Issue 56 - The Psychology of Writing - Break Through and Find Your Writing Happiness, Susan K. Perry, Elizabeth Ayers, Martine Leavitt

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“According to conventional wisdom, highly successful people have three things in common: motivation, ability, and opportunity. If we want to succeed, we need a combination of hard work, talent, and luck.” ~ Adam Grant

This quote by organizational psychologist and author Adam Grant hangs above my desk in my home office. I like Grant’s repeating parallels—don’t they quite drive his message home? Just in case you’ve any question about the meanings, the author carefully explains them through the analogous second sentence: motivation-hard work, ability-talent, opportunity-luck. What most interests me here is the first pair, though—motivation and hard work. These are similar in my mind to my favorite characteristic—tenacity.

I’ve no doubt in my mind that tenacity is absolutely necessary for any writing career. Sending out just one more query, proofing that blog post just one more time, or pushing through one more chapter will set you up for the success you want.

Here are five ways to actively cultivate a tenacious disposition and to apply tenacity to your writing career.

“Practice tenacity in small doses.”

Choose Projects With Balance in Mind

As a new freelance editor many years ago, I took on two projects that provided me with a lesson about growing a tenacious mindset.

One was an edit of a massive legal document, replete with completely foreign (to me) references, odd language, and difficult, meandering phrasing. It was way over my head and a very bad project decision on my part.

At about the same time, I took on an edit of a scientific document about solar energy with similar issues. It was a beast, but my background allowed me to push through and tackle it successfully (and the client rehired me several times). The document was a reach for me, but it was not impossible.

The scientific document allowed me to practice tenacity in a controlled way. The legal document set me up for failure. Like I stated above, this particular characteristic can be purposefully practiced—but don’t overdo yourself. Don’t overreach. Practice tenacity in small doses, with difficult but doable rewards and goals at the end, and you’ll begin to own it.

Control Your Environment

Discipline is often a tenuous thread. Many a novelist or freelancer is often hanging in there by the fingernails. That’s why a supportive, distraction-free environment and mindset is so important.

Whether you’re a freelancer with set hours or a moonlighter with just a squeeze here and there, be purposeful when you sit down to write. Dedicate yourself to it: “Now, I’m going to put an hour into that article.” Any waffling on your part will be used against you.

In addition, do everything in your power to make your writing area inspirational, quiet, and distraction-free. Perhaps you don’t have a home office, but surely you’ve got a corner you can stare at? Headphones? Try to excise some modicum of control over environmental factors. You are practicing dedication, and distractions will undo that. Set yourself up for success.

“Consider the discrete parts of your craft. Know what they are. Approach them as portions of a whole.”

Know the Breakdown in Your Craft

Breaking down your craft (that is your particular genre or writing talent/interests) means that you can practice and cultivate tenacity in smaller chunks! And once you’ve gotten some small wins under your belt, they help stack you up to those bigger wins.

So consider the discrete parts of your craft. Know what they are. Approach them as portions of a whole. For example, writing an article often means researching, interviewing, composing, and editing. If you can carve out twenty minutes between the baby’s last bottle and your oldest’s bedtime to figure out whom the prime interviewee for an article would be and fire off a quick (but professional) e-mail to her, then you’ve got a success on your hands. You practiced dedication, and next time it’ll be that much easier.

Prepare for the Costs

Practicing a dedicated commitment to your writing career isn’t going to be easy, nor free. There are unique costs for each of us.

As a freelancer, I was hard hit by the loneliness inherent in working at home after a family member moved out. Yet, I was dedicated to squeezing a full seven-hour workday out of each weekday, which meant no commuting to shared workspaces or parking myself at the Starbucks. Perhaps, as an aspiring nonfiction author, you’re going to be surprised by jealous teens who are used to your every free moment, or the guilt that hits you when you realize you forgot to turn in that report you promised to your boss the night before.

Some of the preparation for these costs is as simple as entertaining the thought that these things might happen, so as not to be blindsided. Others have preventative measures or solutions that you can pursue. That will require some brainstorming on your part. The point here is that there is a cost to doggedly pursuing your writing career. What is it?

Get Inspired

Now, I have a confession. I follow the careers of a couple interesting freelance writers, and it’s not out of respect. It’s out of envy. I want to get to where they are. That’s a kind of inspiration.

On the flip side, Grant’s quote also inspires me. I recognize in myself some talent and a whole lot of fortunate, lucky opportunity. When I see I have two-thirds of Grant’s formula, that makes me want to sit down and practice some writing tenacity!

Who or what inspires you? Follow fellow writers. Subscribe to their blogs. Tweet with them. Like them on Google+. Let their work push your work. Read their advice and tape it above your desk. Let their successes make you want to sit in your desk chair and stay there. Sometimes half of tenacity is just getting started, right?

There are several reasons that success—in any career—comes to only a small percentage of those who try. Tenacity is one of the characteristics that can tip the scales for you. Cultivating tenacity will help the writer to add just one more chapter, write just 1000 more words, or pitch just one more magazine before her work period is done. Growing and developing your tenacity is an active undertaking—and one that will require some purposefulness on your part. But the return value is very much worth it!


Allena Tapia specializes in writing for the education market and Latino topics. She also provides editing and translation services. Find her at GardenWall Publications ( and Freelance Writing (


Previous columns:

The Three Steps to Starting Your Freelance Editing Business

The Gatekeepers: A Guide to the Deciders on Your Writing Journey

Sowing and Reaping: Are You Getting These Benefits of Blogging?

Choose Your Own Adventure: The Many Paths of Freelance Writing

Own It or Outsource It: The Writer's Guide to DIY Decisions

Smart, Not Saturated: Social Media Solutions for Writers


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