Today I’m starting a series of blogs about how you can cultivate mastery over your writer’s mindset.
What is a writer’s mindset? I like to think of it as your belief system, which comprises your habitual thoughts and attitudes toward your writing. It is what you are thinking when you are writing and what you are thinking about your writing when you are not writing. This can affect not only your creativity but also the habits you form around your writing practice. It manifests in whether or not you write, how often you write, and how productive you are. In this series, I’ll be covering areas like Writer’s Block, motivation, perfectionism, writer’s fears, and habits.
Don Maas, one my favorite authors writing about the craft, said that providing your readers with an emotional experience “requires that you, the author, be immersed, rapt, caught up, and settled down in characters’ emotional lives as if they are your own. It demands being open, authentic, free of fear, unrestrained by genre requirements or the expectations of fans, critics, the publishing industry, or your own literary heritage and tribe.” (The Emotional Craft of Fiction, Donald Maass)
This blog series will be all about what Maass advocates: becoming open, authentic, free of fear, and unrestrained by requirements and expectations. In other words, mastering your writer’s mindset. So strap yourself in and enjoy the ride.
You’ll get the most out of today’s article if you follow along on the exercise sheet. Get the free download here:
Take What Works
A big theme that I’ll be talking about today is to throw out whatever doesn’t work. I might suggest something and you might think, “well, that’s not true.”
I’ll be challenging some writing conventions here. Let me start by suggesting two things. First, I don’t think that much about writing is absolutely, irrefutably, scientifically provably true or false. And when there is no absolute, then my belief is that you get to decide what’s true for you. I advocate using just one litmus test: does it work for you?
What’s the upside to believing common wisdom? And what’s the downside? You’ll discover that there are huge downsides to believing a lot of writing advice and ‘truisms’ of writing. So I challenge you to do just that: Stop believing stuff that doesn’t serve you. Embrace your own truths. Follow advice that serves you.
William Kenower, author of The Fearless Writer, says:
All fear is unconscious thinking, a product of thought controlling a person rather than the person controlling thought. To write fearlessly is to master the power of thought itself.
Forget about the Talent Myth
Do you think you’re a talented writer*? Why? Have people said you are a talented writer? Do you believe it? Before we dive in, just tell yourself whether you believe you’re talented. Write it down in the accompanying exercise.
*If you’re not a writer, plug in whatever your passion is — this talent idea applies to most pursuits.
Does a talented writer possess her talent before she ever writes? What if she never writes – is she still talented?
Let’s Play It Out
Suppose there was a girl who wrote a few things in school. The teacher didn’t like what she wrote and didn’t encourage her. What would happen to the girl if she believed she wasn’t talented?
Let’s say her name is JK and, in this case, no one discouraged her as a child, so she wrote and wrote. She tried to publish, but she got 12 rejections. What if she concluded she didn’t have a talent for writing a publishable novel? I mean, she would certainly have a lot of evidence.
How many of you like to base your decisions on the cold, hard facts? The evidence? Right? Looking at reality, it would certainly justify her in thinking: “I guess I just don’t have a knack for this. I think I’ll stop.”
So, what about you? What does it benefit you to believe in talent? If you believe yourself talented, what might that lead you to? If you believe yourself to be untalented, where might that take you to? Why would you want to take the risk of believing something negative about your talent? Can you afford to do that? Follow along on the exercise sheet.
Let’s Play Games With Words
This word “talent” itself really cuts me up. My dictionary says it means “natural aptitude”. You know what aptitude is? “Natural ability to do something.” So, I guess natural is really super significant here.
And what about “natural?” Well, that means “caused by nature.” So, I suppose it’s all about is whether someone is a natural-born writer. Or maybe the word “talent” is trying to distinguish trained from not trained. I guess that if you get an MFA, you’re not really talented, according to this reasoning.
That’s kind of weird because we don’t know how to write at all when we are born. I mean, we all have to learn that part, right? And then, I’d think, we’d probably have to read some things before we’d know that there was even this thing called a story that was to be written. So, if we have to learn at least those things, then is this talent idea really that meaningful? “Oh, she didn’t have to learn as much as you did before she started writing these wonderful things. She’s more talented.”
Ok, so who cares? I mean, if there’s some writer who has an MFA and he’s written a book that you really like a lot, is it going to make a difference to you if someone says, “Yeah, but he had to learn to write, so he’s not talented.”
Might untalented just mean that a person hasn’t learned enough yet? They haven’t written enough yet? They haven’t worked hard enough yet to get their book where it needs to be? They haven’t read enough to understand their genre? They haven’t learned enough about story structure and character development to create an authentic main character that people root for?
BTW, apparently, JK doesn’t think she’s that talented: On Twitter she said, “I don’t walk around thinking I’m fab. I just shoot for ‘writing better than yesterday.’”
Talent = Easy?
Maybe talented means that it’s easier for them. They wrote a first draft, and it was already splendid. So, maybe talented is a synonym for fast.
It just takes talented people less time to produce a flawless manuscript. I guess there’s a little caché there. Maybe they are one of those people who can pound out six books a year. But if you love your craft, if you feel compelled to write, if you feel crappy when you don’t write, then is not having writing speed really going to keep you from what you love?
So why should it cause you to second-guess your writing, or, heaven forbid, stop your writing if someone said you’re not talented?
If none of this has convinced you, then let me ask you this: What harm would there be in believing that you were talented (even if you’re not)?
Let’s play it out. Those of you who think you’re not talented, what would it cost you to believe that you are talented? And what might be the benefits? Write it down.
Sure, you might get a little full of yourself. You might not bring in beta readers or an editor when you really should. So, you can solve that by just committing to get second opinions. Keep following good writing practices.
Now if you believe you are talented, how has that hurt you? Is there anything wrong with it? Would you recommend it to others?
And why not just forget about talent altogether and adopt JK’s approach – shoot for writing better than yesterday?
Let’s keep the dialogue going. Share what you wrote in the exercises with others in the comments below. That helps everyone grow.
I’m Dr. Kira Swanson and I’m a Life Coach for people who dread Monday. I work with corporate misfits who feel unfulfilled in their work. Together, we tune into what they really want, find new perspectives, and summon the courage to take bold action. Whether it’s striking out on their own, landing in a new job, or thriving right where they are, I help my clients to Love Monday.
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