Finding Strengths in Your Weaknesses as a Writer

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The key to finding your way as a writer is to discover what kind of writer you are.

Are you the type that talks about writing but doesn’t really do it much? Are you the kind that works diligently every day, but always ends up deleting or scrapping the whole manuscript? Are you the perfect planner, but awful at execution? Or vice versa?

Finding your strengths and weaknesses as a writer can help you navigate your way along the path to being the perfect “you.” Sound flaky? Maybe, but the sooner you can chip away at your problems the earlier you can fix them.

I’d like to preface this by saying I’ve fallen into every one of these categories before.  So if any of these describe your current writing situation, I feel your pain.

The Gun-Shy World-Builder

Fantasy writers love world building. They love discussing cultures of various aquatic elves and swamp goblins. Thinking about ancient deities. Hand-drawing maps with color pencils on grid paper. Piecing together the ongoing war between the koala people and the snow dwarves. However, when the time comes for actual writing, the well runs dry.

Why is that? Is the idea of creating a world more exciting than populating the world with characters who do interesting things?

Appearance:  Probably has a map drawn on his or her face.

The Bright Side:  If you’re an intricate world-builder, then you must be detail oriented. Use that to strengthen your story. Make the writing vivid, descriptive, full of rich culture and beautiful, exotic lands. Frank Herbert is probably one of the greatest world builders ever. His Dune novels stand out because of their unique setting, but the characters are amazing as well because of his attention to detail.

Think about the koala people in more detail. Maybe you make your main character a koala man on a journey to snatch the last of the eucalyptus from the jaws of the Great Hammerhead Salamander. Give your world-building some life. Pump it up.

The Endless Editor

Do you constantly needle away at every detail to the point you’re never happy with your writing? Still on Chapter 1 after three months because you’re editing the same page over and over again? Obsessing over apostrophes and semi-colons?

Being meticulous is an important skill for a writer, but at the same time can hamper your productivity. Writers are just like characters: they have to make decisions. Sometimes it’s good to just tell your character, “Hey, go do this.” They’ll listen to you, don’t worry.

Appearance:  Blood-shot eyes with calloused fingers covered in White-Out.

The Bright Side:  Think of writing like the original Super Mario Brothers: you can’t go back. If you do, Bowser takes the Princess to another castle and you have to look at some stupid mushroom guy. A website like “Write or Die” can help kill all the editing. That way, you’re forced to keep going forward at all times. Your skill as an editor is going to be wonderful and the envy of all your writer friends–that is when you’re finished with your 1st draft.

Being a great editor is an indispensable skill, just don’t allow yourself to heavily edit while you’re writing drafts. Save all that awesome obsessiveness for when the story’s done.

The Twenty-Year Novel Writer

It happens to us all. It’s happened to me. Sometimes it takes you a long time to write a novel. Novels are hard. Especially a fantasy novel, when they tend to be big doorstops. You’ve been starting and stopping the same novel for years it seems. Maybe longer than you’d like to admit. If your first-born is graduating high school when you finish your novel, then maybe you’re taking too much time. The fact that you may have planned several books in a series makes the task even more daunting.

Appearance:  Carrying a yellowed manuscript under one hand as he or she travels the shattered wastelands of crumpled paper and smashed typewriters.

The Bright Side:  If you’re going to write a big novel, make sure you have the time and energy to put into it. Quit starting new projects that derail you from finishing your novel. In fact, disallow yourself from starting anything new until you are completely done with your current novel. One of your strengths is ambition, so if you have the drive to write that massive book, then lock it in and don’t waver off the path.

Another strength is that you have persistence. If you’ve stuck with your novel for years and years, then it must be worth it. Don’t become discouraged if it takes you a long time. It takes a long time to write a quality book so don’t rush it. However, don’t let it stretch out for too long. Too long being 18 years. Exactly 18 years.

The “All Your Eggs in One Basket” Writer

Similar to the Twenty-Year Novel Writer, this type of writer tends to only have one novel that they want to shop around or promote. If you’re this type, you may only shop your novel to publishers and wait around to hear something back. You don’t write anything else until you’ve heard something back about the one novel you wrote. In the case of a self-published writer, you may have put all your time and effort into promoting that one book.

Appearance:  Bright-eyed, bushy-tailed and carrying an Easter basket with a book in it.

The Bright Side:  You have a skill that you may underestimate: the ability to finish what you write. Write other stuff. In fact, as soon as you send out your novel or publish it, start working on a new one. Write some short stories. Start a new project and forget about your novel floating out there in the ether. News will come when it comes.

In the meantime, you should be writing more so that you can increase the potential to get your books out there in the world. If you finished that one novel, you can finish more. So get to it!

The “This Idea Isn’t Original Enough” Writer

Ever start writing something and then hear there’s an idea that’s slightly similar – and then quit because it’s already been done?

“My story about orc office workers is too similar to Joe P. Novelist’s new series Orc Manager.

You may be this type of writer. Plagued by the “originality bug,” it has infested all your writing to the point where all your ideas sound the same.

Appearance:  A giant weretiger wearing gray pantaloons and a cloak made of ruby Kindles.

The Bright Side:
  Your pickiness in choosing the right story can definitely lead you down the right path. Make your ideas as original as you can and just go forward with them. If something is still nagging you because it seems cliche’ or done better by someone else, just change it and move on. If you’re writing good stories then people won’t worry so much if they are perfectly original. If you worry about originality then you also worry about quality. That’s a good thing.

The Ceaselessly Self-Loathing Writer

Similar to the “Idea Isn’t Original Enough” type, this kind of writer is always hating on herself and her writing to the point that it becomes a huge roadblock to productivity.

Appearance:  A shape-shifter that can take many forms. May be huddled in robes or a Snuggie made of angel tears.

The Bright Side:  The problem could be the genre or medium you’re writing in. If you hate all the novels you work on, then short stories may be for you. Or if you’re writing science fiction and it’s just not working, try writing a literary novel or a memoir or something completely different. A change of pace may snap you out of your writing slump and get you moving.

At the end of the day, hating everything you write isn’t why you love writing. You love it because…uh, you just do!

The Excuse Machine

This type may look for any reason not to write. “Kids keep me busy.” “Work keeps me busy.” “Watching TV keeps me busy.” “Breathing keeps me busy.”

These kinds of writers will look for any reason not to write. And when they do write, they may find the gears turning in the wrong direction. And like a decaying clock tower, gears will fall out of their ears.

Appearance:  A robot that dispenses jammed paper from its nose and mouth.

The Bright Side:  “Writing keeps me busy.” That’s a good excuse!

The Hop-Scotcher

Jumping from one project to the next, Hop-Scotchers rarely get anything done. They may or may not have Creative ADD. Either way, they never finish anything because they always get a new project to get excited about.

Mermaids fighting in the War of 1812? George Washington: Minotaur Hunter? A planet made of harpy bones? These types always come up with something newer and better.

Appearance:  Usually has a crazed look and carries a myriad of binders full of dragons.

The Bright Side:  You are awesome at coming up with ideas. Take them one at a time and finish them. Then you’ll have tons of mind-blowing stories to shop around or self-publish. People will love you and throw roses at your feet.

What Type of Writer Are You?

Is there such a thing as a perfect writer?  In the end, your flaws are what can make you turn from a “passable writer” into a “great writer.”

Everyone has some albatross as a writer to carry around his or her neck. But an albatross is a big bird, and you can probably ride it like a griffin into the sunset if you choose to.

So if you fall into any of the above categories, figure out how to break free of that mold, and start using your perceived weaknesses as strengths.

How do you deal with your perceived weaknesses as a writer? Do you take lemons and make lemonade or do you squirt lemon juice into your paper cuts?

Also, do you fall into any of the above categories?  Leave your thoughts (and/or invented category) in the comments below!

You can find Phil’s blog about Japan, writing, pro wrestling, and weird stuff at philipoverby1.blogspot.com.  His most recent story can be found in Kizuna: Fiction for Japan, available at Amazon.com.

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Philip Overby

Philip Overby is a nomadic warrior, indiscriminate troll slayer, undead unicorn enthusiast, former indie wrestler, and lover of all things fantasy. He lives in Yokohama, Japan.

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13 comments
NicoleValek
NicoleValek

Too many ideas writer? I have one story but an overflow of ideas. It started out as a single book to a trilogy and recently became a four book series. Downside: too many ideas can get me off track from the main point. Brightside: all these ideas can be written down and saved for a different story later, either to work on when I have writer's block on the main series or for the books to write after I've finished my series.

Javier
Javier

I must point out the problem of starting out too many projects, especially if you have yet to complete your current ones. It’s a very scary addiction of optimism that you think you are going to make it big with all these work, when in reality, you will never get anything done. It pained me to abandon all my projects to focus, having wasted YEARS into the making!

L Weber
L Weber

I just recently developing the plot for a book project with a group of friends. I’d suggest coming together to write a novel is good idea, especially if you’re like me, the hop scotch writer. You’ll need someone to filter and organize all your ideas!

Canales M
Canales M

My first book have yet to be completed because I just find that my plot is always lacking something. I always ask myself whether my writing is the “perfect” way to capture my readers, and sometimes, I even question myself if my story is going the right way. Endless editor here :(

But thanks for the advice Philip. At least I’m glad to see that my perfectionist issue is worth all the effort!

Emily Dillingham
Emily Dillingham

I wouldn't say I'm an 'endless editor.' But I do often flag paragraphs and passages for reworking (and reworking and reworking.) I've learned to just let it go after a few rewrites, though.

Stephanie
Stephanie

My belief is, and this may strike grammar perfectionists and blasphemous, we should write the way we speak. Use our dialects. Use old sayings our grandparents did. Etc.

RuthMartin1
RuthMartin1

I love your unique style of writing - makes for an interesting read. I am not sure which category describes me best, but I do know that I am a perfectionist with proper grammar and spelling. I also tend to procrastinate when I need to write something I don't really enjoy writing about. Once I really get started on a topic I have personal experience or interest in, the words seem to flow.... so I guess that is my answer - write about things I know and love! I've not published any books yet, but I write weekly blog posts on my blog(s), and have had several people tell me that I should write a book... maybe one day I will!

docsgirl79photo
docsgirl79photo

I would fall into the 20 yr + novel writer. My book took about 30years. I wrote bits and pieces of it, while raising 5 children. Also, Ihad all of the ideas, it was just hard for me to get the words down,that's where my husband came in. You can visit our siteNicholasBooks.com

hannahmrogers
hannahmrogers

Sadly, I may actually fall into all of these categories... Loved the article anyway though!

writeshiek
writeshiek

i have creative add and big talker too having dyslexia also a problem but sticking to this one project at moment thank goodness

Tony Dragani
Tony Dragani

I fall into several categories, but I'm mostly in the "Gun-Shy World-Builder" camp. The attention to detail, though, is responsible for much of my success, so it's ultimately a good thing. :)

SalKaye
SalKaye

Great post, Phil. Unfortunately, I fit in more than one category...

Sal

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