Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Know Your Weaknesses, Use Your Strengths (Laura)

There are many great books and inspiring authors out there. Now and then, though, I come across a book that absolutely puts my writing to shame. As I read, I literally think, I will never be able to write like this so why bother? Experiencing this reaction a few times recently led me to an important conclusion, though it was messy getting there.

Here's what I think I know now.

It's okay to let other writers drive you to improve your skills, but you have to do that in your way. Feel those feelings of jealousy, embarrassment, and not being good enough. Then find your center, remember why you love writing and what that makes you good at, and use it to focus your creative energy. Then look at your weaknesses you now have a better eye to improve because of what you've seen in someone else's work, without letting it overcome you.

In the last year, in particular, I've learned to recognize I am not great at writing action or physical details of people, places, and worlds. In fact, I have a hard time understanding the world around me, in general, in terms of concrete words, names, distances, dates, politics, etc. Don't even talk to me about science. I can study these things really hard and try to memorize them, but they leave me quickly, like they never really belonged with me, and I have to work hard to understand it all again. It isn't a natural way for me to think or communicate. I probably write partly for this reason, to find my way of making sense of the physical world. And that grappling for understanding is apparent in my work. Some authors--Alexandra Bracken, Rainbow Rowell, and Ali Benjamin to name only a few--are fantastic at capturing the physical movement and experience of a world--even the real one--while still embedding emotion and character in that experience. Probably because they love doing it, and also because they are so talented. While I will never be able to do it quite like they do, they open my eyes further to the shortcomings in my writing that I can only improve.

Yet shortcomings don't tend to be what drive us.

I recently began revising an old project, and I stumble over the language in several places. No matter how I focus on and pick apart the flaws in these particular scenes, I can't seem to capture that spirit of my writing where I recognize a kind of truth or experience that elating, therapeutic moment of saying something I've wanted to say, perhaps without even knowing it beforehand. That space where I can truly express myself. During this recent low point, where I felt like a failure because I'm not somebody else, I looked at my piece of work and realized it is a very action-based story by my standards. By picking it apart by the physical details, I lost a sense of fulfillment in these scenes, and the story became ABOUT the physical details instead of ENHANCED by them. I like writing when it's about the people and an emotional journey. To feel my way through the work in the same sense that I feel my way through life. I think there can be an intelligence or wisdom to that. Of course, I still need to accomplish the movement of the physical story and the world building around it, but I first need to get back to the character, let that center and improve the heart and flow of the writing, then work on the physical. The action of the story will never be at the level of many writers, but it will be something else. It will be exactly what I need to write.

Of course, I will continue to find other authors who show me my weaknesses, put them on a spit and barbeque them at a luau, and I can use those humbling, eye-opening moments to improve without losing the integrity and frame behind my writing. It's one of those things that you know, but you don't always see how it applies to you because you've got your nose so far buried in your own life. I do this all the time and have to keep re-realizing something that seems so clear afterward. That's life, I guess. Constantly re-centering. That's writing too.

What's something you like to remember or practice to bring you back to your own purpose as a writer?


Be Yourself: http://animal-jam-clans-1.wikia.com/wiki/File:Being-Yourself-Quotes-15.jpg


  1. This is a very thought-provoking post. I really enjoyed it. :)

  2. I love this, Laura! I've had the same problem with reading an amazing book and feeling like I shouldn't even try. It helps for me to reflect on how much I've already grown as a writer and to keep in mind that plenty of authors have entertained and moved their readers without reaching the epitome of writing perfection (Twilight, for example).

    1. You say it so well in the second part of that last sentence, how “plenty of writers have entertained and moved their readers without reaching the epitome of writing perfection…” Exactly! So true, and thank you, Laurie. :)


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