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Grammar and a Growth Mindset

Embrace the two and watch your writing get better

An adult education class with a teacher leaning in to assist a woman who is consulting a textbook.

I hated grammar in school. It bored me, even though I love to write. It seemed a colossal waste of time and was complicated. All those terms- participles and gerunds and such. It was like learning another language, one which didn’t seem worth the effort.

Or so I thought.

Too bad Steven King had yet to write his book “On Writing” because I might have taken more notice. Even more, if he’d been my English teacher!

Since writing comes easily to me, I didn’t see the point of spending time studying terms about how to put sentences together. I sure as heck didn’t want to be doing pages of exercises to enhance my understanding of my first language.

If only I’d known then what I know now — says almost everyone at some point!

A prolific writer, King has written exactly one book on the art of writing. Some people say it’s the only book of his they like. Nevertheless, they appreciate that he cares about the craft and wants you to as well.

Be bold and use the active voice in your writing

King maintains that the passive voice is used by timid writers, people who likewise live passively and allow the action to happen around them or to them.

I think he’s on to something because ironically one of my biggest learning challenges as a new writer, was using an active voice.

Coincidentally, claiming a more active space and defining what I want, is one of my biggest life lessons. Hmm — art mimics life?

King provides great examples that drive home the point. Consider this example —

My first kiss will always be recalled by me as to how my romance with Shayna was begun.

Yes, even I can see how convoluted and difficult that sentence is.

Claim the feeling dammit!

He provides an alternative, but it’s something you can play with. This is his version of the fix -

My romance with Shayna began with our first kiss. I’ll never forget it.

Writing with an active voice often means shortening sentences, keeping you and your readers from the dreaded run-on sentence. Something else I’ve conquered as I’ve become more aware of my writing habits. Active voice equals shorter, punchier sentences that are more interesting.

As writers, not only do we benefit from taking the act of writing more seriously, but also our attitude towards our efforts and our inevitable failures.

One thing preventing you from improving is underestimating the power of practice. The more you write and the more you take the time to self-edit, the better your writing becomes. It’s not just about increasing your earnings but rather the desire to hone the craft.

Once you understand that, then it’s easier to put in the needed effort that does matter, as Dr. Carol Dweck points out in her book, Mindset — Changing the way you think to fulfil your potential.

Expand your potential by focusing on mindset

Dr. Dweck is a leading researcher in the fields of personality, social psychology, and developmental psychology. Besides getting King’s book on your reading list, consider adding hers. It's filled with the kind of information that you just know would change your life if you’d only had it sooner.

The good news is, it still can. In it, Dr. Dweck describes the fixed and growth mindsets. As you might imagine, the growth mindset is what’s going to improve your life exponentially.

One of the many points she makes about the two mindsets is what you think about effort and failure. For instance, as a writer on Medium, you're going to see some posts get lots of traction and interaction while others don’t. With a growth mindset, you’ll continue to write and you’ll also read, study, and apply the many tips you discover on how to improve.

Failure has a purpose and with a growth mindset, you are willing to seek it out.

Someone with a fixed mindset, on the other hand, may set a limit on the number and types of efforts they're willing to make. If the outcome isn’t what’s expected, and nothing changes, then it’s possible they’ll quit altogether.

Instead of researching why some posts are working and others not, a plodding persistence to write just as you always have, could be the death knell. A fixed mindset is far more likely to bypass opportunities to learn, neglect seeking help, and see failure as personal. With that mindset, you lose the chance to succeed.

Dr. Dweck points out that effort and outcome matter.

A growth mindset allows you to pivot your efforts to achieve the required outcome. It’s not just about finding and practicing the rules of writing, the subjects you choose matter too.

If the contents aren’t interesting to your readers, it doesn’t matter how much effort you make, nothing will change. A growth mindset doesn’t get locked down into one way of thinking but is ready to take in new information and act on it.

It’s important to note that everyone has some of each mindset in different areas of their life. When you identify if you're reacting or responding to your efforts and their outcomes, then you have the chance to adjust your mindset as needed.

In high school, my timid and fixed mindset kept me from expanding into a more skilled writer. While grammar and its terms and rules may never be the most exciting subject for me, I know the difference it makes in my writing. That’s enough of an incentive for me to knuckle down, continue my learning journey, and work towards becoming the best writer possible.

Grammar was the wall I needed to break through, what’s yours, and what are you willing to do about it?


Frances Hickmott is the author of Journey to Joy, How to Overcome Life’s Setbacks to Create a Life You Love buy now at your favorite online bookstore.

* Originally published on Medium

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