Develop a Healthy Writer's Mindset
Updated: Jan 12, 2020
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Writers experience ups and downs.
Our paths are like twisted carnival mazes in which we have no idea what’s around the corner. I recently emerged from a bleak, dusty stretch steeped in the unsettling sense I was lost. I spent an entire year without putting many words on the page, and it didn't feel good. While positive things happened in other areas of my life, my world seem less bright because the ideas didn’t flow.
Having emerged from this dull stretch, I'm taking time to process. It's not that I expect a party around every corner, but sometimes the dreary moments make me forget good things have happened. I've spent some time reflecting, so when I face another empty corridor, I'll have tools to sustain me.
I’ve compiled five tips to remind myself how to keep a positive outlook throughout the messy process of preparing a novel so it's ready for the world's eyes. I hope these tips help you, too. If you find yourself in a challenging phase of the journey, try one.
Five Tips to Develop a Healthy Writer's Mindset
1. Cut out negative thinking patterns.
Negative thoughts can trigger a downward spiral, which often lead to blank pages. Whenever I’m stuck, it almost always stems from a flaw in my thinking. Gloomy thoughts crowd my mind, so characters and pivotal plot points can't flourish.
Here are several examples of negative thoughts, which might impede progress:
"I’m not as good as him/her."
"Everybody else has had more success than me, so why am I still trying?"
"This is not what I expected."
"I’ll never again be inspired."
None of these statements will help you progress in your writing career. If any of these thoughts enter your mind, you can take action to develop a healthier thought process.
If plagued by negative thoughts...
Set, and complete, a goal. There’s nothing more motivating than a reached goal. Start small, and build from there. I’ve learned to color in cells on tables to see how much closer I'm getting to completing a project. I've also connected with other writers. We check in from time to time to make sure we're writing, not just talking about writing.
Replace negative thoughts with positive ones. I love replacing dark thoughts with Bible verses. To me, dwelling on God's promises gives me hope. What is it that gives you a sense everything is going to be all right? Fill your mind with good things. If you find yourself believing lies, do the work it takes to understand the truth instead.
Consider an alternate version of success. When I began writing, I wanted to be the next Karen Kingsbury, or Nicholas Sparks. After ten years of dabbling in writing, I realized it’s never going to happen. For one, I don’t write fiction for adults. I write YA. And two, it's unrealistic to expect success on that grand of a scale. Now, instead of trying to be a well known writer, I focus solely on the next step forward. The only writer I’ll ever be is me, and that's wonderful!
Identify the purpose for dark periods of your writing. At the beginning of this post, I mentioned I spent a year not writing. The reason I didn’t write is because I taught high school drama and oversaw two theatrical productions. As a result, I worked twelve hour days, and there wasn’t a scrap of space left in my brain to write novels. This lack of writing progress upset me, but I finally realized there's an upside to how I spent my year. I write YA, so this means I spend twelve hours a day observing teenagers--their relationships, shining personalities, challenges, flaws, and brilliant moments. One might say I spent the year in research mode. I now look back on the year with a feeling of accomplishment, because I’ll always have that experience banked in my mind. When I rewrote my novel over the summer, my writing more authentically reflected the teen mind. It seems to me there's always a purpose to the dry spells in a creative person's life.
2. Analyze your Calling.
I recently had an epiphany. I am a writer. I’m called to write. Nothing is going to stop me. No amount of failure, criticism, or long stretches of waiting, or struggling, will alter my goals. This epiphany was huge, because admitting I’m not going to stop has banished my fear of what others think. Since I’m not going to stop, it doesn’t matter! Sure, I can use critique to change and grow, but there's no reason for it to destroy me.
If you're called to write, write. Do not fear. Do not stop. Do what you were meant to do.
3. Celebrate steps forward, even when they’re small.
In 2015, I flew to St. Louis, MO to attend the American Christian Fiction Writer’s Conference. At this conference, I met with several agents to find out if my novel was ready to be published. The meetings were helpful. One meeting in particular was reassuring when the agent encouraged me to keep writing on the topic I chose for my novel. I was elated he liked my topic. He made no promise to read my manuscript. There was no talk of a book deal. To me, it didn’t matter. I received positive feedback, and I was going to make the most of it. A real life agent said, "That's a good idea."
When I went to dinner that night, I was happy. The ladies at my table looked at me, and said, “Wow, you must be having a lot of success at this conference.”
I told them, “Well, no, not really. I’m just happy I took the next step forward in the process.” They looked at me kind of funny, but I didn’t care. An agent said he liked my story! At the time, it was all I needed.
What is your next step? Will you be happy to simply move ahead in the process? I hope you will. If you celebrate each small step, you'll be much more satisfied along the journey.
4. Seek to become competent in as many areas as possible.
Figuring out how to write a novel may be the most complex thing I've learned. Just when I think I've got the hang of it, something changes, and I have to rework the entire puzzle. This is why I spend a lot of time analyzing fiction, and reading non-fiction materials on how to write fiction. As I find more resources and more writers share their tools, my list of heros grows.
If you find yourself stuck, try learning something new about writing, and maybe it'll give you the kickstart you need to be refreshed and start anew.
5. Find others to join you on your journey.
During the in-between times for writers, you can still tend to your writing career. The connections you make with other writers or people in the industry may be what you need to usher in your next phase of success.
To connect with other writers, you can...
- Go to a conference. Every writer ought to attend one or more writing conferences a year. The investment is definitely worth the return!
- Work on a new social media tool. If you're not on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook, set up a new account and see how many interesting people you can follow. Find motivating posts and quotes to stay positive, or learn something new.
- Join a local writer's group. There are many writer's groups, both in person, and online. I can't tell you how much these groups have meant to me over the years. When you find others who are on the same journey as you, the path doesn't seem so daunting. Plus, you'll pick up ideas, tools, and resources from your new writer friends.
Ultimately, you should know you're not alone on this journey. Take heart, keep going, and celebrate as much as you can along the way.
Blessings to you, dear writer friend!