Monday, May 15, 2017

Becoming a writer: Why knowing your strengths and weaknesses MATTERS


Are you feeling discouraged and thinking of giving up?  Or maybe you’re thinking about writing something but you just can’t get started?  Maybe you figure it won’t come out right – so why even bother.  Does any of that sound like you?

Maybe you just don’t know what you’re good at.

I talk a lot on this site about not just writing a book (just one book?) but about becoming a writer – looking at writing as a career (even if you already have a career!).  And part of becoming a writer is figuring out what you’re great at doing… and what doesn’t come so easily for you.

I think I’m good at writing – but when it comes to marketing, which is a big part of being a writer today (like it or not), I don’t think that’s one of my strengths.  What about you?

What are you super-good at?  I bet you know already, but maybe you haven’t spent enough time basking in it.  This could be something you’ve heard from a whole bunch of people.  Maybe you’re secretly proud but don’t want to seem like you’re gloating.

Take the time to enjoy your strengths.  In the table below, you’ll find a bunch of different writing tasks and you’ll have a chance to see exactly how many things you are probably quite good at doing.

Unfortunately, unlike in many careers, you can’t just work on a sub-specialty and ignore the rest.  You will eventually have to deal with everything I’ve listed in the table below – and then some.  But there are some very good reasons to go into writing with your eyes open – with a keen awareness of your own strengths and weaknesses.

Why figure out your strengths?

Identifying your strengths makes you feel good about yourself!  I’m not big into self-esteem just for self-esteem’s sake.  But if you genuinely ARE good at something, you deserve

to know about it.  Here are a few other reasons:
  • You can offer help to others – which in turn will make you even stronger!
  • You can build on your strengths – if you know you’re good at something, you can do more of it in your writing.
  • Pat yourself on the back:  maybe you’ve worked hard to build that skill, whatever it is, and you should be proud.
  • Feeling good about your strengths can carry you through moments of discouragement.

Why figure out your weaknesses?

You should definitely not identify your weaknesses simply to make yourself feel bad or wallow in what you can’t do.  But there are a few reasons it can help to identify what you’re not so good at:

  • To recognize that you face these challenges – and increase your patience with yourself (and any expectations you might have that you should be perfect at everything!)
  • You can work on improving whatever’s not great right now
  • You can (to some extent) avoid the things you’re not so good at
  • You can hire somebody to help you with some aspects that might not be strong for you – like editing!

If you look at E. H. Shepard’s original illustrations for the Winnie-the-Pooh books, you’ll notice that there aren’t a lot of faces.  I like to think it’s because he wasn’t very good at drawing them (I think I remember reading that somewhere, but I can’t be sure!)


There are a lot of side views and back views.  There are a lot of 1/4 profiles.  But I can’t seem to find a lot of full-on front-face images.

Even if it’s not true about E. H. Shepard, it can be true for you – by knowing your strengths and weaknesses, you can emphasize what you’re great at, and (sometimes, just sometimes!) you can get by with doing less of what you don’t excel at.

Take a look at this table.  I’ve broken down a whole bunch of writing-type tasks, in no particular order. 

Now put a big mental checkmark next to the ones you think you do really well… and maybe a gentle circle around those you need to work on.  Remember, nobody can do it all – there are lots of these that I suck at, and maybe you do, too.

Making time to write Completing a draft
Dialogue Plot
Getting unstuck Rhyme
Spelling Punctuation
Outlining First draft
Believability Creativity
Imagination Realism
Character development Setting
Emotional depth Sensory details
Editing Revising
Illustration Design & layout
Polished final draft Patience
Finding an agent/editor Self-publishing
Marketing Promotion

This is definitely not a complete list.  Can you think of any more???  (I’d love to hear from you in the Comments.)

Figure out what you’re good at… and what doesn’t come so easily.  Ask for help at the things you don’t do well.  Find a teacher, for example, to help you build tight, compelling plots.  Find a course that will help you create realistic dialogue.  Find an editor you can pay to tighten your prose and make it sing.  Build a great team to help make your writing the best it can possibly be.

With enough work, you may just find that the things you once thought of as weaknesses have suddenly become strengths.  And that’s another great reason to pay attention to your strengths and weaknesses: so you can turn around (someday soon), look back, and see how far you’ve come.

I’d love to hear your tips for building on strengths and weaknesses… leave them for me in the Comments below!

1 comment:

As always, I love to hear from you.