Weak Strengths or Strong Weaknesses?

Yeah, I wish this were my biceps. But it isn't.

Hey, inkling loves,

This week, I read this post by Becca J. Campbell. You really should click through and read, because Becca makes a great case for being honest with ourselves and with each other about our weaknesses…

…but especially telling ourselves the truth about our strengths.

One of my weaknesses is that I tend to be really hard on myself about my weaknesses, enough so that I’ll quietly beat myself up about them while presenting an everything’s-okay face to the people around me.

I work constantly at developing a level of transparency that will prevent me from hiding my self-doubt. It’s a lifelong growth process.

Along with that, I try to infuse into my heart a particular principle I read a few years back (sadly, I don’t remember where):

Focus on improving your weaknesses, and all you’ll end up with are strong weaknesses and weakened strengths.

Focus on building your strengths, and you’ll end up with strengths solid enough to carry you through the weaknesses.

 

My Solid Strengths

Becca’s post concerned our writing strengths specifically. So, in the interest of not beating myself up about my writing weaknesses, here are a few things I consider my writing strengths:

1. I have a good feel for language. This is one part innate talent, one part intensive training, and one part life experience. Although I don’t believe for a second that a person has to be born with a certain set of skills in order to be a writer, I did start writing when I was 8 years old. So I suspect there’s something inherited there. I am also the child of two teachers, one of whom taught English for 30 years. She sent me to school but also taught me at home, so I got it from all sides. And on top of that, I learned a foreign language (German) at age 3, which did all sorts of interesting and odd things to the way my brain processes and produces words. I bring all of that to bear on every sentence when I sit down to write.

2. I see scenes, characters, and actions as picture sequences in my head. If you read Becca’s post (which I think you should), you’ll see that I share this in common with her, and she calls it being a “visual writer.” When I’m crafting a story, I feel as though I’m watching a movie inside my head and simply writing down everything I see, hear, feel, and taste. Sometimes, a scene is blurry, and that’s when I know not to force too much detail into a scene. When it’s clear with crisp edges, I know it’s time to divulge more of what I’m seeing. I rarely have to rack my brains to figure out what something looks like.

3. I’ve experienced Not Writing. If you’ve read my posts tagged “confessions”, you know that there was a period of years during which I forgot that I was created to create. I forgot that I was allowed to be a writer. I sank into horrid darkness and turned bitter, sorrow-filled, and hostile. But now that I’m out of that, I’ve gained a deeper appreciation for the gifts of creativity, freedom, time, and support. I know where I’ve been; I know I never want to go back; and I know that the best way to give thanks for the gifts (and to declare the One who gave them to me) is to apply myself to writerdom with uncompromising passion.

4. I don’t believe in “writer’s block.” Strength #3 pretty much takes care of this for me. I practice gratitude and passion by not allowing “writer’s block” to stop me. When I experience the I-don’t-wanna lassitude or the words-just-aren’t-there frustration, I know that my reaction cannot be simply to stop writing. When “writer’s block” hits, I know it’s a challenge to think and work harder. Is my attitude the problem? Is the story broken somewhere? Do I need to change writing locations? (For more on writing locations, read this post.)
“Writer’s block” never means that I can’t write. It only means I need to rethink, review, revise, or relocate.

5. I have a keen awareness of cause-and-effect (aka “what’s the because?).
Cause: My mom did not go with my dad when his quartet, The Four Naturals, made a recording in Nashville in 1966.
Effect: The Four Naturals didn’t get my mom’s “managerial” advice while in Nashville, so they never went pop, and my family ended up moving to Germany in 1980.
Cause: In 1940, Frances Hair eloped with Wilborn Weger instead of going to college.
Effect: I exist.
Cause: Aaron and I played Rockband together at a church party in May 2009.
Effect: I’m published.
Cause: In my WIP (Elevator People), side character Joplin giggles when main character Went says the word “pickpocket.”
Effect: Ten chapters later, they end up battling a psychopath and a vampire on a planet in another dimension.
And so forth.
Cause-and-effect are what you might call “essential” to life. And to a story’s development. ; )

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So! There are a few of my writing strengths. What are some of yours? Share in the comments! Or, even better, write your own blog post about your writing strengths and share the link with us!

Making this list required some clear thinking and deep analysis on my part: honest reflection and a stern refusal to let myself slip into self-deprecation mode. Yes, this was all focused on writing…but it was also an act of kindness toward myself as a person. If you’re reading this, and you’re not a writer, I encourage you to make a list of your own strengths in whatever area you like. Let yourself accentuate the positive; show your Self some love.

If you can demonstrate compassion toward You in this way, you’ll be able to do the same for people around you. And blessing others with compassion is a strength worth solidifying in each of us.

Get Shorty

So, in case you haven’t seen me mention it on Twitter, I’m tickled pink to be involved in The Consortium‘s upcoming short story magazine publication.

In fact, I’ve been so tickled pink about it, I dug out the former prologue to one of my high fantasy novels, intending to use said former prologue as my short story submission. After a fair bit of clean-up, you understand.

But.

After some pondering and some hob-nobbing with fellow writerly types, I’ve come to the conclusion that said former prologue does not best serve my needs at this time.

I.e., as a “short story,” said former prologue sucks.

Dash it all.

So. There was only one solution.

Like Aaron recommended in his blog just last week, I cut the prologue. Again.

Instead of using the former-prologue-now-turned-former-short-story, I’m now writing a real, honest-to-goodness, gen-yoo-wine short story. For the first time ever.

Yeah, I’ve written “short stories” before — but they were more like interesting scenes instead of narratives with definite, short-story-like structure. In my previously penned short fiction, I have never practiced what I’ve preached, namely the principle of Learn The Rules First And Only Then Break Them.

In my short fiction, I’ve never bothered with the rules until now.

So, what rules am I following?

Well, first off, I’m obeying KISS: Keep It Simple, Stupid. I’m sticking to one genre — high fantasy — instead of writing the kind of horror-fantasy-scifi-thriller-literary-fiction mish-mash for which I have a penchant.

Blast those penchants. They get me every time.

Where was I? Oh. KISS. Right. *mwah*

I’m also leaning heavily on the following structure, gleaned mostly from stuff Aaron recommends and stuff one of his master’s degree profs recommends:

  • Scene (1,500 – 2,000 words): protagonist in direct conflict with antagonist; protagonist sort of gets what s/he wants, but there’s a loose end or two
  • Sequel (500 – 1,000 words): protagonist reflects on emotional impact of what’s happened; this is also a good place for limited info dump; protagonist communicates the stakes to the reader
  • Climax (2,500 words): runs the gamut of protagonist’s Choice, Decision, Action, Dark Moment (in which all seems lost), Reversal (in which most [but not all] is regained), and Reward.

I started the story on Sunday, and I finished it this afternoon. The first draft clocks in at right around 4,300 words. It’s about 1,500 words shorter than I thought it would be when I started — but my hero kind of moved faster than I’d anticipated. Ah well. We’ll see if the next draft brings along more wordage.

This is a very new sort of writing adventure for me — one of which I’ve always been leery. I’ve never delved deep into short fiction because most of the time, my short stories go from cute little hatchlings to massive, epic, flyings beasts in the space of about two days. At least in my head.

So, come to think of it, I don’t need this new story to have a wordage growth spurt. It’s pretty fine and dandy at 4,300 words, thank ye kindly.

Part of this new adventure will be to write *more* short stories over the course of the next month or so. I’ll keep you posted on how that goes.

*sigh* What have I gotten myself into?

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What about you, dear inklings? Got a short story fetish? Got some short story fears? Let’s hear ’em! I’d love to know I’m not the only one with this weird hang-up. ; )