I guess most of us who write got into the game with some sort of vague, inchoate idea that we had a story to tell, and wouldn’t really be at peace with ourselves unless we tried to tell it. Some may have wanted to write the Great American Novel, or whatever their national version thereof might have been, but I think they’re few and far between.
I’m sure many of us encountered discouragement from our family and friends, too, as Scott Adams recently illustrated.
(The following day’s cartoon, on the same subject, is also amusing.)
Be that as it may, I found a recent article on the BBC to be a useful primer on the mindset for success as a writer (and almost anything else, for that matter). Here’s a brief excerpt.
Whenever you read about the secrets of success, you’ll no doubt come across that well-known quote from Thomas Edison, that “genius is one percent inspiration, and ninety-nine percent perspiration”.
While inventing the lightbulb, we are told, he tried 3,000 attempts before finally finding a suitable filament that would glow without immediately burning out. The story is meant to be the inspirational reminder that things like natural creativity are often much less important than dogged determination.
There’s no doubt that passion and perseverance are essential to reaching your long-term goals. But it’s important to remember the strategic process that Edison went through to reach his goal. He didn’t just haphazardly move from one failed design after another, after all, but constantly adapted and refined his ideas. “I would construct a theory and work on its lines until I found it was untenable,” he told Harper’s magazine in 1890. “Then it would be discarded at once and another theory evolved.” At each step of the journey, he was making intelligent decisions that learnt from the failures and built on the small successes.
. . .
The construct – called the “strategic mindset” – describes the tendency to question and refine your current approach in the face of setbacks and challenges. While others diligently follow the same convoluted path, people with the strategic mindset are constantly looking for a more efficient route forwards. “It helps them figure out how to direct their efforts more effectively,” says Patricia Chen at the National University of Singapore. And Chen’s new research shows that it may just spell the difference between success or failure.
. . .
To find out, Chen and her team of researchers put together a questionnaire to test the strategic mindset, and you can try it for yourself below. Simply rate the following statements on a scale of 1 (never) to 5 (all the time):
- When you are stuck on something, how often do you ask yourself: “What are things I can do to help myself?”
- Whenever you feel like you are not making progress, how often do you ask yourself: “Is there a better way of doing this?”
- Whenever you feel frustrated with something, how often do you ask yourself: “How can I do this better?”
- In moments when you feel challenged, how often do you ask yourself: “What are things I can do to make myself better at this?”
- When you are struggling with something, how often do you ask yourself: “What can I do to help myself?”
- Whenever something feels difficult, how often do you ask yourself: “What can I do to get better at this?”
The higher you score, the more likely you are to have a strategic mindset.
There’s more at the link.
I found this a useful exercise in examining my own writing and working habits. I’ve already identified several areas where I can improve them. Also, Edison’s approach to failure is a useful approach to plotting, too. Getting blocked in one direction? Try another, and another, and another. Don’t stop tinkering with the storyline. Sooner or later, something will work.
Consider the “strategic mindset” in relation to your own creative and writing and working style, and let us know what you think in a comment below. I figure we can all stand to improve, no matter how experienced or successful (or not!) we may be.