Some random thoughts I often find rattling around in my head go like this...
What are you, stupid?
Me: Dang, I wish I could write better prose . . . this scene sucks.
Lizard Brain: Maybe if you had more talent, Loser. Hey, what makes you think you’re a writer anyway? No wonder you can’t get a date . . .
As you can tell, I’ve been thinking about Mindset lately and how to develop a healthy one for achieving my writing goals. Carol Dweck discusses the psychology of the Growth Mindset (healthy) versus the Fixed Mindset (unhealthy) in her book Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, and I encourage you to give that a read or find a Ted talk on the subject. But what I’m most interested in is how to develop a successful writer’s mindset beyond the “set a schedule and stick to it” thing.
I started with what I wanted to achieve as a writer. Here’s my list:
I don’t claim any of this as original thinking. I mean, look at those. That’s the Olympic tag of better, stronger, faster, isn’t it?
Never mind, those goals will get me closer to my million words and ten novels, at which point I'll have developed a few skills.
Now, a fixed or limited mindset – expressed so well by the Lizard Brain – would say we’re born with only so much creative talent and you get what you get. A growth mindset says nuts to that, and views every project, every writing task as a critical step in the process of becoming the writer you want to be.
A writer with a fixed mindset will tell herself “My first draft sucks. I can’t write. Better take up yoga or something.”
A writer with a growth mindset will tell herself, “My first draft sucks. But the last part of my novel flows way better than the first, and I learned a lot about the importance of planning and plotting my scenes. So sure, it sucks, but I’ve got something to work with and learn from.”
Which one are you?
I have to admit, my default has been a Fixed Mindset since childhood (and maybe one day I’ll have the courage to share that journey with you), but I’m getting better and better at ignoring the Lizard and focusing on the positive aspects of the writing process.
With that in mind, here are my Three “How to Develop a Growth Mindset for Writers” tips:
1. When you write, don’t think, just write
This is really hard for me and I know it’s hard for you too. We love writing a couple of sentences and then jumping into edit-mode and start fiddling with words until we feel the writing is “good”. The key to developing a growth mindset is to let go of all that crap. Just write. Don’t edit. Resist the temptation to make your writing better (that comes after you’ve written your draft). So when you sit down to write, just write. Don’t worry about spelling, grammar, what you’re going to have for supper . . . just write.
2. Write way more than you have been. Way, way more.
If the first key to a growth mindset is getting words out, warts and all, then the second key is writing a ton of words. Like, way more than you have been.
Writing is a numbers game. As Ray Bradbury said, and I paraphrase, if you write one short story every week for a year, chances are pretty good that at least a couple of them will have merit. Numbers. There is no short cut to becoming a successful writer. You must put in the time and effort, and that means writing a lot. Want to be a good novelist? Write a dozen novels and you will be. I guarantee it. Numbers.
So if your goal has been to write 1,000 words per day, then starting now, make that 5,000 per day for the next week and see what happens. I bet you won’t be able to spend nearly as much time fiddling to “make it better”. The only way to achieve that many words is to follow tip #1 above.
3. Stop caring so much
I might get emails about this one . . .
Do I care about my writing? Sure I do. I want to improve as a writer, engage readers more, and spin better yarns. But what I mean here is that if you want to improve as a writer, you need to stop putting so much pressure on yourself that the writing process becomes a shackle.
Here’s what I mean.
I often have writers come into the workshops with the goal of writing an awesome, intelligent, thoughtful, best-selling, profound novel with Big Themes and Unique Characters, about a story they’ve been thinking about since childhood. This is the one. All those other stories don’t matter compared to this one... the novel I'm born to write.
So the approach to writing becomes really important and serious. Every sentence is fiddled with. Plotting and planning can take forever (if they take place at all, because many new writers think that if George RR Martin can write by the seat of his pants, then everyone should do it that way). Daily word count drops to 200 words. And it can take forever to write the story. Most never finish.
Why? Because we care too much about it. We open the door to the Lizard and invite him in. There’s way too much pressure to make sure the writing and the story doesn’t suck, to the point where the story inevitably never gets finished. Subconsciously, we tell ourselves, "If I'm still working on it, then I don't have to share it with anyone, and I'll be safe."
Look, if you want to be a writer, you have to stop caring so much about every little word. This goes back to #1. Just write. Stop thinking so much about it and write. One way I found that really helps me is to write a story about something I don’t really care much about at all. For example, if I give myself a task of writing a story about Pat who’s out catching fireflies one night and ends up catching something a lot more sinister instead, then I think yeah okay whatever, set the timer, and off I go. I’m not married to the story. So now I can focus on just getting it written, warts and all. No pressure.
Ah, okay, I’ve rambled on enough about this now, so I leave you with a challenge for today.
Take your best writing day. How many words did you crank out? 1000? 2000?
Now double that number.
Now triple that number.
That’s your challenge for today: to write three times as many words as your best day.
Don’t worry about quality (that will improve naturally just by writing a ton). This is all about hitting the word count.
Let me know how it goes!
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