The Power of the Mind to Help or Hinder Your Writing Success

First of all, let me set out my stall: I am NOT a successful writer – yet. But I’m working at it. I’ve only started writing seriously in the last year.

This is partly because, many years ago, I made a decision to pursue a different career, as a mental health nurse. And in that time, apart from a few futile attempts to start writing a journal, my writing was pretty much limited to nursing records, policy documents and Christmas cards.

But if I’m honest, being a nurse needn’t have stopped me; plenty of great writers start out while they still have day jobs. No, the main reason I didn’t start writing sooner was simply this: I never believed I had it in me. I didn’t think I could do it – consequently, I never really tried.

Writing

Writing—Pascal Maramis (Flickr.com)

So the tips in this post come from my own admittedly limited experience as a novice writer – and also from what I’ve gleaned from the work of established writers, including bloggers like Jeff Goins, who runs a great writing blog.

Something that’s quickly become apparent to me is that mindset is crucial when it comes to writing, as it is in just about any other walk of life. And what we believe or don’t believe may be critical to our success.

Positive Writing Beliefs

  • YOU CAN WRITE

Not believing this held me back for years. If you have reasonable mastery of a language and you’re not prevented from writing by some kind of disability or disease – you can write. If you can speak – you can write. It’s just a case of putting one word in front of another.

  • IT’S NORMAL TO HAVE DOUBTS AND FEARS

Just because you have doubts about your ability to write, doesn’t mean you can’t do it. Provided you don’t let them paralyse and overwhelm you, they can be a healthy sign. As I’ve mentioned in a previous post about writing well, over-confidence isn’t necessarily a good thing. If you’re critical and concerned about the quality of your own work, you’re more likely to be open to improving it.

  • THE MORE YOU WRITE, THE EASIER IT GETS

You’ll only discover the truth of this if you dive in and do it, but I can honestly say, from my own personal experience, the more you write, the more you’ll want to write and the easier it will get.

Here’s a great quote for you, from one of my favourite authors:

“Writing’s like running downhill; can’t stop if you want to.” 

From A Place of Greater Safety by Hilary Mantel

  • YOU WILL IMPROVE WITH PRACTICE

You really will! Writing is a skill; you’re not as good as you can be – yet. But you’ll get better. So if you think your writing’s crap at the moment, just remember – the only way is up. :)

  • YOUR WRITING TIME IS SACRED

If you’re serious about being a writer, you need to treat writing as one of the most important things you do, so setting aside time for it is crucial. One of the best things you can do is to get into a daily writing habit.

In my case, I began by keeping a daily journal, which I write by hand and don’t allow myself to edit. If you feel inhibited about writing anything else on a daily basis, this is a great way to start getting your writing muscles in trim, without worrying about impressing anyone. Think of it as swimming in your own private pool – no-one else is going to see your flabby thighs, or laugh at your ungainly backstroke.

However you do it, it’s well worth trying to set aside some time for writing every day.

  • READING IS AS IMPORTANT AS WRITING

If you’re serious about being a writer, you need to take your reading seriously too. Great writers are invariably avid readers. Reading helps to improve your vocabulary and grammar, and it’s also how you pick up ideas about content, style, use of imagery etc.

So your reading time, like your writing time, is sacred – and that means you have to schedule it in. Don’t have time to read? How about cutting out a bit of TV or spending a little less time on Twitter and Facebook? If it’s important to you – you’ll find time for it.

  • IT’S OK TO IMITATE OTHER WRITERS

Imitating great writers is how we learn our craft. It’s not the same thing as plagiarism, which is literally copying (effectively stealing) someone else’s work.

When you learned to talk, you imitated your parents and other people around you, and there will probably always be echoes of those early influences in your voice. But you still speak with your own words, and your voice will always be unique.

It’s the same when you learn to write – you pick up writing mannerisms, styles and ideas from other writers but, in the process, you’ll naturally develop your own writing voice. Because remember…..

  • YOU’LL NEVER WRITE LIKE STEPHEN KING

……or anyone else, for that matter. Because only Stephen King can write just like Stephen King. And only you can write like you.

So when you come across a sensational piece of writing – whether it’s a novel, a poem or a blog post – don’t go thinking, “OMG – I’ll never be able to write like that!” You won’t – but that’s OK. Don’t start feeling inadequate and get disheartened – just appreciate you’re reading some great stuff. Enjoy it – and learn from it.

And have faith in the quality of your own unique writing voice – you may be surprised how much your readers will value it. 

  • THE PROBLEMS AND SETBACKS YOU FACE ARE OPPORTUNITIES

Any writing career is bound to have its ups and downs. You may get some negative feedback to something you’ve written, or write something you’re disappointed with, or maybe take on a writing project that doesn’t work out for some reason.

Recognise these experiences as challenges, rather than stumbling-blocks; they provide opportunities for you to learn, improve and grow as a writer.

  • NOT EVERYONE WILL LIKE YOUR WRITING – BUT THAT DOESN’T NECESSARILY MAKE IT BAD

You may need to come to terms with the fact that not everyone likes or approves of what you write, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s no good. On the other hand, don’t take your gushing fans too seriously, either; just because your mother thinks you’re the next Charles Dickens, it ain’t necessarily so!

As with any art, people judge writing subjectively; there are some books I love and some great ones I can’t stand, because they’re just not my cup of tea.

So take all criticism with a sizeable pinch of salt, but be open to feedback; otherwise, how will your writing ever improve? Some criticism may be just what you need to hear.

  • YOU HAVE SOMETHING UNIQUE AND INTERESTING TO SAY

Remember – no-one else has lived your life, dreamed your dreams, felt the way you do, or seen the world through your eyes.

  • THERE’S NO SUCH DISEASE AS WRITER’S BLOCK

Surprising as it may seem, considering the numerous blog posts written about it, you won’t find the condition Writer’s Block listed in any medical or psychiatric textbook.

If you go through a phase when it’s hard to write – when you feel you’ve nothing to say – you’re really not sick. And the best way to tackle this is to sit down and write – something – anything! I came across a great creative writing exercise recently, which involved writing a “Dear John” letter to Writer’s Block, explaining that we needed to part company – so if you’re really stuck, have a go at that!

If you scroll back up the page, you’ll see I said the more you write the easier it gets. Well, the converse is also true: the less you write, the harder it gets – it seems more of a struggle, like walking uphill. Procrastination is your number one enemy, and a severe case of Writer’s Block is a great excuse for staying away from your desk. But if you want to be a writer, you’ve got to sit down and get on with it.

As fiction writer John Dufresne says in the following brief but fascinating video about writing short stories, writers only become inspired when they sit down and write – as he puts it, the muse is most likely to pay you a visit when you’re sitting at your desk:

  • YOUR WRITING WILL NEVER BE PERFECT

When you start believing this, it’s a huge relief.

Perfection is a fantasy – and striving for it can lead to depression (“My writing sucks, life’s not worth living!”), anxiety (“there’s bound to be more mistakes in this post I haven’t spotted – I daren’t click that ‘publish’ button!) and paralysis, AKA Writer’s Block (“what’s the point in writing at all, if I can’t get it right?”)

I think this is cause for celebration. Look on the bright side: whatever you write, there will always be room for improvement. Your writing doesn’t have to be perfect – but it can still be amazing. :)

  • ONLY YOU CAN SET YOUR OWN WRITING GOALS

One of the biggest mistakes you can make is to believe you have to write to someone else’s agenda. Your writing goals will be different from mine. Maybe your objective is to write a blog post once or twice a week, or to get some freelancing gigs. Or perhaps it’s just to start keeping a journal.

My current writing goals involve doing a piece of creative writing every day, and participating in a weekly creative writing prompt challenge on the Writer’s Digest website. That’s because I want to learn how to write fiction, so I need to exercise my creative writing muscles. Consequently, some of my blogging activities are taking a bit of a back seat, and that’s what’s right for me at the moment.

Don’t be pressurized into playing along to someone else’s tune. You need to decide what’s right for you.

  • THE MOST IMPORTANT THING IS CREATING SOMETHING OF VALUE

Treat your writing with a bit of respect. Whenever you write, believe you’re creating something unique – something of value. As I’ve already said, that doesn’t mean it’s got to be perfect, but it does mean you should take your writing seriously and do your utmost to create something worthwhile, to the best of your capabilities.

Over to you: Are there any beliefs that have helped you to make progress as a writer – or any you’ve found to be unhelpful?

I always love to hear from you, so please let me know what you think in the comments below.

And if you think your friends and followers might enjoy this post, please don’t forget to “share” :)

Happy Writing!

Sue Neal

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Filed under: Writing Tips

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