writing life

Scarcity Mindset and the Writing Life

I’ve been thinking about scarcity mindset and abundance mindset lately. Generally, as in this NPR interview, they are applied to the way people spend their money or use their resources. Stephen Covey (the man who coined the terms) applied them to the ways people do business. I think there is an application for writers. But first, what do these terms mean?

They first appeared in Stephen Covey’s business self-help book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. I haven’t read this book, so I can’t recommend it, but it has sold over 25 million copies since its publication in 1989.

A scarcity mindset can occur when you believe there is not enough of something to go around. When you really want that something you see yourself as not having enough of, you focus on it. You get obsessive about it, and that tunnel vision can cause you to think of yourself as a victim with not enough whatever-it-is, and to lose sight of long-term goals, things you could be doing that could be making you more successful/healthy/happy in the long run. Because all you want is that one thing.

Let’s translate into writer.

So say you want to be a published writer, and you’ve got a piece you think is really, really cool. Maybe it’s a comic science-fiction short story about an alien invasion, in which the only commodity the aliens value is opera music. Maybe it’s something else. The content doesn’t matter. It’s just an example. You start thinking this piece could really put you on the map. Get you noticed. Get your career moving. So you polish it up real shiny, research markets, and start sending it out.

Rejections start rolling in. That’s normal. You tell yourself that’s normal. But it feels…bad. You start to feel…panicky. You get feedback from writer friends about it, apply their revisions, and try again. Nothing. And you start to feel like you’ll never be published, never be recognized, never be able to have the kind of life or career you wanted…

…all because ONE short story (that’s really niche, if we’re being honest) isn’t getting picked up.

That’s scarcity mindset. Really, a single short story is never going to launch anyone’s career, or sustain it. Pinning all hopes and dreams on one story isn’t fair to the story, nor is it fair to the writer, or to the craft of writing.

There’s never just one good idea, or one idea that will help you break through and find an audience for your work. Writing flows.

Something more will arise for later, something better. These things fill from behind, from beneath, like well water. –Annie Dillard

The world is teeming with ideas. Every moment of every day could provide enough inspiration for a lifetime. Scarcity mindset tells you, “It’s all on this short story, all my hopes and dreams ride on it.” But that’s simply not true. Your hopes and dreams ride on your ability to flex and grow, and keep on taking ideas as they seep into your conscious mind. Shaping those ideas. Practicing craft. Learning more about grammar, and sentence structure, and paying attention to the ways other writers sculpt the ideas that they have.

Even if that short story really is the best thing you’ve written to date, time flows, too. Your peak moment when you finished that story is in the past. You can be better, each day, if you practice.

You are limitless. You participate in Writing, an Art bigger than yourself. There are infinite ways for you to write, infinite subjects to choose from, and infinite chances to share out of the overflowing of your work.

That’s an abundance mindset. And it strikes me as a far healthier, fertile place to create from than the grasping, fearful place of scarcity. It’s also a clearer, more right view of what happens in the creative process.

If you’re interested in developing an abundance mindset, check out this article from The Chopra Center, and a blog post I wrote a while back about purposefully cultivating positive thoughts about my own writing.

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