Change Your Mindset

Mindset: How You Can Fulfil Your PotentialA few months ago, my husband recommended that I read the book MINDSET. At first I dismissed it as just another one of the many business/management guides that clutters his nightstand from time to time. But my husband insisted that this book was different, that it would be good for me. In fairness, he has been known to be right on one or two occasions, so I decided to give it a chance.

He was right.

MINDSET explains a lot of things about myself — especially about my attitude toward writing and achievement — that I had sensed but never fully articulated. Furthermore, the book offers productive alternatives for some of my biggest hangups. It’s not really a how-to or self-help book, but in examining the benefits and the power of a growth mindset, it does end up guiding readers toward a better path.

Here’s the crux of it, from the back cover:

“World-renowned Stanford University psychologist Carol Dweck explains why it’s not just our abilities and talent that bring us success — but whether we approach our goals with a fixed or growth mindset.”

What is fixed mindset?

The belief that we are who we are. Period. Static. Maybe you can change a little bit here and there, but for the most part, you’re born with whatever skills, intelligence, creativity, personality, etc. you’re ever going to get.

What is growth mindset?

The belief that we can always improve — and that the process of improving is as important as the improvement itself.

Why does your mindset matter?

As Dweck shows through various case studies, the fixed mindset sets people up for failure, generally speaking. I mean, if you happen to be a super genius with natural talent and charm, then OK you’re all set! But for the other 99.99% of us, it’s not so easy. And if we’re convinced that we’re either smart or not, either artistic or not, either (fill in the blank) or not, then when we fail at something, that’s it. We’re done. No point in trying again.

But if we instead believe that every failure is just a step on the path to success? A necessary step? A valuable step, because what doesn’t work teaches us about what will work? Then we’re already where we want to be. The journey is as much the destination as the destination itself.

There is a lot more nuance to fixed vs. growth mindset than that — and really, it’s a spectrum, not just one or the other — but many of the problems that Dweck identifies as part of the fixed mindset remind me of issues that writers face. [Read more…]


Be Your Own Biggest Fan

Syncom, the First Geosynchronous SatelliteA few years back, author Joshilyn Jackson posted a story on her blog about meeting an author who was without a doubt his own biggest fan. I can’t find the post at the moment, but this author literally introduced himself with the words, “Hi, I’m award-winning author *name redacted*”. All that was missing to make it perfect, Joshilyn Jackson wrote, was for him to have said, “It’s such an honor for you to meet me.” Because she is hilarious and awesome.

My point, to be clear, is that that’s not the kind of own-biggest-fan I want to talk about today. Because honestly, I don’t think too many of us suffer from the kind of over-inflated ego of Joshilyn’s acquaintance. (And, really, who knows what kind of hidden insecurities the poor guy was trying to mask with all his posturing? I’d be willing to bet it was more than a few).

D.W. Winnicott famously wrote that, “Artists are people driven by the tension between the desire to communicate and the desire to hide.”

“Artists are people driven by the tension between the desire to communicate and the desire to hide.”

Not to go all tortured-artist on you, because as artists go, I’m not especially tortured, I’m really not. But that state of being– that tension between those two opposite extremes of communication and hiding– is a very vulnerable place to live. In my experience, all authors struggle to some degree or another with an internal critic, a nasty little voice hissing a litany of YOUSUCKYOUSUCKYOUSUCKYOUSUCK in your ears. I personally have never written a book where that nasty little voice didn’t rear it’s ugly head (yes, I know, that’s a hideously mixed metaphor). The difference, 19 books into my career, is that that voice has to be positively screaming a NOREALLYTHISBOOKHASASERIOUSPROBLEM kind of a warning on the sliding scale of you-suck-itude for me to pay it any attention at all.

[Read more…]


The Writer’s Eye and the Writer’s Hand

IMG_1430Because the universe loves me, I found myself in Paris recently with nothing to do but sight-see and visit great museums. I made my way to the Pompidou, which had a mind-boggling retrospective on the works of Jeff Koons, whose iconic Balloon Dog you see here. Upon investigating Koons’ life and work, I discovered that some of his earliest attempts at visual representation were nothing more than finding magazine ads that piqued his interest, framing them, and calling them art. Clearly he had artistic ambition, and also artistic vision, but his ability to exercise his vision? Not so much. So we can say that at that point in his career, the artist’s “eye” had developed further than his “hand.” But why are we talking of Jeff Koons? He’s an artist, right? And this is WriterUnboxed, not ArtistUnboxed, no? So let’s examine this notion of eye and hand from a writer’s point of view.

For the sake of this discussion, we’ll say that our writer’s eye is our understanding of what we want to express, and that our hand is our ability to capture and convey those ideas. The advancement of these attributes, the development of both the writer’s storytelling interests and the effective exploration of those interests, is the basic arc of a writer’s career. We go from not knowing anything and not knowing how to express it to knowing much and having many strategies and tools for expression. That’s the growth of a writer. That’s something we can chart.

So now what I’d like you to do is make two lists. [Read more…]


Author Epiphany: I Film-Track My Novels

Flickr Creative Commons: Insomnia Cured Here
Flickr Creative Commons: Insomnia Cured Here

Epiphany Part 1 arrived in my living room as my husband griped at another Turner Classic Movie marathon Friday night.

“But it’s Katharine Hepburn!” I balked. “One of the greatest character actors ever!”

I’m addicted to old movies. Black and whites make me swoon and don’t even get me started on Technicolor.

My husband merely shook his head. “I’ll never understand why you like these when it takes an act of God to get you to the theater for a new release.”

“Because these aren’t movies about surly Teddy bears or Tom Cruise sprinting from danger again,” I argued. “These are mini-time capsules. From the costumes and scenery to the plotlines and cultural messages— I’m gathering history details. Educational entertainment!”

And the second I said it, I realized, yes, that’s exactly it. It’s the same in my reading and writing. Not only am I a historical fiction devotee, but I also advocate for the past teaching us something in the present. My preference is for stories that make me think back about how it was, as a catalyst to change how it is. It’s why I write contemporary-historical dual narratives like my latest release The Mapmaker’s Children. I appreciate being entertained and educated without the didacticism of a classroom. I like feeling my time has been well invested in things that enrich my perspective and enable me to speak intelligently on a topic I may not have known prior.

This is why I yawn through Will Ferrell movies, despite liking him as an actor. And why I smuggle Venti Starbucks cups into the theater to make it through the latest Marvel Comics action-adventure. I need art to work a little harder than that for me to truly enjoy the experience. I know, I’m an awful demanding patron.

My imagination is much like my stomach. Everything I put into it influences its state of being. It craves hearty nutrition and aches at too much sugar. It has violent, allergic reactions to certain fare and appreciates recipes with a long tradition of excellence. Simply stated: I am what I put in me. And I prefer to put in Little Women with Katharine Hepburn.

Epiphany Part 2. While watching above mentioned classic film on my couch, I was multitasking: working on a requested playlist of songs related to The Mapmaker’s Children for a blog. I was struggling on compiling contemporary songs (i.e. I just kept humming “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot”). I don’t listen to music while I write. I’m one of those “black hole” writers. No music, no phones, no sound. So I can hear every heartbeat of my characters, every note they want to sing.

However, I realized then that something else had become a staple of my creative process: watching old films at night when my brain was too tired to wordsmith anymore. They are my soundtracks—my quasi-playlist of inspiration. In a snap, I had list of movies I watched multiple times over the three years of writing The Mapmaker’s Children. Without being conscious of it, I’d studied these films: the backdrops, the character portrayals, the cultural attitudes they sought to evoke, and the ones that permeated with and without intention. Even in my down time, I was information sponging.

Since the blog specifically requested songs, I thought I’d share my classic film-track for The Mapmaker’s Children with you, Unboxed Writer friends. I’m listing them by year because it’s impossible for me to order by preference. All are outstanding movies that I highly recommend. [Read more…]


Why Write?

writer2Part of my job description as an editor is to keep writers from getting discouraged as they struggle to publish and publish well.  It’s not easy, since it takes a lot of effort to learn the craft of writing, and once you break into print, your readership tends to build slowly.  Even writers who are prepared for these natural roadblocks often give up – I can think of several clients with promising first novels who I wish were still writing.

Maybe the answer is to change the focus, from writing to publish to just writing.

Of course, you want to publish.  You want to share the joy of your creation with other people.  It’s nice to have the marketplace affirm your skills.  And it would be even nicer to be paid for writing, if only because it gives you more time to do it.

But if all you’re interested in is making money, there are easier ways to do it.  I once had a potential client who said he didn’t want to spend money on having his book edited unless I could guarantee it would earn $100,000.  I don’t think I need to explain to Writer Unboxed readers why we parted ways.  So don’t lose sight of the other reasons for writing. [Read more…]