“Heroes are never perfect, but they’re brave, they’re authentic, they’re courageous, determined, discreet, and they’ve got grit.” – Wade Davis
I like the word “grit”. It even sounds dirty and rough. Mind, behave!
Besides its basic meaning like sand or gravel it can also be used to describe trait. That of the person who goes through hardship and fear sticks to their conviction or mission.
For creatives this usually means putting in the time to do the not-so-fun stuff like practice, edit, research and so on.
Now, this isn’t to say that grit is THE trait to have. We need to look at where we stand right now and how we can build more of it. We’ve touched on these things before so check out this experiment from the world of videogames!
A fellow writer, Vilhelmina, was talking about remixing classical music (going off on tangents is such a wonderful source of inspiration!) which in turn lead me to think about Beethoven (specifically this song) and as I was going to write about grit anyway it just seemed like the perfect example! Thanks for that one!
In his book “Human, All Too Human” Nietzsche writes about his thoughts on inspiration. He includes a mention of Beethoven’s notebooks. While we might not agree with all that he is saying, it might help us to know how Beethoven actually worked.
Artists have an interest in the existence of a belief in the sudden occurrence of ideas, in so-called inspirations; as though the idea of a work of art, a poem, the basic propositiion of a philosophy flashed down from heaven like a ray of divine grace.
In reality, the imagination of a good artist or thinker is productive continually, of good, mediocre and bad things, but his power of judgement, sharpened and practised to the highest degree, rejects, selects, knots together; as we can now see from Beethoven’s notebooks how the most glorious melodies were put together gradually and as it were culled out of many beginnings.
He who selects less rigorously and likes to give himself up to his imitative memory can, under the right circumstances, become a great improviser, but artistic improvisation is something very inferior in relation to the serious and carefully fashioned artistic idea.
All great artists have been great workers, inexhaustible not only in invention but also in rejecting, sifting, transforming, ordering.
Well, that’s an eyeful. Let’s break it down!
First he says that artists want to keep up the appearance of that “eureka moment”. I don’t agree.
He goes on to say that putting in time and hard work is needed. Agreed, to a certain extent. Let’s leave some room for working intuitively here too. Some things just come together really easily when we’re on a roll.
What he says next is basically “good artists copy, great artists steal”, then remix it and bam! You’ve got yourself a brand new thing. He also gives an elbow to people who work intuitively. Hey, as long as the end result is good, who gives a damn?
Freddie’s right, it’s better to be one of those who grind it out and turn up each and every day instead of waiting for inspiration to strike. However, we can’t lock ourselves into this mindset either.
What Nietzsche doesn’t mention are Beethoven’s habits. He’d get up and grind exactly 60 beans per cup of coffee (no OCD here, move along), get to work, have something to eat and go out for a long walk afternoon walk with his sheets of music. He didn’t work on music during the evenings and went to bed before 22:00. Apparently bathing and the washing of hands were really important as well. He’d spill so much water on the floor that it started leaking through to the apartment below.
Why do I include this? Because we rarely get to see behind the “genius” of the work and get to know what else informs their creativity. From these things we can get to know how he operated and also see if there MIGHT be a reason other than pure work ethic to his success. This doesn’t mean that we should write these people off as kooks, just that we might do better in trying to understand the whole person behind the work.
Want to see if you’ve got what it takes? Take the “Grit Survey” in this link: https://www.authentichappiness.sas.upenn.edu/testcenter
Or you can take this one: http://www.sas.upenn.edu/~duckwort/images/12-item%20Grit%20Scale.05312011.pdf
Like Nietzsche pointed out Beethoven worked very methodically. If you’d like to incorporate a bit of that yourself you can do the following!
Get yourself three notebooks.
One is for those rough ideas, just to get them down. This is one you should be able to carry with you. These days you’ve probably got your phone, maybe that’ll do but I find the act of using a pencil more stimulating. Analog rules, ok?
The second one is where you play around with the rough ideas. Elaborate, change it up, make alternate versions and so on.
In the third one you’ve got your idea developed so far as to be a “finished” version. Well, at least before the final touches and shipping!
We’ve been verbose enough for one day so here are some gritty visual aids to check out!
The Long Game Part 1: Why Leonardo da Vinci Was No Genius
The Long Game Part 2: The Missing Chapter
Angela Lee Duckwort: The Key To Success? Grit
Angela Lee Duckworth: Will Power, Grit, Self-Control And Achievement