I watched a video about mindset by Dr. Carol Dweck, and it occurred to me that many writers, seasoned or new, have a mindset that holds them back from their full potential. This is also true concerning a lot of things we do. Think along the lines of the story “The Little Engine That Could.” The engine chugs up a hill saying, “I think I can, I think I can.” Then as it nears the summit, its chant becomes, “I know I can! I know I can!” That’s a positive mindset.
According Dr. Dweck, a high school in Chicago had a strange but effective grading system. If students didn’t pass a test, they got the grade “Not yet.” This meant they could achieve their goal; they just weren’t there yet.
She gave a test with problems slightly too difficult for the students. Some of the students flourished in the “not yet,” but some were stuck in the “now.”
Some loved the challenge and, according to Dr. Dweck, they had a “growth” mindset. The “not yet” mindset gave them a path to the future—they understood they were on a learning curve and that their capabilities could be developed.
Other students thought it was awful and their intelligence was being judged because they failed. Dr. Dweck said they came from a fixed mindset, a “now” mindset. Instead of luxuriating in the power of “not yet,” they were gripped in the tyranny of “now.”
So many times writers battle with the various skills needed to make their creative writing truly sing. As an editor, we see the struggles writers encounter with “show, don’t tell,” controlling viewpoint, writing effective dialogue, and all the other aspects of mastering the skill of creative writing—frankly, the list is exhaustive.
Often, when faced with this seemingly endless list, new writers become discouraged, trapped in the “now” mindset. But if they would only change their mindset to “not yet,” they will succeed.
See every word, sentence, phrase, paragraph, and chapter as a challenge and never run from difficulty. Run to it, embrace it. Luxuriate in the power of “not yet” and push free from one’s comfort zone, free from the tyranny of “now” and failure.
The biggest thing in your favor is your passion to write. Even when your head is spinning and your eyes burning as you try to grasp the different rules and skills of creative writing, don’t forget your passion and don’t take your eye off “not yet” for a second.
Even when you grasp all the rules and skills to write well, don’t stop there. Keep your eye on the “not yet” mindset and strive to be better. Otherwise, it’s too easy to fall into another trap when success is achieved—complacency.
A twelfth century cleric in the court of Phillippe of Alsace, the Count of Flanders, coined the phrase in French: Rome ne s’est pas faite en un jour. Rome wasn’t built in a day. They never gave up their quest to rule the known world. Of course, after several centuries, they developed an attitude of, “We’re unbeatable, so we can rest on our laurels.” This is complacency. This is dangerous.
The definition of “resting on one’s laurels” is to be satisfied with distinction won by past achievements and cease to strive for further achievements. So, even if you’ve published a successful book, don’t think you’ve got this writing thing waxed. Never rest on your laurels—never decide a sentence, phrase, or even the whole manuscript is good enough. Always strive for that perfect set of words that will make a sentence or phrase pop until the story is packed with wonderfully crafted words.
Never stop the “not yet” mindset.