Geetanjali Mukherjee

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Positive Psychology for Writers

I have been reading a few books on principles that derive from positive psychology or as some call it “the science of happiness”. And I was thinking of how I could apply some of it to my own life, and I was wondering if there are ways that writers specifically could use positive psychology. So I thought I would share some of my thoughts. 

First of all, as I understand it, positive psychology focuses on positive emotions and how to increase them. Now I am going to make the assumption that if you are a writer, you chose to do it because it makes you unhappy. Unlike many other professions, writing isn’t full of obvious perks like a company car and the corner office, so usually people choose to be writers for intrinsic reasons. So then, writing is supposed to make you happy. If it already does, that’s great, and you can skip further to my next point. If it doesn’t, then a good question to ask is why.

But first, does it matter if you are happy while writing? The culture is filled with examples that connect writers to negative vices - the alcoholic writer, the solitary writer who refuses to engage with people, the starving artist who can’t make ends meet. None of these connotations are positive, and sometimes we believe that’s the only way to be a serious, professional writer. Then there are the quotes - “You just need to stare at a blank piece of paper till drops of blood start to form on your forehead”. Not exactly encouraging a positive outlook. 

Positive psychology states that optimism and a positive mindset are more conducive to creativity than pessimism and being negative. You have more ideas, you are more original when you are feeling positive. So obviously, that’s something to aim towards, right?

The other thing I learned from positive psychology is that we are happier and more productive when we focus on our strengths. This might be obvious, but I often find that I obsess a lot more about my weaknesses than hone in on my strengths. I keep thinking of all the things I can’t do, what I am not good at. I can’t do social media, I am not great at marketing, I can’t popular fiction like XYZ author. I focus on my low sales figures, all the aspects of marketing I am not doing, all the platforms I am not on. I read a wonderful book and then fret because I could never write in that genre. 

However, positive psychology states that focusing on your strengths can make you feel better about yourself and you end up succeeding more. So ideally, I would be focusing on the aspects of writing that I enjoy and am good at. Write the book I want to read. Successful indie author Joanna Penn has said that she always thought that writing literary fiction was what she was supposed to do, even though what she loved to read were thrillers. She ignored her initial instincts, and today she is a USA Today bestselling author of Dan Brown-esque thrillers. 

To me, focusing on your strengths means being honest with yourself about what you are good at, what you can become better at, and what you are better off outsourcing or just forgetting about. Write the books you really want to. Hone your craft and get better at your writing, but only in the areas and subjects you really care about or are interested. And outsource anything that you absolutely hate doing so that you can spend more time on the aspects of writing you love and get better at that. If Facebook really isn’t your thing, don’t force yourself to do it. Spend time on writing a lovely author newsletter and send that out every month instead. If you can’t get the hang of converting your books to print, outsource that and start writing your next novel. 

Another aspect of positive psychology is gratitude. This is something that I personally struggle with a lot - I find it hard to be grateful, especially when I am focusing on all the lack in my life. Like the poor sales of my books, or how badly a certain book is coming, or how I wish I was doing better on social media and improving my author platform. However, changing how you think can change not only your mood but also your environment. There is so much to be grateful for if only we take the time to see it. We have the opportunity to write a book and put it out within 24 hours, and have readers from around the world read our books. We can get our books in different formats, and even translate them into other languages. Instead of honing in on poor sales or slow promotion campaigns, we can choose to be grateful for every reader that buys our books, and every follower on social media. We can celebrate every fan email or positive mention of our work online. We can be thankful for every reader who took the time to post a review. It can be hard to stand out as an author and get our work noticed, but we are lucky to have so many opportunities that were unavailable even 10 years ago. Let’s savor every good thing instead of only complaining or worrying about the bad. 

I am also learning from positive psychology to be less critical of my work. To be able to see the good parts, or at the very least, to reserve judgement while I am still in the draft stages. To edit with a light touch. To be optimistic about the merit of my work, instead of giving in to the voice that says that my work is terrible, that no one will read it, that writing the book is a waste of my time. I am trying to remind myself that this is only a draft, I can always do it over. I try to remember all the good things people have said about my work, instead of fixating on the negatives. None of this is easy, but all of it is worth it.

Whether you call it the law of attraction, positive psychology, optimism or being a dreamer, anything that makes it easier and more pleasurable to write, is worth trying, in my opinion. Focus on the positive aspects of your writing, give more time to your strengths, be grateful and try to cultivate a more positive mindset. Your writing and your environment can only improve as a result. 
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