The process of creative writing is a wonderful feeling. There’s the indescribable sense of flow when the words pour out oh-so-effortlessly, there’s that stroke of brilliance when a plot twist strikes out of nowhere, the feeling of creating something no one else has before. Every one of those feelings is motivating and rewarding and necessary for our long-term writing mojo.
But the road to the publication dream is littered with unfinished manuscripts, dejected hearts, and writers wondering if they should turn around and head home. The reality is that success in the writing game is more of a marathon than a sprint, and motivation tends to wax and wane. The rejection from agents and publishers, the slow sales, the negative reviews, and most insidious under-miner, self-doubt, are all hurdles every writer will face. In a flooded, competitive market, how do you live your passion and keep reaching for your dream?
Grit is the ability to stick with things that are important to you—through hell and high water, thick and thin, through thousands of words and hundreds of pages. Luckily for you and me, grit is like a muscle. With targeted effort, we can build it, grow it, and benefit from it. And you don’t just have to take my word on this—research has shown that to achieve success (across countless contexts) abilities like persistence and determination are more important than talent or intelligence in the long run. I firmly believe it, because as a writing coach I’ve seen it, and as a writer I’ve lived it; grit is what enables writers to succeed in the publishing industry.
Grit is about hard work and resilience, and your writing will depend on you being able to have both. I’ve distilled it into five actionable behaviors. Have a look at which parts you’re already doing, and which could be beneficial to incorporate into your writing routine.
1) Goal Setting
Goals come under two umbrellas – aspirational goals and effective goals. The first category is for those goals that encapsulate and articulate our dreams. Aspirational goals are what you visualize when you say “I want to be a successful writer.” But to achieve our aspirational goals we need to be smart about it. Reaching successful author status is going to take a lot of steps. Each of those steps is an effective goal, and setting effective goals is a skill we need to learn. Effective goals must be specific, short-term rather than long-term, and challenging. Do a quick mental scan: have you articulated both aspirational AND short-term goals?
2) Practice Deliberate Practice
Gritty people acknowledge that they need to stretch themselves beyond their current abilities if they want to master any particular skill set. They realize that there are areas in their craft they are going to have to focus on and refine. Deliberate practice is about purposely and intentionally targeting your weaknesses. These authors become interested in what they haven’t mastered yet and fixing it. Ask yourself—do you know where your writing weaknesses lay, and how could you address them?
3) Develop Your Willpower
Life is full of distractions, some of which feel better than the plot hole you can’t dig yourself out of. The reality is, successful authors have to choose between Facebook or deliberate practice, between sleeping in or waking up early to grow their word count. The best strategy for self-control is to set yourself up for success. Locate yourself in places where writing that best-seller is going to happen, reduce distractions, and focus your attention.
4) Make Writing a Habit
To optimize your writing success you need to make writing a habit, because when we make any activity a habit, it becomes automatic. We no longer need to draw on resources to make decisions, to focus our attention, to resist tempting options. Making your writing routine a habit is the key, and I recommend achieving it with the help of science. Science has shown that to establish a habit the key is to recognize your triggers for unhelpful behaviors (i.e. procrastination), replace it with a helpful routine (i.e. writing) and repeat. Duplicate this process enough times, and before you know it, that growing word-count will pretty much happen on autopilot.
5) Build Your Success Team
Finally, don’t do it alone. I know we think writing is a solitary activity, but the truth is, humans are wired to connect, and our writing is deeply embedded within this social milieu. They key is to know the type of people to surround yourself with, because discovering and connecting with people who are motivated, supportive, and inspiring is one of the greatest rewards of writing (and yes, I’m speaking from experience). My advice is to find them, and then build a relationship that is mutually beneficial. Discover how you can help them, support them, and give them everything you, yourself, are looking for. Check out this article for strategies on how to do this!
I truly believe when you incorporate grit into your writing journey, you build in passion, and you establish perseverance, two essential ingredients to writing success. What do you think? Do you use any of these strategies yourself? Can you the value in adopting any of the others? I’d love to hear from you, so make sure you leave a comment!
Tamar Sloan’s writing is born of a passion to pay-it-forward. As a practicing psychologist, psychological theories and strategies infuse her drive to help others. Tamar is a freelance editor, consultant and the author of PsychWriter – a fun, informative hub of information on character development, the science of story and how to engage readers, and the author of the best-selling Grit for Writers. She is also a multi award-winning author of young adult romance, creating stories about finding life and love beyond our comfort zones. You can check out Tamar’s books at her website.