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 post you’re reading here has almost 22,000 subscribers around the world. Before Covid, I spoke at conferences and travelled 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.
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.
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.
An earlier version of this post first appeared on my blog on April 1/14.
Want to develop some grit in building your own sustainable writing routine? Consider applying to my three-month accountability program called Get It Done. The group is now full but there is modest turn-over each month, and priority will go to those who have applied first. You can go directly to the application form and you’ll hear back from me within 24 hours.
My video podcast last week addressed how to write sentences with more impact. Or, see the transcript here and consider subscribing to my YouTube channel. If you have a question about writing you’d like me to address, be sure to send it to me by email, Twitter or Skype and I’ll try to answer it in the podcast.
Have you developed writing grit? How did you do it? We can all learn from each other so, please, share your thoughts with my readers and me in the “comments” section below. Anyone who comments on today’s post (or any others) by Nov. 30/20 will be put in a draw for a digital copy of my first book, 8 1/2 Steps to Writing Faster, Better. Please, scroll down to the comments, directly underneath the “related posts” links, below. Note that you don’t have to join Disqus to post. See here to learn how to post as a guest. It’s easy!