Thursday, April 29, 2021

Beginner's Mind

This week I watched a video lecture on creativity delivered by Kermit the Frog. It started with a celebration of the Big Bang as the original creative act (although without references to a Deity). Kermit gave inspirational advice on ideas such as inspired craziness and thinking outside the standard rules. He speculated on why we're put in this world and declared our purpose is to be creative, for everybody is creative in some way. Here's the video in case you want to listen to it. (It's fairly long.)

Listening to a Talking Frog

One of the concepts discussed in the talk, "beginner's mind," particularly struck me.

The Beauty of Beginner's Mind

As I understand it, this means approaching experiences without being bound by preconceptions, as far as possible. The short essay on this page (a teaser to lure the visitor into deeper exploration) says the "wisdom of uncertainty frees us from. . . the thicket of views and opinions." As a result, "When we are free from views, we are willing to learn." The person in this frame of mind is compared to a child, who sees the world with fresh eyes.

That page doesn't explicitly link "beginner's mind" to the creative process, as Kermit's lecture does, but the connection is clear. An artist or inventor who embraces this mindset can hope to generate fresh, individual work not quite like anything that has gone before. The concept resonates with me because it reminds me of my creative process and emotions when I originally started writing stories. I produced my first writings, aside from class assignments and a couple of allegedly humorous science-fiction skits, at the age of thirteen. Reading DRACULA at age twelve had turned me on to vampires, horror, fantasy, and "soft" SF of all kinds. Because I was limited to the offerings of the local public library and one store that sold paperbacks, I got a solid grounding in Victorian and Edwardian classics and the vintage works of the major pulp authors before I ever read much recent speculative fiction or viewed any horror films—a circumstance I consider very fortunate. This reading inspired me to want to write my own fiction, since I couldn't afford to buy many books and the sources available to me didn't have enough of the kinds of stories I wanted—mainly relationships between human and "monstrous" characters. So I had to create them for myself.

Incidentally, my impulse to start writing didn't spring from internal drives alone. It had a technological catalyst, too: I got access to my aunt's old typewriter, left in my grandmother's house. Finding a textbook from my aunt's high-school typing class, I taught myself the rudiments of touch-typing. Whenever I stayed overnight or longer at my grandmother's, I typed stories (until my parents gave me a portable typewriter of my own, and I could compose fiction at home also without the constraint of handwriting). Similarly, the much later advent of word processing with our first computer in the early 1980s sparked my creativity anew by eliminating the necessity to retype whole pages, or even multiple pages, to correct small errors or insert minor revisions. The computer removed a barrier between my creative impulses and their concrete expression, making it possible to refine my work further. (No more qualms about whether changing a word or two was worth retyping a page.)

When I started producing stories, I had the "beginner's mind." I didn't know any of the conventional "rules" for fiction, only the basic grammar and spelling I'd learned in English classes. In fact, when I eventually submitted my first book to a publisher, I didn't know anything about publishing except that submissions had to be double-spaced on one side of the page and include a SASE. But that stage came later, of course. For the stories I wrote as a teenager, I imitated the elements I loved in the horror and speculative fiction I avidly read, while tweaking the themes and tropes in accordance with my own fantasies. Because I wasn't inhibited by knowing what I was "supposed" to do, the words flowed almost faster than I could get them onto the page. The process of writing itself enthralled me, and I spent as much time on it as I could spare from school, chores, and other obligations. My third completed piece was a single-spaced novelette over thirty pages long, in the form of the journal of a man inadvertently changing into a vampire.

Now that I know the "rules" and have more experience in recognizing flaws in my own writing (and that of others), I work slowly and laboriously. I proceed like the centipede who has trouble walking because he can't decide which foot to move first. I don't often enjoy the first-draft process very much, although I do like brainstorming, outlining, proofreading the nearly-finished outcome, and the fulfillment of "having written." I sometimes miss the "first, fine careless rapture" of my teens and early twenties. On the plus side, my work has grown far better than it was when I had no idea what I was doing. I finish novels rather than bogging down in the middle because I haven't plotted in advance. I produce fairly polished first drafts that don't elicit heavy revision requests from editors. If only one could keep the "beginner's mind" along with the benefits of learning and experience.

Margaret L. Carter

Carter's Crypt

No comments:

Post a Comment