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.
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