The term “mindset” is getting used a lot these days. And many writing books start with the advice to keep it foremost in your mind that YOU ARE A WRITER.
In her now classic Harvard commencement speech, J.K. Rowling discusses living in poverty and how she wrote on her lunch break and at cafes. She explains that she had wanted to pursue writing much earlier, but that her parents wanted her to have a safer vocation.
This is how she described herself as a young woman: “I was convinced that the only thing I wanted to do, ever, was to write novels.”
She took a day job, but she never stopped writing. Her amazing journey so clearly illustrates that she had a defined vision of herself as a storyteller.
Despite the mundane realities of her life with a dayjob and being an impoverished single parent, she lived a richly different life in her mind. In her mind, she created stories. When I toured the Harry Potter movie studios in London last fall, the tour guide shared that J.K. Rowling had often expressed to them that she had seen her own books as movies in her head. To me, that is further indication that her visualization of creating stories was so clear, that it didn’t stop at books alone but that her stories were movies that she merely captured into books first.
Though her commencement speech doesn’t mention it, she was rejected 10 times when she submitted the first Harry Potter.
Mindset Lessons ==> When you are a storyteller, it doesn’t matter what else you do to earn a living. When others reject you, stay the course. Keep writing.
One of the most amazing books I “read” last year (she narrated her autobiography on Audible.com) was The Year of Yes. Much like J.K. Rowling, Ms. Rhimes knew from an early age that she was meant to be a storyteller. She sat in the family pantry and made up worlds with the canned goods.
She studied screenwriting at USC, the leading institution for film. She took a number of day jobs and wrote screenplays. She spent a decade not having a hit (Britney Spears movie Crossroads, Princess Diaries 2). But she persevered and continued to write scripts until one day, she wrote Grey’s Anatomy. Then she wrote Scandal, and How to Get Away with Murder. Grey’s Anatomy is in its 13th season now. At one time, all three of her shows were primetime on Thursday night. She OWNED Thursday night.
Just think, what if she had quit in the first decade? She started at an Ivy League school, she could have had better paying jobs elsewhere. But she stayed in Hollywood. Her mindset was that she was meant to tell stories that would be seen on the screen.
Her production company is named ShondaLand. I love that. It speaks so clearly about how she had this world inside her and she saw this even though she did not reach commercial success for a decade.
When speaking of the commercially unsuccessful Princess Diaries 2, she said she treasured the opportunity to work with Julie Andrews.
Mindset lesson ==> Build relationships. She spent a decade in Hollywood, making relationships, improving her craft, and building her network.
Her 2006 memoir, Eat, Pray, Love stayed on the NYT bestseller list for 199 weeks and became a movie.
But she graduated from NYU in 1991, fifteen years earlier and spent that time steadily plugging away at her writing with no big hits or commercial success. She had day jobs as a cook, bartender, and waitress.
She talks about these jobs in her wonderful book, Big Magic. She said she used her day job to soak up stories and dialogue from the patrons. And she continued to write and submit, often getting rejected.
Just like J.K. Rowling and Shonda Rhimes, she continued to work steadily, always writing no matter what else she did to pay the bills.
Mindset lesson ==> Stories are all around you. Use them in your work even as you do other work.