by Jess Montgomery (Our Special Guest)
Recently, I served as the keynote speaker for the 46th annual Sinclair Community College Creative Writing Workshop. It’s always an honor to keynote, but this was especially poignant for me because many years ago—I would have been 15 or 16 or so—I won the college’s creative writing contest. The prize included attending the writing workshop.
Specifics from that long-ago workshop have faded in my memory, but what remains clear was the affirmation of being selected and finding myself at a workshop with REAL WRITERS.
To prepare for my keynote, I reflected quite a bit on what I’ve learned since then. The common denominator? Setting yourself up for writing success begins with developing a writer’s mindset. Here are 4 keys.
As my impressionable young self learned thanks to Sinclair Community College, it’s essential to be part of a larger writing community from the start. (Don’t miss our post on What the Writing Community Can Do for You.) As your career grows, so does your need for connectedness: Check in periodically with your publishing team members that you are all working toward the same goals. For example, what you want for your career and what your agent wants for you should be in alignment. Your vision for your next book should align with your editor’s. If you’re self-publishing or hiring help with, say, publicity or web design, you should feel confident in your team’s abilities to support your needs and goals; likewise, they should feel affirmed that you appreciate their work.
Connectedness also means occasionally gut checking yourself to verify your goals as a writer, and/or your purpose for a particular piece of writing.
No matter how creative you are by nature, creativity requires cultivation to thrive. Be on the lookout for interesting ideas and inspiration—whether from truth-is-stranger-than-fiction newspaper articles, from observing human interaction (Thanksgiving dinner is coming up soon for many of us…), or from overhearing snippets of conversation in a café.
Cultivating creativity also requires reading as a way to learn from and be inspired by other writers. For example, most mornings, I try to read a few poems before I write. I’m not a poet, but reading beautifully crafted poetry keeps me connected to the raw power of language.
Every relationship requires honesty, and when you’re a writer, you’re in relationships with yourself as a creator, with the piece(s) you’re writing, and with people in your community. Let’s be, well, honest about honesty—it can be difficult. But:
You owe it to yourself and your career to be honest—with yourself and with others—about why you want to write in general, why you want to write a particular project, what you want from your career, and what you want from your community and team.
There are no right or wrong answers. In all honesty, you want to find a great agent to represent your novel? Fine! In all honesty, you’d rather write essays than novels? Fine! Of course, especially in conversations with allies such as agents or editors, this means being honest, but with finesse. For example, if you honestly want to hit a bestseller’s list, great! But don’t send your agent an email bluntly stating that desire. Wait until you’re having a conversation, and phrase your honest desire something like this: “In my upcoming project, what can I work on to put my book into the best position to be more likely to reach bestseller status?” Then, whether the answer is a more compelling hook, higher stakes, or something else, be honestly willing to listen.
This mindset attribute is (no irony intended) the toughest one of all. Because… it takes courage to explore your creativity. To write. To connect with others. To be honest about what you want from your work and your career. And there are sources of DIScouragement aplenty: rejections of your work, fellow writers who are too bitter (or too competitive or too jealous), negative reviews, mediocre sales, awards for which your work is not nominated, and on and on.
How can a writer find the toughness to endure all this for years—or decades—of a writing career? By letting go of enduring.
Instead, return to the why of your writing. Why did you want to do this in the first place? What about it brings you joy? Focus on your answer—whatever it is—to replenish your well of tough-minded resolve, shake off discouragements, and dwell in creativity, community and honesty.
What’s key to your writer’s mindset? Join the discussion on Facebook.
Jess Montgomery is the author of the Kinship Historical Mysteries set in 1920s Appalachia and inspired by Ohio’s true first female sheriff. The debut title, THE WIDOWS, is now available from Minotaur Books, having received the MCAD Artist Opportunity Grant and Individual Excellence Award in Literary Arts from Ohio Arts Council. The next in the series, THE HOLLOWS, is forthcoming in January 2020. Preorder to enter The Hollows Moonstone Jewelry Giveaway. Follow Jess on Facebook or BookBub.