How Your Mindset Affects Your Creativity
Rewrite your own internal dialogue in order to become more productive, and more satisfied with what you've produced.
If you’re reading this, you probably want to write fiction. And if you want to write fiction, you’ve probably grappled with some psychological barriers to writing fiction. From writer’s block to imposter syndrome to burnout, there are many maladies of the mind we are prone to suffering. And what’s worse is, these problems attack us where we are most vulnerable: our passion. I can think of no reason to write fiction other than for the love of it. And if we love a thing, and we feel separated from that thing, or we feel we’re letting that thing down, that cuts us to the quick. So here I’d like to share what I’ve learned about how vital my mindset is in relation to my creativity. The hope is that to some degree, these lessons are applicable in your own creative life. This post is modified from something I wrote on my own Substack, but geared more specifically to this audience.
I decided I wanted to be an author when I was eight years old. I wrote and I wrote, so much that I developed a bruise on the first knuckle of my middle finger. This bruise lasted for months before it became a callus. I wrote and I wrote for years and years. It was carefree when I was a kid; I never doubted that I would be an author, that I would be great.
This belief in my own talent kept me chugging strong through my early twenties, despite doubts my ex (then-husband) had about my abilities and ideas. Then something knocked me off my pedestal. I self-published a book, to poor reception. After that, when my ex trashed my ideas, I listened. I let his doubts seep and creep their way into becoming my own self-doubt. I started having trouble bringing myself to write. I started hating everything I ever wrote. When I decided to organize and downsize a bunch of old papers, I labeled a box “Old Bad Writing” and put most of everything I’d written into that box. I felt like the creative, brilliant part of myself that used to write had withered up and died.
When I started writing my Substack, I went to that box, crossed out “Old Bad Writing,” and wrote “Artifacts from Learning How to Write” instead.
While it’s true that my ex created a lot of roadblocks for my writing, since the separation I had kept up his work, creating plenty of roadblocks for myself. I had continued telling myself I was no good, I’d never be good, that the best I could hope to produce was pulp fiction. And I couldn’t even produce that because I couldn’t produce anything, because I was lazy and a failure.
What a waste of brainpower.
I decided I wanted to be an author when I was eight. The only reason I wasn’t one by age 31 is because I had decided I couldn’t be one. When I started my Substack, I wrote: “That changes now. I can come up with a plan to get back into it. I can change my habits. I can write stories.”
This mindset shift has been huge for me. I now have fifteen posts to my Substack. Six of these are scenes from a fantasy story that I started while I was with my ex. At the time, he told me I was clearly obsessed with my friend who’d left an abusive relationship. He told me that my story had no future.
Now I have a more positive mindset about my creativity, and I’m more clearly aware of the themes of my own life. I’ve retooled those first scenes I wrote and expanded my ideas quite a bit. My story does have a future. I’m getting there, scene by scene.
Every once in a while I’m struck with a bought of imposter syndrome, like right after I launched my Substack, or when I’d run out of scenes that I’d plotted. I thought that now, now that I have an audience, however small, if I stumble, they will see. Everyone who cares will see that I was kidding myself. That I really can’t do it. Each time that happens, I take a breath and remind myself that I don’t have to do it perfectly. I just have to do it.
Maybe I don’t write as fast as I feel like I ought to. But you know what? “Ought to” isn’t helpful. That I’m doing it, that I’m making progress, that’s what counts. I have a full, busy life, and I am making progress producing a work of fiction which is dear to me. That this is true lets me keep writing. Reminding myself I’m doing it gave me the mental space I needed to come up with a full outline. I now have a full outline for my story. It has a future.
I think that if you allow yourself the same grace, it can help you keep writing, too. You don’t have to do it perfectly. You just have to do it.
Lorelei Jonason is the author of Root and Branch. After surviving decades of emotional abuse, she got a good job, got together with a nice guy, and bought a beautiful home. Now she writes about how she broke free, as well as serially releasing scenes from her fantasy story Body Swappers.