During WWC, the second workshop I attended was called Mindsets, Mindfulness, and Mind Muscles for Writers, hosted by Julie Wright. I took a lot away from this presentation and I hope I can impart some of that wisdom to others who need it. Obviously, I want to start by saying that this is how I filtered her presentation and if anything seems off I take full responsibility.
Wright focused on ways writers can get around the writing blocks they unconsciously create and the types of mindsets writers need to mould in themselves before they even sit in front of a blank page. She worked around the notion that many writers hate writing but love having written. Who can’t identify with that?
To start, Wright identified three qualities great writers possess: will, skill, and creativity. Will was the big ticket idea because it lends itself to the other two.
Will is focus and staying power, it’s what gets you in the chair, keeps you in the chair, and has you write. Will is getting yourself to do the hard thing over and over. Always easier said than done because there are things that affect will, like mindset, inner dialogue, and mental energy.
Mindset is one’s underlying beliefs about the fundamentals of writing. Do you believe writers are born or made? Is talent natural or learned? Do you respect talent or hard work? Depending on how you answer these questions, you either have a fixed mindset or growth mindset. And your mindset affects your motivation to write.
– natural talent
– setting out to prove something
– success OR failure –black and white
– terrified of failure
– effort has no value–great writers find writing easy
– talent can be developed
– setting out to improve–growth, change, grey-scale focus
– failure is a learning opportunity
– effort is what matters, only with effort can you grow
Look at the columns above and honestly acknowledge which parts you identify with. If you’re like me you’re going to pull parts from both mindsets. And you’re going to be frustrated. I’m asking you to do this not because Wright asked me and everyone else who attended her panel to do it, I promise. It’s because I found it eye-opening.
If you can figure out how you currently approach the act of writing from a psychological perspective, you can figure out how to approach it better. This is writer mindfulness. In order to do this, ask yourself about the writers you admire and how they approach writing. That’s where we learn, right?
I think all writers are familiar with inner dialogue–and I’m not talking about the stuff that goes into a story. I’m talking about what Wright appropriately called “the inner shit committee.” If you don’t have one, I envy you. If you do, I don’t need to tell you about the little voice in your head that tears you down. At this point in the panel, Wright said something that struck me hard: it’s important that you separate yourself from the self-criticism because it knocks you down, it does not build you up!
I’ve always operated with the notion that I need to be my toughest critique in order to get my butt in gear. It never occurred to me that I was basically eroding my will to do everything. Because I sure as heck am not just mean to myself when I tackle writing. I honestly thought I was helping myself, but I’ve realized that we live in a world that criticizes us constantly. We don’t have to do it to ourselves.
So be nice to yourself!
Finally, there’s mental energy. Does anyone else find that they have a lack of mental energy? I sure hope I’m not the only one. Anyway, Wright said mental energy is the physical side of will and EVERY decision made EVERY minute of EVERY day involves a mental challenge of wills. That means deciding what to eat for breakfast, whether or not to work out, when you’re going to write. All of these decisions are zapping your limited energy reserves. The best way to combat this are routine and habits. Know when you’re going to do activities and plan your day ahead. You’ll thank yourself when you’re not exhausted when you finally decide to write.
That’s my very quick rundown of Wright’s excellent presentation. I’m still practicing all the activities I listed, and a few more, but if change was so easy self-help books wouldn’t sell!