. I find that it's not a forgetting of what has come before. It's more a quieting of the voices telling you what you already know. Self-talk helps a lot with this for me. "Yes, but I don't know this thing from this person's perspective." Or, in the case of things like writing exercises and things to do, "Just do it and see what happens even if I already know how to do this a different way. See if the two ways go together." Things like that, acknowledging that I do know things but am trying new things anyhow really helps me get past the resistance and into more of a beginner mindset.
  • Talking back to the judgemental voice helps me, too. My brain sometimes has a fit about the new thing being different from what I already know and likes to throw out "this is dumb!" or "this is wrong!" messages. I tell myself, "It's just new. Just try it and see what happens." (That "try it and see what happens" is my favorite!)
  • As I work through new techniques and ideas, I do a comparison to see how they are like what I already know. Then I find where the differences are. My brain likes to analyze things, so doing this opens me up to moving forward with the new stuff.
  • Finally, sometimes I fall back on a favorite KaizenMuse saying. "So what? I'll do it anyway!" I just add a bunch of attitude and plow forward.

I'll admit, I am mostly writing this to remind myself that trying new things is good and useful. I'm butting up against my "but I already know stuff!" voice a lot as I work on The 90-Day Novel, I need the reminders to keep going anyhow. I hope some of this is useful for you if you're trying something new in an area you're already knowledgeable in, too.

As an aside, I always feel weird ending blog posts. I feel like there should be something that says, "the end," but not just a wrap-up paragraph as if it's an essay. So I'm going to try a sign-off.

Until next time,


15 thoughts on “Beginner Mind

    1. Kim

      I immediately threw out his rule to write for 2 hours a day. I'm doing the daily short prompts and then a little extra free writing as my time and energy allow, and I'm liking it. I am starting to see a story emerge, and I love that there are prompts that let me keep working on the story even when I'm feeling exhausted and on my own wouldn't be able to come up with what I wanted to write about that day. I hope you like the book!

  1. Lisa

    I have Natalie's book, "Writing Down the Bones". It's still on my "TBR" pile. With an assortment of other books.
    I read the article you linked. I am picky about my paper and pen that I write with. My paper has to be smooth, where the pen glides over it. One of my favorite pens used to be a Parker pen. But now that I think about it, I realize how slow that pen is. I seem to find myself going back to a good old Bic time and again. I haven't had a fountain pen like she talked about since HS.

    1. Kim

      I read Writing Down the Bones in the late 80s, and it changed my life as a writer. No matter what else I'm doing in my writing life, I always come back to writing practice. It's in my soul now. And yes, I love smooth paper (love composition books a lot for writing practice), and I like a fast pen. My favorite right now is the Pilot G2. So fast and smooth and the ink is so rich! I got a lovely fountain pen for Christmas, but I haven't used it for writing practice yet because I want to get a finer nib for it.

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  3. Cheryl Turtlemoon

    This is really helpful. The idea of comparison against what I already know is useful, thank you!

  4. Samm Starrs

    For the past 2 years I've kept trying to come at my study with beginner mind. I took Jim Kwik's course on remember names, learning new things quickly and speed reading and that's one of the things he teaches. To come at things with a beginners brain no matter how much you think you know something. Thank you for the reminder. My brain can get quite arrogant thinking it knows all the things sometimes and I wish it would stop because who knows what new perspective I might glean from the information I think I already know! 🙂

    1. Kim

      LOL! These know-it-all brains. One of the things about working from beginner mind is that we have to tell ourselves every time we're sitting down to work "start from beginner mind."

  5. Jean

    I read Writing Down the Bones years ago. I want to read it again. Lots of good information here. The 90 day novel sounds intriguing. I never felt I had a novel in me. Lots of short stories though.

    1. Kim

      Short stories are wonderful! If that's what calls you, that's awesome. Also, I re-read Bones every so often, and I get something new from it every time. So much good stuff in there!

    1. Kim

      I'm thinking when we get to Day 29 and start writing the actual story it will be like NaNo. There are daily prompts for this, though, so not quite like NaNo in that way. 🙂

  6. Denise

    The problem with beginner’s mind is that the know it all mind doesn’t want to relinquish control. I know mine is a control freak! But of course all the good stuff happens with art when we don’t know (what will come, of we can do it, etc). Thanks for the reminder!

    1. Kim

      Oh that know-it-all mind! Glad the reminder was useful. I know I need to be reminded of this all the time. 🙂

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