The beginner’s mind vs. the expert’s mind
A bit more on the same topic:
When you’re deep into a project, so deep that objectivity was gone long ago (i.e., when you’re writing a novel), you have to find a way to look at it with a fresh and new mind (a “beginner’s mind,” as the Zen masters — and today’s productivity bloggers — put it). It’s hard to do that as a critic — the whole point of being a critic is making judgments informed by experience — and the jump from critic to novelist is high indeed, at least for this one. Critics can refer to anything; the best novelists create their own world and ignore anything that doesn’t fit into it. It’s rare that someone (I’m thinking John Updike) can do both with equal authority and style.
Since I first read it in The New Yorker more than a decade ago, I’ve never gone more than a few months without rereading Tobias Wolff’s short story “Bullet in the Brain,” later collected in his The Night in Question. I read it again in January, and — while ruminating on the difference between interpretive writer and creative one — this line, regarding the critic about to meet his untimely end, jumped out at me: “He did not remember when everything began to remind him of something else.” That’s the blessing and curse of the critic: he can call on all he knows, but he’s limited by his knowledge. That knowledge is crucial to his calling, but it prevents him from creating with a “beginner’s mind.” I don’t want to sound like a parody of a Jedi master here, but I’m trying to call on everything I know — and then set it aside so I can do my job as a would-be novelist.
(See this post on Leaf-Stitch-Word for a more interesting take on the benefits of being a novice.)