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“I do not believe that you should devote overly much effort to correcting your weaknesses. Rather, I believe that the highest success in living and the deepest emotional satisfaction comes from building and using your signature strengths.” Martin Seligman
I love this idea. Society has a tendency to work the other way around. If you have a weakness, it will be pointed out to you by teachers, friends, parents, and certainly enemies. Your perception of reality can easily be distorted, so that whatever this weakness is, you begin to see it as your defining characteristic.
An example. Suppose you have the world’s most gorgeous eyes, but somebody has just told you your nose is too big. When you go look in the mirror, what are you going to see – the beautiful eyes, or the ugly nose which has suddenly overtaken your entire face and turned you into a troll? Remember the teen years, and how one zit could render you socially inadequate for a week? (I’m assuming all readers of this blog are not supremely enlightened beings who are beyond this particular problem).
We tend to allow ourselves to be defined and limited by the things we don’t do well, and that focus keeps us from building on our amazing strengths. This is what the Ugly Duckling story was all about. The swan made a lousy duck. It would have made an even worse chicken – imagine if it had never even found its way into the water, because it was busily trying to figure out how to scratch around in the barnyard. Everything has an intended purpose – a spoon doesn’t work well for eating spaghetti, but it sure beats out the fork when it comes to soup.
When it comes to writing, we all have strengths. Yours might be characters, or plot, or making music with words. And I believe it is important to build on those strengths, rather than devoting all of your time and energy toward fixing what you think are your weaknesses. Think of your favorite authors: what comes to mind is not their weaknesses, but whatever they do that shines.
Just to be clear, I’m not saying that grammar and punctuation are not important, or that we shouldn’t work to get better at plotting or character development, or whatever it is that weakens our work. I’m only saying that if you spend all of your time trying to correct what you’re not quite as good at, you don’t get to shine in the area where you have true brilliance.
That said, if I don’t find some time for writing soon, I’m not going to shine at anything. It’s been a week of distractions and time consuming reality based living. Time to get on with building on my own writing strengths.
As always, keep your fingers moving, and may your muses be easily accessible and full of ideas.
“If you did not write every day, the poisons would accumulate and you would begin to die, or act crazy or both – you must stay drunk on writing so reality cannot destroy you.” – Ray Bradbury.
Mr. Bradbury has a point. I could go on at length about all of the reasons why I write, but in the end it does boil down to this: writing is my sanity. It makes the world go away, at last for awhile. It is a repository for unacceptable emotions and improbable dreams. It is a way to make sense of a reality that appears, at times, to be completely bizarre and unpredictable.
When life gets busy and I go for a stretch of a few days without writing, I feel it creeping up on me: depression, irritability, a feeling that my life and I are both purposeless and exist only as a plaything for the fates. An hour or two of solid writing time is better therapy for this sensation than a day of leisure. Not that I have total control of my novels, of course – the characters have minds of their own, and plots are tricky, shape shifting beasties with multiple tentacles and an inborn perversity. But there is something completely fulfilling in the process of taming a plot line or allowing a character to come alive on the page, something that follows me out into my every day world when I leave the computer or notebook behind me.
One of my characters is my altar ego, I’ve just realized. When she popped fully formed into my head I didn’t question where she came from, I just knew immediately that I recognized her from somewhere. On the surface, she is not much like me: I am overly concerned with what people think. I tend to consider it my job, even when I know better, to see that everybody else is happy, that their needs are met, that they have the opportunity to grow and change, often at my own expense. I avoid confrontation. But in the back of my head dwells a wicked little running commentary. Those who know me well are aware of this, because it does tend to find chinks in my armor and make its devious little self known to the world. One insightful friend called it my secret weapon.
This voice now has a name and a physical expression in the universe.
Yates Jefferson Baker doesn’t give a damn what other people think of her, and she certainly doesn’t spend much time on introspection. Often abrasive, at time outrageous, this woman gets things done. In fact, she kicks ass on a regular basis. Heck, maybe I could take some lessons from her. I suspect that many of my characters are aspects of myself or other people I either love or hate.
I’m curious about the rest of you: where do your characters come from? Do they pop into your head, complete, or do you go through the process of creating character profiles? And just for fun, how about sharing your favorite character out of your own writing?
As always, keep your fingers moving, and may your muses be kind.
“As for discipline – it’s important, but sort of over-rated. The more important virtue for a writer, I believe, is self-forgiveness. Because your writing will always disappoint you. Your laziness will always disappoint you.” – Elizabeth Gilbert.
I don’t know about the rest of you, but I am in need of this self forgiveness. If I were Catholic and went to confession, right now I think it might go something like this:
Father forgive me for I have sinned. I have been lazy and self indulgent. I have spent far too many hours on Twitter and blogging and Facebook when I could have been writing. I have cherished words that do not further either plot or characters in my writing, and have been profligate with adverbs. On two days of the last week I neglected my novels altogether, and did not write a word. I have worshipped vainly at the shrines of agents and editors before my manuscript is ready. I have been envious of the success of others and I have entertained the demon of despair.
I’d like to think that perhaps, even without a priest, there is absolution. I am human after all, and there are so many factors that go into this process of writing: emotional, psychological and physical, as well as the unfortunate need to abide by the laws of our physical reality. I’d get a lot more writing done if I could only adjust the space-time continuum at will.
Self immolation is futile: every thought you indulge about failure, every self doubt you entertain, every bit of energy spent on the counter productive process of beating yourself up, is energy taken away from forward motion. This doesn’t for a moment mean that we should ignore our faults and failings. What I have frequently suggested to clients who practice the art of despair is this: stop talking to yourself as though you were the enemy. Talk to yourself as you would to someone you love who is struggling. This doesn’t mean sugar coating reality, it just means that you speak with love and a little understanding.
Reframe: I have been brave enough to go back to a novel I thought was finished and begin restructuring the entire thing. I have studied the art of the query and researched agents appropriate to my work. In good faith, I acted on this information and began my collection of rejection letters. I have taken myself seriously as a writer, and registered for my first writing conference – Write on the River, coming up next month. My brain is a creative and busy place, and I have allowed myself to take pleasure in the act of creation rather than worrying excessively about where I will publish it. I have, on occasion, turned up at the page when I was exhausted, distracted, and sick at heart. I continue to believe, against all odds, in the power of story and words and that somewhere in this upside down economy there is still a market for what I write.
How are the rest of you faring with the art of self forgiveness? It’s been awhile since I posted a writing challenge, and today’s is a little bit different. I challenge you to comment positively about the current status of your writing: time spent, temptations overcome, courage shown in the face of your own doubts, a brilliant quote from your own work, some kind of forward movement on the road to publication.
As always, keep your fingers moving, and may your muse be kind.
Outside my window lies a pristine blanket of white. I’ve checked the calendar to be sure: Yes, it’s April. Mid April, in fact. A seasonal analogy for the process of writing this novel – like winter, it will appear to end, and then return when least expected, interfering with the process of new growth and forward motion. Still pretty though, if you look at it with your eyes sort of crossed and try not to focus on a sense of time.
Perception is everything, isn’t it? A layer of snow like this in October, and the kids would be shouting their delight. I’d be playing Christmas tunes and lighting candles. Instead, all of that beauty out my window this morning got nothing but a look of disgust from me. The intrepid teenager who had to be forced to wear a jacket in the winter ventured out to feed the dog shrunk into a jacket and hood like he was being thrust into a Siberian blizzard.
“Nothing is either good or bad, but thinking makes it so,” As Mr. Shakespeare profoundly pointed out. True, isn’t it? Therefore, I am changing my thinking. I have, at least temporarily, accepted reality. I am no longer in the process of submitting a finished manuscript; I am revising, recreating, rethinking, rewriting. Which is fine. If I can keep my mind out of the ‘I should be done by now’ hamster wheel, the process is infinitely more pleasant than submitting and getting rejection letters. A giant puzzle: if I move this here, and shift that there, can I add another piece in right here? There is fear that I will ruin the whole thing by messing around in it, of course, but I can live with that.
There will be other books, and most certainly other drafts of this one.