From Sarah, With Joy

*Poet * Author * Wanderluster*

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Dealing with Writerly Weaknesses

I've been thinking quite a bit about weakness lately.

We all have things that are naturally harder for us than other things, but sometimes serious weaknesses show up like a brick wall in the middle of the road. Like, very real handicaps and disabilities. That's not something we talk about very much, but I'm pretty sure basically everyone is directly affected in one way or another.

So I know this is a writing blog, and I realize I've been slow and relatively personal lately, and I hope that's okay. It's interesting, I feel like the past several weeks have been sort of the culmination of everything that has happened to me since I graduated college; been the real ringer. And that's actually a good thing, because I'm beginning to sense solid ground in a way I haven't since I graduated college, which includes a very solid look at my own weak areas. But again, good thing, because a person must have both solid ground and as solid a concept of themselves as possible to move forward as successfully and effectively as possible. I'm hoping that's what's been happening these last couple years, and these last several weeks particularly.

Anyway. Writing blog. So how does all this make a difference for us writers, is the question. In the general sense, moving forward with a solid grasp of ourselves and solid ground under our feet means our writing life. But I think we can make it more specific. Within the act of writing itself, we all have weaknesses. Mine is plot. I play with characters and scenarios for months before I get anywhere close to a story that can carry a novel. Maybe someone has the opposite weakness, where they constantly think of incredibly exciting stories, but have a hard time fleshing out the characters. Or maybe your weakness is setting, or dialog, or whatever. How do we deal with that?

Practice. One philosophy is to just practice until you get stronger. As pianists do scales, as ball players shoot hoops, so should we writers practice and practice until our weaknesses no longer hold us back. Find an example of someone who does what you're trying to do extremely well and learn from them.

Focus on your strengths. Maybe the weak spots don't matter. Shaq succeeded in the NBA without being able to shoot free throws worth anything. Didn't matter, because he was valuable for other reasons. Maybe sometimes I'll work and work until I get an exciting plot, maybe sometimes I'll just let the characters lead the story slowly forward and see what happens.

Use your weaknesses. Sometimes we just need to step back and stop thinking of our weaknesses as weaknesses. Nobody has exactly our talent and ideas and perspective, weaknesses, strengths, and all. We are uniquely situated to give the world exactly what only we can give. I'm realizing lately that I'm just not able to do certain things. I'm just not. So I'm going to try and not beat myself up about it and instead focus on the fact that because I'm not doing these certain things, I can do other things which means different things will happen and work out and be wonderful anyway. Sorry, that's kind of abstract, but I guess I just mean that we are as we are and placed where we're placed for a reason. Don't wait to be someone else before you start giving the world whatever it is you can give.

Anyway, to be honest, there may be a little bit longer of slow pace and reflective type posts. I also know I've said that full speed is coming for what feels like a long time now, but I'm pretty certain I mean it this time. Just a few more things to get sorted out and then I'm hoping I'll be/feel more stable than I ever have, and more able to really DO THIS THING. In spite of, and because of, my weaknesses.

Sarah Allen


  1. Focusing on my strengths is much easier. I'm not a detail writer - you won't get a lot of description out of me. But for certain genres and styles, that works well as it's a faster paced book. I have my niche!

  2. Just re-read your personal description. Did you know Colin Firth is going to be doing the voice of Paddington Bear in the upcoming film about Paddington?

    Doesn't matter what you try and achieve, you have to figure out how to make use of your strengths and weaknesses.

    As for you Alex, whatever he does, or doesn't do, it works. I enjoyed all his books.

  3. All writers have strong and weak areas, and both practice and studying the craft can help strengthen these.

    If plotting is what's bugging you...have you tried using a plotting guide like the beat sheet in Blake Snyder's Save The Cat? I'm somewhat of a natural plotter, but even so, reading about his technique gave me several ah-ha moments.

    Here's a post I wrote on it:

    And there is a wealth of plotting advice and worksheets on Jami Gold's blog.

    Don't give up. It truly does get better with time. :)

  4. I get what you mean. When I feel strong sometimes I come across arrogant and sloppy, and that's the last thing I am. On the other hand when I feel weak, I use it to point myself in a new direction for honing the craft.

    I'll never be perfect, but know what I'm made of helps me try harder. Sometimes I'm such a suck. hehehe

  5. I completely understand - I have both weaknesses, leaving me with a novel that's half outlines, and half very detailed character situations that may or may not fit into the outlines I've created. I guess that means my weakness is stitching things together?

    I love your blog, by the way. I'm excited to catch up on old posts!

  6. I love this post, and while I'm not a creative writer, I certainly appreciate what these words can lend to any craft.**"Don't wait to be someone else before you start giving the world whatever it is you can give."** You write this effortlessly, but really, this is a huge truth that takes a lot of time to fully realize and act on! At some point, you just have to value what you have, believe you have something to offer, and jump. Thanks for sharing this :)


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