STRENGTHS AND WEAKNESSES
As people we have strengths and weaknesses and both carry over into our writing. One of the most frequent errors writers make is in not recognizing this, or what exactly their strengths and weaknesses are and writing to their strengths rather than to trends.
For example, a few years ago, romantic suspense took off like a rocket. Many who had been writing historical novels, which at that time weren’t selling well switched to writing romantic suspense, seeking a foothold in what had become for them a very liquid market. Some writers did well. They had a natural flair or affinity that allowed them to connect with readers in their stories on a suspenseful level. Some didn’t do well. Their suspense lacked inherent elements to suspense writing that makes it work.
In some cases, it was the writer’s voice. While suited to historicals, it was not suited to contemporary suspense novels. Voice can be altered, of course, but it is difficult to affect a voice that isn’t natural to the writer and even more difficult to sustain it through an entire book.
In other cases, the challenge came in plotting. Historical novels require a lot of world-building, anchors that keep the reader firmly planted in the past–and those anchors include intangibles like opinions and mindsets that were natural to that time-frame. That left less room in the book for plot, which creates challenges in the suspense novel.
In still other cases, pacing presented the challenge. The tone and pace of novel events is substantially different in an historical novel and a suspense. The transition requires an alteration in the writer’s thinking and execution and that’s a difficult transition for many writers to make.
Just as it benefits us as human beings to know our strengths and weaknesses, we can see the value of knowing them when it comes to our work. If we write to our strengths and work to improve in those areas in which we are weak, then the work, like the human being, benefits. The whole is stronger for the effort.
It is always a mistake to write to trends. The books published now were conceived and written on an average, two years ago. By the time a trend manifests in the market, it is at least a year old, and that means its peak time is likely before you could write a book, much less write and then add the twelve to eighteen additional months required during production.
Another common mistake writers make is in not understanding the direct link between his or her human strengths and weaknesses and his or her writing subject matter. Some think of this in the terms of personal preference. “I prefer suspense, therefore I write suspense.” And that’s great, as far as it goes, but it doesn’t go far enough in aiding the writer to define the vehicle s/he chooses to depict that suspense.
Many say “write what you know.” It is wiser, and opens new and exciting unexplored vistas to the writer to instead: “Know what you write.” If something new to you captivates your interest and imagination, explore it, learn what you need to know and then use it as a vehicle in your writing. Don’t limit yourself to what you know or you’ll quickly lose interest in exploring, and that lack of enthusiasm is crystal clear in the work. It grows dull. Flat. And you will feel and see the absence of magic in the work.
Being mindful of your author theme helps the writer to avoid many of the mistakes we make. If you’re not familiar with the concept, there’s an article on it in the library on the www.vickihinze.com web site. I can’t stress the significance of this enough. Author theme is closely associated with you, the writer, and the stories you tell–as well as the way you tell them. If you are aware of these things and know how they impact your work, then the odds are far greater that you’ll factor them into your choices and that is writing to your strengths.
Recognizing your own strengths and weaknesses isn’t any easier in writing than it is in life but it is worth the effort. Listen to the feedback you get from others on the work. Do the comments have common threads? Speak well of or work required of a specific writing element? For example, if you hear multiple times that your plotting is convoluted, then you need to work on that. If you hear that your characterizations are strong, then you know this is a strength and writing character (versus plot) driven stories would serve you well. Others can help you identify and recognize your strengths and weaknesses, but it’s up to you to write to them–or to address them in your life.
Either will help you avoid repeating mistakes in those specific areas. Recognizing both–strengths and weaknesses in the writing and in your life–will help you avoid even more.
And that brings us to SELF-TALK: the topic we will discuss next time in Part 3 of Mistakes We Make.
I hope this helps!
©2006, Vicki Hinze