How to: Keeping the beginner’s mind

On the theme of Open the Office Door, an excerpt from my book Dojo Wisdom for Writers on a concept I love:


Lesson #8: Keep the Beginner’s Mind

            Martial artists respect the beginner’s mind because it’s open to new experiences and isn’t as critical as it later becomes.  Someone who is just beginning to train in the martial arts doesn’t have bad habits or preconceived ideas that she must overcome before she can learn the principles the teacher communicates.  As students progress and become more knowledgeable, they become less open and less flexible.  They know that there=s a right way and a wrong way to perform a sidekick, and they’ll point out if you=re doing it the wrong way.

            A good martial artist eventually matures beyond this stage and returns to the beginning in the sense that she opens herself to new experiences, new techniques, new ways of performing the old kicks.  She understands that there are many different, but still legitimate, ways to perform a sidekick, and while she may do it a certain way, it is not the only way, or even the best way.

            By maintaining an open beginner=s mind – being willing to learn and to not close yourself to new and different experiences and projects – you can move toward mastery.  A writing colleague of mine reads at least one writing book a month because even after years in the business he can often glean one idea or strategy that can make a difference in his career.  Often the authors of these writing books have less experience than he does, but that doesn’t stop him.

     Beginning writers naturally keep an open mind to what they learn about writing.  Their beginner’s mind is fully operational.  The trick is to remain open even after you’ve achieved some success as a writer.  More advanced writers are often defeated by an inner, censoring critic that says things like, “That’s okay for beginners to do, but I=m much too experienced for that.”  For those writers, staying open means occasionally doing something “only” a beginner would do, like submitting work to a contest, or following a piece of advice that “never works for me” just to see what happens.