Do your writing habits reveal grit?

Reading time: About 3 minutes

Many characteristics can help writers succeed. But here’s one you might not have thought of: Did you know it would help to learn how to develop grit? 

Some people see me as successful. Maybe this is because I was a senior editor at a then-large metropolitan daily newspaper at the age of 27. I launched my own business nine years later, shortly after giving birth to triplets. The newsletter you’re reading here has more than 19,000 subscribers all around the world. I speak at conferences, work with CEOs and other senior managers and I travel across North America to lead workshops.

But I don’t think I’m the least bit talented at anything apart from organizing. (My idiot-savant ability at taking chaos and transforming it into order is useful but in the talent department it kind of sucks. It’s like being spectacularly good at checkers or vacuuming the living-room.)

But I have one other useful attribute. Grit.

Do you?

Take this very quick test to find out. Exploring issues like your focus, your diligence and your willingness to handle setbacks, the test will give you a grade out of 5. The website doesn’t say it, but I’m pretty sure the scale was developed by Angela Lee Duckworth, a researcher at Penn and a highly engaging TED speaker. (You can see her six-minute talk, here.)

Duckworth, who briefly taught grade 7 math and noticed that some of her “smartest” kids weren’t doing so well at it, realized that IQ and social intelligence were poor predictors of success in school. The things that made a difference? Stamina. Passion. Persistence. In other words, grit.

I think grit is important for writers, too. Here’s why:

1. Even with all the writing talent in the world, if you don’t take the time to write every day, your words won’t end up on paper. The diligence of just showing up, and writing, whether you feel like it or not,  is hard to muster. Do it and you have grit (and, soon, a manuscript.) Don’t and you won’t have anything to show for all of your talent.

2. Writers, like many other people, inevitably have setbacks Think about Olympic rower Silken Laumann’s tragic accident.  Think about the guy who invented WD-40.) If you have grit, you know it’s important to press on no matter how discouraged you may feel.

3. It’s easy to get distracted in our super-connected, media-heavy world. People with grit understand they need to make the time for the things that are really important to them. For this reason, many writers work first thing in the morning, before the day dissolves into a multitude of phone calls and crises that need to be averted. Doing your writing first is gritty.

4. Deliberate practice is the tool of the gritty. We read voraciously. We copy.  We find super-models. We self-edit relentlessly.

5. Grit makes us more confident. Or, as Seth Godin puts it, “confidence is a choice, not a symptom.”   If you put in the work, you will inevitably get better at whatever you’re doing. Researcher Carol Dweck calls this a “growth mindset.” It’s the assurance that anything can improve — grades, motivation, relationships, writing — if you work hard at it.

When I was young, the word “grit” was reserved for sandpaper. But my parents understood the concept. They called it “sticktoitiveness.” We kids were encouraged — exhorted — to display it. It’s probably the best thing my parents ever gave me.

But if your parents didn’t give it to you, develop it for yourself. Your writing success hinges on it.


If you’ve been thinking about buying my popular book, 8½ Steps to Writing Faster, Better, this is an early heads up that the price will rise on April 16.  If you’re interested, be sure to get it before that date. Note that shipping is currently free anywhere in the world.

14-04-OpenHow’s your level of grit? What are you doing to improve it? We can all learn from each other so, please, share your thoughts with my readers and me in the “comments” section. (If you don’t see the comments, go here and then scroll to the very end.)  And, congratulations to Crystal, the winner of this month’s book prize, Mount Pleasant for her comment on my March 25 post. Your book will go into the mail as soon as you send me your street address, Crystal. Anyone who comments on today’s blog post (or any others in April) by April 30, 2014 will be put in a draw for a copy of the Andre Agassi autobiography Open. (I’m not even interested in tennis and I loved this book!)