Writers in the Storm

A blog about writing

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July 15, 2016

Beginner’s Mind

Anne Clermont

Do you remember the first time you rode a bike? How about the first time you flew in an airplane? You definitely remember your first kiss. Was it everything you expected? Did you practice kissing on the back of your hand before then? I sure did. My best friend told me I had to, otherwise I’d be considered a bad kisser. When the first kiss happened, I never expected to have that weak-kneed feeling—nor did I expect to be so focused on the boy’s tongue entering my mouth that I forgot what I should be doing in return. It was over before I knew it.

© oneinchpunch/Adobe Stock

© oneinchpunch/Adobe Stock

There’s something mind-opening about doing something for the first time. You might have an idea of what to expect, but it’s vague, like the memory of a dream from the night before, flitting in and out of your consciousness. Maybe your expectations are really wild. Or you might not expect anything.

In my yoga class last week, our teacher switched up our usual routine several times. Instead of doing Upward Dog after a Chaturanga, she made us go back to Plank. When I expected to go from Warrior II to Reverse Warrior, she made us pause, turn, and squat into Goddess pose. She tripped many of us up, and though some laughed, I’m sure I wasn’t the only one who felt frustrated, wondering why she was messing with us.

Then it clicked. There’s something beautiful about letting go of your preconceptions. Even if you’re experienced at something, let your beginner’s mind take over. Don’t expect a certain outcome. Detach yourself from what you think will happen. Listen to the immediate, not ingrained cues. Be in the moment. Just accept.

“In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert’s there are few.”
—Shunryo Suzuki

The concept of beginner’s mind has become extremely important to my writing. I wrote the first novel under cover of darkness, in secrecy, hidden from the world. I had no idea whether anyone would ever read the crazy pile of words I’d been typing. I wrote because it calmed me. I wrote because of the driving need within me to tell a story. I wrote because it felt like an emotional cleanse. I had no idea what to expect. I didn’t know much about the craft of writing. I didn’t know about three act structures, or character development, or literary agents or the world of publishing. I had a computer, an idea for a story, and an intuition of where it should go. I focused on the writing. That was it.

That first novel is almost ready for release into the world and I am having the hardest time sitting down and writing the second novel. I want to write the second novel. I want to write many novels over the course of my life. And it’s not that I don’t have an idea for a story, because I do. I have characters that are talking to me. I see the setting, and the horses (yes, there are horses in the second one, too) and I have an almost physical, tortured need to write. But I’m afraid. I’m afraid of how much work it’s going to take. I’m afraid that now that I’ve studied the craft, gone to conferences, read more than a couple dozen books on writing, and taken many classes. I should know what I’m doing. I know so much more about the craft of writing and the world of publishing that I want this next book to be perfect (okay, really good would suffice). I know the difference between showing and telling. I know each scene needs an arc and a hook. I know I need conflict on every page. I know my dialogue needs to sing. I know where my plot points and reaction beats should be. I know all of this — and it seems so big, so damn overwhelming, that the magic of writing has disappeared, hidden somewhere in that ‘expert’ mind.

Has all the knowledge I’ve tried to gain taken over my creative, intuitive mind? What about stepping back and writing for that one reader I imagined would love my first book? What about opening up again to the unknown possibilities?

It’s vital that we, as writers, step back and allow for the spontaneous, creative possibilities that happen when writing.  It’s vital not just for us, but also for the imaginative spark it elicits in others as they read our words.

And you know what? All that you’ve learned, and everything you’ve experienced, will naturally flow into your writing. (Besides, we’re going to be revising the sucker for several months anyway.)

A beginner’s mind is innocent of preconceptions, judgments, prejudices, and expectations. Having learned so much, I know that I must somehow return to beginner’s mind and allow the writing itself lead me somewhere new. Somewhere exciting. It is, in the end, all about the journey.

What about you? How do you move forward with writing your second (or third) novel? How do you clear your mind and begin on a new journey, knowing all that you now know?

About Anne

Author photo by Lisa S. Dunham of LSD Photography

Author photo by Lisa S. Dunham of LSD Photography

LearningFall for website

Release day: August 2nd, 2016

Anne Clermont is a Canadian living in the U.S., born in Kraków and raised outside of Toronto. She spent fifteen years in California before relocating to the beautiful Pacific Northwest. She holds a BS in animal biology, and an MBA. Her background ranges from studying animal behavior to carrying out pancreatic cancer research at one of the world’s largest and most innovative biotech companies. Inspired to write Learning to Fall (releasing August 2) in part by her own experience of running a show jumping business, she now devotes her time to writing and working as a developmental editor. She lives on an island in the middle of Puget Sound with her husband and two children.

Find Anne online at:

Facebook - AnneClermont
Twitter - @anne_clermont
Instagram - @clermontanne

28 comments on “Beginner’s Mind”

  1. This post caught my eye as I am indeed trying to recapture beginner's mind. I am taking classes and journeying on field trips outside of my comfort zone. Recently, after a ten plus year break, I attempted to ride a bicycle again (for the frst time.) While I did fall off each time I tried to stop, and of course blamed it on the bike being the wrong size, type, color, etc, I did not quit. I climbed back on and tackled that hill again.
    When I had convinced myself I could do it, I decided I had enough fun for one day, fell off my bike, and went out for ice cream.

    1. Nothing better than ice cream after getting yourself to start fresh - it might be a good treat after writing as well 🙂

  2. I LOVE this post! And it reminded me of a reason I reach a hand back - experiencing that beginner's mind outside myself really reminds me to go back there, and how wonderful it is. Thanks so much for this today!

  3. I love this post, Anne!
    For me, every story is a new beginning. I don't listen to my I-know-it-better brain when I start a new book. I let the story come out without worrying about commas (Laura just shuddered over that comment) or pacing or character arcs or anything else. Just story. And when I really need a reminder, I put everything aside and focus on my 11 year old. Kids have a way of reminding us to see life with un-learned eyes and brain.

    1. That's a fantastic way t o go, Orly! I love your idea of focusing on your child! They do have a way of reminding us what it's like to look at things from a 'beginner's mind'.

  4. Wow! What a super article. I have been feeling overwhelmed, and questioning every word I write and rewrite. Your words have helped a lot.

  5. This is a brilliant article. As a student of Buddhsim and yoga, this should be a basic part of my being, but like you said, it's easy to get caught up in all the should's, worries, and expectations you pick up as you learn more and more about craft and the industry. This really helps me today, as I've been struggling hard with my latest story, because it's just not coming on its own.

    Good luck with your book!

    1. Yes, you would think we could go back to that moment with innocence and trepidation, excitement and joy, yet it takes a conscious effort to do that. I'm glad these words were of help 🙂

      And thank you for the good wishes, Heather!

  6. Anne this article came at the perfect time for me! I've gotten so bogged down with all the technical stuff that the creative part of my brain shut down- you are so right!!

  7. I was looking back over the story I had hidden in the drawer for the past few years with new eyes just this week... yes, it's a very flawed book. But there is "something" there that only shows up in the most relaxed moments in my newer scenes... a sense of "anything can happen, and it usually will", something magical...

    So yes... THIS!

  8. Love, love, love this! First, because I had put my fiction writing away for the last 9 months and just started thinking about maybe starting again... and second because this can help in all aspects of life! Wonderful, thank you

  9. What a wonderful post. Sometimes I get so hung up on the technical things I now know that I forget to write! Knowledge can be paralysing sometimes. It's amazing what you can achieve before someone tells you it's unachievable.

  10. Every day's a beginning for me. I CHOOSE to see it that way. I never stop learning, trying and failing. I always talk to strangers. I just did on a train yesterday and met the heroine of my next contemporary romance...the one I had no idea I was supposed to write. But, BAM! There it was. We have to be open. Have to take risks. Every day's a new beginning!

  11. Just what I needed to read today, Anne. I've published numerous books - Oh, and the mountains of unpublished stuff I've got stashed - and my mind longs for the beginning headset. Back then, I wrote mostly for ME...I wrote the story I wanted to read. Yes, I dreamed of publication, but story-wise I focused just the ideas in my head with no concern of craft. I'm going to work on recapturing this magic. Thanks for this post!

  12. I'm late to the party on this - catching up with all my WITS blogs. I love this post because I remember way back when I was a newbie writer and the joy I felt writing that first book. I've written a few since, most under the bed, and the one I'm working on now, after a gazillion craft classes and how-to books, seems SO HARD! I'm going to preorder your book. I love horses and riding, and my birthday is Aug. 2nd! Can't wait to read it!

    1. Not too late at all! Thank you for your wonderful note, and that's exactly the stage I'm at. Time to have fun again. And thank you for preordering my book! I'm so excited! I hope you love it!

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