Word Count

Writers Talk About Writing

Do Your Writing Habits Reveal 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. 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 take a look at 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. ResearcherCarol 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 "sticktoitivness." 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.


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A former daily newspaper editor, Daphne Gray-Grant is a writing and editing coach and the author of 8½ Steps to Writing Faster, Better. She offers a free weekly newsletter on her website Publication Coach. Click here to read more articles by Daphne Gray-Grant.

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Comments from our users:

Thursday June 11th 2015, 5:42 AM
Comment by: Neil C.
This is so true - and also explains why I am not (yet) a best-selling novelist!

Note to self: more grit required...
Friday June 12th 2015, 5:22 PM
Comment by: Daphne Gray-Grant (Vancouver Canada)Visual Thesaurus Contributor
The great thing about grit, Neil, is that you don't need to be born with it. You can develop it! Makes me think of the famous Winston Churchill comment to someone who irritated him: "I may be drunk, Miss, but in the morning I will be sober and you will still be ugly."

You may be gritless now, but you can change that!
Sunday June 14th 2015, 3:47 PM
Comment by: Lesley G. (Lowestoft United Kingdom)
Really enjoying and learning from these articles. Got into the habit now of writing every day first thing in the morning! And writing a complete draft for only my eyes rather than edit as I go is making a huge difference in my output! Thanks
Monday June 15th 2015, 7:22 PM
Comment by: Doug S.
Contrary to the way I answered the survey, I let looking up the definition of gritty distract me from the task-at-hand. In my world, gritty would not be the word of choice as a measure of steadfastness, determination, resoluteness. Merriam-Webster & Urban Dictionary seem to agree. My immediate default definition of gritty was pluck, even coarse pluck (pun intended). When steadfast, determined, resolute capture the concept so effectively, why use a word which requires a stretched, almost forced definition? When I am required to deal with definitional issues like this, I wonder is it a generational, age thing? Or am I just parochial? This isn't an east coast peculiarism, is it?

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