Make a list of your weaknesses, then actively use this knowledge of yourself to improve your writing to become a better writer.
Do you skirt around your weaknesses? Perhaps you feel you make too many typos, or don’t write often enough, or fail to write things down when you have a Eureka! moment.
Instead of avoiding your weaknesses, get listing. Then sit back and try to think of some more.
Targeting your weaknesses
Weaknesses can be anything you can’t do but want to or something you can’t do well enough — or even fast enough — for your satisfaction.
If you can’t get off the blocks, perhaps your weakness is just “getting started.” Well, if so, great. You have your big thing to work on.
If you are farther along, perhaps your weaknesses have been identified by readers of your work. That is great, because you are being informed by the perceptions of others. You may feel down about it, but you are already ahead of writers who keep their writing to themselves in terms of figuring out “how you sound on the page.”
If you love doing close reads, in which you learn from dissecting your favorite books and authors, perhaps you know elements you wish you could do equally well.
Just remember the difference between true weaknesses and things that are outside your domain of interest as a writer. If you don’t like to read romance, you probably won’t be good at writing it. That’s not a weakness. That’s an authorial principle. Stick with your passions. They will guide you to what you should be writing and what you can write best.
Get a pen and paper and see what your list looks like, then prioritize all the items. Some skills will be far more important to acquire now while other, more sophisticated ones, can wait for later.
You aren’t trying to depress yourself about what you don’t know but excite yourself about what you still have to learn.
Much of it might be things you haven’t tried yet, but want to. Those are doors waiting to be opened, uncharted territory.
It might take you a while to get it all down. The best list is the product of deep thought and brutal honesty. Glance down this rubric and pick out your strengths and weaknesses. Then continue adding.
Do you have issues with:
- Picking great topics?
- Sticking with a topic — you flitter around among too many ideas?
- Writing with precision?
- Writing artistically enough? Do you wish you could write better metaphors or excel at other types of figurative language?
- Writing simply enough? Do you have an issue with purple prose or text your readers just don’t understand as well as you want them to?
- Your writing being too literal (or too fanciful)?
- Sticking to a schedule to get writing done?
- Feeling you don’t write fast enough?
- Writing too fast and then tearing it all up?
- Wishing you knew more writing craft?
- Wishing you had someone to ask when you had questions about how something should best be done?
- Identifying exactly what’s holding you up, or setting goals for improving your ideas, drafts, and working process?
You’ve just made yourself an all-important roadmap of actionable advice. The long-term task associated with this list is, of course, deciding how to act.
Even just pondering why some things are harder for you to do than others can be a great step forward. Do you see patterns in your weaknesses, ways you can battle a bunch of them all together? Do you just need to finish the draft, come hell or high water, go on a writing retreat to buy some protected time, or hand your draft over to a developmental editor?
Post your list where you work. Ponder it. Add to it. Question it. Find connections between the items on your list with your strengths and your goals. Which of these weaknesses are true obstacles?
Take your list to your writers’ group and share it. Ask if others have suggestions for how to improve. Maybe they’ve found ways to turn similar weaknesses into strengths.
Take it to a writing teacher, or attend a course and talk with the instructor about them beforehand.
Find writing exercises that help you develop matching skills. Read articles and books on writing craft, focusing on these areas.
Write short pieces of fiction that exercise one or more of your perceived weaknesses – maybe you write dialogue every day for a month or work on escalations or devising cracking plot points.
Look for these areas of weakness in your existing pieces and tackle them with gusto.
If you just avoid your weaknesses, your writing will never be as great as it could be. Without a list, you don’t have a focus for improvement.
Sometimes it’s just about discipline. Too many typos? Slow down or make more time to proofread. Not writing enough? Make time. Not capturing your best ideas? Start a journal.
Other times, it’s just about getting more practice. How are you supposed to write great dialogue on day one if you’ve never done it before?
Not writing great metaphors? The first rule is only to use them when no other words will do, but why not take time to write pages of them until you start to feel you are getting the hang of it.
Writing fiction, short stories, and books of any kind, because of their length and structuring, is unlike any other kind of writing you will likely have done.
Perhaps you just need to learn more craft or pick up new experiences you can write about. Your list helps show you, at a conscious level that you can act on, what you need most.
Becoming your own writing teacher
Converting weaknesses to strengths is a matter of awareness, diligence, practice, and experience.
Once you start your list of weaknesses to convert to skills, you can keep it and watch yourself evolve as a writer.
The items on your list might go hand in hand, so you’ll need to improve many things together to see real advancement. Maybe to get better at writing dialogue, you first need to learn to invent better conflict between characters.
So, get listing. Then get writing.
All this positive effort adds up to you working for yourself as your own writing teacher. Once you start confronting your weaknesses head on, you are already a better writer.
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