What’s your Writing Mindset?

analysis blackboard board bubbleHave you ever thought about the way you think? Most of the time we’re on autopilot, letting our thoughts come and go as our minds wander during our day-to-day lives. But, have you ever stopped to notice these thoughts and how they can influence your writing practice? Maybe you don’t believe they do; or perhaps you have noticed, but just don’t know how to change this.

True thoughts?
I know for a long time I accepted my thoughts as truth. And that’s one of the biggest regrets of my life. Every time I had a thought about how I wasn’t good enough, or that what I wrote was terrible, or even that I didn’t work hard enough to deserve to be published – I believed I was thinking the truth. It wasn’t until much later I learned that thoughts are pliable, and I am the one in control of them. In other words: I can choose what thoughts to listen to, and I can even mindfully think different ones to change my approach to anything – including my writing!

What’s a mindset anyway?
When it comes down to it, our mindset is simply the way we think. It includes our opinions, our attitudes, and even the way we approach tasks and set goals.

So, what does this have to do with writing? Well, imagine if I’m writing a short story for a competition I want to enter but it’s on a topic I don’t usually write about. I could sit here and think ‘this isn’t my thing’ or ‘I’m going to struggle with this’. But how do you think that this affects my ability to face the blank page? Alternatively, I could say ‘This is going to be a fun experiment’, or ‘I can apply my skills to this’. With this attitude, I typically find my approach to the task changes; meaning I feel confident to give it a try, and end up with something surprising on the page, instead of staring at the blinking cursor because I don’t feel I’m up to the task.

These ways of thinking are related to the type of mindset we each have: either a closed/fixed mindset, or an open/growth mindset.

Grow your Mind…
But what is it about a growth
 mindset that means it’s better for our writing? Well, it’s been shown that people with more open mindsets tend to achieve more, have better resilience in challenging situations (a.k.a. rejections!), and have a deeper desire for learning. Whereas, those with closed mindsets tend to look for an external need for approval, set expectations (instead of goals), and don’t cope well with failure.

Check out this video on how a growth mindset leads to higher achievement

As you can see, with a growth mindset failure is simply part of the learning process, and so it’s easier to move onward and upward: I try something; it doesn’t work, but I learn from it and try again. 

Identify the negative.
Now, when I’m stuck on a particular plot point in my novel and am struggling to find a solution I tend to just stop and monitor my mindset for a second. Am I worried that I won’t find an answer? Will I feel like a failure if I can’t figure it out? Or, can I tell myself this is a challenge that I could potentially enjoy because it’s developing my problem-solving skills? What about if I test out different options by exploring them in a ‘choose your own adventure’ style?

Suddenly, because I’ve modified my thinking, I could have lots of possible options to help solve my plot point, rather than a crippling fear that being unable to figure it out means I’m not good enough, or not really a writer.

See it in practice!
The easiest way to support the development of a growth mindset is to find some people who already have this attitude in life and spend time with them. They’re usually easy to spot; they’re reflective, positive individuals who won’t let opportunities go to waste, and rarely let excuses get in the way of their dreams. Learn from others by seeing how they approach challenges, and see if you can adopt the same. 

group hand fist bump

I was lucky enough to discover this by being a member of a group of amazing female entrepreneurs called the Wildly Successful Society. Here we build one another up, set exciting goals with positive projections of how we will succeed, and constantly review our progress to learn from things that don’t always go to plan.

Having a positive and reflective mindset can help us set better goals, commit to these in a strong, productive way, and help us get through the challenges of writing and editing our work. Surrounding ourselves with like-minded people who can lift us up when we recognise the negative thoughts spiralling can have an immense effect on our ability to pull ourselves back up and stand strong again. 


Now try this:

Notice Your Thoughts
Remember that you can’t change anything unless you notice your thoughts first. Don’t worry if this is hard to do to begin with; it takes time. Try this simple tip to increase your awareness: 

Set an alarm on your phone a few times a day to remind you to examine your thoughts and jot down whatever is on your mind. If you notice some of them are negative things: how could you re-frame these to alter your mindset?
(This is also great fodder for character development!)

The first step is always noticing what you’re thinking. Start there, and with practice and encouraging support, the rest is likely to come. In the end it should support the development of more constructive attitude toward those writing challenges we all face.


Let me know how you get on in the comments,
or Tweet Me @Cat_Lumb

Writing that dreaded Synopsis

I think putting together a synopsis for a novel is one of the most challenging aspects of writing for ‘new’ writers. I am certainly finding it very difficult. How am I expected to sum up a story that it has already taken me around 90,000 words to tell in only a page or two?

There are numerous methods and techniques out in the either of the web that can help you write a synopsis, and most of these are centred around the various basic story structures that should come together to form a novel.

The basics of a good story...

The basics of a good story…

Here are a few that I’ve been finding useful*:

  • If you need to be taken through every step – maybe because you aren’t clear on your plot, or like to be thorough – try How to Write a Synopsis of Your Novel by Glen C. Strathy. This is a Seven Step Programme that will help you identify all of the key points for both the emotional aspects and main arc of your plot
  • If you feel that you have a good grasp of your story and characters, Synopsis Writing Made Easy by James Scott Bell might be better for you. This is a good paragraph by paragraph guide to synopsis writing that starts out with the premise of your novel in just one sentence!
  • I also really like How to Write a One-Page Synopsis, written by Amanda Patterson. This is a great, quick reference to the synopsis writing process – providing you know your main plot points.
  • Finally, I had an excellent recommendation from a friend – actually, my new critique partner, – who has been struggling with a synopsis herself recently. She suggested I check out Dan Wells’ Seven Point Story Structure, recommended by the Self Publishing Toolkit. Not only do they offer worksheets to get you started, but Dan also has some awesome videos on YouTube (Part 1/5 here).
    Having read my friend’s brilliant synopsis yesterday this technique most definitely works.

* It should be noted that if you’re writing a synopsis for querying always check the submission guidelines to see what the agent/publisher expects. 

The biggest issue I have is that my novel doesn’t conform to the standard story structure. The story does – but the novel itself does not. Whilst I have my main story arc (written in 3rd person) between this there are three instances of 1st person story flashbacks from different characters – all of which also have their own story structure included.

Therefore, as it stands, I officially have four stories in one. Writing a standard synopsis, therefore, doesn’t really sum up my novel as a whole. In order to get around this, I’m going to have to play around a little longer with different techniques and see what works best. I suppose I can take solace in the fact that at least it’s not as complex as Cloud Atlas – for which I discovered this basic synopsis.

Once I’ve got a version I’m happy with I’ll be sharing my new synopsis here so you can see how I got on. In the meantime, if you’re interested in the plot of my novel, check out my current ‘book blurb’ on my Novel’s Page.

~~~

Have you struggled writing a synopsis, or did you breeze though it? Any tips or links would be gratefully received via comments. Or, alternatively, Tweet something for my attention @CatLumb

The long winding road of how to be a writer…

Squeezing in time to write can sometimes be the biggest barrier to actually getting anything written. Most of us have busy lives and a list of priorities that other people can often depend on. Fortunately, right now I am lucky enough to not be in such a category.

Over the past three years I’ve had to rearrange my responsibilities quite drastically thanks to contracting a virus in 2009 that left me with M.E. (more commonly recognised as ‘Chronic Fatigue Syndrome’). Since then I have had to simplify my life. I was off sick for a number of months (and then off sick repeatedly over a number of weeks), and for a short time I could barely leave my apartment because I couldn’t be sure I’d have the energy to get back – even though I might only be considering a journey to the shop around the corner.

It was in this time I came to the realisation that I had always wanted to write, but never actually gotten around to do any real writing. I re-read some of my old journals, during which I digested pages and pages of promises to write, desire to create stories and even ideas that I planned to put down on paper…eventually. But, until 2011, nothing had come of it.

In 2011 I started to get better. Now, this disability isn’t one that has a typical course of treatment followed by a recovery time. M.E. can plague people for a lifetime, or it can slowly fade away only to reappear at another time. Here, again, I am one of the lucky ones. The methods I was advised to put in place to aid my body in the healing process worked for me. For others, this is not the case. As such, I was able to get back to work (and fortunately I had a workplace that had decent Occupational Health support and a Disability Office to advise me), and get my life back on track for the most part.

Now, that’s not to say I resumed my old life and picked up where things had left off. It was my old life that had gotten me into the mess in the first place. I was a high achiever, a perfectionist, a people-pleaser. I rarely said ‘No’ to anything asked of me and I thrived on deadlines and challenges. As it was, I also enjoyed the pride of a job well done and the glow of recognition and congratulation it brought me. But I didn’t have time to write. What do you know – pride does come before a fall!

So, when I started to recover from the overwhelming tirade of symptoms that characterised M.E. (surprisingly, it’s not just being tired all the time, there are a whole host of other doozies that just serve to tire you out even more!), I promised myself that I wouldn’t repeat history. This time I would try; not for everyone else, not for the adulation, but for me. I consistently wrote that I wanted to write – well, that I would.

And so the blog was born! I threw myself into writing, even though I hated what I wrote. It was sloppy, it didn’t read well, it was full of clichés and stereotypes: but I was writing! Then I discovered NaNoWriMo and I set to the challenge with cautious gusto. I struggled through it and got my ‘win’ – and also one third of a first draft novel that it would take me a whole year to complete. But I had done it.

And you know how? By keeping that promise to myself and by putting into practice all the things I learned when I was recovering from my M.E.:

  1. Pace Yourself
  2. Plan Ahead
  3. Moderation
  4. Delegation
  5. Only give 80% (actually, this was 10% when I first started recovering – I had to work up to this slowly!)
  6. Maintain Hope
  7. Ask for Help

Advice for those with M.E. is to relinquish control. Stop doing all those things that people expect of you and just do the things that are important. For me, for a while, that meant being signed off sick rather than struggling into work. This also meant that I had to ask for help and share out what needed doing to other people. It was the same at home, I wasn’t capable of most of the household chores, so they were delegated to my partner. Even now I have only done the washing up a handful of times this year because it is one of the tasks I abhor and it used to set off my ME symptoms.

Number 5. also gave me a lot of trouble. I was used to throwing myself into things at 120% – in fact, that is what people expected of me, so it was even harder to give that up. But I discovered that I could still do much of what was needed without having to exhaust myself in the process. I held back. I stopped when I was tired. I started to say ‘No’ when I knew I couldn’t commit to something. I was forced to plan ahead and schedule my time wisely – not for other people, but for myself.

Hence, I created more time for my writing. I re-prioritised my entire life. I changed the way people reacted to me because I clearly stated what my boundaries were. I did what I knew I could, when I knew I could do it. And it’s the same with writing.

For those without M.E. who perhaps have better reserves of energy, writing might be something that they feel they have to fit in around their busy life. They might slot it in sometime between waking up and getting to work, or getting home and going to bed. They might start to question whether or not it’s worth it to write because they can’t give it their full attention, or because what they write doesn’t seem very good.

Well…if that’s the case: do what I did and change the way you approach it. I’m not advising that you should shrug off all your responsibilities and go wild with your word count, but it needs to be prioritised higher than some other things sometimes.

I know that every day I must write…not because I ‘should’ but because I want to dedicate some time to that which I love doing. To ensure that I get to do this I schedule my responsibilities around it. I give an hour to this task, twenty minutes to that task. I plan my days off as much as I would plan my work day – assigning time frames and task lists to ensure that I don’t go overboard and forget to accomplish my priorities and meet my targets. But I only do what I need to…because I also need to write.

I guess the point to my long rambling here is that I have learnt that writing is something to be taken seriously. In order to be a writer then I had to commit to it just like anything else. I had to practice and prioritise it. This doesn’t always mean giving more time to it – because time is a limiting factor that you can’t change – but it does mean that when you do give it time, you focus on writing and nothing else.

Don’t think of it as squeezing writing between waking up and getting to work; be proud that you are prioritising your writing time, and classify it as such. Label it your writing time – and don’t let anything get in the way of it. Don’t relegate it to the bottom of the list.

If it’s important to you, it’s important

If you want to be a writer. BE a writer. Don’t ever apologise for wanting to follow your dreams.