This week, I listened to an All Things Considered podcast about how it’s more important for students to learn to accept failure and get past it than for them to have a natural aptitude.
Whether it is school, or it is writing, natural talent is only going to take you so far. What’s going to take you the rest of the way is grit: the ability to fail, and get up again and try again.
In high school, I was one of the brains – I had a very good memory, and that allowed me to sail through a lot of academic challenges. But when I got to college, things were a bit different – I had to come up with living expenses and maintain a good grade average to keep my scholarships. And for the first time, really, the people evaluating me were asking me to actually apply those memorized bits of knowledge. It was terribly hard. A good memory doesn’t mean you are going to be good at balancing your life. I even wound up donating plasma for $10 a shot a couple of times to make ends meet.
The grittiest thing I have ever done is apply to teach in Japan. I was living in a cheap neighborhood, and working part-time jobs to pay the rent and for an interview suit and the trip to Kansas City for the job interview. It was a very gritty year, on my own, and after I got that job, I basically coasted for years, relieved that I wasn’t constantly irritated by money woes and schizophrenic neighbors. But looking back, that gritty year is one of the things I’m most proud of in my life.
I’ve been approaching writing as a no-grit situation. I love the fun high I get with writing (or receiving from the muses) a really good paragraph. But writing a book, having it published, also requires the grit. Have I struggled with my book today? If I haven’t, maybe I haven’t done any meaningful writing, either. Struggle is a good thing.
On the other hand, too much grit can cause a writer (or anyone, really) to close down and stop doing things. What’s your grit to pleasure ratio when you are writing? Do you find that those gritty times produce better writing, or are they simply something to be endured until the good writing times come back?