Beginner’s Mind: A Mindful Approach to Personal Essays

with Susan Barr-Toman

Beginner's Mind Mindfulness Nonfiction Writing Course

Take a deep breath and write your true stories with this mindful approach to writing. You can be new to writing personal essays, or a seasoned writer looking for new ways to discover and work with material.

This 8-week course is a journey of self-discovery. In these generative workshops, we will explore different aspects of our lives and mine them for material. In doing so, we will gain new perspectives on ourselves, our obsessions, and our process. 

In each workshop, we will meditate and then freewrite. Throughout the course, we will use the tools of mindfulness to build a mindful writing practice, confront our inner critic, work with difficult memories, and discover new ways into our stories.

Activities, meditations, and writing prompts will be offered at the end of each class to help you maintain a mindful writing practice (spending time each day meditating, then writing) throughout the week.

You are encouraged to share writings created during the 6-week course during class and on Wet Ink.

Learning and Writing Goals

Learning Goals:

By the end of this course, students will learn:

  • a foundation for maintaining a Mindful Writing Practice.
  • an understanding of the personal essay.
  • the benefits of building community with fellow writers built through mindful workshopping.
  • insight into the personal essay publishing market.

Writing Goals:

By the end of this course, students will have:

  • generated draft essays on a variety of topics.
  • outline what stories they have to/want to tell.

Zoom Schedule

Dates: Wednesdays, January 10 – February 28
Time: 7:00-9:00pm ET

Weekly Syllabus

Week 1: Foundations

We’ll spend a little time getting to know each other in this first class. This week is about the foundations of our lives – family, ancestry, traditions. What makes us unique; and therefore, uniquely qualified to tell the stories we have to tell? We’ll discuss what mindfulness is and what the personal essay is.

Week 2: Obsessions

What brings you pleasure? What do you crave? Mindfulness allows you to gain perspective on these urges and helps you write about your history and relationship with all things good and bad for you.

Week 3: Do It for the Story!

Sometimes we can get stuck in our writing and in our lives. This week we take action. Perhaps you do something you’ve never done before (What’s been stopping you?) Or do something you’ve been postponing or avoiding. Mindfulness helps us focus on the present moment. So, pay attention and take notes!

Week 4: Working with Difficult Memories

How do we write about difficult or even traumatic events without upsetting or retraumatizing ourselves? Mindfulness provides us with a structure to help us take care of ourselves when we delve into these memories that allows us to write honestly about our experiences. 

Week 5: Telling Your Truth

Telling our true stories, maybe even revealing secrets in them, makes for riveting essays. As writers, we need to be fearless. But how do we find our voice when there may be people who don’t want us to tell our stories? Are we writing these stories to heal ourselves or take revenge on others? Mindfulness helps us understand our motivation.

Week 6: Discovering Connections

How can our stories connect with other stories, so that they resonate with our audience? Seeing symbols and metaphors in the world around you can inform your personal story so that readers gain a clearer understanding and a stronger connection to your story. There are often more common threads than what first meets the eye! Meditation quiets the mind and allows us to see connections we wouldn’t have noticed with all the noise of the everyday.

Week 7: Rewriting Old Stories

This week we revisit our old stories we have told over and over again—stories of our relationships, our identities, or our value, and break them down. We’ll recognize the old patterns and limiting beliefs these narratives reinforce in us and let them go. What would change if we no longer believed them? What would happen if we rewrote them? If we created wholly new ones? With practice, mindfulness can bring our attention to our awareness on a deeply spiritual level.

Week 8: Taking Flight

For our final class, share an essay you want to prepare for publication, and we’ll look at potential markets for submission.

Course type:

Student Feedback for Susan Barr-Toman:

I love Susan’s classes! I have gained a sound foundation in the combination of meditation and writing. Workshops afford a unique broadening of perspective as I glimpse bits of life through the stories my classmates choose to write and to share. Susan effortlessly creates an inclusive and inspiring online classroom that feels like a weekly bit of normalcy and connection in this disaggregated time. Amy L.

Susan’s writing classes (I’ve enrolled in several) have been transformational. I hadn’t been able to write regularly or successfully for years, and Susan’s deep knowledge of literature–and her experience with both the craft of writing and the practical details of the publishing world–have been incredibly helpful and inspiring.  Thanks to her course, and the supportive community it has created, I now have a regular writing practice, and have even submitted some pieces for publication, with more planned for the future. Catherine W.

Susan was a fantastic facilitator. Her guided meditations were wonderful: spacious, open with brief and poignant guidance introduced throughout. Her ability to adapt to the group was impeccable. Her humor and quick wit added a lightness to the group and softened the glow of vulnerable sharing of personal writings. Her attention to the group as a whole was on point throughout. Mara W.

Susan Barr-Toman headshot

About

Susan Barr-Toman is a novelist and essayist. She teaches her Mindful Writing privately and as an affiliated faculty member at the Penn Program for Mindfulness in Philadelphia. She has taught creative writing through her workshops, as well as undergraduate and graduate classes at Temple University and Rosemont College. Susan holds an MFA from the Bennington Writing Seminars.

Her debut novel When Love Was Clean Underwear was selected by Ann Hood as the winner of the Many Voices Project’s Fiction Prize 2007. With her sister artist Sarah Barr, she published the children’s picture book Mary Mulgrew, What Did You Do? A Pushcart nominee, her work has appeared in The Washington Post, Los Angeles Review of Books, Brevity Blog, and River Teeth’s Beautiful Things among others.

Visit her at www.susanbarrtoman.com.