Tom HIlbert, the coach of the Colorado State University volleyball team, posted a Weekend Ted Talk. The talk, via The Huffington Post, was titled The Key to Success. The CSU Rams are currently one of two undefeated teams in D-1 volleyball in the nation and are ranked #10. I’m suspecting one of the reasons Tom found this talk interesting is its relation to the team and the fact that they keep finding ways to win when this year had been presented as a rebuilding year. Friday night’s game was played against Air Force, our instate conference foe. The Falcons are perennial bottom dwellers in the conference standings. CSU is 41-1 against them, having last lost in 1982. While watching the cadets battle us on Friday, I turned to the woman sitting next to me and said, “They play with grit.” Even though they had to know they were likely to lose, they kept playing without a hang-dog attitude. One very long rally earned the respect of the crowd and they were given a round of applause.
The aforementioned TED talk suggests that IQ isn’t a good measure of success but grit is. What does it mean to have grit? Merriam-Webster online defines it as “mental toughness and courage.” Dictionary.com includes pluck, an indomitable spirit, and firmness of character. The lecturer, Angela Lee Ducksworth, defines grit as the passion and perseverance to accomplish long-term goals, or working hard to make dreams or goals a reality.
I never feel bad when CSU beats AF, mostly because I know these players have a chance to be successful in other areas of life, partly due to their grit, but obviously, grit in this instance does not guarantee success in volleyball. My question is, does it equal success in writing?
Ms Lee Ducksworth states many talented individuals do not meet with success, just as there are many smart people who are not successful. Submitting writing for publication is the one area of writing that I would agree requires grit. When you are faced with a deluge of rejection, you have to be able to get back up and resubmit. One other quality of grit that is mentioned in the short lecture is that those who demonstrate it do not believe failure is a permanent condition. Definitely a necessary characteristic to have as a writer. Most published authors had to exhibit some amount of grit in order to obtain the state of publication. One of the few successful authors who comes to mind who did not have the grit to continue to seek publication is John Kennedy Toole. Confederacy of Dunces,
the 1981 Pulitzer Prize winner, would be considered successful by most criteria, although the same may not be said for the author since he committed suicide prior to the book’s acceptance. It was his mother who exhibited grit in her determination to get his book published.
What about other aspects of writing? Does it take grit to finish a novel? A short story or poem? Or is the grit in the editing and rewriting? And even if you have the grit, say, to finish Nanowrimo, we all know that 50,000 words does not equate with success in publication. Possibly we could use the mentality that those who are successful have the grit to revise and rewrite to the point that their work is accepted and published. Certainly that is one type of grit, the determination to be published no matter what, and by that definition, anyone who is unwilling to conform to the exacting demands of agents/publishers/genres may not have the grit necessary for publication. Of course it is necessary to be flexible enough to listen to the critiques of others, but to some degree it seems to me that saying that an author who has spent time and effort concocting the best piece of writing of which they are able who is still not able to find a route to publication lacks grit, is an example of blaming the victim. Often you hear that if you are good enough and have worked at perfecting your craft, you will find success. If that is true, then someone who doesn’t find success did not maintain grit long enough.
This unsuccessfully published individual might still have had the grit to finish a novel or other piece of writing, but does having a finished product equate with success?
If you are a talented author with the will to complete a piece of writing and the grit to seek publication, are you guaranteed success? I think there are plenty of us out there who would respond no. What other factors are involved in writing (as in publishing) success and do they require grit in some form?