How to Develop a Growth Mindset and Become a Better Writer

Establishing a growth mindset is so important when you’re a writer, as it can help you cope with rejection or a lack of self-belief. But how do you develop one and what does it actually look like? Let’s find out, shall we?

A mindset story

“No matter what your ability is, effort is what ignites that ability and turns it into accomplishment.”

Carol Dweck

I can’t tell you the number of arguments I’ve had with my son about spellings.

He hates learning them, I hate testing him.

On more than one occasion, he’s left the room and stomped upstairs, muttering all manner of things under his breath. The word ‘stupid’ features more than any other.

You see, my son is a perfectionist. He wants to get every spelling right, every single time. If he gets it wrong, he doesn’t want to hear about it. He’s not interested in the correct version. As far as he’s concerned, I can stick the test sheet in my pipe and smoke it.

It’s the teacher’s fault if he can’t spell things correctly. Not his.

Apparently.

Understanding growth mindset

You see, my son has a fixed mindset. Getting all the answers right is what matters, not the effort he’s put in or the lessons that could be learned to improve next time. Some of it’s mindset, most of it’s autism. But it’s fixed nonetheless.

When I taught in the classroom, children with a fixed mindset were the hardest to teach.

Why?

Because learning from their mistakes and improving didn’t matter to them. Getting full marks did.

And where did a lot of this fixed mindset come from? Their homes. From parents who firmly believed getting 100% was all that mattered.

For some children, the pressure is too much. The constant desire to achieve full marks takes over their lives and they become obsessed with it. Getting anything less than 100% is catastrophic.

The process of discovering and learning something new is destroyed.

Goodbye personal growth, hello burnout.

Fixed vs growth mindset

So what exactly is a fixed mindset? How is it different from a growth mindset? And, most importantly, what does this mean for writers?

In 2006, Dr. Carol Dweck, a professor at Stanford University, wrote a book called ‘Mindset: Changing the way you think to fulfil your potential.’

It’s changed the way we understand success and achievement.

In the book, Dweck established two types of mindset and explored their impact on an individual’s happiness and success.

  • Fixed Mindset

People with a fixed mindset assume character, intelligence and creative abilities are static and can’t be changed. Success, therefore, must come from the intelligence we inherit.

If you have a fixed mindset, you avoid failure at all costs and do your utmost to maintain that you’re ‘smart’ or ‘skilled.’ You fear inadequacy and avoid challenges.

Those with this mindset only want to hear results and are not interested in how they could further improve, particularly if they get a question wrong.

  • Growth Mindset

Individuals with a growth mindset, however, are the complete opposite. They see failures as opportunities for growth. If they don’t get 100%, they want to know why and, crucially, how they could improve next time.

With a growth mindset, you want to improve and strengthen your abilities. You have a thirst for learning, not a hunger for approval.

‘Failures’ are perceived as ‘learning opportunities’ and are used to succeed in the future. Those with a growth mindset are always asking questions and seeking answers. People with this type of mindset often embrace failure as they know important lessons will come from it.

The importance of a growth mindset for writers

As writers, we face a great deal of rejection in our pursuit of publication and success. Sometimes it’s from an agent or publisher and sometimes it’s negative reviews from readers.

If it’s not rejection, it’s the process of writing. The urge to give up rearing its ugly head and tempting you to close your laptop for good.

So we need to be ready to deal with it all.

Establishing a growth mindset can help enormously. But what does it look like in reality?

Top growth mindset tips

  • When rejection calls, seek the lessons you can learn from the experience. If you’ve had feedback, take on board the points made. It’s likely the person giving it has the skills and experience to make that judgment. Listening will help you improve.

  • If you face a negative review, remember everyone is entitled to their opinion. The last bad meal you ate or the last bad film you watched, someone else probably loved it. If you receive lots of bad reviews, do the reviewers have a point? Could you learn or change something?

  • Allow failure to happen – don’t shy away from it. Failure is part of learning – it’s how we learn not to make similar mistakes over and over again. In the classroom, we talk about an acronym for FAIL – First Attempt In Learning.

  • Enjoy the ride. Writing is something that takes practice. Show up and enjoy the experience. Grab all the materials you can; books, courses, coaches etc… and learn.

  • Avoid striving for perfection. It ain’t gonna happen. What’s perfect in one reader’s mind is awful in another’s. You can improve the process, not the outcome. And whatever the outcome is, you can learn from it. 

  • If you have a fixed mindset, you’ll feel certain your writing ability is determined. If you don’t believe you can develop your ability, you won’t seek to improve. Get rid of this mindset and you’ll soon start to see improvements. Every writer can improve and learn something new every day.

And finally

Only 25% of our IQ/ intelligence is inherited. That leaves a massive 75% that can be improved.

That’s a lot of ‘space’ for growth.

Unfortunately, mindset is developed at an early age. Schools work with children from as young as four and five, to help them develop a growth mindset. This encourages them to be inquisitive, open-minded and naturally curious.

But what about writers like us who didn’t experience the value of learning about growth mindset at school?

Well, it’s never too late to start. Start by praising and recognising effort, not outcome. Encourage questioning, trial and error, and celebrate failure. After all, how we perceive success and failure in our personal and professional lives dictates how happy we are.

And I want to be a happy writer. I want you to be a happy writer too.

I also want to be successful. I know I still have plenty to learn and I’ll fail many more times along the way. But I’m okay with it and you should be too.

Because nothing worth having comes easily, right?

You can find further support for developing your writer’s mindset in my book, Dare to Write – available in my shop.

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