Do You Concentrate on Your Strengths or Weaknesses?

I'm a fan of the Lee Child series of Jack Reacher books. For anyone who doesn't know them, they follow Jack Reacher, ex-military police officer and now a rootless drifter. In each book Jack comes to a town and gets embroiled in some intrigue. Jack is the smartest and toughest guy in the room. Stuff blows up. Women swoon. Jack moves on in the end. They are well written and reliably entertaining books.

Repetitive? Not as much as you'd think. Child makes it work. His prose is strong, the characters are involving, he clearly knows his main character and his world very well, and he is a master of creating constantly unfolding suspense. Reading Child's books, I think "here's someone who really knows himself as a writer." He knows his strengths and he plays to them extraordinarily well.

This got me thinking about my strengths and weaknesses as a writer. What are they? Well, I'm still figuring that out but if I had to say right now I'd say... I think I'm good at dealing with characters in depth and I'm pretty good at writing action scenes and have a bit of a descriptive flair. I think I'm good with tone. On the minus side? Well, despite my theatre background, long dialog scenes frustrate me. I feel like I write action better. I find that dealing with too many characters at once confuses me so I keep casts small. Also, whenever I've tried to be overly smart or clever in my writing I fail. I'm better at simplicity.

So let's say that's a fair assessment of my strengths and weaknesses. What do I do with this info? How should it affect what I do on a daily basis? Do I be like Lee Child and stick with what I know I do well? Or should I at some point write a dialog heavy, complex novel of ideas with a sprawling cast  because I should be challenging myself and trying to expand my horizons? Some mix of these things?

It seems to me that there is honor in either choice. Being resolutely who you are or pushing yourself into uncomfortable territory to try and grow.

What do you guys think? First, I'd love to know what you all feel are your strengths and weaknesses and then where you fall on the continuum of A) know yourself and do what you do consistently well or B) purposefully throw yourself into your weaknesses in an attempt to grow, even if you fail?


Anonymous said...

Over the past few years, I taken a writing courses, and during those courses I've forced myself to do things that I consider my weaknesses. I figure it's a great time to work on them because I'll have someone to give me feedback. For some things, it's really helped, and I don't consider them weaknesses anymore. For others--well, I try to avoid them and stick to what I do well in my writing.

Sandra Ulbrich Almazan said...

I'm going to blog about this tomorrow, actually. I came across another blog reminding me that we need to practice what we're not good at, so that's what I intend to do.

Stina said...

I tend to focus (obsess over) my weaknessess. Hopefully that means they're becoming less of a weakness, so I can start focusing on a new one. ;)

Jen said...

I'm the opposite. I could write dialogue all day. It's the little nuances that make a character important to the reader, gestures, quirks, etc. that fall through the cracks.


Colene Murphy said...

I love writing action too. I'm trying to improve on my suspense building as well as making characters deeper and more believable. But my main weakness is confidence. My lack of confidence can comatize(is that a word?) my writing for days and even weeks.

Good luck with your writing!

Anonymous said...

I'm pretty good at plot and dialogue, but my description and proofing need work.

I tend to focus on my strengths in the initial draft and my weaknesses in my revisions.

Tere Kirkland said...

For my first draft, I don't really care what weaknesses, like my penchant for clichés, wind up on the page. I guess I instinctively go with my strengths, like setting mood, when I'm writing, but sometimes don't add enough character development. These are things I know to look for in the second draft.

Great post!

Sierra Gardner said...

I do really well at building suspense but have a very difficult time translating humor to the page.