Writers in the Storm

A blog about writing

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September 17, 2012

Discovering and Building Your Writing Strengths ~ A New Series...

This week, Writers In The Storm is kicking off a new series for the Fall...sort of a "Be All That You Can Be" series for writers. The inaugural post comes out on Wednesday.

In honor of this, our own Jenny Hansen gave us today's blog about discovering what you're good at and doing it!

What Are Your Strengths?


As a corporate software trainer, I’ve got to be ON each day I’m in the classroom.

It doesn’t matter whether I was up all night with a screaming baby or if my best friend and I had a fight. Nobody cares about those things when they come in for a day of Word or Excel or leadership training. They’re focused on what they need to learn and it’s my job to deliver.

There are personality types who would hate my job. They’d get tired by all that “on” business. I see it a little differently. Every day that I walk into the classroom, I know:

  • All my problems get checked at the door.
  • I’m going to provide a service.
  • I’m going to have a fun day.
  • I’ll get to see people learn, and light up over what they learn.

Do you see a trend with perks I listed above? It’s me, me, I, I. Even though it doesn’t look like it. Training is a vacation from my own busy head where I get to focus on other people. It works for me because it plays on some of my innate strengths.

Let me explain what that means.

I went to a training conference last year that changed the way I see the world, especially the creative world. The keynote presentation -- “Building a Strengths-Based Organization” -- shined light on a disturbing trend:

Society, starting with our schools and continuing through our workplace management teams, puts a mighty amount of focus on improving our weaknesses.

After hearing some speakers at that conference, I started thinking crazy thoughts....

What might happen if these organizations put the same amount of energy in developing peoples’ strengths?

What kind of mountains could we move as writers if we applied our efforts toward being stellar at the things we’re good at, rather than focusing all our energy on our “faults?”

I’m not talking about turning into a bunch of narcissists who can do no wrong. I’m talking about making it a primary goal to discover your innate strengths and spend more time playing to them.

Finding your strengths:

We did an exercise in the conference pre-session where we listed the things we were good at – we had 60 seconds to scribble them down off the top of our head. We were directed to find the skills we’d always been good at.

[Go ahead, grab a piece of paper and scribble yours down. We'll wait. Stop thinking! Just start scribbling a list of the things that are easiest for you, whether they have to do with writing or not. You can do a writing-specific one later if you want.]

Now stare at that list and be honest with yourself about how much focus you put on those talents. It's interesting to me that most people don’t “see” their innate skills as anything nifty or unusual. In other words, they don’t see their own "specialness."

Back to the conference...

The abilities people came up with were amazing – there was so much talent in that room and the majority of it was not being used the workplace, where we spend at least 50% of our waking hours. How sad is that? These abilities were being relegated to the hobby side of the fence.

I did that with my writing for years.

Just to give you an example, my innate strengths, in no particular order, were:
Writing, teaching, motivating others, doing hair and learning software.

I felt extremely lucky when I looked at my list.

Life pushed me early into a job I am uniquely suited for. Except for the “doing hair” part, my innate strengths describe the perfect software trainer. No wonder training feels so easy…it draws on at least three areas of my innate strengths, so it doesn’t feel like work.

This brings me to another worrisome trend:

I’ve noticed a disturbing trait that’s common to creative people, in this case writers. Many writers seem to think that, because they have weak areas, they're bad writers.


I have a question for you perfectionists:
Why is it acceptable for multiple attempts when learning to ride a bike, or dance the tango, or knit but it’s an “epic fail” to write a few books before you get good at it?

Note: Lots of first novels remain unpublished for a reason. They were practice for the other books. (If you're still in doubt, read Laura's Dust Bunny Books post.)

I don’t get why it’s expected to take years to learn a musical instrument but it’s not acceptable sit down at the writing page and have less-than-perfect prose fall from your fingertips.

It doesn’t mean you’re a slacker just because you like to do the things that come naturally to you. In fact, I’m going to take this further and issue you a challenge:

Pay attention to the things that are easy for you and try to do them more often. The easiest way to bring your “A” Game to your writing life is to play to your strengths.

In American League Baseball, they can use pinch hitters or pinch runners. Why can’t we do a little of that in our own writing groups? Here at Writers In The Storm we have:

  • Pinch World Builders (Fae Rowen)
  • Pinch Steamy Scene Pros (Sharla Rae)
  • Pinch Description Writers (Laura Drake)
  • Pinch Theme Builders (that would be me)

I've got several "writing weaknesses" that have driven me nuts for years. Until I went to this conference and got some perspective on this need for perfection.

My list of writing "weaknesses":

  • I can’t write a transition to save my life. I've had it take me an entire page to get my characters from an elevator to the front door of a building. (Yeah, that was embarrassing.)
  • I want to cover my eyes when my characters’ clothes come off.
  • I can’t figure out how to build a space world.
  • Fight scenes give me fits.
  • The thought of writing a full-length novel makes me sweat.

Does this make me a crappy writer? No! It just means that my strengths lie elsewhere. I have to go to my A-Team to get my “A” Game sometimes. And that’s OK.

I want to know when the Writing Police decided that we have to be great at every single aspect of our writing.

Even though the 400 page novel makes me sweat, writing a single scene gets me all fired up. That’s the way I’m wired. Writing short is fun, and falls into the playtime category. Writing long (as in a novel) is extremely hard for me. But, since it’s a dream of mine to publish novels, I keep at it. Plus, I'm learning Scrivener which is a scene writer's nirvana.

We need to keep learning and pushing ourselves...but maybe we can all get an early start on our New Year's resolutions and stop beating ourselves up over not being stellar at everything. Deal?

What are your innate strengths? I’m not talking about the things you’ve learned to be good at. What were you always good at? Share your uniqueness in the comments section – we want to hear about it.

Happy Writing!

p.s. One of the things I am good at is making people laugh. If you need a Monday giggle, hop over to More Cowbell where we're talking about Missed Connections. (Oh Lordy, these people are a crazy hot mess.)

About Jenny Hansen

Jenny fills her nights with humor: writing memoir, women’s fiction, chick lit, short stories (and chasing after the newly walking Baby Girl). By day, she provides training and social media marketing for an accounting firm. After 15 years as a corporate software trainer, she’s digging this sit down and write thing.
When she’s not at her blog, More Cowbell, Jenny can be found on Twitter at jhansenwrites and here at Writers In The Storm. Every Saturday, she writes the Risky Baby Business posts at More Cowbell, a series that focuses on babies, new parents and high-risk pregnancy.

0 comments on “Discovering and Building Your Writing Strengths ~ A New Series...”

  1. You're killing me on the 'Missed Connections' blog, Jenny. Wow, the world has changed since I got married 25 years ago! Funny to watch from the sidelines, though!!

    My strengths? To prove your point, it took me awhile to write anything. But I think they are:
    I love people
    I'm a cheerleader - motivator
    I'm a plodder - learn slow, but am relentless, and will not quit.

    Good thing you didn't ask for negatives - I think there's a word count restriction on comments...

    Can't wait for the new series!

    1. I love those qualities and they are all vastly helpful to your writing career. Also, on the Missed Connections post, did you vote in the poll?! We need your votes. 🙂

  2. Even though "compliant" didn't hit my list, I did skedaddle for paper and pen when you said to, Jenny. My strengths?

    People-lover (I draw energy from people)
    Comebacks and one-liners
    Logic Puzzles
    Problem Solving

    Yeah, I know. I'm scratching my head over those last two, too. But, I love doing them and I'm good at creative problem solving. So, perhaps the 400 page novel is a good path for me. And, that Scrivener software (second mention I've seen from you) sounds like something I could wrap my head around. Who do I know who might be able to train neophytes on proper usage? Thinking, thinking, thinking...

    I've stopped agonizing over how to make my glob both entertaining and informative. Posts have been tons easier since I decided to simply write about what hit my fun meter's inbox for the week.

    1. Gloria, I think your blog should only be for your strengths (which obviously is making people laugh).

      On the Scrivener training - no one will do a better job than Gwen...she wrote the book after all. But I will be doing several posts to help people find the groovy features. 🙂

  3. Great post, Jenny. I'm virtually your exact opposite. I'm not a people person, although I do enjoy my close friends. In truth, I'm basically a hermit. Home alone with only my laptop and my kitties for company is my version of heaven.

    As for writing, my strengths are historical research (I love digging up tiny details that help set the scene in my stories), plot building, emotional scenes, hot love scenes, and long books. Writing short stories is a toughy for me that I intend to overcome with a new series of shorts, which will actually be a serial romance that could go on for years. Ho-hum. See what I mean? I just seem to think in long, drawn-out plot lines.

    1. Isn't that so funny? And look how much we like each other. Differences make the world go round.

      I think it's important to work inside your strengths - your voice shines through that way. Plus, I think we'll be capitalizing on your historical research strength here at Writers In The Storm. 🙂

  4. Wonderful blog, Jenny. I'm a fixer, if someone has a problem I'll try to show them how to fix it. I'm great a dialogue. I'm funny, but only on paper. It's a very dry sense of humor that works well with my Regencies. I'm fast, I do everything fast. That's a blessing and a curse.

  5. Strengths. I'm a motivator, strong at networking, love to talk, able to take constructive criticism and utilize it, and I'm competitive (don't like to lose). I also tend to see the underlying reasons in why people do the things they do or react the way they do...sometimes it shines through to me from their body language, but more often it comes from the emotional vibe or instinctive read I get when I meet people. (not sure what to call that).

    1. Kitt, those are WONDERFUL strengths. You'll probably always enjoy your blog and going to writing conferences because it will keep you connected to people while you get your work done. Thanks for taking time to comment here at Writers In the Storm!!

  6. Love it! There is a personality test based on Strengths that focuses on developing exactly what you're already good at. I find that writing does allow me to do some things that I'm built for--big picture thinking, analysis and synthesis, language, etc.--but I struggle with other aspects, like time management and interview research. I feel like it's best to live your life mainly in those areas where you excel and then challenge yourself to develop little by little in other areas. Great post, Jenny.

    1. I've taken that test before, as has my hubby. He would have made a great truck driver. His #2 was a lawyer. My #1 was poet and my #2 was teacher. Interestingly, writer came after teacher.

      p.s. I struggle with a lot of the same areas you do.

  7. Excellent post, Jenny. I've seen so much about Scrivener lately, I may use it for my next book. My strength is creative analysis--analyze a creative form (writing, piano, painting, cooking etc) until I can master it.

  8. Really interesting, Jenny. You made me think. I agree about the failings of the school system to build up children. My oldest son went to a school (he lived with his dad by then so I had no say over it) where they did a 'streaming system'. So if you failed subjects or did poorly in certain areas, you were demoted to a lesser class. They went along the alphabet from A-Z, the best being nearer A. Once my boy was demoted the first time, his confidence went down, the second time he went down a class, his self-esteem plummeted. It was a losing game from there. When he left school, he was in class W. It still affects him negatively today.

    1. Oh, Yvette...I'm so sorry that happened to your son. I have a friend who just pulled her kids and of public school and entered him into CAVA (California Virtual Academy) because he just wasn't able to focus well in the regular school environment. She said he's doing wonderfully now.

      I think every child is different and the hardest part is figuring out what YOUR kid needs (before outside influences start jacking with the kid's head.

  9. A great way to start this new series, Jen. 🙂 As for strengths. I've always been a story teller. I used to travel and come home and tell my folks about the new places and my Mom always said I should be a travel writer because she could see the place in her head. As for writing, I think I see the big picture easily. I write good dialogue and I'm not half bad with action, sex scenes and those pesky transitions you mentioned. My weakness: While I love to plot, I'm sometimes way too practical and what-if the possibilities so much that I get stuck. What can I say? I'm a Cappy.

  10. I'm excited for this series, too, Jenny. My strengths? Logical reasoning (in a mathematical sense) helps me plot extensively in my head. I'm patient, sometimes too much. I persevere--but that's not really fair, because that's a common trait of mathematiciana. I'm musical. Like Sharla Rae, I tell stories. When I told them to my students, I didn't think they were humorous (they always had a moral!), but my students claimed I was sooo funny. And I'm a very good kitty mommie.
    Thanks for spearheading this series. We're going to have fun and learn a ton!
    Fae Rowen

  11. I am a big fan of Clifton Strengths Finder (http://www.strengthsfinder.com/) and have used it in my work to better understand the people who work on my team and how we work together. Over the past couple of years I've blogged a bit about my top five strengths (http://cornerkick.blogspot.com/search/label/strengths). I'm not sure why anyone would want to read those blog posts, but whatever. My top five strengths are apparently strategic thinking, ideation, connectedness, positivity, and relator. Which I guess is why I seem to be able to come up with rich plots that hang together and connect characters in deep, meaningful ways. I have very few "activation" strengths, though, so actually sitting down to get the work done is difficult!

    1. I've seen the Clifton Strengths finder and have taken the Kolbe. I should really look into whether or not we could do somehting with any of those here at the blog.

      Very cool, Peter! Thanks for taking time to comment!!

  12. I love the way this post and exercise is geared toward focusing on our positive abilities. This makes total sense to me. I'm always thinking I'm not good and this and that, when it comes to my writing and I never think about the parts that I'm good at. This is a great way for me to do more of what I'm good at instead of always being fearful that I'm not good enough at others.
    I needed this.

  13. Jenny, I needed a good laugh to get over the anxiety of moving and then losing all my contact with the outside world ... no cable/phone or internet.

    My strengths are absolutely dialogue and story ideas. I love people and love to hear the wonderful inflections in their speech. I told my first Tall Tale. The key is to listen to the lessons we all need to hear when we begin. There is a vast difference between my tall tales and a completed novel total strangers might read and enjoy.

    My advice to you? Keep laughing it up ... and stay focused on small ideas, chapters, change, and before you know it you will have a completed book. Thanks for another great post !!

    1. Thanks, Florence! You're a ray of sunshine here at WITS - our day simply isn't right until we see your face show up laughing. 🙂

      Yep, I've got to keep small and just write the next scene. It seems to be working for me, especially since I got Scrivener!

  14. Jenny, it took me forever to write anything down--that says a lot, doesn't it! Finally I got down: love to do historical research, good at languages, good cheerleader and motivator. I always test to be a writer or teacher.

    Accentuating the positive is a wonderful idea. Now I just need to figure out the next step! 🙂

    1. That DOES say alot. I'm glad you stared at your page long enough to get out of your own way. You are amazing, in ways I could never hope to be. Keep celebrating those strengths!

  15. What a great post Jenny! You are so right in that we're trained from an early age to focus on our weaknesses instead of our strengths. Because of that, I've always felt second class and never good enough for pretty much anything. Finally my mom told me that I needed to create a "Self-Esteem Journal" and in it write down anything and everything that lifted me up and made me feel valued.

    My strengths are:
    Research. I love, love, love it. That's comfort food in the writing realm, especially when I come across an obscure fact that I can write about.
    I'm a global thinker and can see the big picture.
    I like to teach people how to do things.
    I like to learn new software and do web design.
    I like to work behind the scenes and make the people I work with look good. Not sure if that's a throwback to my childhood but nevertheless, it brings me pleasure to do it and I've been told that I do it well.

    Oh, and I absolutely love Scrivener. I've tried nearly every other writing software out there and hands down, that one is the best. Now if I could just figure out what I should be doing with my blog...:)

  16. only just started reading this blog yesterday and I couldn't resist commenting. ok, let's see what I can come up with:

    researching - whether I need to look on tvtropes, wikipedia, history channel documentaries or my library databases, I know how to find things out and it's so much easier than trying to come up with something from thin air
    not being bored with tedious or repetitive work - very handy at my tedious job, once I get a rhythm going I can go all day
    making notes - somehow I can always write notes in my writing notebook that will still make sense a year later
    trivia - I am a queen at finding and remembering random facts like did you know that the reason that icebergs are white is because of bubbles? or that the sumerians invented writing for accounting purposes?
    writing dialog - well, not sure if I'm good at it but I seem to do it a lot
    unsticking other writers - people in writing forums had told me that my suggestions when they're stuck and didn't know what to write next helped them a lot
    cheering people up - not an especially happy person but I'm good at cheering people up when they're feeling bad

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