Weak and Strong (TCWT)

Weak and Strong (TCWT)

This month, the Teens Can Write Too! blog chain asks us to talk about what we consider to be our greatest weakness as a writer, and also our greatest strength.

I started writing this post the other day while I was staying up to listen to the live election coverage, but when I read it through the next day I found it was a bit of a mess, because I kept getting distracted and talking about politics. So I’m starting over.


Interestingly, what I consider to be my strengths and weaknesses seem to change day by day, because I’m not approaching this from the same angle I did on Thursday night.

I have a number of weaknesses as a writer. One is world-building: I often focus on such a small segment of what’s happening that I completely ignore the greater implications that would have on the world, leading to an incomplete world with a lot of flaws. I’m working on that, though, and paying more attention to the wider world in which my stories take place.

Another would be my inability to stay focused on any project for a long time. I’m not saying that I tend to abandon novels halfway through — I’m pretty good at actually getting to the end, although I mostly do that by writing too quickly to get bored. But when it comes to edits and redrafts, I often end up moving onto something else. And this is why I’ve written fifteen novels or something like that, but none of them have been published…

Take my Death and Fairies series, for example. I’ve been working on this for five years — according to Timehop, I killed one of my characters for the first time five years ago as of a few days back. I’ve rewritten it, replotted it, changed characters, renamed most people, turned it into a series, and yet I’m still completely unsatisfied with any of it, even the books I have written. I’ve changed the worldbuilding so much it’s unrecognisable, but I still have questions to which I don’t know the answers.

Some of my Death & Fairies development files -- I also have quite a lot written by hand.
Some of my Death & Fairies development files — I also have quite a lot written by hand.

I guess that links to worldbuilding again, which is interfering with my Moth Trilogy too. The point is, instead of sticking with D&F and getting it finished, I’ve written a dozen other novels, because I can’t stay on one project.

But mostly, I think my greatest weakness is that I take everything too seriously. I find it hard to write just for fun. Everything half-decent I produce, I immediately start thinking about whether I could publish it. And that means that everything has to be perfect, hence why I’m never satisfied. And that’s paralysing on days when it isn’t going so well, because I can’t write at all.

If I write a bad poem it’s not just a bad day, it’s because I’m useless and I’m never going to make it as a writer and what was I thinking when I chose a completely non-vocational degree why didn’t I study sciences or something…. and so on and so forth.

I get past this mostly by writing quickly so that I have less time to be critical, but it’s still a big problem. If it’s not flowing that day, I get seriously discouraged. It has to be good. Because I take this Seriously. Very, very seriously. I need to lighten up and see my writing as something fun as well as something I’m passionate about. My passion isn’t love or affection, it’s very fervent and committed and stressful. I don’t do things by halves; I’ve got an obsessive personality and I find it hard to take anything lightly. So yeah.

My greatest strength, on the other hand… That’s a bit harder to identify. I’m proud of how diverse the casts of my books are. I think I’ve really moved past the stage of defaulting to ‘straight white cis characters’, and every book I’ve written recently has consisted of a much more varied cast, regardless of the period it’s set in. I make historical accuracy work for me, rather than the other way around.

However, I think my greatest strength is my ability to get inside my characters’ heads. It’s a problem in real life — I find it hard to figure out how much of my identity is me and how much I’ve picked up from my characters. But it helps me to write.

I’m always thinking about how my characters would react to something. When I read poetry, I’m thinking about how it would affect a certain handful of my characters who read and write poetry, and what they’d think. I associate books and music and jokes with characters, which is helped by making playlists and tagging ten million Tumblr posts for various characters and relationships.

Some of my writing playlists. There are a lot of them.
Some of my writing playlists. There are a lot of them.

I talk a lot about my characters outside of their plot and circumstance. My friends help me discuss how they’d behave in a different setting. When we find another character with similar traits, we ask, “How would Isabel behave around them?” or “What would Aifa think about this?”

We create ridiculous scenarios that could one day be the weirdest fanfics you’d find, and throw all the characters in. Not just mine, but those of my writing friends too. And then we consider what they’d think, how they’d react, how they’d feel. When my friends say something that’s obviously out of character for one of my characters, I think about what made them think that, and rewrite accordingly so that the character’s stance is clearer.

All of this helps me get firmly inside their heads, and makes them more real. Real enough to make my friends cry, which is totally what it’s all about, right?

So I think that’s where my strength lies: in my characters. I may have plot holes all over the place and shoddy worldbuilding, but I’ve got a cast who can navigate that plot anyway. Okay, so I’m working on the other things, I don’t think they’re unimportant. But my characters have become my strong point, where once they were my weakness. And I’m pretty proud of that.

Tuesday May 5th — The Little Engine That Couldn’t
Wednesday May 6th — Ariel Kalati, Writer
Friday May 8th — Galloping Free
Saturday May 9th — Miriam Joy Writes
Sunday May 10th — The Ramblings of Aravis
Wednesday May 13th — Light and Shadows
Friday May 15th — Musings from Neville’s Navel
Saturday May 16th — The World of the Writer
Tuesday May 19th — Butterflies of the Imagination
Wednesday May 20th — Introspection Creative
Friday May 22nd — Spellbound
Sunday May 24th — Unikke Lyfe
Monday May 25th — The Long Life of a Lifelong Fangirl
Wednesday May 27th — Against the Shadows
Friday May 29th — Teens Can Write, Too, announcing June’s chain

4 thoughts on “Weak and Strong (TCWT)

  1. What – the blue Wild Space – goes into a Word doc called ‘playlist torture’?
    And I like UKIP. I really do.
    And ohhh you are so right, worldbuilding is the pits, but it’s gotta be done, right? Like dishes and dusting.

    1. Pfft, it’s when I was sending song lyrics to a friend to make her cry about my characters. I saved the chat because it made me laugh (and also reminds me why certain songs are on certain playlists).

      Whaaaat? Nooo. I’m gonna hope you’re joking, because UKIP have no redeeming qualities.

        1. Meh, the Europe question is completely unrelated to my hatred of UKIP. I don’t like them because they’re bigoted, misogynistic homophobes who don’t understand that our country has been built on immigration from the very beginning. (Normans. Anglo-Saxons. Romans. Celts, if you go far enough back. Nobody is from here.) Personally I’m in favour of staying in the EU, but that’s partly for selfish reasons — it makes my plan of emigrating to Ireland a lot easier if I don’t need a visa. But regardless of that, I’m ashamed to live in a country where so many people voted UKIP, because it makes me sad that people are that intolerant.
          Yup, I’m at Cambridge. Coming up to the end of my first year — in about ten days, I’ll be done. (Eek.)

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