Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Beginner's Mind

In the beginner's mind there are many possibilities; in the expert's mind there are few.

-Shunryu Suzuki, Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind

This week I began a page one rewrite of my mariachi book. I know, I know. I've been working on this book for three years. The writing experts would've told me to give up and move on to more profitable pastures. Actually, three years ago I would've told myself the same thing.

But the last eight weeks (and being dumped by my agent) have shown me the number one reason why this book has yet to fly. It's not the fault of my agents or readers. It's not because the market sucks or Mercury in retrograde. It's because I worked on it with the mind that I knew what I was doing.

I'm not saying that this journey has been wrong. I'm not blaming anyone or anything or labeling my decisions as mistakes. In fact, I'm beginning to waver on the concept of right versus wrong and adopting the idea of "what is." (Note to Karen Maezen Miller: you're rubbing off on me, comadre!) For us Westerners, specifically for us writers striving to become published/acknowledged/adored, the idea of "it is what it is" is wrong and scary and exclusive to authors with a lot of money and mileage on the best-seller lists.

Through all of May and June I wrote a pilot script, a series treatment and then a spec script. I began those projects never having taken a TV writing course or having written a script for TV. (Although I'd taken screenwriting courses in university, that was 15 years ago and I'd lost those class notes!) How did I do it? Well, I did it by pinching my nose and jumping in. This journey turned everything I had believed in as a writer upside down. I believed in business plans, outlines, the three-act structure and 10,000 hours of practice. I believed that I had to get away from my beginner's status as quickly and efficiently as possible. I even believed that my producer should have hired an experienced screenwriter instead of a beginner like me.

But then I remembered what Nora Roberts had said in one her chat sessions back in 1994. Someone asked if she ever got over the fear of writing a new book. Nora, who has written something like 120+ books in her career, replied, "No. Starting a new book is like starting all over again."

At the time, I had no idea what she was talking about. I thought it was nice of Nora to say that to all us beginners, but now I know what she meant and it freed me to write the pilot, spec and treatment. No matter how many books or screenplays I may end up writing, I will always be a beginner. It's not scary or discouraging. A beginner's mind isn't hemmed in by business plans, right vs. wrong, plot-driven or character-driven or the three-act structure. A beginner's mind damns the consequences and is open to spontaniety and "what if." Isn't that what we writers do?

3 comments:

Karen Maezen Miller said...

Yes, yes, 120 times yes! And did you see the profile of Nora in the NYorker?

Mary Castillo said...

Hi Karen:

I did not! I must correct that quickly.

Cheers,
Mary

Margo Candela said...

So frick'n true, Mary. When I let myself think about it (starting a new manuscript), I have no idea how I can do it again. Really, I have no idea how I did it the first place other than to just do it.

Balls to your agent for letting you go. Her (his?) loss.

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