Welcome to our new craft of writing blog series! In this new monthly series, we’ve commissioned novelist, poet and short story writer Louise Tondeur to share her top tips and writing advice.
Here you can read the first in this series – full of advice, exercises and resources for developing and managing your mindset as a writer.
Writing and Mindset
by Louise Tondeur
In this blog post I talk about mindset and how various ideas from neuroscience and psychology apply to writing, and I’m going to give you some practical suggestions for incorporating them into your life. Developing your writing mindset will help you with resilience, and commitment to the process, and will stop you from giving up when things are challenging.
What are you working on?
Do you have a writing project in mind? Are you writing a novel or a play or a series of poems or a screenplay? Perhaps you want to write nonfiction, keep a blog or write a memoir or a self-help book? Or are you just starting out and want to find ways to begin to write? Do you want to try journaling, writing to support your mental health, or do you want to incorporate writing into your life as a mindfulness practice? There are lots of ways to be a writer, and not all of those ways of writing lead to publication.
The number one most important piece of writing advice
Often advice for writers assumes that 1) you want to be published and 2) that you’re only writing one particular thing, which isn’t necessarily true. But there is one piece of advice I can give you that covers all bases, whatever kind of writer you want to be. In fact, I think this is the most important advice I can give you when it comes to being a writer. It’s simple and it sounds easy to do, and if you consider it without any context, it is easy. But context is pretty significant when it comes to following this particular piece of advice. More on that in a moment.
Want to know what it is? Drum-roll please. The most important piece of advice I can give you about being a writer is: turn up. That’s it. (Well, there is a part two, which I’ll come to in a moment.)
What does ‘turn up’ mean?
Turning up essentially means getting better through practice. The more you practise, little by little, the better you’ll get at writing – whatever that means to you – and the more progress you’ll make.
Exercise 1: imagine turning up
Imagine what it means to turn up. See yourself doing it in your mind’s eye. (If visualisation doesn’t work for you, you can always make some notes describing yourself doing it.) What thoughts come up for you when I suggest that turning up is the most important thing you can do as a writer? How does it feel when you see yourself turning up?
How to turn up
Have a place where you write, even if it’s portable, like a notebook you take to cafés or the library, or temporary, like the sofa or your bed, first thing in the morning. And know when you’re going to turn up. Why do this? First and foremost, because you’ll know whether you’ve done it or not. Writing stops becoming something you talk about or wish you could do ‘one day’ and starts to become a practical thing, and an appointment you make with yourself.
If you find it hard to turn up, consider doing the following:
- Make your writing space as comfortable and accessible as possible.
- Join a writing group or ask a friend to check whether you’ve turned up to write.
- Hook your writing to another already established habit. Known as ‘habit stacking’, this is why writing as soon as you wake up works well for some.
If ‘turn up’ is the top advice you can get, what’s part two? It’s only one more word in fact. Turn up regularly. Writing every day creates momentum, but isn’t always possible. Writing regularly is more doable, which leads me to context and why it’s important.
If you did the above exercise – and if your mind started to fill with all sorts of ideas about ‘turning up’ as you read what I said above – you have probably discovered something that took me a long time to realise. It’s this: living the writing life is, at least in part, about mindset. It isn’t only about sitting down to write what we want to write, but it’s also about how we think about it.
More people are starting to talk about writing and mindset now, but it’s a recent development, so many writers (me included until recently) don’t realise that mindset is holding them back. Your writing mindset encompasses all of the techniques and strategies you’ll learn, or rather what you think about them and do with them, like a great big hug. Mindset affects everything.
I listened to a meditation from hypnotherapist Marisa Peer recently, in which she says ‘belief without talent is more important than talent without belief.’ This made me stop and think. If that’s really true, then developing your self-belief is really important. Your self-belief will have an impact on how much your writing develops. Nobody told me this when I was starting to write, or when I got published for the first time, and that’s why I am determined to write about it now.
Exercise 2: The Fried Egg
Grab a pen and paper and draw a circle. Write your name inside this circle, plus anything you consider extremely important in your life. Mine includes my family and my writing. Consider your values too. They also go in this first circle. Mine would include creativity, kindness and self-care.
Once you’ve got your first circle done, draw another circle around the outside. Your diagram will look a bit like a fried-egg. In the second circle, write in everything else in your life. Quick categories will do. For example, your job, your interests, exercise, your social life. Which of these things potentially pull you away from your writing and prevent you from turning up? Are there any strategies you could introduce that would help you to write regularly?
- Mindset by Carol Dweck
- The Successful Author Mindset by Joanna Penn
About Louise Tondeur
Louise Tondeur writes fiction, poetry, plays and nonfiction and has supported countless numbers of writers with both written and verbal feedback. Before doing a Creative Writing MA at The University of East Anglia, she trained as a Drama teacher and brings her knowledge of the theatre into her conversations with emerging writers.
In the noughties, she published two novels with Headline Review called The Water’s Edge and The Haven Home for Delinquent Girls, then she did a PhD in Literature and Cultural Theory at the Reading University, started a family, and became a Creative Writing lecturer, while publishing mainly poetry and nonfiction. In 2017, she left her full-time job to focus on fiction writing. Her short story collection, Unusual Places, came out in 2018 and she is currently working on a series of crime novels set in Norfolk / Suffolk border country where her grandparents lived for 40 years. Louise grew up in Bournemouth and after a long time in London, and spells in Cambridge and Norwich, she now lives in Hove with her wife and son and two black cats. Louise teaches on the Open University’s Creative Writing MA and blogs at: www.louisetondeur.co.uk