“Two boys arrived yesterday with a pebble they said was the head
of a dog until I pointed out that it was really a typewriter.”
There’s a Zen concept called “shoshin” or “beginner’s mind,” that can be a very helpful tool in our writing. As one Zen master described this idea, “In the beginner’s mind, there are many possibilities; in the expert’s there are few.” When you are starting a new project and are overwhelmed by everything you feel you don’t know about it, turning your lack of knowledge into an asset can be a powerful way to overcome the hurdles you may encounter in getting started.
Think about it for a moment: as a beginner, you’re not expected to know everything – and that, in and of itself, is a plus. You are free to explore, to experiment, to challenge, to make mistakes and learn from them. You are unencumbered by preconceived notions about how things should work – so you have complete license to come up with fresh ideas and approaches. Your mind can be open wide and alive to all kinds of possibilities.
For one of my books, I interviewed an entrepreneur who left a lucrative job in real estate to design and market a board game. Plunging headlong into her venture, she broke just about every rule in the book. In the process, she learned a powerful lesson: “Never let people tell you definites about what you’re doing, because there aren’t any.” Great advice for us as writers, don’t you think?
When we bring “beginner’s mind” to a subject, curiosity fuels our creativity – and frees us to come up with innovative ways to illuminate it. Just think of how much ink has been spilled and how many thousands of pages and hundreds of books have written about Abraham Lincoln. But in Team of Rivals, Doris Kearns Goodwin cast a warm, revealing light on his struggles and successes by looking at the way he charmed and disarmed his opposition to save the Union. Let’s try cultivating our own “beginner’s mind” and see where it takes us.