The Growth Mentality

I finished another book!! I am so excited, most of all because this means the first one wasn’t a fluke. This is something I can actually do. I have written books.

I know someone out there might be thinking: well, good for you, you found the secret key, let me just keep struggling over here on my own, listening to you brag.

First of all, I would say that if anyone is proof that you can turn around from endless procrastinator and talker (not walker) to finishing drafts of novels, it would be me. I spent years upon years talking about writing, trying to write, not even getting past an outline, constantly saying this was all I wanted to do—but not doing it! And even after I finished my first project, I fell into another slump for six months of notes and barely started outlines and big dreams but no reality.

And then I found my way into a story, allowed myself to be whatever I wanted (but most especially bad, on every level, from premise to plot to dialogue), found a strategy that worked for me (breaking the story into smaller chunks so I could build up some pages behind me before diving into the meat of the plot), and… did it. If I can, anyone can.

But there was another element this time around that really helped me, and maybe it could help you, too.

When you’re writing with the goal of being published, sometimes all you can think about is what people will inevitably think of your work. And, of course, being human and wanting not only to be able to eat but also to be praised, it’s fun to imagine your work being successful. However, as soon as you do that, you have given your work a (somewhat arbitrary) standard to match up to, depending on what sort of success you’re imagining and what similar works you’re looking at.

That standard is a trick—not only can your individual work never quite match up with anything, because it will be its own thing, but it’s also impossible to evaluate the quality or even basic reality of your final product at the stage you’re at now. You don’t know what the plot will be like, or the characters, until you’ve gone through revision, possibly several times. And even if you could imagine clearly what your final product will be, you can’t know how people will react to it… The wide variety of opinions surrounding phenomenal bestsellers should show you that people have wildly differing opinions and tastes that can’t be predicted. If someone told you ten years ago that the publishing phenomenon of the early teens—the book your mom and her book club picked and your grandma who’s reading it because she saw it on the Today Show—would be a BDSM erotica based on a fanfic of a YA vampire romance… Well, if you would have guessed that was possible, you should be playing the lottery.

Anyway, the point is that you can’t think about the eventual quality and reception of a work while you’re in the early stages of creating it—and even if you do, it’s OKAY TO BE BAD.

Here’s the tip: Look at your writing, your creativity as a whole, as a work in progress. Realize that you will learn and grow as a creator with everything you make, and what’s in front of you now may never be your best work—because your best work is yet to come. You will grow, and continue to learn and improve, and even if you end up putting out work that’s embarrassing in ten years, by that time you’ll be creating things you love even more…

This mentality is called the “Growth Mindset.” I first read about it in motivational books, though I kind of stumbled into it in this arena on my own. It refers to the mindsets of students—“fixed” vs. “growth.” A fixed mindset student believes their intelligence is a static quality, and they are either smart or they aren’t, and their work reflects that. A growth mindset student believes that intelligence can be earned and grown, and they can become smart if they work at it, and so they generally bounce back better from failure and try things and can work their way to the top. (Here’s more info on this and the book by Carol Dweck: x)

Having a growth mindset in writing takes two forms: one is applying the mindset to the drafting process, that what you’re writing now will grow into something better through revision and effort later on. Two is that even if the final product is not the image of perfection that you’ve always dreamed of, you will still learn and grow from the process and can begin to build a career.

The second one is a little odd to think when you’re still trying to publish—the idea that you would purposefully publish something that isn’t the ‘best thing ever.’ But anyone who reads widely knows that a lot of bad books get published, and sometimes they’re even successful. And that everyone’s idea of “bad” differs.

The point here is that if you’re waiting for your ideas and your plots and your writing to be perfect—or even just “great”… or “good”—you may be waiting forever. Instead, embrace being awful, dive right in and start GROWING!

The only way to get to “great” (because “perfect” is impossible) is to start with “bad”…

Just like the only way to grow a tree is to start in the dirt.


About J. Sevick

Just write.
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