Beginner’s Mind

“Every time I start on a new book, I am a beginner again. I doubt myself, I grow discouraged, all the work accomplished in the past is as though it never was. My first drafts are so shapeless that it seems impossible to go on with the attempt at all, right up until the moment…when it has become impossible not to finish it.”

–Simone de Beauvoir, Force of Circumstance

What’s the hardest part of the writing for you?


  1. Ilana says

    The hardest part of writing for me is not the challenge of a blank sheet of paper. It is not when something comes out all wrong and I don’t know where to go with it. It is not even when I go back to read something and it does not sound the way it did when I first wrote it. I have learned to deal with all these things. For me the hardest part of writing is what happens when I share.
    My writing is tailor made to fit my personal tastes and interests. I have been writing for almost twenty years, always for just me. After twenty years of learning about myself I know what I like and what stirs my soul. The words move together in an intricate dance, presenting my deepest sorrows, my most secret wishes and sending my music out onto the page for the reader to take in. I have a profound relationship with each of my fictional characters. They take on a life of their own and share themselves with me; tell me about themselves. They teach and I learn. With few exceptions even the villains turn into my friends as I realize they were simply misunderstood. Often my characters will tell me, “No, Ilana, that doesn’t work. Don’t make me do that. I would never do that.” And I listen.
    My poetry crashes like cymbals. It throws shocks of bold color across time and space or paints a soft, gentle sky for me to float in. As I live in this beautiful world my wounds are healed, my pain expressed and my soul is fed by the music of my own creation.
    Then I beg my husband or a friend to read what I’ve written. “That’s nice.” They say. Or “But wouldn’t it be better if you said it this way?”
    “What!? ‘That’s nice?’ ‘Wouldn’t it be better?’ You didn’t see the breathtaking fireworks? You didn’t fly in the rainbow? You weren’t bowled over by that part right there? This one over here didn’t make you want to cry? Or sing?” I am crushed. They haven’t heard my music at all. They haven’t seen the beauty of my creation.
    Don’t get me wrong. I have been published only once and that was an academic piece written 15 years ago. I was a child, a 22 year old sophomore in college. It is the furthest thing from me now. I don’t believe I am a misunderstood, supremely unappreciated genius. I just love to write and I love what comes out of me when I do. As I said, my writing is just for me, tailored to my personal tastes and preferences; my needs. On the rare occasions that I share I need to remind myself that not everyone is going to appreciate my work. And no one is going to love it the way I do. If they can’t hear the music and they can’t see the colors then that’s okay. Those things are there for me and they are no less beautiful or real because someone else can’t see them.

    • says

      Ilana, I love your clarity about what works and doesn’t work for you. Clearly, we all have different needs and preferences around our writing. For me, sharing it (at least some of it) publicly has been a big part of my process–I want my writing to impact people. But clearly, that’s not true for everyone. I’m glad you know yourself so well.

    • Debbie O says

      Ilana –
      I smiled as I read about how others might react – a “That’s nice” when it has taken all of your courage to share a phrase or insight that, for you, is luminous. Thanks for sharing this.

  2. Rebecca Hudson says

    When I write, I imagine myself being there, in my story, in the situation or time and place with the people. I imagine myself being the main character of my story. I am very detailed with my writing. I love it when I really get into the story because I get descriptive when I’m focused in writing. I do tend to struggle with putting the right words in order to make it sound right. I’ve tried to write novels, but I get stuck at the begging of a chapter. I want to begin the chapter off where it would catch the viewer’s eye and end each chapter as if they would want to continue reading to see what would happen next. I plan to write it all, novels, poetry, short stories, scriptwriting, and playwriting. I want my work to become a major motion picture. I want to be known as the next William Shakespeare in this time period. I don’t struggle if I’m seeing something of inspiration. One night, there was a full moon shining through the clouds.

    I thought to myself, “The full moon was brightly shining through the clear sight of the thin clouds on a dark night.”

    I don’t struggle with deep emotions of the character, maybe that’s because it’s a reflection of my feelings.

    “Before you came upon my life of love, I was lost. My heart was broken and in pain, I was confused, my spirit was lost, and my soul was always trapped in a dark corner. I was abandoned and left to dry out. From the day you came into my love life, the day you asked me to be yours, my heart was instantly fixed and it was no longer in pain, my mind was on the right track, my spirit found its place once more, and you brought light to my soul. I was found and never lost again, I was never left to dry out on the hot, hard, cracked, desert ground while laying under the boiling sun. You’ve warmed my heart with each touch and I am happy on the inside again. I no longer have to force myself to fake a smile and laugh to hide my pain from people.”

    I basically struggle with putting the words into place to make the story sound like I want it, beginning and ending some of the chapters is another struggle also.

  3. Debbie O says


    And remembering to write the truth as if no one else will ever read it.

    All of that has become easier since Laura gave us permission to write “crap” sometimes.

    That is why I enjoy the writing prompts so much. It gives me a place to start and then the words just flow out like a bird finally set free from its cage.

    Thank you.

    • Debbie O says

      OOPS – a cut and paste mistake! The first word is supposed to be


      And remembering to write the truth as if no one else will ever read it.

      All of that has become easier since Laura gave us permission to write “crap” sometimes.

      That is why I enjoy the writing prompts so much. It gives me a place to start and then the words just flow out like a bird finally set free from its cage.

      Thank you.

        • Andrea Jones says

          I hadn’t read everyone’s posts before I posted mine. I laughed to see that you wrote about starting and I wrote about finishing! The writing prompts are amazing. I can’t remember when I last wrote so enthusiastically.

      • Ilana says

        I love it, Debbie! You left off the starting letter of starting. At first I thought you did it on purpose. I’ll take that permission to write crap as well. Very liberating. Also, thank you so much for your comments. They mean so much.

        • Debbie O says

          Ilana –
          I laughed out loud with your comment. I wish I had been that clever and intentional. Guess my inner muse was sending out this extra message!

  4. Andrea Jones says

    I think Butterball Turkey’s did it first – included that little white, plastic thermometer that had the red button in the middle. When the bird is the perfect temperature, the red piece pops up and you know for sure your turkey is ready to serve.

    I want one of those plastic, pop-up thermometers on all my writing. A definitive timer to let me know when my writing is the perfect temperature – ready to serve. My problem is finishing. How do you know when you’re done? How do you stop revisiting what you’ve written and send it out into the world to acquire permanence in a reader’s mind?

    If Shakespeare had revisited Romeo and Juliet one last time would they have ended up happily married with six kids? Would it have been better if Darth Vader weren’t Luke Skywalker’s father? What if Frankenstein’s monster were really evil and not just misunderstood? Stories that define our culture do so by the breadth of a few words, an explanation of an idea, and a perfection of prose. One wrong word, one bad idea, and POOF – crap.

    Not that crap is bad for a writer. I’ve recently embraced the idea that writing crap is at least writing. It is at least getting your ideas on paper where they can transform to a future a bit closer to “finished”. Despite this new knowledge, experience has taught me that no matter how finished I think I am, I will always find at least small changes that I want to include with every future reading. In worse case scenarios I will look back and think, “what was I thinking?”

    For now, there is no Butterball Turkey timer to poke into my writing so I will have to keep using my other thermometers – the ones that ring with the sounds of:

    “Mom, when is dinner going to be ready?”
    “Bark, Bark, Bark as the dogs encounter a skunk”
    “Ring, Ring, Ring, the principal’s on the phone.”

    POP! I’m out of time – the story must be done. I hope it’s a not a turkey.

    • says

      I love the Butterball image. And your piece made me think–I always seems to know when something is done. Often I read it out loud, over and over again, until the rhythm is right and every extra word has been squeezed away. Maybe I like an audience too much to let things molder away in my notebook….

      • Andrea Jones says

        Laura, I recently read my “Tomato” story on KUSP radio. I wrote it in response to “my favorite ingredient” during the The Two Things afternoon. I worked and worked to refine it and practiced reading it out loud and then when I got to the radio station, Guy, the DJ made a few small requests for changes that morphed it into a much better finished version. I need to take advantage of more second opinions, but wow that is tough.

  5. Andrea Jones says

    First I swore and then I laughed as I re-read the last line and noticed the typo: the extra “a”. I also noticed a few other typos that I’m not going to point out. Sigh, I guess my timers don’t work as well as the Butterball variety.

    • Debbie O says

      Andrea –

      Interesting. I usually know when I am finished. For me it is when I start to struggle with the next sentence, or the next thought or direction the story wants to take. After several scratched out lines [I am old enough to have started composing on paper not computers] or furious backspace/deleting – I start to “listen”, finally, and realize maybe this thought or story is complete. And stop. I learned this in business first – say what you have to say and then stop. Some of us have a tendency to want to fill up the empty spaces because they make us uncomfortable. But when I can remember to stop – then the empty spaces become fertile ground for something new to grow.

      • says

        Good advice, Debbie. It’s wonderful how lessons from one part of our lives (like business) apply so perfectly to a seemingly disconnected part of our life (like writing).

  6. Jean West says

    Typically, for me, the hardest parts of writing are introductions/beginnings and conclusions/endings. Hitting the right notes at those two points, whether for a college paper, or magazine article, or the current novel, seem the trickiest part. I literally slogged my way through the first chapter of the latest mystery for NaNoWriMo. I have an alternate beginning already in mind, a few paragraphs blocked out, because I think it probably reads like cold molasses (although I haven’t actually re-read it). To the extent that it served as pre-writing to the introduction I think I’ll like, it was worth it. I have to admit, if I chuck the whole thing, it’ll be by far the largest block of writing I’ve ever trashed and I as much as I think I dislike it, I will probably relish hitting the delete button. Of course, finding the time and focus to expand that introduction, not to mention finish the mystery…which is probably only 70% written…that will be the new hard part. My father’s broken arm turned out to be related to cancer; we’re still waiting on the tests to pin down what cancer, but it sounds like it may be multiple myeloma. I think, as a writer, it’s important to have a name for whatever the ailment is. Naming is an empowering act, even if it doesn’t change the condition or outcome. I’m in the whirl of phone calls, new tests, new doctors—all of which fragment my waking hours and concentration. I would like to finish the draft for Dad, since he’s always been my biggest supporter.

  7. Beth says

    I have this ich – that makes me get started. It is a building mass of chaotic energy that can be located somewhere below my stomach and above my bellybutton. It churns; making my toes twitch and…

    I’m currently at the beginning phase of an essay on Joyce Carol Oats’ Tattoo Girl. I’ve read the book and jotted notes about potential themes. My next phase, is exploring these themes and I do many literature searches looking at different angles of the issues. I know if I don’t research these different views – I begin procrastinating even writing the piece. This research phase is true for me in my fiction, poetry and non-fiction writing.

    From the different views, my mind begins to form its own narrative. I find myself on long walks as my mind points to what is important.
    Okay, it is at this point I write the first sentence and this turns into the first paragraph. I just write something – because I know it is only the first draft and you have to start somewhere.

  8. Bobbie Anne says

    I love to write, the words seem to come out whether I am ready or not. It isn’t always sunshine and rainbows. In fact, the best writing seems to come when its dark or things happen that are traumatic and I reflect on them. I use my writing here ( thank you for giving me a safe place to write in Laura) as what I term “theraputic writing”. It helps me and I find it sometimes helps others who read it as well. That is so wonderful I’m able to do this. In my family, my sister and recently my cousin (he overdosed because his dad died) committed suicide. While I love them a lot, I’m glad I’m still here. I have trials and tribulations, but I want to focus and writing helps me do this.
    Yes, I’m a cancer survivor and I value my life enough to keep going, God willing. Yes, faith and being positive and sharing my thoughts in my writing with others helps. I intend to keep it up as long as I am able. Thanks!

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