First thing’s first: want a free copy of Justice Unending? Then check out my Goodreads giveaway! It’s running from Sept. 25 to Oct. 21 and is available to everyone in the U.S. and Canada (sorry, everyone else! Shipping is expensive.) Good luck!
And now, on to the post! About a year or so ago, I read Mindset: The New Psychology of Success. I wasn’t the biggest fan of the book itself, but I absolutely friggin’ LOVE the core premise.
Essentially, it argues that people approach failure and success from two mindsets: fixed and growth.
People with fixed mindsets assume their skills are unchangable. When they fail at something, it’s because they’re “bad” at it. They just don’t have the natural aptitude for it. They blame failure on their fundamental shortcomings and focus on things that they have immediate success with–the things they’re “good” at.
People with growth mindsets are focused on hard work and self-improvement. If they fail at something, they believe that they can work hard, get better at it, and eventually improve their skills. Failure doesn’t mean they are a failure, or that they’ll always fail–it means they have to work harder.
Is this simplistic? Sure. But as a way to analyze how we look at success and failure? Oh, man. It’s amazing.
In fact, I see examples of fixed mindsets everywhere in the writing community. I have seen so many people who believe that you’re either a natural writer or you’re not. And so many people expect immediate success, then throw themselves in the pit of “I guess I’m just not a writer after all!!!!” when they struggle to write, or query, or sell their first novel.
It’s not good, it’s not helpful, and it’s self-defeating. And that’s why I think everyone should be aware of how they approach success, challenge their own assumptions, and try really hard to be growth oriented.
But let’s start with me. Because I had a fixed mindset for years.
For me, a fixed mindset was an excuse to say publishing was something I’d never accomplish.
As a kid, I did well at school. My parents praised the daylights out of me: “Oh, you’re so smart! Look how easily these things come to you! The other kids have to work, but not you–you’re brilliant!”
They meant well, I know. But I took a terrible lesson out of this: if you are good at something, you don’t have to work at it. It’ll just happen–naturally, immediately, easily–because you’re talented!
So when I set off in the world, I avoided anything that challenged me. If I found a subject in school I had to work to understand, it terrified me–because if not everything is easy, I must not be that smart, right? When I went into the workforce, I avoided everything I wasn’t a natural at (instead of, you know, ever pushing my comfort zone. Goodness forbid I ever try something new! I might fail at it!)
This absolutely hobbled me. It also completely destroyed my confidence in writing. You see, it was always my dream to publish a book. And I finally wrote my first one when I was a university student.
It was garbage.
It took me four years to write what was, according to my outline, “half” of the novel. That “half” was a more than 120,000-word long series of 10K to 15K-long “episodes.” It was ridiculously paced and ended abruptly.
It wasn’t good, and I knew it wasn’t good. But that’s all right! I had a dialogue for this, too.
“Well, that’s… not really surprising,” I told myself. “Lots of people want to publish books. But most people can never get an agent. That means that publishing is an impossible dream, which only the most brilliant and talented people can ever hope to accomplish. So it’s not surprising that I can’t do it. I’m okay at writing… but not good enough.”
And since this was before self-publishing was a big thing, that was it. No agent = no publishing.
I didn’t write for two years.
I still wanted to write, though. I wrote as part of my hobby. I wrote as part of my job. I still dreamed of being a novelist, even with the little whisper of “you tried and you failed.”
Eventually, I got tired of this. Why was I not doing something I wanted to do? It was still my dream! So I faced that assumption head-on. I was going to write, on a schedule, every day. I was going to put in hard work and practice. I was going to write novel after novel until I got better.
And guess what? I actually did get better. And I did eventually publish!
The fixed mindset is absolutely everywhere in the writing world.
Go to a writing forum and read for a while. You’ll find examples of fixed mindsets everywhere. I have read countless threads like these:
- They write their first book. It’s not perfect. “I guess I’m not really a writer,” they lament. “I’m just going to give up. I’ll never achieve my dream.”
- They are terrified of failure and refuse to attempt projects that they might not succeed at. “I’m waiting to write a book. I want to make sure I study and read enough beforehand, so I can ensure my first book is good enough to publish.”
- They refuse to put work into writing unless they can guarantee that the first book they write will be a complete success. “My first book has to get an agent or I’ll never write again. Writing takes too much time for me to invest time and energy into it–I have to take off right from the start.”
- Their identity hinges on the assumption that they’re a naturally good writer, and they get extremely scared whenever everything isn’t easy. “I thought I was good at writing, but I just hit a terrible roadblock in this story and I… can’t do it. I can’t come up with any way to fix it. So now my entire identity is thrown into question. Am I NOT a writer? Should I give up?”
And all of these have one thing in common: they don’t want to struggle. They want to be good at writing, immediately. And sometimes, they’re so so so so so very scared of failure that they quit the moment they don’t succeed–or come up with reasons to never try at all.
You can’t fail at anything if you never try, right?
So keep an eye out for fixed mindsets. And challenge them.
A fixed mindset is never helpful–and it’s definitely not helpful when you’re struggling. If you’re “not good enough,” then there’s nothing you can do about it. There’s no solution. There’s no exit. You’re bad, you can’t do it. Give up.
And you’ve probably heard that gung-ho stuff, right? That a writer is just someone who never gives up? That’s a growth mindset.
So keep an eye out for how you–and those around you–face success and failure. It’s always helpful to challenge your own mindset and to wonder if you aren’t making things harder for yourself than you need to.