Writers, Forget About Your Weaknesses!

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David Biespiel of Portland’s own Attic Institute is a frequent contributor to The Rumpus’ Poetry Wire.

Yesterday they published one of his articles called FOLLOW YOUR STRENGTHS, MANAGE YOUR WEAKNESSES, AND DON’T LET YOUR BABIES GROW UP TO BE COWBOYS.

For a “blog post,” it’s a very long read — but well worth your time, especially if you’re prone to harsh self-critcism.

If I can try to summarize his argument, it goes something like this…

1) Every writer has strengths and weakness (image, plot, dialog, phrasing, lush description, etc.).

2) You can’t improve upon your weaknesses all that much, but you can greatly enhance your strengths.

3) When you play up your strengths, your weaknesses are not as noticeable.

4) When you’re focusing on your strengths, you’ll feel more confident, creative, and free. And that makes writing more fun.

David also frames his argument in terms of a grading system in high school. If you’re great at making images, that’s an A. If you’re terrible at dialog, that’s an F.

Chances are, no matter how hard you work, you’ll only be able to bring your failing grade up to a C. That’s improvement, but for all your hard work, you’ve basically just brought your dialog up to passable.

When you think about an A grade, you might think that’s as good as you can get — but chances are, if you’ve gotten an A it’s because you have some natural proficiency in that realm. If you got an A for your image-making, there’s still huge room for improvement. You can take that strength and go on to college, grad school, and into the big-leagues. You could be one of the world’s great image-makers!

And again, by focusing on your strengths, the reader will think, “what an image!” — instead of thinking, “what flat dialog!”

Biespiel isn’t suggesting you outright ignore your weaknesses. They need to be managed. You can always benefit from coaching or assistance in those areas. But it does you no good (and often does you lots of harm) to compare yourself with other writers who are talented in all the places where you you either fail or barely squeak by. After all, those writers might be looking at your strengths with envy too.

Which reminds me of this short poem by Robert Hass.

Anyway, that’s a very simplified summary of his article, which you should read HERE.

Is this a healthier way to approach your writing? Is David underestimating your room for growth in your areas of weakness? Let me know what you think in the comments section below. 

Image via Shutterstock.com.

Chris Robley
is an award-winning poet, songwriter, performer, and music producer who now lives in Portland, Maine after more than a decade in Portland, Oregon. His music has been praised by NPR, the LA Times, the Boston Globe, and others. Skyscraper Magazine said he is “one of the best short-story musicians to come along in quite some time.” Robley’s poetry has been published or is forthcoming in POETRY, Prairie Schooner, Poetry Northwest, Beloit Poetry Journal, RHINO, Magma Poetry, and more. He is the 2013 winner of Boulevard's Poetry Prize for Emerging Writers and the 2014 recipient of a Maine Literary Award in the category of "Short Works Poetry."

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