by Lynette M. Burrows
There are writers whose characters jump off the page to live in your head. Lyrical writers can make music on the page that goes straight to your heart. And writers of intricate plots with twists and turns that thrill and delight. Every writer, no matter their experience, has strong skills in at least one area. Every writer also has skills that are weaker. It’s up to you to discover your writing strengths and weaknesses so you can develop more powerful writing.
Your strengths are those things that take less energy to do and do well. You can use your strengths to seek opportunities and work more efficiently.
It’s scary to admit you have areas where your writing is weak. Often we think weak is bad. It’s a problem when we focus so much on our weaknesses that it disempowers us. If we focus on our weakness, we lose self-confidence and enthusiasm. As a result, our performance goes down, which reinforces our negative feelings.
Weak doesn’t mean bad. It simply means that skill takes more of your energy and focus to use. That part of writing is not a thing that will help you stand out from the crowd.
Don’t try to “fix” your weaknesses, but don’t ignore them either. Improving your weakest skills will improve your work overall. Improving your strengths will make your work shine. But before you can improve, you must discover your writing strengths and weaknesses. Unfortunately, you may not be the best judge of your own skills.
You can’t recognize your strengths and weaknesses if you don’t understand story structure and genre. There are books and courses all over the internet that can teach you story structure. Not to mention, the hundreds of helpful blog posts on Writers in the Storm.
Not every post, book, or course will resonate with you. That’s okay. Keep reading until you find those that speak to you and that you can use. Most importantly, don’t read or follow one way. Learn about many techniques so you can choose what works for you.
It's helpful to deconstruct shorter works while studying story structure. The Christmas Carol is an example of a story with excellent structure as discussed by Janice Hardy right here on Writers in the Storm.
Start by looking at what comes easiest for you. Trusted first readers can tell you what they like best in your manuscripts even if they don’t use story structure terms.
If you have a trusted mentor or writer’s group—discuss your strengths with them. Be prepared to set aside your immediate and emotional reactions and listen. Listen to what they say and to how it makes you feel.
If you’re published, and you’re able to read your reviews without imploding, your reviews may reveal your strengths and weaknesses. A word of caution: individual reviews are not helpful. Look for a pattern among multiple reviews. If better than 50% they like something, that is probably a strength of yours. If the majority mention something they don’t like, that may be a weakness. (Caution: “pile-ons” are not reliable indicators of either strength or weakness.)
Remember, strengths energize you. Yes, it takes energy to write. But when you are writing from your strengths, it gives back, too. Those are the skills that are your best.
What is the most difficult for you in writing your story? What is missing from your first drafts? Description or dialog? What do your first readers point out as problematic? What is that niggling little doubt you have?
Remember, you aren’t looking to “solve” your weakness. You can improve them, but you are unlikely to turn your weaknesses into strengths.
Try to avoid writing stories or genres that rely on skills where you are weaker. Why make it harder on yourself?
Your strengths and weaknesses will be different as a newbie than when you’re a mid-lister and different, or at least more sharply defined when you’ve got a dozen or more books out in the world. Not only that, every book you write may challenge your strengths and weaknesses in different ways.
Whatever your level of experience, make an improvement plan. Don’t try to improve in all areas at once. That’s the way of madness or career burnout and destruction.
Focus on one, or two related, skills. Choose a method for learning. Make a specific, measurable goal. Something like, "I will study using conflict in story by reading and doing exercises from James Scott Bell’s book, Elements of Fiction Writing: Conflict & Suspense, during the next month."
Create an inspiration file (or three) of examples of strong writing. Never copy another author’s exact words, but you can parallel their construction with your own choice of words.
Deconstruct books you admire. Identify the strengths and weaknesses in those books. You can take the book apart for one piece of storytelling or all of them. Try to figure out why the author chose the words, characters, settings, plot twists, etc.
Peer-approved classes such as those offered by Margie Lawson’s Writers Academy are also valuable tools for improvement.
Don’t be ashamed of your weaknesses or feel you cannot write because of them. Having weaknesses doesn’t mean you can only write at your skill level. It also does not mean you cannot write stories that rely on your weaknesses. But do so understanding that you will have to work much harder to be successful.
Knowing your writing strengths and weaknesses means you can use both to your advantage. You can level up your weaknesses and your strengths.
Your growth will be sporadic. Sometimes in great leaps and other times you measure it in inches. Challenge yourself to discover your writing strengths and weaknesses, work on improving them, and be proud that each book you write is better than the last one.
Everyone please help us welcome Lynette, our newest contributor here at WITS. Also, what do YOU consider to be your biggest writing strengths and weaknesses? Please share and discuss down in the comments!
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Lynette M. Burrows loves hot coffee, reading physical books, and the crack of a 9mm pistol—not all at the same time, though that might be fun! She writes thrilling science fiction readers can't put down.
Her series, The Fellowship Dystopia, presents a frightening familiar American tyranny that never was but could be. In Book One, My Soul to Keep, Miranda discovers dark family secrets, the brutality of the Fellowship way of life, and the deadly reality of rebellion. In Fellowship, the series companion novel, a desperate young man and his siblings hide in the mountains from the government agents who Took their parents. Book two of the series, If I Should Die, will be published in 2022.
Owned by two Yorkshire Terriers, Lynette lives in the land of Oz. You can find her here: Website | Facebook | Twitter
Copyright © 2023 Writers In The Storm - All Rights Reserved
My strength is dialogue and my weakness is body language and dialogue cues. In Margie Lawson language, that means I can happily write pages (and pages) of blue with nary an orange or yellow or green in sight. That's the number one thing I work on, along with Deep POV.
The only thing that made me feel better about my ultra blue first drafts was when I read that Nora Roberts writes a first draft of almost all dialogue. Then she puts in the rest. Then she does a final edit. I'm no Nora, but it gives me hope that good sales can come from the Big Blue Mess. 🙂
It's great that you know your strengths, Jenny. I also have more blue than orange or green in a first draft. The best part is that after you layer in those orange and yellow and green, your readers can't tell those were added in subsequent drafts.
Hi Lynette! Welcome!!
These links are great. I will definitely check them out.
My strength is within dialogue, particularly for children and teens. My inner child is still going strong.
I need to work on keeping tenses straight and I occasionally head-hop. Critique groups help a lot with these.
Listening to your work critiqued can be hard since in a way your writing is like your child. With time and practice that gets easier.
Thanks for the helpful post.
Thank you for the warm welcome, Ellen. I'm delighted you found it helpful.
It is hard to learn to step away from your writing and view it as a professional. But it sounds like you're on your way. You're evaluating your strengths and weaknesses and working on improvements. Good luck!
Woohoo! Welcome Lynette! And way to hit it with a powerful post. You are always an inspiration to me. In my early writing, people said my lyrical writing was a strength...but that turned out to be a weakness as I got so involved in writing pretty words that I lost clarity. As I wrote more, praise turned to concern from mentors and it took a lot of work to get me to see that as a problem.
My biggest strength is dialogue. Early drafts look like screenplays.
For years, I was told that setting was my biggest weakness. One of my favorite comments was "everything happens in a white room." (Which led me to deliberately write a white room into my next story.) Why yes, I can be annoying when confronted with my weaknesses.
But after those bits finally hit home, and after learning Margie's EDITS system, I now deliberately go back and include those setting bits. I was blown away recently when several reviews mentioned my settings as a positive. I don't think setting will ever be easy, but because I know it is a weakness, I can fix that.
Thanks for this fabulous post, Lynette. I think every new writer should read it! Especially the bit about evaluating reviews. That pile-on effect can eviscerate a new writer.
Thank you, Deleyna!
It is hard to see one's weaknesses--especially when compliments turn to criticism! Yikes.
I agree, Margie's EDITS system is life-changing (at least as a writer!)
You are most welcome.
Thank you and Welcome, Lynette. Thanks for the post and the links.
I can write descriptions all day long without breaking a sweat. Most people say they can envision where a character is in each chapter.
I've never been chatty or social and often struggle with dialogue. Pacing is another weakness, but I'm getting better at that by working from a basic outline. My days of 100% pantsing is over.
My mind tends to work in a rather segmented way and transitions can trip me up. But now that I know, I can catch and fix them during edits.
Acknowledging weaknesses is the first step of correcting them.
Thank you for the welcome, Brenda. You are absolutely correct about the first step of correcting them. Sounds like you are on track and improving. Way to go!
Welcome to the WITS family, Lynette!
I've been told my greatest strengths are dialogue and character development. In the beginning, my weakest area was probably pacing. I've do a lot to try to improve that over the years, but I'm sure I still have a ways to go!
Thanks for the welcome, Eldred! Character development's a great strength to have. You may have further to go to improve your pacing, but recognizing your weakness and working on it--I'd say you've got this!
Dialogue is my strength. So after writing, I go back to fill-in and break it up so it doesn't read like text. I also need to watch my show vs. tell in descriptions.
Denise, show vs tell is a big one that trips all of us from time-to-time. Thanks for reminding us all to watch out for it.
Your article has come at a perfect time for me. I struggle with POV. I had been writing in third person omniscient and it was not working for me. I have changed the whole novel to first person POV and it flows naturally. I too am a big fan of James Scott Bell.
Mary, I'm so glad it helped you. Yes. Changing to a POV that flows natural--WTG! Thanks for sharing.
I'm late to commenting, but hi, Lynette! I'm so glad you're contributing here now. Your novel My Soul to Keep is amazing, and you have great insight here.
Aw, Julie, you know a way to a writer's heart. Thank you for the welcome and the complements!
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