Do you have the writing mindset? Do you approach writing as something that you struggle with, that’s difficult, that only a few can master? Or do you recognize that, like most everything else, writing is a skill that you can learn and improve?
How you think about writing — and your writing mindset – can have a profound effect on whether or not you are successful. If you haven’t read Carol Dweck’s Mindset, I highly recommend it. Though not specifically focused on writing, her work on fixed and growth mindsets is something that everyone who wants to be a writer should consider.
Fixed vs. Growth Mindset
If you think you can do a thing or think you can’t do a thing, you’re right.
Although he didn’t know it, Henry Ford did a pretty good job of describing the fixed and growth mindsets. Let’s take a closer look at how Carol Dweck describes this concept.
In the fixed mindset, intelligence is static. Your skills and abilities are set in stone, and there’s really not much you can do to improve either. People with a fixed mindset tend to:
- Avoid challenges
- Get defensive or give up quickly when they encounter obstacles
- See effort as fruitless
- Ignore useful negative feedback
- Feel threatened by the success of others
Dweck’s book is filled with case studies of people who approach life with a fixed mindset. One of the most relevant examples was Lee Iacocca’s career at Ford Motor Company and Chrysler.
Iacocca saw himself as the natural successor to Henry Ford II; he reveled in being among the elite leaders of the company, who were served by white-coated waiters in the executive dining room. And while Iacocca did good things at Ford, he was eventually forced out. His rage was centered on what happened to him, not what he did: despite his own actions in getting rid of other employees, he never thought it would happen to him.
And while he initially excelled at Chrysler, his fixed mindset quickly became evident again. His goal became proving that Henry Ford II had been wrong to fire him — not saving Chrysler from the onslaught of Japanese imports that were better made and more economical. Instead of responding to the market needs, he lobbied for greater tariffs on Japanese imports and a government bailout. But Iacocca was eventually forced out at Chrysler as well and was further humiliated when his takeover attempt failed.
Iacocca is a textbook example of not only how the fixed mindset works, but how it ultimately leads to failure in one way or another.
Isn’t there a more positive way to approach personal growth?
The growth mindset is all about possibility: Intelligence can be developed. You believe that you can continually learn new things and you enjoy learning. People with a growth mindset generally:
- Embrace challenges
- Persist in the face of setbacks
- See effort as the path to mastery
- Learn from criticism
- Find lessons and inspiration in the success of others
The flip side to Iacocca’s approach at both Ford and Chrysler is Jack Welsh’s transformation of GE. In 20 years, he grew GE from a $14 billion company to a $490 billion company. Welsh took time to talk to employees on the production line and always created an environment of teamwork. Welsh’s “we” was far more powerful than Iacocca’s “I.”
And it wasn’t all an easy run. Welsh had some fixed mindset tendencies, but he accepted feedback and knew there were ways he could improve himself. One failure — buying an investment banking firm that ended up costing millions of dollars — was, he claimed, a lesson that “never left me.”
Welsh used his experiences and feedback to become a better leader. He made a commitment to grow and created an environment that encouraged growth. And that environment led to phenomenal impact on everyone — employees, stockholders and customers.
How We Handle Failure
I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.
A lot of the fixed vs. growth mindset centers on how we deal with failure. We live in an instant gratification, all-or-nothing world. For someone in a fixed mindset, effort becomes the enemy. “If I have to make an effort to do something, why should I even bother trying?” After all, if you never try, then you never fail. Lack of effort keeps you safe from criticism — and especially safe from failure.
Thomas Edison had a growth mindset. It took thousands of attempts for him to create a working light bulb. Instead of looking at those attempts as a reflection of his intelligence, he used the failures to learn what he didn’t know. He took what he learned and applied it in his next attempt. Eventually, he succeeded. His journey was just as important as the end result.
Writing Mindset — Are you Fixed or Growth?
I can’t stress enough the importance of your writing mindset. Writing isn’t easy; we so often see the end of the writing process — an author getting tons of great reviews and ending up on the New York Times Best Seller List. But the effort you put in long before the book gets published is what will make the difference.
Here’s how someone with a fixed mindset might approach writing:
- I’m not a writer, so why should I even try?
- My editor said the first draft was awful, so I might as well quit.
- Three publishers rejected me; I’m giving up on my dream.
The fixed writing mindset sets your abilities in stone. It means you either are a writer or you aren’t; there’s no middle ground. If you’re terrified of failing, you may never even start writing. So you’ll always have this unfulfilled dream that haunts you.
A growth mindset author believes something completely different:
- Maybe I’m not a natural writer, but there are skills I can learn to be a better writer.
- If my first attempts aren’t successful, I need to just keep trying. Practicing will improve my skills.
- I will seek out feedback on my writing and learn from what my editors tell me.
While it’s nice to think that we can just sit down at a computer and start writing and everything will flow effortlessly from brain to keyboard, that rarely ever happens. It takes skills and patience and lots and lots of practice. Success will not come overnight. Stephen King spent years teaching and doing odd jobs before his writing could sustain him full time.
Don’t let anything hold you back if you want to be a writer. Write. Get feedback. Try again. Isn’t the possibility of getting your ideas across so much better than spending a lifetime wondering why you never tried?
You have a choice. Mindsets are just beliefs. They’re powerful beliefs, but they’re just something in your mind, and you can change your mind. …[T]hink about where you’d like to go and which mindset will take you there.
Carol Dweck, Mindset