In my mind, grit lit always conjured up an image of a rugged outdoorsman standing at the base of a dirt path that runs narrowly into a thick forest. His jeans are worn and his boots, scuffed around the edges, grind into the ground with a subtle but definite crunch. Basically, he’s an old frontiersman, or cowboy, or All-American tough guy. It’s a little cliché, or stereotypical, I know, but it’s the truth.
Ever since I discovered Jim Harrison’s work, I’ve been drawn to this grit lit subgenre or literature. There’s a certain resilience about it, a natural vigor that makes no excuses and calls it like it is. But what is it about this grit that is so appealing to writers?
The answer to that question lies in the definition of the word.
According to Merriam-Webster, grit is “firmness of mind or spirit” or “unyielding courage in the face of hardship or danger.” This is likely what most people think of when they think about the term, and when it comes to the grit lit subgenre, these are the traits that predominantly show.
But there’s another definition of grit, in regard to psychology, that I’m interest in. Angela Duckworth from the University of Pennsylvania put it concisely in a Psychology Today article: “Grit is the tendency to sustain interest in and effort toward very long-term goals.” In her TED Talk, shown below, she goes on to say, “Grit is sticking with your future, day in and day out — not just for the week, not just for the month, but for years.”
While we tend to focus on the common definition of grit, this psychological definition takes the word to a new lengths — and reflects the qualities that drove authors like Jim Harrison, the qualities that continue to inspire me. It’s the definition that more people should be made aware of and one that should be used more regularly.
As writers, this is how we endure. Without this sustained vision of our work and without the passion that drives the long hours, we would not persevere. It takes battling rejection — constantly — and finding the strength to continue writing, because you need to, and because there’s a fire inside that won’t soon be doused.
Keep this in mind the next time you’re writing. Let your grit drive you.
Here is Angela Duckworth’s full TED Talk: