No matter what the field, what the profession, what the skill set, everyone who strives to accomplish specific goals brings to the effort a variety of strengths and weaknesses. This is no less true in the field of professional writing than anything else.
But while it may be lamentable that you are not great at everything you try, this simple truth need not be a source of unhappiness nor a one-way ticket to failure.
One of the most important distinctions between a highly professional writer and a lesser one is that the former recognizes her strengths and weaknesses, while the latter is to some extent blind to them.
Here’s how you open your eyes to your strengths and weaknesses, and begin to incorporate them into your work:
First, the professional writer continually assesses his or her talents, skills, and capabilities. Each new effort, each new finished piece, stands as a milestone from which the professional writer can look back at his or her body of work and try to understand the patterns it contains.
For example, perhaps you can write a snappy poem, but your efforts to pen a political essay often fall short. Maybe you can craft a compelling short story about a young person coming of age, but that novel you’d love to write about an aging couple with regrets over past relationships eludes you. It’s possible you can describe an article of clothing in terms so soaring that you drive sales higher than the designer’s expectations. But that’s no guarantee you can write a meaningful review of the newest video game.
Strengths and weaknesses don’t manifest themselves simply in terms of whether a certain project is easy or hard for you to complete at a high level of proficiency. There are other factors, such as your willingness to work at honing a difficult passage, your satisfaction with your results, and – of course – how other people react to your output.
Most of us want to rely on our own judgments about our capabilities in various styles, genres, topic areas, purposes, audiences, and formats. Fine. Go ahead and make those personal assessments. But it’s helpful if you check your judgments against those of others, at least once in a while, to make sure you’re not just spinning fantasies about your abilities that won’t hold up in the world of impersonal market-based judgments.
Consider both your strengths and weaknesses in terms of the kinds of material to which they relate. If you’re great at explaining actions in step-by-step fashion, that’ll be useful in writing “how to” articles and revealing what’s behind the scenes of complex current events. But it won’t be much help in writing dialog in a bodice-ripper.
On the other hand, if characters you imagine instantly come to life in your head and heart, then you’ll find it easier to tell intense personal stories that keep various audiences turning your pages. But you might not find it as easy to cover a news event or write a compelling press release.
By the same token, if you tend to lose track of where you’re going while writing procedural dramas, there’s little point in beating your head against the wall by trying to draft a spec script for “Law and Order.” Yet that deficiency says nothing about your ability to accomplish other writing objectives.
Take time to evaluate the talents, skills, and capabilities that normally go into creating any category of writing that interests you. Then carefully compare what you actually can do best against what you probably need to be able to do if you expect to excel in a specific kind of writing.
All this effort should result in a list of styles, genres, topic areas, purposes, audiences, and formats that feel very comfortable and interesting to you. These are the categories in which you will do best to concentrate not only your writing time, but your efforts to learn your craft.
Make it your top priority to work on the ones that best match the strengths and weaknesses you bring to the table. Those where you measure up less accurately you can relegate to a back burner or earmark for more concentration later, when you have more time or after you have grown as a writer.
If you’re like most of the writers I’ve known and mentored, you’ll find that the closer you stay to your wheelhouse, the easier and better your professional work will become.
I’d love to hear your thoughts and feelings about all this in the comments below.