Writing Mindsets

The mindset you have as a writer can make a huge difference. Not just your mindset when you sit down to draft or revise what you’ve written, but how you think about your writing, and how you decide to react to perceived setbacks, what you learn about yourself and your writing, and how you might or might not enjoy the writing process.

Today’s Words of Wisdom is all about mindset. Clare Langley-Hawthorne, Colleen Coble, and Jordan Dane each discuss writing mindsets in excerpts from their respective TKZ posts. As always, the full posts are date-linked from their respective excerpts and worth reading in their entirety.

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).

Clare Langley-Hawthorne—January 18, 2016

You know the best thing about writing? You never arrive. There is always something you can improve on. Writing isn’t static, and it’s thrilling to know a better, bigger book can be yours to create. So how do we embrace the process of change in our books? Here’s what works for me.

  1. Determine what drives your writing:
    I think we all figure out fairly soon where we belong in the landscape of the writing world, and what type of story grabs us and doesn’t let go. Part of the evolution of my brand of romantic mystery involved embracing who I was as a writer and letting that strengthen each new book. Readers often tell me I’m way too friendly and outgoing to write about murder. I think they believe only brooding, unsmiling people can write about something so dark. They miss what drives me to write what I write—justice. I look around the world and see no justice, but I can make sure justice prevails in my novels.

Why do you write? The biggest, strongest stories involve something very personal to you. Depending on your personality, it can be cathartic or daunting to let your characters deal with an issue that’s been challenging to you, but it’s always worth it. Put down your guard and let the reader in. Writing should never just be your job. That’s a trap that career novelists can fall into, but the next novel should always be because you have something to say not because you have a deadline!

  1. Figure out your strengths:
    Don’t assume your strengths are as strong as they can get. An expert at pacing? Flex your fingers and keep the reader up all night. Good at integrating setting into the plot? You can immerse the reader even better with the next book. Great at characterization? You can build an even more compelling character in the next book. The status quo is never enough for the next book. Strive for something bigger and more compelling.
  2. Pinpoint your weaknesses:
    We all have areas where we are weak. My timelines can get fuzzy, and because I’m a seat of the pants writer, the train can get derailed. But even a pantser like me can get better at thinking through key turning points that lead to a stronger book. There are great writing resources out there to help you with your weaknesses.

This blog and others like it are great resources. There are tons of helpful writing books out there to help shore up where you’re weak. Jim Bell is a long time friend, and his book, Write Your Novel From the Middle, literally transformed my writing even though I’d written well over 50 novels by the time I read it. Never stop learning how to write better. Study up on how other authors do it well. When I wanted to write more suspenseful books, I read excellent suspense like my friend, Jordan Dane’s. I literally devour every book by an author I think I can learn from.

Colleen Coble—September 29, 2016


For my post today, I wanted to think back upon that time when everything had possibility and dig into what makes writing fun for me, still. I hope you’ll share what brings joy to you in your comments.


6.) Writers Don’t Have to be Original

We just have to write the best book we know how. Don’t worry about whether anyone has ever written about a certain plot before. No one can duplicate how you choose to tell a story. No one can filter their storytelling through your unique eyes and life’s experiences. Yes, it’s great to discover a fresh take on something and we should all strive to push the envelope to writing with new ideas, but there’s something deeply satisfying about telling a story that touches a reader in a special way, that only YOU can do.

7.) Writing is Therapy

When bad stuff happens to writers in their lives, we have a way to explore it through our writing. We can distance the pain from our own stories by telling what happened through our characters. Writing is about emotion. It’s a gift to tell your story and tap into feelings that readers can relate to. It’s one thing to be compassionate and empathetic when we imagine what a character might be feeling, but to add a personal reflection (even when it’s painful), takes guts. Dare to be gutsy and you may find it helps you in return.

8.) Writing is Community

As writers, we instantly become a part of a wonderful community of creatives. If you’re reading this, you are one of us. I’ve found that most writers are a generous lot. We know how wonderful it feels to write and we want to share that success with others. When I first sold, I began to see writing as part of a grander stage. Writers can relate to actors, singers, song writers and other artists who create something special from nothing.

9.) Writing Comes with a Thick Skin

Rhino skin can be a blessing. There, I said it. Rejections CAN be a good thing. Most people don’t have critics looking over their shoulders as they do their work, people who criticize everything they do. Online book reviews and beta or social media comments can hurt, but we get through it because we’re driven by our passion to write. There are precious few people who pursue writing and actually finish a novel. In light of that, reviews and harsh comments mean nothing.

10.) Writers Publish

Isn’t it glorious that authors have choices these days? Whether we sell our novels through traditional publishing houses or self-publish, we have options that weren’t always available in the past. We can explore the opportunities to sell or become our own publisher and retain the margin and the creative control from formatting, to cover design, to promotion and pricing. We can do both. It’s great to have choices.

Jordan Dane—August 1, 2019


  1. What are your thoughts on fixed vs. growth mindsets?
  2. How do you embrace a growth mindset as a writer? Any tips?
  3. How do you reclaim or keep your writing mojo? How important is having fun when you write?

21 thoughts on “Writing Mindsets

  1. Good post. MIndset.

    That I write is important, every day when possible. I’m a writer in the same way a mechanic is a mechanic or a plumber is a plumber or a cop is a cop. You choose your profession and then you show up and do the work.

    But what I write isn’t important at all. A fiction is only a few minutes’ or hours’ entertainment for the reader, nothing more. One or two readers in 10 will love it, several will enjoy it enough to look for more, and one or two will hate it. Reader taste.

    So what matters is that the writer enjoys being the first to experience the characters’ stories. That is the first payday. If I enjoy a story (or not) it isn’t up to me to wonder or fret over whether anyone else enjoyed them.

    My job is to write the next story or novel. The reader’s job is to decide whether s/he enjoys them.

    • Wonderful comments, Harvey. I read a quote recently that discipline can be in staying close to what brings us joy, despite everything else. Clearly you are doing that. I love your “first payday” being the first to experience your characters’ stories.

      Here’s to the next story.

    • “A fiction is only a few minutes’ or hours’ entertainment for the reader, nothing more.”

      This is a very helpful reminder, especially so for those who struggle with perfectionistic tendencies, to help put things in perspective.

  2. Great collection of posts from the archives, Dale. Thanks for finding them and putting them into context.

    Coincidence is often more than coincidence. My daughter and her family are visiting this weekend. Last night, I asked her what she reads. She lifted her book. This is my favorite author – Colleen Coble. We talked about what she likes and how Colleen interrelates series. And this morning, boom, Colleen is one of the writers presented.

    Also, this post is just what I needed for a kick in the seat of the pants. I’m going through a busy phase in my life where there just isn’t time for everything I need to do. And writing has been pushed down the list of priorities.

    I believe that as we get older and certain hormone levels decline, we lose some of our confidence, the belief we can do anything. Certainly, physical conditioning suffers. We get out of shape quicker, and it takes longer to get back into shape. The only answer is to push ourselves daily.

    And so it is with writing and confidence and never giving up and always reaching for something greater. We must push ourselves daily or we will lose our writing muscle more quickly. Push, push, push. Writer, write, write!

    Thanks, Dale!

    • Thanks, Steve. Glad this post could help. I agree about coincidence being often more than just that. Colleen’s post fit today’s writing mindset theme perfectly.

      It is easy to let the crush of the day-to-day overwhelm our writing. My wife is currently spending much of her time looking after her elderly parents, including spending nights there every so often, while I’m taking care of everything here. We’ve had a punch of work done here in the past few months, etc etc. There’s always something. Retirees used to tell me that they never had enough time to get everything they wanted to do done, now I understand.

      I agree about striving every day as we get older, learning, growing, and, for we writers, writing every day if we can. I mentioned this quote in replying to Harvey, which author Leslie Budewitz shared on her blog last Saturday: https://www.lesliebudewitz.com/saturday-creativity-quote-on-discipline/

      I love the idea of being disciplined in endeavoring to remain close to what brings us joy.

      Have a wonderful day. Happy writing!

    • Thanks, Sue! Thanks for sharing the link to your own wonderful post on this important subject. Mindset matters in a writing a great deal, and it’s not discussed often enough IMHO.

      Have a wonderful weekend, my friend.

  3. Dale, what a trifecta of inspiring posts! Thanks also to Clare, Colleen, and Jordan for their insights into the traits writers can develop to improve, survive, and excel.

    Fixed vs. growth – my core life values are established. Honesty, integrity, loyalty, compassion, etc. are not going to change. But I’m a lifelong student, always eager and interested in new concepts, ideas, experiences, and people. When I hear someone say they’re bored, I wonder why b/c there is so much more to discover and learn.

    Growth as a writer – Constantly study and try new techniques from other writers. Learning is fun. No one knows everything about writing. As long as you remain driven to improve, you will.

    Mojo and fun – I draw energy and inspiration from being with other writers at conferences, critique groups, and online (like here at TKZ). An hour brainstorming with a creative friend is an adrenaline rush.

    • Thanks, Debbie! Great comments. Being a life long student is something I strive to do as well.

      Mojo and fun: truly we writers thrive in communities and benefit from shared creative energies and enthusiasm.

    • Debbie, I’m with you. I’m flabbergasted when I hear someone say they are bored because there is so much to do! The real problem is only having 24 hours in the day. 😎

  4. What are your thoughts on fixed vs. growth mindsets?
    Ah, those days as a kid when I would dream and scheme! “I want to be a firefighter/paramedic like Roy and Johnny!” or “I want to be a detective like Starsky & Hutch”. “I want to be a cowboy & run my own horse ranch!” “I want to write stories, and paint and draw and play banjo and…” etc.

    I may not have become a firefighter/paramedic, but I try to encourage people in their physical fitness. I may not be a detective, but I feel like one as a writer because as Colleen Coble mentioned in this post, a common theme for writers is justice. (and while I never had a 2-door red/white striped Torino, I did have a 4 door brown one. LOL!). I was never able to afford my own horse ranch, but I’ve been able to go on a wagon train trip and a horseback vacation. I’ll never be Roy Clark or Earl Scruggs, but I dabble at banjo, likewise painting, drawing. And of course of all of these things, writing has never let me go. I may get discouraged at times, but I never give up, and I keep on improving.

    How do you embrace a growth mindset as a writer?
    I’m a perfectionist. I have to fight that constantly. But as I age, I’m realizing time is running out. The fact that I’m working with someone on a writing project helps—you have to share your work, even when you’re not at your best. And one surprising thing I’ve learned is that we can encourage ourselves in our growth as writers by helping others. On occasion, I have opportunity to give feedback to someone on something they wrote—it not only helps them, but it shows me how far I’ve come since I first started way back when.

    How do you reclaim or keep your writing mojo? How important is having fun when you write?
    Writing must always be fun. That’s why I made the decision early on in life that while publication is awesome, I would not approach writing from the standpoint of making it my primary livelihood. I have very great admiration for people who have the discipline to do so. One difference for me is that unlike most writers I’ve talked to, when I go through periods of high stress, I do not run *to* the page, I run from it—I shut down. That does not make for a steady income. LOL! But I am finally learning as I age that writing even a little bit during those stressful times is better than nothing because it keeps that mojo going. I have always had a ton of different interests, but writing has been the consistent one over all these decades.

    • Thanks so much for your comments, BK. You make an important point about keeping what we *can* achieve in mind with writing or anything else, versus the lofty expectations we might have held as kids. I wanted to be an astrophysicist when I was 13 or 14, but I’m not adept at higher math. I can still stargaze and share my joy of astronomy.

      RE: Dealing with Perfection (the scourge of so many of we writers)–Being aware that each day matters, now more than ever, is an antidote to perfectionism, if only we’ll take it.

      Writing can indeed be a constant companion throughout our lives, if we’ll embrace it.

  5. I’ve never understood how anyone could be bored! There’s too much to do and learn. As for mindset, the only time I ever listened to anyone tell me I’d never be able to do something was in the 7th grade and the art teacher told me I’d never be a potter. This after I made a mess on her potter’s wheel. I believed her for 40 years.

    Then I saw this 3-day course and thought “I can do that”. Turns out I could. My teacher said I wasn’t his best student, but I was his most determined. I would still be making pots if I didn’t have deadlines.

      • A bad teacher can indeed do great harm. I was traumatized by a grade school math teacher when I was having difficulty learning subtraction. To this day, I still flee anything that has to do with math.

        Thankfully, I had far more outstanding teachers than bad experiences/teachers like that one.

  6. Another great set of selections from the TKZ Words of Wisdom, Dale.

    I think of each novel I write as an experiment. There’s always something new to try, something else to learn, and what a blessing to have more to do than I could ever get done!

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