Why Having Grit is So Important for Writers … and Three Ways to Improve Yours [Guest Post]

This is a guest post from Tamar Sloan, registered psychologist, and author of Grit for Writers, plus several romance books.

You can find her website at TamarSloan.com and her blog about writing at PyschWriter.com.au

Writing can feel wonderful. 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, there’s the feeling of creating something that no one else has before. Every one of those feelings is rewarding … and necessary for our long-term writing mojo. They drive us to keep on creating.

But the road to publication is littered with unfinished manuscripts, dejected hearts, and writers wondering if they should turn around and head home. Success in the writing game is more of a marathon than a sprint, and our motivation tends to wax and wane.

Rejection from agents and publishers, slow sales, negative reviews, and that most insidious underminer, self-doubt, are all hurdles every writer will face.

Despite what some of the loudest voices out there are promising, it’s not an easy industry to succeed in. 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 isn’t simply something you’re born with. It’s more 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 innate talent or intelligence in the long run.

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.

The foundation of grit is the right mindset. Our writing success depends on the framework in which we view ourselves and our writing.

A “gritty” mindset reframes and focuses the thinking we need to adopt, the passion we need to tap into, to keep reaching towards our dreams.

I’m going to take you through three key ingredients of grit. Get these right, and you’ve got a foundation of resilience and willingness to work towards your goals of writing success.

Think about which of these you’re already doing well at … and which you might want to work on during the next few weeks.

Ingredient #1: A Sense of Purpose

We feel a sense of purpose when what we do matters to people other than ourselves.

Our short stories, poems,books, scary, moving, funny, touching fiction are all for the reader, not just for ourselves (otherwise we’d be happy for them to remain in our computers). Ultimately, we create them to entertain, to inspire, to provoke what-ifs, to elicit emotions, to broaden horizons, to challenge perspectives.

That drive is about touching others.

Connecting to why we write allows us to be persistent in our goals and resilient when we experience setbacks because we feel inspired by something bigger than ourselves. Ask yourself—how does my writing contribute to others?

Ingredient #2: Optimism

Optimism is the expectation that tomorrow will be better than today. But grit takes the vague ‘here’s hoping tomorrow will be better’ and moves into the sphere of our control.

Hope within the framework of grit is based on the expectation that our own efforts can improve our future. And the area that we have complete control of is our perception.

As we experience the ups and downs and highs and lows of any writing journey, it’s important to remember that psychology has consistently demonstrated that how we view a situation will make a difference to how we feel, and how we act.

Optimists – those that hold onto hope – see events differently. What’s more, they see failure differently.

I always encourage people to reflect on where they sit on the pessimism-optimism continuum, and how it makes a difference to their writing success. This type of hope targets our perception and locus of control when it comes to our writing success.

Ingredient #3: Growth Mindset

Discovering and implementing a growth mindset was a game-changer for my writing career.

Those with a growth, rather than a fixed, mindset believe that their abilities can grow with effort. They understand that when they are learning or doing something new and challenging, that hard work can help them accomplish their goals.

Growth mindset is empowering and motivating, and the key to many a successful writer (possibly all?). Ask yourself this—when you last experienced a setback, did you think it was a sign that you didn’t have what it takes, or did you see it as an opportunity to learn?

(For more on growth mindsets, try Carol Dweck’s book Mindset.)


Ali adds…

I’m with Tamar about the importance of grit. I’ve met lots of writers over the years: some had obvious raw talent, but never got very far because they struggled to ever finish a piece. Others perhaps weren’t naturally gifted writers, but they constantly worked to improve … and they kept on writing, finishing, editing and eventually publishing their work.

Are you missing one of the key ingredients of grit in your writing life? How could you work on it over the next few weeks? Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments below.

Also, don’t forget to check out Tamar’s blog PsychWriter (“where psychology meets writing”) for lots of great posts covering topics like motivation, grit, and how to develop characters with rich and interesting inner lives.

Three Ridiculous Moans from New Writers … and How I’d Respond

Most writers are reasonably pragmatic about the realities of writing. While they might daydream (secretly or not-so-secretly) about their talent being “discovered” by someone prominent in the writing industry … they know that’s not really going to happen.

Occasionally, though, I come across fairly new writers whose expectations are so far removed from reality that they’re genuinely unreasonable. I’ve seen these views expressed on blogs, on social media, and letters to magazines.

Three moans that I’ve seen come up again and again relate to:

  • Agents and unsolicited manuscripts
  • Friends and family
  • Professional writers

Here they are … and here’s why I think they’re (at least somewhat) ridiculous.

Continue reading »

How to Be a More Disciplined Writer

In this month’s newsletter, I’ve been writing a short weekly article about procrastination and resistance, and I wanted to carry on this theme in today’s blog post. If you’re missing out on the newsletter, click here to find out about it – the link will open in a new tab so you don’t lose your place here!

Over the years – particularly since I started working for myself – I’ve done a lot of reading and thinking about procrastination and resistance. There’s no denying that they’re very real forces, and that they can be particularly destructive for writers.

(Before I get too far into this post, I should make it clear that I’m definitely not perfect! I have days when I spend far too much time reading Buzzfeed or TV Tropes when I should be writing…)

While some people like to imagine writers working in bursts of frenzied inspiration, the reality doesn’t generally look like that.

There might be wonderful moments of flow – I’ve certainly had writing sessions where I lost track of time because I was so focused on putting words on the page – but a lot of the time, being a writer is about sitting down and getting on with it. Even when you don’t feel “inspired”.

Whether you’re a freelancer, a novelist, a poet, or a student, you’ll be a more successful writer if you’re more disciplined about your writing.

What does that mean in practice?

Continue reading »

How to Set Up an Email List – For Free

Whatever you write, and whether or not you have a blog or even a website, it’s a great idea to have an email list.

You might have heard this called an “email newsletter” or “mailing list” – it’s basically the same thing. The idea is that you let interested readers enter their email address on your site, so you can send them updates.

Some writers and bloggers do this on a regular basis, with a weekly or monthly “newsletter”. Others just email when they’ve got a particular bit of news to share – like a new book coming out.

It’s up to you how you use your email list … but it’s crucially important that you have one.

Continue reading »

Do You Need to Take (Yet Another) Writing Course? Here’s Why it Might be a Bad Idea

Over the years, I’ve taken quite a few writing courses and classes, both online and in person. They’ve ranged from afternoon workshops to a two year part-time Masters degree.

On the whole, the courses I’ve taken have been very helpful.

But I know just how easy it can be to think that another course (or class, or conference) might be The Answer.

If you want to make money writing – which many people do! – then it may seem perfectly sensible to take a course, particularly one that suggests it’ll lead to financial reward.

Continue reading »

What Are Content Mills … and Why Should Freelancers Avoid Them?

If you’ve been around freelance writing world, you’ve probably heard the phrase “content mills”.

So what the heck is a content mill?

It’s a large website that offers lots of low-paid writing gigs – either writing for the website itself or with third-party clients.

“Content mill” is a somewhat pejorative term, so you won’t hear sites proudly proclaiming “we’re a content mill – come and work with us!”

I don’t imagine any new freelancer starts out thinking that they’d love to write for peanuts … but sadly, many fall into that trap. They look for writing jobs online, and they come across a content mill; they sign up, with the promise of easy, regular writing work … and they end up making an incredibly low rate, like $5/hour.

Continue reading »

How to Create a Free Blog or Website: A Step-by-Step Guide for Writers

Most writers, at some point, will want a website.

You might use your website:

  • As a way to promote your writing services (e.g. copywriting, freelance writing, editing, or proofreading).
  • As a resource for a creative writing group (e.g. letting members / new members know about meetings).
  • As a place to let readers know more about you and your novels, and perhaps to encourage them to join your email list.
  • As a blog where you write about writing … or about another topic altogether.
  • As a place to publish your work or other people’s work, like an online journal or literary magazine.
  • … or perhaps you have a different idea altogether!

Whatever you want a website for, there’s a good chance that:

  • You’d ideally like it to be free (especially if it’s more like a hobby than part of your business).
  • You want it to be simple to set up and to maintain.

Why I Recommend WordPress.Com for Your Website or Blog

I’ve been creating websites for 16 years now, and I remember the days when I had to hand-code everything in HTML. For the past nine years, I’ve been using WordPress for almost all my websites.

Whether you’re new to websites or already have one (or more!), WordPress is a great option. Many, many websites run on WordPress – including lots of big ones like ProBlogger and Copyblogger.

While WordPress is a great tool for blogging, your website doesn’t have to have a blog. You can use WordPress to make a “static” site (one that’s only updated occasionally, without a blog/news section) if you want.

You may already know that there are two types of WordPress to choose from … and I know this is where a lot of writers get a bit stuck!

Your options are:

  • WordPress.COM – your website is hosted for you (you don’t have to pay for web hosting) but your options are a bit more limited.
  • WordPress.ORG – you have full flexibility, but you need to pay for your own hosting and there’s a bit more of a learning curve when it comes to setting up and maintaining your site.

You may have heard that it’s best to use WordPress.org because it’s more professional and you get full control over everything.

Personally, I think WordPress.com is fine for the vast majority of writers creating a straightforward website … and anyway, you can transfer over from WordPress.com to WordPress.org in the future, if you feel the need to.

Here’s how to set up your website on WordPress:

Continue reading »

Why Your Self-Published Book Needs a Professional Cover


One of the two crucial things that indie / self-publishing authors should pay for is cover design. (The other is editing.)

Here are six different covers.

Which ones do you think are self-published?


(All of these are taken from the September 2016 and October 2016 editions of Joel Friedlander’s e-Book Cover Design Awards. I decided to use covers from these Awards as the authors or designers had already submitted them for critique, and I chose Awards from last year so that if those authors had wanted to make changes based on Joel’s comments, they’ve had a chance to do so!)

Continue reading »

Is it OK to Use Swear Words in Your Writing?


Swearing. Cussing. Strong / bad / foul language. Whatever you want to call it … can you use it in your writing?


It’s your writing, and you can do whatever you want!

Of course, there are reasons you might decide against swearing, or reasons why you might moderate your language in different contexts.

Here are a few things to consider.

Continue reading »

The Four Essential Qualities You Need for Freelance Writing Success (and How to Develop Them)


How do you know if you’re going to make it as a freelancer?

I’ve been freelancing for eight and a half years now, and to be honest, there were times early on where I thought maybe I wasn’t cut out for it!

Over that time, I’ve seen lots of freelancers thrive … and I’ve seen others give up and return to the world of employment. (And, of course, there’s nothing wrong with that. Freelancing certainly isn’t for everyone.)

Assuming you really want to succeed as a freelancer, though, what qualities do you need … and how can you develop them? I’ll go through the four that I think are most essential, but I’d love to hear your take in the comments!

Continue reading »