“In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert’s there are few.” – Zen Master Shunryo Suzuki
Most beginning writers are anxious to shrug off the adjective, which they perceive as a pejorative. When I was beginning to write, I wanted nothing more than to be taken seriously. Now, I can pass as an expert fiction writer. I am a professor in English Department at the University of New Mexico where I teach creative writing to undergraduates and graduate students. I also serve as the founding director of the Taos Summer Writers’ Conference, an annual week-long event that is currently in its seventeenth year.
Why, then, have I decided to shrug off the expert mantle and assume the role of beginner again. Why am I taking a writing class online? Here’s why:
In October of 2014, I finally published my fourth book—and second novel—a family story set in New Mexico called SOPHIE’S HOUSE OF CARDS. It’s a good novel. I’m proud of it, but the sad truth is that I spent the last thirteen years of my life completing it. At that rate, I will complete only one or two more novels in my lifetime, and I won’t have much fun in the process.
My reasons for enrolling in “Write Where You Are: a Mindful Approach” might be different than yours. But if you are wishing and hoping to write more in 2015 (more, say, than you wrote in 2014), if you’re striving to compose better, fresher prose, consider the following:
Being a Student Is Invigorating
The older I get the more jazzed I am by learning. Last week, I had the pleasure of ordering the books for the class I’m taking. The titles were all new to me. One of the four is called THE MINDFUL WRITER: NOBLE TRUTHS OF THE WRITING LIFE. The author is Dinty Moore, editor of the wonderful online literary magazine, Brevity. For the last year or so, I have aspired to publish something in Brevity. Twice, I have submitted flash nonfiction and received polite and encouraging rejections. I should try again with another piece, but I don’t have one on hand.
I will make use of one of the prompts to write a micro-essay (another term for flash nonfiction). My instructor, Sara Michas-Martin, is sending students daily prompts. Today’s prompt is to free write a list. Hmm. I think I have that one covered.
Supportive Writing Community
Students I teach at the University of New Mexico often confide that they are taking my class not to fulfill a requirement but because they need deadlines and assignments and a group of fellow writers. They want community. Sometimes, I am jealous because I want those same things. Just by signing up for my online class, I have gained a group of fellow writers and daily inspiration. (One of the women in my online class lives in a high-rise in Dubai and another is sending her assignments from Morocco!)
Crawl Out of Your Comfort Zone
I am a dutiful writer and person, and I am not given to serendipity and spontaneity. Left to my own devices, I will eat the same breakfast for five days or five weeks running. Therefore, I need a nudge now and then to crawl out of my comfort zone and attempt something new and potentially frivolous. Under the auspices of classwork, I have tricked myself into having a little fun.
Learning is Fun
And it is fun, this class. The late novelist David Foster Wallace once wrote an essay called “The Nature of Fun” in which he describes the conundrum of achieving any level of success as a writer. You find success and you lose the fun. As a beginner, you’re writing for the joy of it. But once you find an audience, you’re writing for others. As Wallace observes, “writing for others is nerve-wracking for most of us.” Pretty soon, you’re producing pages to have “pretty people you don’t know like you and admire you and think you’re a good writer.“ Wallace recommends “working your way back to fun,” and for me, learning is fun. Always has been—ever since I was a beginner eager to be an expert.
One last suggestion: If you go looking for an online writing class, please check out Rananim:The Online Writing Community of the Taos Summer Writers’ Conference.
About Sharon Oard Warner
Sharon Oard Warner is the author of four books—a collection of short fiction, an edited anthology, and two novels, DEEP IN THE HEART and SOPHIE’S HOUSE OF CARDS. She is a professor of English at the University of New Mexico and founding director of the Taos Summer Writers’ Conference.