Blogmas #22: Changing Mindsets

Recently, I’ve been reading a book called Mindset. It was given to me, along with a few other similar books, by one of my closest friends when I was having a bit of a rough week, and although the basic premise of the book is nothing new to me, oh my god is it a revelation.

According to Carol Dweck’s research, people fit into two groups — those with the “fixed mindset,” who believe that ability is innate, and those with the “growth mindset,” who believe that ability can be gained and improved through hard work and practice. And the most interesting element, to me, is this idea that people in the fixed mindset group view hard work, in itself, as a failure. Talented people can do things easily. The harder you work, the less good you are, so if you have to work at something, you’re already a failure and you should feel bad about yourself, even if, through hard work, you ultimately succeed. Unsurprisingly, this isn’t a mindset that leads to you striving extra hard to achieve your goals when you find obstacles in your way.

For about a year now, I’ve been reminding myself, “Be more Hufflepuff.” Focus on the hard work, on the learning, rather than obsessing over where it’s going and why you’re not there yet. And although I’d heard of Dweck’s mindsets before, and even learned about them in my college psych classes, this book is giving me a whole new insight into this impulse I’ve been having, that I need to shift how I think about the work along the way.

Because Dweck’s fixed mindset is me to a tee. To this day, I think about how awful I was at GCSE music. It was my worst class. I had to work really hard, and really stretch myself, and I couldn’t be sure that I was going to do well. I got an A in that subject, by the way. You don’t get an A at GCSE from being completely hopeless at the subject. But because it was really hard, I’ve always subconsciously felt like it didn’t really count. What mattered was where I was when I began working, not when I finished.

And although I’m more than willing to work hard at things that I already think I could be good at, I’m still finding it hard to convince myself of the book’s premise that this doesn’t just count for academics. That it counts for pretty much everything. Sport. Art. Performing. All the things that are firmly in the box of “things I’m not good at, was born terrible at, and could never get good at, ever.”

But reading this book almost makes me want to try out the theory. An experiment of sorts. Take something I think of as ‘wow, it’d be nice if I was good at that,’ while 100% believing that I’m terrible at it and will never improve, and see if I can approach it with an open mind and maybe get better along the way. There’s a big barrel of stuff it could be. Drawing (seriously, five year olds are better than me). Painting (how do people not just end up with a splodgey mess??). Graphic design (every time I try to add text to an image, it looks like a comic sans meme). Singing (just… oh dear). Photography (how does light work? How does any of it work?).

I would so love to be good, or even passable, at all those things. I’d love to sing along confidently while playing my ukulele, or be able to sketch a picture from nothing (how do people do that??). And it might be handy to be able to make graphics considering the internet-based nature of my job. But whenever I do think I’ll give those things a shot, I see how bad I am when I start, and I get disheartened. Maybe this book can show me how to push past that?

So, yes. Something I’m considering. Haven’t got to the part of the book where Dweck hopefully talks about transforming your mindset, so fingers crossed that actually comes up. And in the meantime, I really recommend people check out her work. If nothing else, it’s definitely making me think! 🙂

Blogmas #21: Never Alone

Oh my god, guys. I just started playing this game, and it is absolutely magical. It’s one of the most beautiful games I’ve ever seen. The game is based on a traditional Inupiaq story about a young girl and her snow fox companion, searching for the source of a never-ending blizzard that’s endangering her people. The whole game is a collaboration between the Cook Inlet Tribal Council in Alaska and the first indigenous-owned game developer in the US.

It’s a puzzle platformer, where you control both the girl and the fox, but as you progress in the story, you also unlock brief videos that teach you about the Inupiaq people and their culture, stories and traditions.

And it’s absolutely beautiful.  I mean, look at it!

I’m not that far into the game yet, but it’s completely stunning. Add in the oral storytelling aspect and the amazing video clips, and I already love it so much. I will definitely be writing about this on Feminist Fiction in the new year, once I’ve finished the game, but for now, I’m just enchanted.

Blogmas #20: Best New Releases of 2016

Sure, 2016 has been pretty crappy. But there have been some amazing books!

Turns out, I read a lot of epic fantasy and quite a bit of non-fiction this year, and I wasn’t as excited about some of the new additions to ongoing series as I expected to be, so I don’t have a mega long list of 2016 YA releases to recommend. But I read some great standalones, especially in contemporary YA, so if you haven’t read them, be sure to check them out!

The Imposter Queen by Sarah Fine

Sixteen-year-old Elli was a small child when the Elders of Kupari chose her to succeed the Valtia, the queen who wields infinitely powerful ice and fire magic.

Since then, Elli has lived in the temple, surrounded by luxury and tutored by magical priests, as she prepares for the day when the Valtia perishes and the magic finds a new home in her. Elli is destined to be the most powerful Valtia to ever rule.

But when the queen dies defending the kingdom from invading warriors, the magic doesn’t enter Elli. It’s nowhere to be found.

Disgraced, Elli flees to the outlands, the home of banished criminals—some who would love to see the temple burn with all its priests inside. As she finds her footing in this new world, Elli uncovers devastating new information about the Kupari magic, those who wield it, and the prophecy that foretold her destiny. Torn between the love she has for her people and her growing loyalty to the banished, Elli struggles to understand the true role she was meant to play. But as war looms, she must align with the right side—before the kingdom and its magic are completely destroyed.

I was absolutely obsessed with this book, and I can’t believe how little buzz it seems to have gotten. Amazing world-building, a fantastic main character, really fun magic, great shippiness, a bisexual protagonist, tons of danger and feminism and adventure. This is such a great fantasy novel, and everyone should read it.

Read More

Blogmas #19: Ambition

And power-hungry Slytherin
Loved those of great ambition.

I’m not a Slytherin, but sometimes, I get the feeling that I might be a teeny bit overambitious.

Ambition can be a great thing. It’s hard to get anywhere without being motivated and aiming high. Buuuuuut sometimes I wonder if there are times when maybe I shouldn’t be so ambitious. That maybe I should just chill out. Maybe even have fun instead???

Like when I started ballet classes in September. I immediately thought about how I was going to Practice Every Day so I could Improve Quickly and become Good At Ballet, and eventually progress towards a goal of dancing in pointe shoes. I hadn’t even been to a single lesson yet, but I was already envisioning how I would push myself extra hard to go as far as possible, and then go even further than that.

And when I inevitably failed at practicing Every Single Day on a brand new hobby that was unlike anything I’d ever done before, I was tempted to brand myself a failure and give up. Because if you can’t offer a ridiculous amount of dedication and become really, really good at a new hobby you’re taking up for fun, what’s even the point, right?

And that’s me pretty much in all things. I love taking beginner language classes, because everything you’re supposed to know is really well defined and you get the feeling that you’re progressing incredibly quickly. Meanwhile, I’ve been struggling for years with Japanese, because my benchmark isn’t “Japanese 101 level” but “native speaker fluency,” and when I realize how far away I am from that, I decide I must do hardcore study to catch up. And when I can’t do that hardcore study every day? Well, then I lapse on doing any study, because the little I can do doesn’t feel like enough.

And yes, I am noticing the irony of writing about this in a “blog every day for a month” challenge.

The thing is, I like aiming high. I like pushing myself. I like having goals in mind. I love the feeling of accumulating skills and really feeling like I’m going somewhere with the stuff I’m doing. But, like, maybe a hobby could sometimes just be a hobby? Maybe sometimes “just do it when you feel like it” is enough?

I’ll be honest. I’m not sure I even know how to do that. Just enjoy something, without making big improvement plans and setting standards that I can’t possibly meet. But there’s got to be a balance, right? Between pushing yourself and being too hard on yourself? A way to be motivated while remembering that it’s supposed to be fun? A way to be a Ravenpuff, half hard work, half excited over learning new things. Because once you forget the “fun” part behind all your ambition, you lose the whole reason you were motivated to try that thing in the first place, and then no amount of determination will drag you along.

Blogmas #18: One Week Til Christmas

When I was a teenager, I was always the person who got ridiculously excited about Christmas. The whole of December just felt magical to me. The world felt better, somehow, at this time of year, like some genuine magic had come out with all those fairy lights.

That magic faded as I got a bit older, and I spent years wanting so, so desperately to get it back. I still liked lots of things about Christmas, but it didn’t feel special any more, and I was so concerned with this idea that it should feel different from the rest of the year that I was just miserable as a result. I liked the things that Christmas brought, like time with friends and a chance to choose gifts for people, but it just, you know, felt like a time of year when I spent time with people and bought gifts, not any kind of special “Festive Season.”

I feel like, this year, I’ve finally got the balance in just… not caring so much. Christmas is in a week, and my reaction is mostly, “Really? Already? Oh, so it is.” And that feels so much better than “Why aren’t I happy yet? Why aren’t I happy yet?” It’s awesome to get into the festive spirit, but it’s better to enjoy things for what they are, rather than think that it’s magic or bust.

I love how everywhere is all dressed up, with lights on the streets and displays in all the shop windows. I love Christmas decorations, and I’m already a fairy lights addict, so that’s always fun. I love that moment where you see something in a shop and think, “Oh, so-and-so would like that.” I love the idea of the year winding down, of putting an end to all that’s happened over the past twelve months and taking a time to breathe and prepare before diving into the next. And I love the special moments with people I care about, whether it’s just watching a movie or playing a board game, writing them a sincere note in a card or getting a sincere note in return… small things that are more likely to happen when the holiday brings people together.

It doesn’t have to be magic for all those things to be good. But if we insist on it being magic, it gets really hard to appreciate how good those things are, because in the end, they’re just moments, like you might get at any other time of year.

Of course, now I’m musing on how I should feel about worrying about how I should feel about stuff, so it’s on the verge of getting very circular and meta. But the minute you start worrying about how you “should” feel, you miss out on what you actually are feeling, and the good you can find in that.

Blogmas #17: Real Writers (Don’t) Write Every Day

If there’s one thing I hate, it’s writing advice ultimatums. “Serious writers write every day.” “Real writers always work at the same time every day.” “Proper writers never give up on their planned writing time, even if it just means staring at the screen all day.”

They treat creative writing like it’s a very mechanical process that is always the same, no matter who or what is involved. Press button, book comes out. But that’s not the case, and I think it puts people off writing, because it’s incredibly difficult, and for many people, it’s incredibly unhealthy.

Not only does every writer work in a different way, but every book works in a slightly different way. At this point, I have a rough process for how I write books, but even then, each book is different. How much I outline it, how much I ignore the outline, how rewriting or revision works, whether I write an hour first thing every weekday morning for months or throw out a draft by marathon writing over a couple of weeks. Whether I write slowly and carefully, or whether I use something like Write or Die to force the words out and worry about fine-tuning them later. Each book has its own unique challenges, and each writing period matches up to a unique moment in your life, so I think you always need to keep your approach to writing flexible. Even saying “I always do this” can get you stuck, never mind saying “all writers always do this.”

I don’t write every day. I try to write every work day, and I try to give myself weekends off, and both those plans fail sometimes. Unless I’m pushing towards a deadline, I write far more, and far better, if I only aim to do it for about 2 hours a day, 5 days a week, rather than every single day without fail. But even then, sometimes,I’m not feeling well, or I’m feeling low or anxious, or something bad has happened in the world that’s distracted me, and because writing is so very reflective and “in your own head,” it reaches a stage where there’s no point even trying to get anything done. It’s just a waste of time. But then sometimes, I get up on days that I have categorically told myself I’m supposed to be taking a break, and I really, really want to grab a pen, so I do, and it’s far more fun than on those “I have to write” days.

I think this all this super common writing advice is trying to get at something important, which is that, if you want to write a book, you have to commit to it. You have to figure out how to push through the tricky parts and develop the discipline to work on the project for the long haul. For some people, that might mean writing every day. But that also sets up an almost impossible work standard that can be pretty unhealthy for some people, even if they do pull it off. Really, the goal is to do what you can do to keep writing long-term.

So if you’re growing to really detest writing, maybe it’s time to take a break. If you’re totally stuck on a plot point, maybe the answer isn’t to stare at a laptop screen until willpower delivers the answer. Maybe it’s to do other stuff. Take a walk, read some new books, go to a museum. Give yourself some space to think. There have been so many times I’ve forced myself to stay in my writing space for hours, even though I wasn’t writing, because I was stuck, then given up, and had the answer by the time I’d finished walking home.

Nobody else can tell you what your writing process is. You might not even know what your writing process should be for whatever you’re working on. Try different things, cut yourself some slack, and figure out the best way to write happily and efficiently, rather than with robotic consistency.

And ignore anyone trying to tell you what “all real writers” do. Maybe that’s what they do. More likely, it’s what they aspire to do. But that doesn’t mean it has to be what you aspire to do as well. Aspire to write the book. It doesn’t matter how you get there.

Blogmas #16: Fear in Art

Today, I absolutely loved this video from Tessa Violet (if you haven’t heard her music, go listen!) about fear and art. In it, she talks about the half an hour leading up to the release of her recent EP, when she was miserable, crying and generally freaking out and trying to figure out why she wasn’t more happy.

And like, I feel you, Tessa. The day that my debut novel came out was one of the best days of my life. I saw my book in bookstores, had lunch with my editor, walked around Manhattan in the February cold, got a bubble tea, went to a celebratory dinner with my American friends, got MORE bubble tea… I felt so, so wonderfully happy. But the day before my debut novel came out was one of the worst days, emotionally, that I’ve ever had.

I was a mess. And not even in a concrete, understandable way, like having endless thoughts about how people would react to my novel or anything. I just felt generically terrible.  And I think, as she says, it is this feeling about putting a part of yourself out into the world and not getting to have it for yourself any more. You want to share it with other people, you want to take that step, but that transition from private to public, from a work in progress to definitely 100% no takebacks done, is an emotional rollercoaster. It feels amazing once it’s actually crossed that line and it’s out in the world, you’ve done it… but the time teetering on the edge feels like a bit of a pre-emptive mourning period. The book is shifting from something you’re working on to something that you created once, and you have to accept that this flawed creation is as good as it’s ever going to be. You will get better, and you will create better things, but this thing is heading out to stand on its own two feet, warts and all.

And that throws us off-balance, I think, no matter how happy the actual release of art makes us too.

Blogmas #15: Website Update!

Because seriously, I can’t go six months without looking at my website and going, “Yeah, I mean, it’s okay, but….”

Things are still work-in-progress-y, so they might be changing around again in the next couple of days, but for now, it’s a slightly tweaked layout, and a few new pages, including an extras page for A Wicked Thing, along with a detailed playlist. The Kingdom of Ashes playlist will be coming in the next few days, once I’ve persuaded Spotify to cooperate long enough to finish it. And of course, Long May She Reign stuff will be added over the next several weeks as the release date gets closer. Just over two months to go!

Blogmas #14: Thoughts on Twitter

I’ve spent a lot of time this year thinking about Twitter. I’ve spent way more time navel-gazing and analysing and second-guessing myself about it in the past few months than could ever be sensible.

Twitter and I are not good friends. This is probably obvious to anyone who’s been to my Twitter page and seen a “on a Twitter break!” pinned post there since about August.

I think, to some people, Twitter is an exciting social world. So many people, so many conversations, so much going on! A chance to connect with people and make new friends! And that’s awesome. But to me, Twitter is hundreds of voices, having hundreds of conversations, all at once, and you can never, never keep up with it all. You can’t hear everything, but you should hear everything. Don’t miss the important information. Don’t miss the conversations you want to have. Don’t miss the chance to connect, the chance to have your say, but make sure you’re witty while you do it, and make sure it’s 140 characters or less!

I love when I get messages from people on Twitter, no doubt about that. It’s the wider crowd interactions that I struggle with. I’m really not a crowd person.

I’m also not an “140 characters or less” person. I’m an “I know you asked for 3-5 pages for this essay, but is it OK if I hand in 30 pages instead?” person. I don’t think 140 characters can cover issues more complicated than “Andrew to win Bake Off!!” Some people manage it, and those people are awesome, but I’m a long-form person. I like sitting down to watch 20 minute chatty vlogs. My favorite Tumblr posts are essays. I want things to go in depth. I want them to take their time.

Meanwhile, reading Tweets? Wow, that can get addictive fast, and get overwhelming even faster. Twitter is very much a now medium, and I really appreciate it when there is a big now thing happening. Eurovision. Bake Off. The election results. It’s about shared experience, and when everyone is focussed on that, and I’m focussing on it too, it’s awesome. But most of the time, everyone is focussing on different things, and it feels like an endless crowd swelling all around you, all moving in different directions. Or everyone is briefly talking about the same thing, but no-one in your feed is providing any context for what that thing actually is. Way too often, I’ve logged onto Twitter, gone, “Wow, people are angry, what happened?” and not been able to find out without a good half an hour of clicking around and research.

But sometimes Twitter feels like it is the Internet. That the Internet is about everyone gathered at once, and it is about now. Twitter can be a great tool, so I should be there, engaging. And if you’re reading this and thinking, “You’re overthinking this,” I know. Believe me, I know. That’s kind of the whole problem. But I don’t know, maybe there are other people who overthink like this too. Who worry that they have to use a website that just gives them more anxiety the more they try, or just that they have to be there, available to everyone’s thoughts at all times, because that’s what people do now.

Which, to be honest, is all BS.

I’m not about to run and delete my Twitter account, because there are times when I’m glad it’s there, and I know it’s a lot of people’s contact method of choice . But I’ll be honest. I haven’t opened my Twitter feed in a month now, and I feel so much better. I (hopefully) get any messages sent to my email, so I know when to pop back if I need to. But it’s so good to get some headspace from it. Even if I’m probably missing out on certain news and discussions. Even if I know there’s a community there. I guess I’m just more of an Instagram person. And, clearly, more of a blog person, even if that means I’m stuck in 2010.

Blogmas #13: Double Speed Entertainment

I read the strangest article in the New York Times last night, about people speed-watching TV. The concept, basically, was that there are so many must-watch series these days that no one can possibly keep up with them all, so some people watch them at up to two times their normal speed.

My initial reaction was pretty much “… what??” I mean, to me, that doesn’t sound like actually watching whatever it is. It’s like trying to listen to a song at double speed. It’s not the same song any more. You’re going to get a super-extended summary of the story, but you’re not really experiencing it. Like, maybe, instead of watching at double speed to cram more TV into their free time, they could just watch less shows? Curate what they watch more precisely? Entertainment isn’t another life checklist item to get through as quickly as possible.

But I thought about this article a lot today, and I suddenly realised: this is my approach to books. Endless piles of books to read. Constant awareness of how many pages until the end of the chapter, how many pages until the end of the book, what percentage of the way through am I, how long does Kindle think the rest will take me? Read quickly, read more, check things off the list and jump onto the next, because there are so many books, and there’s so little time. If there was a button that allowed me to read at double speed, I would probably use it. I certainly don’t have the patience for most fiction audio books, because they go sooo slooowly.

I don’t think this is going to change my thoughts on double speed TV. That doesn’t sound even vaguely relaxing or entertaining to me. But maybe I should consider the benefits of reading slower. Taking my time. Enjoying the idea of all the books in the world I could possibly choose to read next, rather than panicking because I haven’t read them already.

I mean, I don’t know how to take that approach. This idea of always having one eye on the page count is pretty deeply engrained. But it’s something to consider. Turning off the timer at the bottom of the Kindle. Not flicking ahead to find the end of the chapter. And maybe, maybe, not worrying too much about all the books I haven’t read yet when there’s a book to enjoy reading right now.