Michaeline: Grit

Pieter van der Heyden, 1562

It takes grit and hard work and all sorts of crazy stuff to make a pearl.

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.

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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?

12 thoughts on “Michaeline: Grit

  1. I don’t think tough times produce better writing (or better anything) but I think the experience of coping with tough times, hitting rock bottom and not giving up, persevering until things get better, gives us the inspiration to help us cope the next time we hit a gritty patch. We have evidence that we are strong enough to get through it and that when we do, good things will come. Like your gritty, lonely year.

    I think my writing is about 20% sheer joy, 20% screaming frustration, and 60% just putting one foot in front of the other until I get there. At the moment it seems to be options two and three only, so I’m thinking I must be due a flash of illumination some time soon 🙂

    • There’s that whole “suffer for your art” thing, Jilly. I think there may be something to it — if nothing else, the high from writing can be self-medicating. But, I think your point is more important: the more we practice getting through hard times, the better we get at it.

      20 percent sheer joy is a good percentage!

  2. I think going through these tougher times gives you more perspective on what we should be grateful for, and it gives us more a drive to push past those times. Experience is always a good thing, and once we go through a gritty time and come out the other side better for it, I think it helps us know we can do it again 😀

  3. I think Jilly’s numbers are about right.

    Lately I’ve been pushing to finish my draft and I’ve really, really struggled with my resolution. Every time I think I’ve got it, a plot hole emerges (thank you Jeanne E.) or the idea has been done to death, doesn’t resolve Cheyenne’s arc, or turns Hawk into a raving lunatic (mostly this). I’ve been spending a lot of time wondering if I’ve painted myself into an impossible corner and should give up.

    And then this morning, bam, illumination. I’ve white boarded it out and I really believe I’ve got the answer. No victory dance yet, because I won’t know until I get the scenes down, but I think I can finally finish Act III in an exciting but intelligent way that will satisfy the reader.

    I could have wrapped this thing up a month ago if I’d gone with a pat resolution (and I almost let my self-imposed deadline drive me to this), but I chose to go on even in the face of what felt like an impossible task.

    Writing is one of the most difficult things I’ve ever chosen to do. Struggling is an integral part of the process for me, but I choose to do it because I love it.

    • We should have a ‘like’ button for comments! Very excited for your resolution, Kat, and can’t wait to hear more when you’ve got your scenes on paper.

      It’s encouraging to hear, too, because I’m currently battling my way scene by scene and I keep waiting for the brainwave that hasn’t come yet. Maybe tomorrow!

    • This is really exciting, Kat!

      Somewhere, in one of those books we read for class I think, a manual mentioned not settling for the first idea. The advice said keep pushing, and about the seventh idea, the really interesting solutions start coming up.

      My first draft endings tend to be underthought — I feel the end coming, and everything wraps up so quickly, I can barely keep up with the words coming. (-: The fourth or fifth draft endings have been more complete.

  4. I write and edit for a living, so I pretty much more or less (how about that for qualifiers?) like writing all the time. Even when things go badly, I know the next day when I get up, I often see the resolution to the problem. That’s one reason I’m so edgy with these scenes I can’t figure out. I’m not going with the flow and then checking my work the next day. Something is just off, so I’m more frustrated than usual. But I think in time, I’ll get my mojo back. That’s the other thing—that one-foot-in-front-of-the-other process really does see results!

    • I think this is a hugely important point, Kay: that you’ve been through the struggle, and you know there’s a pay-off waiting for you.

      (-: The only way I can get to that point is by going through the struggle and consistently getting the reward.

      • Guess what? Yesterday I said I was waiting for the brainwave that hadn’t come yet. I’ve been picking and pushing at it for weeks (months, maybe since McD, even) and it’s been driving me absolutely nutso. Well, maybe Kat’s mojo crossed the Atlantic, because I think (touch wood, fingers crossed, don’t want to say too much), I just figured it out. I have a lot of details to fill in, but I think it works. In the world of advertising, they’d have said the idea ‘has legs’. VERY excited (and relieved) now!

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