In this extract from A Writer's Journal Workbook, Lucy van Smit discusses the importance of connecting with your beginner's mind.
The surprising secret advantage for an emerging writer is your ‘beginner’s mind’. Think of this not as being childish, but childlike. Unselfconscious. Imaginative. Courageous. Playful. Geniuses from Einstein to Picasso spent their lives trying see the world as a child again.
What if you never lost your beginner’s mind? And you cherished a childlike curiosity in your writing from the start? Childlike is fun, an easy way to be fully in the moment. Just watch how a small child explores a sandpit or plays make believe. Playing games develops our most sophisticated kind of thinking, what scientists call counterfactual reasoning, which is your ability to imagine complex hypothetical scenarios and their consequences. It’s what you do when you write a story.
AWE IS IN THE MOMENT
Being childlike is your golden ticket into creativity. Don’t lose your way by following the herd. Take your time to wonder about things that others forget to look at with awe. Discover your preferences. Your own preoccupations. Your own mistakes. Resist the temptation to run ahead of yourself and worry if your writing is good enough to get published. Like a footballer out to win the championship, you must keep your focus on the immediate next step, or you will get anxious and tighten up. Stay in the moment.
HOW DO YOU GET GOING?
Every journey starts from where you happen to be at the time and writing is no exception. You start exactly where you are. Start right now. Grab a pen and get ready to write. Feel a bit overwhelmed? Don’t worry. Your passion for writing, and a sense of being dazed, are what bring most writers to their first writing class: excitement – the feeling that you are in the right place – and confusion – when conflicting versions of you seem to pop up and battle it out inside, each one shouting instructions or telling you to go the other way. Doubts are natural. And the most talented writers often have the most doubts; they have a harder time recognising their unique gifts.
The surprising knack to writing confidence is to let go. Relax. At any stage, your writing can get snarled up, just as wet bedsheets get tangled up in the wash. It can be hard to see where one thing ends and another begins, and you might struggle to sort everything out. But when you relax and allow yourself to enjoy the process, it’s also where the fun lies. Start with the nearest bit to you. Observe yourself, and gently unravel what you’ve got. If you wrestle, pull too hard, too impatiently, you get tied up in knots.Give up too soon, things dry up stiff and creased, and a muddle won’t look or feel as beautiful on the page, or on your bed. The trick is to treat everything, even wet bedsheets, but especially your writing, with compassion and respect. Tackle things bit by bit, so you feel encouraged by your progress and can work out your next move.
Lucy van Smit is an award-winning author, a screenwriter, and artist who regrets selling off most of her paintings to pay the rent. She got her BA Hons in Fine Art, blagged a job in TV, travelled worldwide for NBC News, flew on Air Force One with President Reagan, got surrounded by tanks at Manila airport during a coup, before she chilled and made documentaries for Canadian TV on writers like John Le Carre and Ian McEwan.
Lucy is dyslexic with a Distinction in MA Creative Writing. The Hurting won the inaugural Bath Children’s Novel Award and was published by Chicken House.