Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Write to Your Strengths

There is a recurring industry advice of writing the best book you can before querying. For many, this translates to writing the "perfect" book: one with memorable characters, authentic world-building, original plot, chair-gripping tension, and lyrical prose, etc.

However, Cheryl Klein, Senior Editor at Arthur A. Levine Books, gave the following advice in a recent interview for writers who "keeps getting so close but doesn't make it":

Figure out what (1) your two greatest writerly strengths, (2) your favorite subject to read about, and (3) your two biggest weaknesses as a writer are.

Develop (do not yet start actually writing) a book that uses (1) to portray (2) and minimize (3). For instance, if you know your strengths are awesome characters and dialogue, and your favorite subject is romance, but you’re terrible at plotting and creating tension, come up with your awesome characters, but put them in a simple story that doesn’t involve a lot of tension—a love story with a straightforward central conflict that lets the characters do their thing.

Then get help with (3) to improve it as much as you can before you dive in; then write the book and revise it.

Reading this advice was a revelation to me. I have always carried the belief that my writing needed to be perfect to get published. But perfection is different for everybody. Each of us has a few writerly strengths, some writerly weaknesses, and many writerly mediocrities. It's much better to write to our strengths and work on our weaknesses, rather than trying to be good at everything.

After all, though I won't be studying the Harry Potter series on how to write beautiful, breathless prose, I will always be in awe of J.K. Rowling's wizarding world and all its characters. And that, I think, is the recipe for a successful novel.

What do you think? Agreed? Disagreed?

What is one of your writerly strength? Writerly weakness?

14 comments:

Marquita Hockaday said...

This is interesting advice! I will def. think about this when I start my new WIP. Hmmm, my weaknesses are creating "high concept" plots and describing settings. I guess I would say my strengths are dialogue and delving into my characters' minds. Sometimes I do this too much and get to the last scene before I realize I don't have a plot...

LM Preston said...

This is true advice. I tried writing other stuff but when I started to write Scifi-ya it's like I was home. I'm an engineer and my head was so there.

Carrie said...

Great advice. I think one of my strengths is dialogue and one of my weaknesses is repetition.

Alicia Gregoire said...

Wow. This is pretty awesome. I should really try this out.

Holly Dodson said...

This is really great. I've been really focused on my strengths vs weaknesses with my latest manuscript, and it makes a world of difference when you know what to pay attention to. Excellent advice, Emy!

Yahong Chi said...

Holy COW that's such good advice! Great job putting it like that, Emy! I totally need to try this. And you're right, JKR's world-building is AMAZING.

Michael L. Martin Jr. said...

This really hit home for me. Very timely as I'm currently taking a look at these things in my writing.

My strengths are plot and dialogue. One of my weaknesses is sometimes my pacing is too fast and I under describe stuff. In subsequent drafts I tend to add more than I cut because it's needed.

Sophia Richardson said...

Actually the example given of the strengths being character and dialogue and the plotting weakness is a pretty good match for me and I'm currently writing a YA contemporary romance . . . Eerie. Although I discovered *through* writing this romance what my strengths and weaknesses are. That's me all over, doing things bass ackwards.
- Sophia.

Tere Kirkland said...

Interesting experiment.

I've often thought that setting description is the thing I'm best at, while I'm less adept at character development and "showing" emotion. And I like to write fantasy. Maybe I need to go for an epic fantasy or steampunk with lots of world building. That would be fun!

Awesome post, Emy!

Pam Harris said...

Great advice! My writerly strength would probably be dialogue, but I'm terrible with setting! I really should attend more workshops on that.

IanBontems said...

Nice post and good advice.
Now, I just need to figure out my strengths...

Melissa Sarno said...

Hmm, I feel conflicted about this advice because on one hand: I feel you should push yourself as a writer and work on your weaknesses. On the other hand: it doesn't make sense to write an entire book that doesn't cater to your strengths. Very interesting!

Ghenet Myrthil said...

This is really great advice. It's nice to know not every element needs to be perfect in a book. It makes total sense to play to your strengths but work on your weaknesses.

dawnc said...

The monthly payments is often startup in respect to eight thus you may check cashing in newport news twelve bi-weekly obligations, or presumptively if your home mortgage is set by your group stability earnings, later you may very merely arrange your repayments for being caused by three to four month-to-month payments. consistently planned obligations aid to make a lessened investigate total that's the larger go at the side of your money.