It’s a new year, and with that comes all kinds of resolutions and promise to do more or do better. Even if you don’t believe resolutions are a good idea, there’s still value in doing a year end review and seeing where you want to improve.
To that end, I want to talk about grit. This is a concept Angela Duckworth believes is so important that she was awarded a MacArthur “genius” fellowship for her work studying it. It’s something I don’t have a lot of, and in looking back at the last few years of my work and personal life, something I’ve come to believe I should make a primary focus in 2019 (and in perpetuity).
So what is grit, and why is it important for writers?
In its simplest form, grit is ‘perseverance of effort combined with the passion for a particular long-term goal or end state.’
(Read more: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Grit_(personality_trait))
Basically, grit is the personality trait that allows people to overcome obstacles and achieve success in the face of hardship. In non-writing terms, it’s what separates ultra-marathoners from people like me who run for a minute and can only think about how much my quads hurt and how much I need to stop and walk. People with grit have an easier time pushing through failures on their way to success. They are the ones who continue querying agents despite stacking up 40 or 50 rejections. They’re the ones who fire up their word processor and unpack a plot problem rather than choosing to watch TV all night because they’ve had a hard day. They’re the ones who sit down and work when the work is the scariest thing they’ve ever approached in their lives. I think fear is a barrier most creatives bump up against at some point in their lives. Fear of rejection. Fear of poor execution. Fear of disappointment. These are obstacles that need to be hurdled or smashed if any of us ever hope to survive the journey to publication.
That’s great and all, but how do we develop grit if we don’t have it?
I stumbled across a guy named David Goggins over the holidays. I haven’t read his book, but the gist of it is that he went from being an overweight guy who’d always been told he was worthless to being the only member of the US Armed Forces to complete SEAL training, US Army Ranger School, and Air Force Tactical Air Controller training. In one of the videos I watched, he talks about a concept that aligns with Duckworth’s take on grit…
Embrace the suck.
David Goggins bleeds grit. After a lifetime of what many would deem failure, he decided to change his mental approach to life. What some view as roadblocks, he views as challenges. The man is the living embodiment of what Angela Duckworth believes is the single most predictive character trait when trying to gauge success.
Writing takes time. Most things that take time eventually suck at some point during the process. The more you back away from hardship, the more power hardship holds over you. If you develop a habit of not writing when the writing gets difficult, you will gradually write less and less often, until weeks and months go by without any writing at all. If you want to write books, you have to be willing to sit down and put words on the page on a fairly regular basis. For a lot of that process, it’s hopefully going to be fun. What will come to define you as a writer, though, is how well you persevere when things get tough. And I promise you that if you write long enough, eventually they will get tough. Even if it doesn’t happen until you publish and think it’s all royalty cheques and autographs to sign… there’s almost certainly going to be a critical review that brings you crashing down to earth, making you question your basic worth as a writer.
Enough gloom and doom.
If you don’t feel you currently have as much grit as you’d like, there’s a simple way to work on that:
Do one hard thing every day.
It doesn’t even have to be writing-related. The point is to push yourself to do something that kind of sucks. Do push-ups. Go for a run. Run faster. Meditate. Go for a brisk 30 minute walk in the rain. Climb a mountain. Climb the stairs. Wake up earlier. Wake up early then exercise. If you can’t stop looking at your phone, put it in another room for an hour a day. Do yoga.
The key to all of this is that grit isn’t just about punishing yourself. It’s about facing your weaknesses and saying “I don’t want to be held back by this anymore.” If you’re worried you suck at writing dialogue, don’t keep writing narrative heavy stories; write vignettes entirely in dialogue. Find the things you tend to avoid, and dedicate a part of every day to tackling them.
You may be intelligent, and you may be talented, but if you’re not willing to grit your teeth and overcome obstacles, you’re effectively killing your chances of success.
So what do you think? Is grit overrated? Do you think you could stand to dFor a quick rah rah motivational face punch from David Goggins, knock yourself out with this: evelop a bit more grit? Do you ever find yourself avoiding writing for reasons you don’t even really want to acknowledge to yourself?
For a brief overview of Angela Duckworth’s theory of grit, watch her TED Talk:
For a quick rah rah motivational face punch from David Goggins, knock yourself out with this: