Think about your favorite authors. What are the hallmarks of their writing? Jenny Crusie writes fabulous, snappy, snarky dialogue. Loretta Chase is the goddess of subtext—she’s brilliant at creating powerful emotional bonds between her heroes and heroines, who hide their feelings behind carefully constructed facades that fracture at the perfect, critical, moment.
What about you? In your writing, or any other aspect of your creativity, or your life in general, do you know what your strengths are? If you’re anything like me, I bet you’d find it far easier to list what you’re not good at, where you need to improve, where others have a skill that far surpasses yours.
I may have mentioned that we’ve been in Builder Purgatory chez Jilly for the last four weeks. We’ve been undergoing insurance-related house repairs, and we’ve had to use the loss adjuster’s preferred contractor rather than our usual Polish crew. To put it politely, the appointed builder and I have had our differences. I have no idea what the construction equivalent of spitting in the soup may be, but I’ll bet he did it. Me? I’ve been trying to write, but when the rage became too strong, I’ve been self-medicating by watching the tennis. Thank goodness for Wimbledon.
The sight of the All England Lawn Tennis Club is an immediate de-stressor—manicured green grass courts, players in immaculate white clothing, and not an advertisement in sight—unless you’re a competitor. For the players and their entourages, Wimbledon fortnight is a huge deal. Everyone wants to do well here. The standard is incredibly high, even in qualifying.
That got me to thinking. Firstly, what does it take to become a champion when everyone in the tournament plays astonishingly well? And secondly, why do I love to watch some players, even though I know they will likely never win the whole event, and why am I secretly glad when some players lose, because they’re really good but their play doesn’t excite me at all?
I think the answer to the first question is that nobody becomes a great champion purely by having solid all-round skills. The greatest players are those who are much better than the rest at some particular aspect of the game. They aren’t the best at everything, and they don’t all have the same superlative skill. Some have an amazing serve. Some are great returners or counterpunchers. Some have incredible power, others have great touch. The key thing is that the top players identify their strongest skill and hone it until it becomes a game-changer.
Imo the answer to the second question is pretty much the same. Players who will probably never reach the highest levels, but who are fascinating to watch, also have amazing super-skills. The problem is that they also have super-weaknesses that mean that while they’re capable of having a good day or two, they don’t have the consistency to put together a winning streak over a whole tournament.
A further thought is that different skills are more effective in different conditions, which means particular players have a better chance to succeed at specific tournaments. A superfast serve can make a player unbeatable on a really fast court. A slow surface may be more suited to a counterpuncher.
Told you that to tell you this: it occurred to me that it’s the same with writing. We all know what our weaknesses are and we work hard to fix them. Some of mine are: I often don’t do enough to establish place and time, I don’t give enough description to enable a reader to visualize the scene, and I need to do better at using word choices to strengthen and enrich my world and story. Ask me what my strengths are, and I’m not sure I could tell you. I don’t evaluate whether my style would be more suited to sweet or suspenseful stories, and I’ve never worked on reinforcing my strongest qualities to make my stories memorable and distinctive.
I *think* I may have made a positive change, quite by accident, in that beta readers seem to enjoy my off-beat imagination and world-building. Those fantastic qualities combined with my sometimes eccentric, Brit-sounding vocabulary make my writing potentially a good fit for the fantasy romance sub-genre I switched to last year. I hope so, anyway 😉 .
I feel strangely uncomfortable trying to focus on my writing strengths, but I think it’s something I need to do. My immediate plan is to go back over every contest feedback form and beta reader report I ever received and make a summary of all the positive feedback. Then I’ll see if I can identify some commonalities and consider how I can actively strengthen those qualities in my writing.
What about you? Do you know your superpower(s)? Do you work to develop them?