A Koan For Bloggers
Q): How can I master writing and sharing articles online?
A): Ask of yourself the impossible: begin as the teacher and learn to think like a beginner.
Beginning as the Teacher
A talented friend of mine once told me that in order to learn to play the guitar, I should write a book about playing the guitar. Although that same friend normally dismissed anything with the scent of Zen as contradictory nonsense, the advice wound up serving perfectly as its own koan (Zen master’s riddle).
Adopting the mindset of a teacher in any pursuit has already been suggested as a great way to enhance learning. And here you are now reading a beginner’s audacious article on not music, but mastering blogging.
So teach yourself with the authority only you can give. Then, as you start practicing and gaining experience, try teaching the topic to anyone who will lend an ear.
Choosing the Next First Step
After donning the teacher’s hat (carefully avoiding the one beside it, labelled “DUNCE”), just what do you instruct yourself (and fellow bloggers) to study first?
As Philip Sudo pointed out in the wonderful guide Zen Guitar, there are countless starting points for beginners in any field, but all of it is really just information.
How many tips, tricks, tools, and tomes on writing and editing are available online? No single piece of information is greater than another, and it’s impossible to utilize them all.
It doesn’t matter what you try first; your approach is the key. I recommend what Sudo and so many others have taught: “empty your cup” of what you think you know about writing online and approach everything with a “beginner’s mind.”
“No matter how adept you are with the guitar already, wearing the white belt here means you have agreed to set aside all knowledge and preconceptions and open your mind to learning as though for the first time.”
-Philip Toshio Sudo, Zen Guitar
The Beginner’s Mind
In the early days, this is the simplest part of all; it’s easy to apply a “beginner’s mind” when that really is your experience level. Whenever you blog, you can play attention each time you:
- find discovering a new feature exciting
- read a post you can’t believe hasn’t found a larger audience
- notice surprising styles and techniques in another blog
- focus on each word of your draft
- feel your pulse quicken as you press “Publish”
All of these moments should feel fresh and inspiring before you start getting mesmerized by “likes,” follower counts, etc. The first day you feel like a part of the blogging community is the first day you’re in danger of taking it all for granted.
That is where returning to the “beginner’s mind” comes in each time we post. It keeps us in a place forever a step ahead of “intending-to-write-someday,” and as distant as possible from becoming a “jaded-know-it-all.”
While you are gaining wisdom from your practice, always look again for that initial interest and excitement. It’s not the one who has wandered away.
Keeping the novice mindset often feels nervy and anxious, but one day (as with all mastery) a new quality finally emerges: stillness.
It’s true for writing. It’s true for playing guitar. It’s true for any endeavor worth repeating. And it will only happen after all of that learning and hard work ahead can be forgotten in the background, into your muscle memory.
The writer who finds that stillness in the excitement of writing has also found a timeless state of flow, and it signals simultaneously the mastery of a teacher and the mindfulness of a beginner.
It’s a beautiful paradox to achieve. Let’s all promise to write about it when we get there.