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How to Win at the Mental Game of Writing

Writing can feel like magic sometimes. It can be an exhilarating, even euphoric experience.

But more often than not, it’s hard work.

One of the most challenging parts of writing a novel (or anything else) is the mental game. Fear and self-doubt go hand-in-hand with the writing process, as just about every writer can attest to.

“Writing fiction, especially a long work of fiction, can be a difficult, lonely job. It’s like crossing the Atlantic Ocean in a bathtub. There’s plenty of opportunity for self-doubt.” — Stephen King

Here are some tips that will help you prepare and strengthen your mindset so you can finish writing your book and actually enjoy the process. (Instead of losing your mind!)

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How to Win at the Mental Game of Writing a Novel

Be mindful of your self-talk

Our mental chatter is the continuous soundtrack of our emotions, fears, desires, patterns, and other stimulants. But we aren’t our thoughts, we are the conscious mind observing our thoughts.

This soundtrack runs on auto-pilot, so when we blindly follow whatever it shoots out, we can quickly end up in a spiral of negative feelings without even realizing where they came from in the first place. Have you ever found yourself in a pit of fear or self-doubt that just keeps getting deeper and deeper and you don’t even know how you got there?

Being mindful of our self-talk helps us catch these thoughts before they spiral out of control and become harder to get back into the barn. When a negative thought pops up, such as “I can’t do this” or “I’m not talented enough” or “no one will like this,” stop and disassociate yourself from it. Then, objectively ask yourself if it’s true. What facts support the opposite?

Switch out that negative thought for a positive (or even just neutral but encouraging) statement.

  • I can’t do this –> There are no prerequisites for writing a novel. I can learn what I don’t know and take it one step at a time.
  • I’m not talented enough –> The more I write, the more I’ll improve.
  • No one will like this –> The only person who has to like it is me because it’s about me enjoying the process of writing it. If someone else ends up liking it when I’m done, that would be cool, too!

Shift your thoughts from ones rooted in fear to ones rooted in love.

Set achievable expectations

Finding that sweet spot where you’re challenging yourself without creating overwhelm can be tricky, but it’s key to setting goals that you can achieve.

Starting with smaller goals and raising them incrementally over time cuts down on overwhelm and resistance, and helps you gain momentum that you can maintain long-term.

For example, a goal to write 10,000 words a day is easy for writers who have worked their way up to this daily word count over time. However, if you’ve been writing 500 words a day and then try to jump to 10,000 a day so you can finish your manuscript in a couple of weeks, that’s probably going to be really overwhelming and you could be setting yourself up for failure.

A more achievable goal would be stretching to 750 or 1,000 words a day to start with and gradually increasing that number over time.

Join a writing community

Being around a community of like-minded people helps take you out of your own echo chamber.

The support, inspiration, and encouragement from a community that knows what you’re going through are priceless because it helps you keep perspective that you’re not in this alone and that all of the struggles you’re going through are a normal part of the process, not a sign that you aren’t cut out for it.

With writing being such a solitary sport, having that sense of community can make a huge difference to your motivation and overall sense of sanity while writing a book.

I’ve become a part of the (very welcoming) writing community on Instagram, which I absolutely love. It is full of support, openness, and positivity. There are also free writing groups on Facebook and other platforms. Look around, try engaging with a few, and see what feels right for you.

Keep inspiring forces in your ear

We have a lot of negativity surrounding us at any given time. Even within our own minds, fear is never short on things to say and worst-case scenarios to concoct.

The more you reinforce positive ideas and messaging, the more armed you are to stand up against the negative ones. Our belief systems are influenced by our surroundings and the people we spend time with, so it’s important to curate it as much as possible.

Listen to podcasts, watch YouTube videos, and read books on the craft of writing and personal development. Curate your social media by following other writers, coaches, and public figures who inspire you and will nurture a healthy frame of mind.

Choose your approach

Whenever you set out on a goal or project, think about your intentions and how you will approach the situation. Are you going to drill yourself like a military sergeant or be a compassionate yet motivating friend to yourself?

Obviously, these two are very different! You may even bounce between the two depending on your mood. But being clear about it and choosing intentionally will make all the difference.

Don’t approach it with fear that you’ll fail or not be good enough. Approach it with love for the craft and the story you want to tell. Intention matters.

Build a writing ritual

Most athletes have some kind of ritual they do before a game that helps them get into the right headspace. The same is true for writers.

When you create positive mental triggers before every writing session, it will send a signal to your brain to go into writing mode and put you in the optimum mental space to take on the task.

Some things to consider when creating a writing ritual:

  • Take care of your environment and writing space. Make sure you’re comfortable and free of as many distractions as possible, including clutter.
  • Include things around you that get you excited to be there – candles, inspiring art, and motivational quotes or reminders.
  • Make it special and something you look forward to. If possible, separate it from everything else you do (work, bills, etc), such as writing from a different spot or changing up the mood of your space when it’s time to write.

I love to light a candle or an oil diffuser and put on some music. I write out my goals in my beautiful planner so I can see them in front of me, look at my story mood board, and get comfortable. It’s all about finding what works for you.

Check out my full post on how to create your own writing ritual, which includes a free worksheet.

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Writing can feel like magic sometimes but more often than not, it's hard work. One of the most challenging parts of writing a novel (or anything else) is the mental game. Fear and self-doubt go hand-in-hand with the writing process. Here are some tips that will help you prepare your mindset so you can finish writing your book and actually enjoy the process. #writinganovel #writingtips #writingadvice #nanowrimo Writing can feel like magic sometimes but more often than not, it's hard work. One of the most challenging parts of writing a novel (or anything else) is the mental game. Fear and self-doubt go hand-in-hand with the writing process. Here are some tips that will help you prepare your mindset so you can finish writing your book and actually enjoy the process. #writinganovel #writingtips #writingadvice #nanowrimo Writing can feel like magic sometimes but more often than not, it's hard work. One of the most challenging parts of writing a novel (or anything else) is the mental game. Fear and self-doubt go hand-in-hand with the writing process. Here are some tips that will help you prepare your mindset so you can finish writing your book and actually enjoy the process. #writinganovel #writingtips #writingadvice #nanowrimo

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