Writing with a Growth Mindset

In certain areas of education talk, there’s been a lot going on with the idea of teaching our students to have a growth mindset. And it’s interesting, you know, because on one hand we are throwing all our weight onto these yearly standardized tests, judging students, teachers, and schools based upon these singular scores, but on the other we expect kids to be successful beyond school without really expanding on their learning and curiosity potential. Students must get things right, and they must get it right, quickly.

Except the real success comes from embracing failure and knowing that failure will lead to not only “getting it right”, but getting more right. The growth mindset mentality encourages mistakes in our learning. It says, “failure is okay if it means I will learn from it”. Darlene Painter on the Common Sense blog at graphite.org offers a strategy (among several) of reminding students that FAIL can mean First Attempt In Learning. Over on the MindShift blog there is a focus on a school where the idea is to normalize how learning new things can be hard. Mistakes are okay.

When I read the MindShift blog earlier this week, not only did I say “YES”, as I frequently do with this area of thinking, but that “YES” came at a great time to intersect with my view on writing and this same growth mindset philosophy.

You see, my publishing plans hit a significant setback earlier this summer, which then led to my writing taking a big, hit. It took me a while, but I finally convinced myself it was okay not to write for a bit, to not force the start of the next project (side note: being between projects is always difficult, so timing was an unfortunate factor here, too).

It helped. Except now I’m stuck in the “must start writing to actually write” stage of things and ugh, I sure am finding all kinds of excuses to avoid it., which means I am already forgetting that small amounts of crap writing is what is necessary to get larger amounts of good writing. Good writing can still mean failed routes to traditional publication, but failed routes help me learn new roads that can lead to success.

It’s more than the basics of “never never never give up”, too. When I said earlier “failure is okay if it means I will learn from it,” I mean that to be a key factor. Sure, I can write and write and write, but if I’m not trying to learn more about my craft or work to improve my craft – if I’m not stretching to get it more right every time I create a new book, then that’s not actual growth.

I read a book this week by an author who almost exclusively writes thriller/intrigue novels. The book of theirs I read, however, was not this… it was a book about love, loss, and relationships. It was… not as well written as I would have hoped. Great concept, so-so execution, mediocre writing in general. Not all authors can jump genres successfully (except Rainbow Rowell and seriously, so much respect) and clearly this author didn’t do it so well. Since I have not read any other of this author’s books, I’ve assumed that the thriller/intrigue ones are much better. They’ve written many more of those – bestsellers, etc, etc. I admit that part of me was thinking that the editor should have done more to get them to write the whole thing better – to try to match their quality that must be evident in the other genre.

But then… I considered the growth mindset and thought you know what? At least this author stretched. Sure, I’d rather have seen the editor tell the author “no, not yet” – ie: mistake, failure, keep trying, but it’s still a great example of trying something new and seeing where it will take you.

As I look at my writing journey and my publishing aspirations, I see how the whole thing has been filled with mistakes and failures, false starts and setbacks. With each failure and setback I grit my teeth and say, “but I learned something from it”. The teacher in the MindShift article talks of how her students “feel good” about their struggles, even if they haven’t met success yet. Realistically, I bet they don’t always feel so hot about it. It feels awesome when we DO finally meet success (even all the little achievements along the way), it just isn’t a fabulous feeling to fail, even if I know I HAVE learned something from it.

So we keep at it, right?

Tell me about your growth mindset. How do you use failure and mistakes to keep moving towards your goal?

Here are some lyrics to take with you for this related song by Brendan James:

We’re taking a chance,
We’re the lucky ones,
This moment is yours,
This moment is mine,
And we’re gonna be fine 

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1 Response to Writing with a Growth Mindset

  1. I have this thing I’m always telling myself- any success I’ve ever had has come from my willingness to stick it out through a long period of looking & feeling like an idiot. I don’t really learn new things quickly. I never have. One of my girls, she grasps everything she tries immediately, like magic; I think it must be nice, but it’s not me. I can persevere through the painful embarrassment of looking clueless though, and it always feels so sweet when I’m finally competent. I appreciate that which is hard won. The growth mindset is one I can really get behind. Good luck to you.


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