What’s your Mindset?

by Clare Langley-Hawthorne

On Friday night I heard a great presentation from our school district’s differentiation coach about fixed versus growth mindset and how research into this relates to how our children learn and succeed at school. Although I haven’t read the work by Carol Dweck (who pioneered much of this research) I was intrigued enough to watch her in a TED speech online (click to see here) and to place her book ‘Mindset, the New Psychology of Success’ on hold at our local library. Initially the concept of a fixed versus growth mindset didn’t seem all the radical, but when I thought a little more closely I realized it highlights many of ‘mindset’ issues we face as writers.

A fixed mindset is one which regards intelligence, talent or ability as static and innate – meaning we are either intelligent, smart, good at creative writing or we aren’t (and I guess if we aren’t we just have to accept our fate!). Scientific research over the last few decades reveals, however,  that our brains are much more flexible and fluid than that and, like any muscle, the more we use it, the stronger it gets.

At some time in our lives, I’m sure many of us have been caught within the fixed mindset trap (“I’m not good at math”; “I’m a hopeless athlete…”), or may have  had a fixed mindset imposed on us by our teachers or our peers  (“You can’t write!”; “You’ll never be able to do that!” ). Research shows that children start out in kindergarten believing they can do anything (just think of how many of us wanted to be astronauts!) but as we mature, many of us shift from a growth mindset to a fixed one. At that point we no longer want to face the possibility of failure and remain firmly entrenched in our ‘comfort zone’ of abilities.

Someone with a fixed mindset will most likely avoid challenges; give up easily; ignore feedback and feel threatened by other people’s success. Unfortunately, writing is by its very nature an ongoing challenge that more often than not results in failure – writers face a constant learning curve, which (I would argue at least) requires us to move to a growth mindset in order to succeed (or at least not go insane!)

Someone with a growth mindset embraces challenges, gives everything their best shot, learns from feedback and is inspired by others’ success. More importantly, they accept failure as a necessary part of the growth process (an admittedly difficult lesson for any of us to learn).

As both a writer and a parent, I got a great deal out of Friday’s presentation.  It made me think more closely about my own mindset and whether it was fixed or growth focused when it came to my writing, and how I can embrace  the challenges as well as the failures as I continue to grow as a writer.

So TKZers, how would you categorize your mindset when it comes to your writing?

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9 thoughts on “What’s your Mindset?

  1. Absolutely a growth mindset when it comes to my writing and many other things I’ve done in my life.

    I was lucky… my parents always said, “Don’t know how? You can learn!” This was almost a mantra in our household.

    As for my writing, I took this to the next step: you should strive always to improve. I am not content to accept inferior writing–my own or the writing of others. I want to see constant improvement.

    I must admit that I cringe when I read poor writing, “poor” in the sense that the writer doesn’t even know the basics. Worse when they don’t care.

    • I cringe when I hear people talk about writing a novel as though it’s something that you can just bang out in a few weeks because somehow if you think you have talent that’s all you need to do – one draft and voila it’s done! I remind people that the process is never an easy one – not when you strive to keep improving – and it’s not necessarily talent, but hard work, that gets you there!

  2. The growth mindset works for me in every area EXCEPT math. Seriously. In every other area I’m willing to take my lumps and deal with hurdles–writing, what have you. And I know in those other areas of life I can grow and change.

    But math? Nope. I’m positive I have a genetic defect that precludes understanding algebra. No matter how many people try to teach it to me.

    • Hah! I definitely had a fixed mindset about math at school but now, when my kids ask for help with their homework, I know I can’t just say ‘mum is hopeless at math’ so I actually try to have a growth mindset and show them I can relearn and try to help them. I go onto the Khan Academy website, watch a video, and pretend somehow I can do it…:) Works maybe 50% of the time:)

  3. In college I bought the line that you cannot learn how to write fiction, that you either “have it or you don’t.” And that you definitely should not waste your money on “writing books.”

    I believed that hooey for ten years, until the bug came back. Since I’d been able to learn Contracts and Torts, I didn’t see any reason why I shouldn’t be able to learn Plot and Structure. At least, I was going to go down fighting.

    It took me about a year or so of intense study before things started to really click, but I’ve been in a growth mode ever since, and will not stop until I go to my final edit.

  4. Medical studies prove over and over that the brain is an elastic, flexible organ, like a muscle. If you suffer a stroke or traumatic brain injury, the brain can create new neural pathways to bypass the damaged area, enabling the body to relearn how to walk, speak, etc. Learning a language, how to play chess, or other activities that challenge your brain helps you stave off dementia.

    The corollary for our profession is the more you learn, the better writer you’ll be.

    Thanks, Clare, for challenging our mindsets.

    However, like BK, I also have that genetic math defect. TKZ’s captchas are getting way too advanced for me. 🙂

  5. You must have a growth mindset to write a novel. Soon after I started writing, someone said, “you don’t know how to tell a story.” Could she be right ? She’s never been to a cocktail party with me! So did I quit or retool? The latter. When I finished my historical fiction, someone said, 25 years ago does not qualify as history. Do I quit now? No. When I rewrote it into a suspense novel (historically accurate!), I won a fiction contest. That’s the growth mindset in action.

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