How Liminal Thinking Makes You a Better, More Successful Writer

I’ve spent years studying the brain, our emotions, self-esteem, personality types, and other concepts that influence not only our identity but also our happiness and our success. Recently, I was turned on to the concept of liminal thinking by David Gray. Liminal thinking is an approach to thinking that enables us to perceive reality with less distortion and to expand our ability for happiness and success. Here, I’m going to explain how liminal thinking can make you a better, more successful writer.

The Six Principles & Nine Practices of Liminal Thinking

As David Gray explains on his website (link above), liminal thinking requires you to have a theory about beliefs…why we have them, how they are formed, their necessity, etc. The six principles form this theory of beliefs.

  • Beliefs are models

  • Beliefs are created

  • Beliefs create a shared world

  • Beliefs create blind spots

  • Beliefs defend themselves

  • Beliefs are tied to identity

We all hold beliefs, and these beliefs are what motivate us to do things, to bond with other humans, to argue with others…. For example, as a writer, you have some kind of belief about the publishing industry. 

  • A person who has achieved great success and support with traditional publishing, for example, will likely believe that the publishing industry is a great system and is one that helps authors polish and sell books.

  • A person who has struggled to get their book picked up by an agent with no success will likely believe that the publishing industry is full of , or is full of stupid, short-sighted suits, or is a conspiracy. (Or, D, all of the above!)

  • A person who has self-published with great success will likely believe that self-publishing is the best way for an author to succeed.

  • A person who aspires to publish will likely believe that publishing a book is challenging and expensive.

I’ll stop there, but you get the idea. These beliefs are constructed based on experience. People who hold these beliefs will find others who share them and will also defend them to others who hold opposing beliefs as they feel they are “right”. The reality is that both are right; however, they are both “right” about one aspect of a huge reality. Our beliefs usually involve only seeing one small aspect of reality, which can and does often vary from that of others. It’s not possible for us to fully comprehend the reality of all situations.

Were we not to hold beliefs, then we would not be able to make decisions. Your beliefs about the publishing industry right now impact how you will proceed with your career. Your beliefs might change one day.

Moving on, let’s look at the nine practices of liminal thinking. Once you understand the theory of beliefs, you can apply the nine practices that will enable you see reality more clearly and objectively and to pursue real, positive change in your life. Rather than detailing all nine, I’m going to cover the ones that you can apply to improving your life as a writer.

Assume You are Not Objective

David says that if you’re part of a system that you want to change, then you’re also part of the (system’s) problem. Basically, this means you should assume responsibility in whatever aspect of your life that isn’t working.

If you are published or aspire to get published and you feel that there are problems with the system, consider what those are, what role you play, and how you can change that. I for one believe that the publishing industry is not only flawed due to it being somewhat dated, but I also believe it’s in trouble. While I don’t think it will become extinct, I believe it needs to evolve substantially. If, as an author, I hold these beliefs but endeavor to publish traditionally (i.e., get an agent, work with an editor, publish, etc.) then I am supporting a system I don’t believe in.

As it stands, I am rooting for some kind of traditional publishing model, one in which people who are passionate about producing the written word, are the ones who are in charge of disseminating that word to the public at large.

I realize changing the nature of publishing be it indie publishing or Amazon publishing or traditional publishing is a tall order; however, if you desire to change one or all of these systems and yet your participate, then you are not exercising your power in changing that system. 

Disrupt Routines

We hold (and show) our beliefs based on habits and routines. By disrupting a routine, you can create new possibilities. I suggest applying this to your daily grind, especially if you’re writing isn’t going the way you want.

I’ll use myself as an example. My days are overloaded. My husband is undergoing chemo and has good days and bad days; I have three small children; I fight a daily battle with those children to keep my house from being turned into an indoor toy swamp; I edit; I teach; I’m doing classes and ongoing professional training; and then, I have mywriting.

Every day, I make a list of what I want / aim to accomplish, then I number the items by priority and set to work. That’s my system. Problematically, I used to put my writing last on the list every day, and I often never made it to that point, or if I did, I was too tired to really care anymore. Yet, I really cared about my writing.

My system needed to change, and since I was the only one in charge of the system, it meant that I needed to change, too, and to accept that my system sucked. To facilitate change, I started to put my writing as my number one activity. Instead, I saved the tasks that demanded the least amount of energy and effort to the end of the day. I saw the flaw in the system, and I changed it.

Empty Your Cup

Note, I don’t mean your coffee cup. Emptying one’s cup is a Zen philosophy that pertains to being receptive to learning new things by letting go of old things. It means to approach everything without judgement and with a receptive willingness to expand.

One of the things I loved most about being an editor when I started over a decade ago was that there was seemingly a “right” way and a “wrong” way. What I have since learned is that is absolute crap. There are many ways to approach something, and while I wholeheartedly believe it’s important to understand the fundamentals and the tenets of something, that does notmean that there is not something new to learn.

So, what you know about writing romance or mystery or poetry or whatever is great, but that doesn’t mean that something different isn’t also great or effective.

Likewise, I now know there are several major style guides, an war that will outlive nuclear holocaust regarding the Oxford comma, multiple creative ways to write expressively, and different lexicons that can be used to convey story.

To that end, I recommend reading widely. Read how others do things, why they do things they way that they do, and learn without judgement. Grow and evolve accordingly.

Evolve Yourself

Evolving yourself means being opened to how change can affect you. This can be difficult because changing ourselves means admitting something isn’t great or right about us, and that can be hard. It can be so hard to change ourselves that we would rather find scapegoats to blame for struggles or lack of success.

For example, if you’re pitched a work and it hasn’t gotten the reception you wanted, it can be easy to blame the system or the industry rather than changing something about yourself or your approach. Even something as small as rewriting a query letter is like admitting that your query letter wasn’t great.

Likewise, if you’ve self-published a book that you wrote and think is great, but it gets bad reviews or doesn’t get much attention, then you might blame oversaturation or the narrowmindedness of the audience. Instead, consider how you can improve your situation. Did you have your book edited? How well did you research the metadata? What’s your marketing plan? You have control over all of those things and any one of them could impact the results that you want to achieve.

The beauty of liminal thinking is realizing how much controlyouhave over your world, your happiness, your professional success. Liminal, by definition, describes the threshold or gateway at which a psychological or physiological effect is produced. Liminal also means “transitional”.

  • Apply liminal thinking to your writing and author career by endeavoring to see things as they are. 

  • Look at various aspects of reality. 

  • Don’t discredit others or their experiences. 

  • Be the change you want to see. 

  • Look within and acknowledge that you have the ability to change your reality be examining and evolving your beliefs. 

The end result is that you can be a more productive writer. You can participate in systems that you believe in. You can learn new techniques and expand your capabilities. 

I love the idea of having authority over my success, my growth, and my career, which is why I wanted to share this concept with you. Liminal thinking also helps me understand what my needs are and how I can improve myself or my approach to address those needs. If in your journey you realize that you could benefit from hiring an editor or consulting with someone regarding your work, click this link to contact me, Vonnie York, or send and e-mail to and let me help you accomplish your goals.