My writing brain loves words. And because I love words, I love solving crossword puzzles. (Oh, the strange and wonderful words puzzle creators use!) My approach to solving crosswords is to challenge myself to work ever-harder puzzles. Currently, I can just about always manage the Wednesday New York Times puzzle. By Thursday, I’m floundering. (NYT puzzles get progressively harder from Monday to Saturday. Sunday’s puzzle is mid-range in difficulty, but it’s a lot longer.)
If I get stuck on a word, I look it up. (There are myriad apps for this purpose.) My reasoning is that as I look up words, I learn more of them. I find unusual words with lots of vowels, the kind puzzle creators love, and I commit them to my memory. I’m constantly striving to learn more about the process.
I have a friend who also loves to do puzzles. She’s smart as a whip, and innately much better at solving puzzles than I. But she sneers at my habit of looking up words I don’t know. She thinks that is cheating. If she can’t solve a puzzle on her own, she figures it’s hopeless and quits.
My strategy for solving crossword puzzles illustrates a growth mindset. My friend’s shows a fixed mindset. Carol Dweck is a researcher at Stanford University who introduced these concepts that describe the beliefs we hold about learning and intelligence.
Growth vs. Fixed Mindset
— A person with a fixed mindset believes that success will come through innate talent and intelligence.
— A person with a growth mindset believes that success will come through learning, hard work, and putting in effort. She believes that desirable qualities can come through learning and growing. Because of this, she’ll put in extra effort to meet her goals.
Can you guess which one leads to the most success in reality? Yes, the growth mindset. A fixed belief may hold you back from positive change because if you don’t succeed at your goal, you’ll think you just weren’t smart enough. You may focus on a trait that you think you can’t change.
As a writer, a fixed mindset may lead you to believe that you just don’t have what it takes, and you’ll give up. If you believe your success is based on qualities that are unchangeable, you’ll prove yourself correct over and over again. And fixed mindset people strive to always look good, smart, talented, too. Because, those are their innate traits.
A growth mindset person, however, will experience failure and strive to understand why. She will strive to learn more, to figure out why her writing is not working. A growth writer receiving rejections repeatedly may seek out critiques of the work, or study a new craft book and put the recommendations into effect. She’ll research and try new approaches, never relying on a fixed idea of her talent.
Sit Your Butt in the Chair and Do It: 15 Keys to Creativity
Sure you’re talented. But are you exercising that talent?
As you can see, cultivating a growth mindset is an excellent thing for a writer. Here are some tips on how:
Foster a growth mindset for writing
- Don’t rest on your laurels. The great thing about being a writer is that you are never bored! There’s always something else to learn about the topic. Years ago when I was working on my M.F.A. I had dinner with a group of people that included a long-time corporate bigwig. She asked me how long it would take to earn my degree and when I told her two years she was shocked. “I thought you could learn everything there is to know about writing in six months.” Ahem. For once in my life, I had the perfect comeback. “Many people think it takes a lifetime to master writing.” This is the attitude of the growth mindset writer.
- Read, read, read. Of course, as writers we read. That’s how many of us got into writing in the first place — because of our love of reading books. A growth mindset writer looks at books as a place to continue to learn. There’s a whole, huge world of non-fiction books on fascinating topics. And reading fiction is just as instructive. As a novelist, I’m constantly soaking up other authors’ techniques for characterization, dialogue, story, and more as I read.
- Take classes. I’ve been writing for a gazillion years, and teaching and coaching writers for nearly twenty. But I’m constantly signing up for new classes on topics ranging from how to write faster to effective characterization.
- Work with other writers. I also learn from my students and coaching clients, and the other writers in my critique group. Sometimes when I’m reading another writer’s manuscript, the perfect solution for a plot problem falls into place. And discussing writing in groups is not only fun and energizing, it is always illuminating. Even when talking about another writer’s story, new ideas for my own flow in.
- Remember that your brain is an amazing organ. Recent strides in understanding brain science have revealed that our minds continue to grow and change throughout our lives. There’s a thing called neuroplasticity, which means the brain can be changed and new neural pathways can be carved. This is a marvelous thing! You can change negative thought patterns with time and a bit of work. A personal example that is now one of my touchstones: Last fall, I had hip replacement surgery. Before that, I was in so much pain I had a hard time walking. Any time I had to walk even a short distance, my brain started shouting in panic. Stop! This is going to hurt! Oh God, pain ahead! When first I started walking again, my brain fed me the same messages. I’ve had to retrain it to realize that I can now walk without pain. We can do the same with the writing pathways in our mind. A growth mindset will encourage this.
Cultivating a growth mindset is worth it for a writer!
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