The Writer’s Mindset

Originally Published: October 9, 2020

Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

Weeks ago, I was doing some housekeeping on my computer — cleaning out old files, archiving things on an external hard drive, those sorts of things. In the process, I came across the fragments of a project that I had planned to help me in my day job. It’s a project that will never come to fruition now, but one piece of it would fit nicely on this blog. So allow me to recycle a shard of this failed project by presenting the three pillars of what I’m calling the writer’s mindset.

Writing is a skill.

Writing is something that everyone does — even if it’s just emails and social media posts. Creative writing is a type of writing that everyone is familiar with, but only a subset of people do it on a regular basis, and fewer still dedicate their careers to mastering it. Yet creative writing is still writing, and you learn it just like you learned other types — by doing. You learned how to write clear, easy-to-read emails by taking the time to thoughtfully choose your words and organize your thoughts. You learned how to craft engaging posts by making the effort to model what you’ve seen others do. In a similar manner, people can learn how to write creatively and improve their skills if they invest the time and effort to practice and change based on feedback.

Writing is an art.

The thing I love about art is that there’s no one correct answer. Excellence is judged less by what you do and more by how well you do what you decide to do. The only true rules in creative writing are the rules of English grammar, and even those can be bent.

Yet there’s that old adage: “Just because you can doesn’t mean you should.” Even though you’re free to write whatever you want, it doesn’t mean that your readers are guaranteed to like it. Writers of the past uncovered patterns of what readers generally consider appealing, both universally and within specific genres. These are handed down as the guidelines and conventions that you have heard and will continue to hear me discuss often on this blog. It’s wise to stick to these when you’re starting out, so you can learn how these conventions work and, more importantly, why they work. Once you understand why these conventions work, you can twist them, break them, and experiment with new structures and elements to achieve the same effect.

There is no such thing as perfect. Only your personal best.

I’ve said it several times before on this blog that every story is it’s own beast. That’s not taking into account the fact that every writer has her unique way of weaving words together. It’s tempting to compare your work to others’, especially in a class or workshop situation, but you need to realize that you’re comparing apples to watermelons.

The closest thing to an apples to apples comparison you’ll get is when you compare your current work with your past work. If you cringe when you read your old stories, that’s a good thing. It means you subconsciously notice how your style has evolved and how your skills and tastes have matured.

While it’s always nice to have examples to aspire to, you shouldn’t aim to be just like them. Instead, aim to make each story better than your last. Then one day, you’ll create something as equally worthy of admiration.

So what do you think? How well do these pillars line up with your own creative philosophy? Do you struggle with any of them? Are there other pillars that you think I’ve missed? Let’s discuss in the comments below.

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