Your Mindset Impacts Your Writing


Have you ever thought about your evolution as a writer and what mindset you're operating from?

Psychologist Carol Dweck researches and writes about mindset, specifically the fixed and growth mindsets, and I only just put together how these impact us as writers. You see, in a fixed mindset, you gravitate to easy, or what comes “naturally”. Which means you find the topics that are easiest to write about. Which is fine, you can write a lot about what is easy, but do you really grow your skills if you’re always doing the easiest type of writing?

Recently I applied to write for a new subject area — the history of women. The topic excites me, I’m a history buff and have thought for a long time that women and their place in history are underrepresented. But then a funny thing happened, after the initial research, I got stuck.

Writer's Block, Resistance and a Fixed Mindset

So yes, in a way I am blocked. And what’s a block? Resistance.

Passion for a topic is terrific, it’s good energy, but it needs to be channeled into a useful and readable article. Otherwise, you run the risk of jumping from thought to thought and either losing the reader or leaving them with an incoherent piece.

Then there’s the portion about doing the story justice. Which is connected to passion, but upon further reflection it’s apparent that this is one part perfectionism and one part fear. And those are the hallmarks of a fixed mindset.

When you’re in that headspace, there’s a worry about how you look to others, because you fear looking unskilled and the embarrassment inherent in that.

Trying something new can bring up other fears, like finding the right way of presenting the information so that it's interesting to the reader. Or the fear of doing it wrong and the reader missing out on the subject and then, "of course" the fear of making a mistake in undertaking a new genre of writing. 

And there it is...failure. Perfectionism and fear. 

The worry of doing it wrong. Of not being worthy of the trust that the publisher gives you by accepting you as a writer. In this case, it might even have to do of your attachment to the subject. When you love something, you want to reflect it in the best possible light.

And then the final and perhaps most frightening fixed mindset type of thought, if I screw this up, then maybe I’m not as good as I think.

Fixed, fixed, and yet more fixed mindset thinking.

Once you’ve entered that level of thinking it becomes difficult to ask for help. You wallow about, work away but after a few attempts, if your efforts aren’t successful, you abandon the cause, telling yourself it’s not to be. Fixed mindset often means plateauing, because you’re not willing to stretch your comfort zone and try new things.

The Growth Mindset - a happier place to reside

Now, have a look at how the growth mindset is a much more pleasant place for your writing practice.

In the growth mindset, you give yourself permission to be a beginner and not as good as you want to be…yet. As you proceed on a new challenge, something people with a growth mindset continue to invite, you seek resources to help you learn. Rather than seeing others as competition, you view them as potential collaborators. People from whom you can learn by asking them for their feedback. Or even simply, studying how they write.

When you operate with a growth mindset, you worry less about what others think and more about how to improve. There is a wonderful sense of relief when you stop feeling in competition with everyone and realize that the true place of doing better is a journey of one. It’s not about them, it’s about you.

If you want to test out your mindset, it turns out that as a writer, this can mean writing in a new genre or a new publication. Just as I have with the new history publication.

Instead of going down the rabbit hole of fixed mindset thinking you commit to getting it done and give yourself permission for…good enough. With plenty of information at hand, it’s then about making choices and if needed, a rough outline to ensure that the juicy bits that make it interesting have a home. Good enough writing means that you can move ahead, turn it in and learn from the process.

And, by committing to getting it done you avoid the chance of coming to a full stop or abandoning the piece.

The growth mindset is the extra nudge to keep you on track. You do everything you can do to create the best piece you can and then you submit it. If it’s accepted, great. Then you look for feedback. In this case, since it's on the Medium platform from the readers and their responses. And while editors don’t have a ton of time, you can also reach out and say, is there a way this could have been better. Or…do you have any suggestions to make it better.

A growth mindset looks for feedback, welcomes it, and doesn’t take it personally. That’s how we grow into becoming better at what we do.

It is tempting to stay with what we know, but that’s a death knell for the kind of growth that will lead us to personal and professional success. When you enter new waters, you push yourself and as you do, you grow. You learn and find that new opportunities arise, but that can’t happen until you get comfortable with being uncomfortable.

As a final note, Dweck points out in her book, “Mindset” none of us will ever achieve being absolutely in the growth mindset, but we can aspire to be there as much as possible. That happens by stepping back and reviewing how and where you are choosing to challenge yourself and the kind of action or inaction that’s occurring. That self-honesty will keep you on the path to growth.

It’s okay to be uncomfortable and yes, even a little scared. In my experience, that’s where the real fun begins.


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