Monday, September 26, 2011

Writing Strengths and Weaknesses

It's a classic interview question: Can you name three strengths and three weaknesses? Or words to that effect. I can remember (back in the days when I had to prep for interviews) if I was clever enough I would come up with a list of weaknesses that could also be classed as strengths. One I can re-call is being over organised. It could be seen as a weakness in a demanding inpatient physiotherapy job when time is of the essence but it could also be seen as a strength given the same set of circumstances.

In an interview situation it can be a good idea to use this technique and not include weaknesses that can't be viewed in a positive light. It would be a bad idea, for example, to list laziness as a weakness. Even if it meant you were being honest it is unlikely to secure you a new job. Sometimes it pays to show ourselves off to our best advantage.

It can be easy to focus on positives without concentrating on our flaws. I mean, who wants to dwell on them?  I know I don't. But, unlike with interviews, writing is a discipline where if you ignore your flaws, you cannot improve to the level you need to help secure publication success.

This is easier said than done when writing is a very personal process. You put heart and soul into the piece of work and because it has come from those places you don't want them injured in anyway by someone saying it's pants. It is also hard to be objective about your own work and you may feel with a bit of editing and tightening up of grammar you will have sorted all your weaknesses in one go.

This is where I'm very glad to have my New Writers' Scheme reader's report. I'm not sure how it is possible to be entirely objective without an outside opinion. Even if it is having a beta reader who you know will give you an honest rundown. And, if it turns out you have weaknesses it's not a case of glossing over them to make them seem better, they have to be better.

My report highlighted my characters weren't likable and that needs to be addressed and my dialogue could be improved. So I'm spending some time learning how to improve on these areas, along with making sure the storyline is organic and not forced. I think I was so busy trying to ensure the novel had pace that I ended up sacrificing other areas to the overall deteriment of the book. Without the report, I would be sending out to publishers/agents with a strong chance of it being rejected. Not examining the strengths and weaknesses of your own writing will mean the weaknesses jump off the page at said publisher/agent and having seen the list of weaknesses, it doesn't matter what your strengths are, it's the equivilant of stating you're lazy in an interview.

I haven't been brave enough to approach any agents or publishers with my work yet because I don't feel I'm ready. Not because I'm stalling or dreading rejection but because I'm doing my best to iron out those weaknesses in an attempt to not be instantly dismissed. I'm delibrately taking several weeks out and not revising straight away to learn more through reading to give myself a better understanding of where I need to approve.

So do you know where your writing weaknesses are? What have you done to address them? Have you gone on to turn them into strengths?


  1. Hi Katy
    I have just spent an inordinate amount of time trying to make my MC likeable (note - not more likeable, but likeable)- my proof-reader has told me she no longer wants to slap her around the face, so that's something!
    I was lacking pace - both readers this year said the same as did my extremely honest beta readers, so that is the other area I hope I have improved upon.
    I read The Only Way Is Up, Carole Matthews, and it illustrates pace beautifully - by page 26, everything was in place and the big 'incident' had already occurred. I am now using that as my standard.
    Now I'm going to learn about avoiding the cliche :-)
    Happy writing.
    Laura James.

  2. Hi Laura,

    I managed to get pace but then made my character's less likeable as a result. What a careful balance it is. I haven't read read The Only Way Is Up so will have to add it to my reading list!

    Katy x