TLDR: Zero-sum thinking is literally the path to the darkside. Come back into the light with generosity and an open mind.
Zero-sum thinking is the cognitive bias that one person’s gain is another’s loss. It is closely tied to resource scarcity beliefs.
These unconscious beliefs lie at the heart of a lot of negative self-talk for writers, but there are also some dangerous political implications. Perceived economic and political gains made by women and minorities, combined with a zero-sum mindset, is a short path to racism and sexism.  
Incels, a dangerous hate group, believe that women willing to have sex with men are too scarce, and furthermore believe that male-female romantic relationships are naturally combative with women trying to lure men into marriage then cuckold them, meanwhile men try to string along and have sex with as many women as possible.
Everyone would benefit from questioning these beliefs in themselves and others in all aspects of life. Today I’m going to talk about what these beliefs look like in writers and the alternative beliefs to cultivate.
Here is an incomplete list of zero-sum, scarcity-based thoughts about writing. Have you ever thought…
- I’m not ready to write.
- I don’t have time in my life to write.
- I don’t have a large enough chunk of time to write now.
- I can’t write now because it’s too noisy / I expect to get interrupted / etc.
- I’m excited about writing X, but I told myself I will finish Y first.
- There aren’t enough markets for my work.
- Every best selling novel reduces my chances of success.
- Every other writer is in direct competition with me.
- When I read a good book, I think about how I’ll never write something as good.
- There are too many writers in the world and too many are better than me.
- Publishers are overloaded with stuff that’s better than mine.
- The time for writing like mine has passed. People don’t like this stuff anymore.
- If I don’t write this idea down I’ll lose it forever.
- I should save this idea for later, because I’m not ready yet.
- This story got rejected so it will never get accepted.
- If I try to edit/revise further I’ll only make it worse.
- I can’t delete this line, it’s too good.
- I’ll never write something as good as this again.
I’ve had all these thoughts. When I do, I try to remind myself that I’m having a perfectly natural concern, yet I’m probably wrong. There are seven and a half BILLION people on Earth and if I want to read what I write (usually I do), then someone else will too. There’s nothing wrong with these thoughts, but at the same time, they aren’t worth dwelling on.
What would be more useful is some sort of prosperity mindset, which I see as a close cousin of the Growth Mindset, but expanded to include a view of abundance in the world.
When cultivating this mindset, I like to remember that it’s more of a perspective than a belief. It doesn’t matter whether the mindset is true or false, what matters is that it’s useful. Before the big game, the team doesn’t rationally analyze whether or not they can win. No, they psyche themselves up that they CAN win. Many times, the Growth/Prosperity Mindset implies an action that can be taken. Even if you are in doubt, seek actions in accordance with the prosperity mindset
Think to yourself…
- I should write now because the next thing I write might be my best work yet.
- I should submit to that contest because somebody has got to win it, it might as well be me.
- I have a million ideas flashing through my head, but I’m at work or driving or otherwise occupied. That’s OK, I will remember these ideas or the best of them will come back to me. (Stephen King talks about this idea along with his opinion that writers shouldn’t get mired in a “writer’s notebook”)
- I should read this book about writing or watch this video because I’m excited about the topic even if I don’t feel ready for its lesson.
- On the other hand, I can stop bingeing writing videos on youtube and write, because, even though I don’t feel like I’ve learned everything, it’s important to practice my skills.
- I can kill my darlings and write something even better in their place.
- I’m excited by other people’s success. I want to work towards that.
Did you find this post helpful? Do you agree or disagree with anything? Are there scarcity thoughts you have that I missed? What’s your go-to growth mindset self-talk? Tell me in the comments below.
1 thought on “Zero-sum versus growth and prosperity”
We all need the growth self-talk. It is sometimes lonely being a writer–I try and stop myself I find myself being distracted into a negative, self-loathing alleyway. Excellent post.
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