12 most gumptious ways to display grit in your writing

If you want to be a good writer, you need grit. Build your supply by being a tough editor and working through setbacks, among 10 other ways.

There’s one talent more useful to writers than the ability to dream up sensational stories, write quickly and fluently, and sit at a computer for hours without losing their minds.

It’s called grit. Do you have it?

Take this quick quiz to find out.

The website doesn’t say it, but I’m pretty sure Angela Lee Duckworth, a researcher at Penn and highly engaging TED speaker, developed the scale. Watch her six-minute talk on grit here:

Here’s how grit can improve your writing:

1. Write every day—whether you feel like it or not.

If you don’t take the time to write, your words won’t end up on paper. The diligence of showing up and writing can be hard to muster.

Do it, and you have grit (and soon, a manuscript.) Don’t, and you won’t have anything to show for your talent.

As Peter de Vries and William Faulkner both said, “I write when I’m inspired, and I see to it that I’m inspired at nine o’clock every morning.” The hard, slogging task of producing a first draft and the detailed, persnickety job of editing it is not for idlers. It’s work, and you must do it every day. Five minutes a day is better than five hours once a week.

2. Anticipate and work through setbacks.

Think about Silken Laumann’s (an Olympic rower) 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 feel.

3. Find a supermodel.

Smart writers never reinvent the wheel.

Find something similar to what you’re writing, whether it’s a report, article or book. Imitate that model. You should not copy word for word, but follow the broad outlines the other writer developed. Models will help you understand what your client wants, and give you a more precise measuring stick. Supermodels rule the world!

4. Identify your best writing time.

Some of us are morning larks, and others are night owls. Still others get a burst of energy at 4 p.m. Figure out what time works best for you.

5. Don’t get distracted.

It’s easy to waste time on fruitless Internet searches. It’s even easier to be sucked in by email, Facebook or Twitter. Only allow yourself to use these time-wasters as a reward after you’ve finished writing.

6. Use deliberate practice.

Psychologist K. Anders Ericsson, from Florida State University, pioneered ways of using feedback and focus to improve musical and athletic performances. Deliberate practice works for writing as well, if you can identify what you need to improve.

7. Assume a growth mindset.

Many people assume you’re either born with writing talent or not. Others know the harder they work at something, the more skilled they’ll become.

Psychologist Carol Dweck makes a convincing case for what she calls a growth mindset. This is the assurance you can improve anything—grades, motivation, relationships, writing—if you work hard.

8. Spend your energy wisely.

Don’t sit at a computer staring vacantly into space. This is unproductive and exhausting. Instead, produce your first draft as quickly as you can. This will give you more time for editing, which is where the real writing work occurs.

9. Always submit your work on time.

Never—and I mean never—miss a deadline. I’ve worked as an editor for 35 years, and if anyone misses a deadline, I don’t use them again. I also won’t rehire writers who run over their word counts. If I request a 500-word story, I don’t want one that’s 515. It doesn’t matter how excellent the writing. (Smart writers who believe the extra 15 words are necessary submit two stories: one at the requested word length and one that’s longer. This allows the editor to choose, and is respectful.

10. Know how to handle your critics.

It may not feel like it, but criticism is a privilege. If you have an editor, then celebrate. If you ever feel threatened by her comments, ask questions. This will help you understand what the editor is saying and make your work better.

11. Be your own toughest editor.

Don’t submit your work to your boss or editor until you’ve gone over it thoroughly—and allow some incubation time before you do. This empties your mind so you can approach the story with fresh eyes.

Then, read the story aloud, slowly ensuring it all makes sense. Question every fact. Check the names of sources, book titles, etc. Double-check spelling. Look for the grammar errors you typically make, and correct them. The grit of a tough self-edit will impress editors.

12. Read voraciously.

The best writers are always the best readers, because learning to write is a bit of an apprenticeship. Begin by imitating a “master,” and you’ll eventually develop your voice.

For example, no one would ever mistake Elton John’s music for that of Elvis Presley or Ray Charles, but the former did learn from the latter two.

Grit—also known as fortitude, guts, and chutzpah—is a core strength for anyone who wants to become a great writer.

In what ways do you grit it out with your writing? Please share in the comments.

This article is republished with permission, courtesy of 12 Most.


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