Weekly Musing: Strengths and Weaknesses

Every writer, no matter their level of experience and success, has their strengths and weaknesses. Some write such realistic dialogue the reader can hear the characters as if they were sitting next to them having a conversation. Others are able to weave incredibly tight, complex plots. Still others are able to juggle multiple points of view. While others excel at creating unique, compelling characters. But for every writer with a strength or two or three, they also have a weakness or two or three.

And that’s okay. In theory anyway. There is a ton of information about how to improve every aspect of your writing. For someone like me, a born perfectionist who overthinks pretty much everything (thanks anxiety), getting bombarded with such makes me feel that in order to get anything published I must excel in all areas. On an intellectual level I understand this simply isn’t possible. How many of my favorite books and authors could I point out the strengths and weaknesses?

So below are what I consider my strengths and weaknesses at this point. Admittedly there will probably be more weaknesses since I tend to focus more on the negative and how to improve. Anyway, typical massive writer insecurities aside, here we go!


Dialogue: One of the things I always appreciate in any story is dialogue. Dialogue for me is not only what gives me a sense of who a character but the story as well. I’m also fascinating by how people talk. Their choice of words, regional slang and dialect, accents, cadence, it’s all interesting.

Since characters are usually the first things that pop into my head I often find I hear their voices before I see them. So when I’m writing I try my best to capture their voice as much as I can. I think in some small way I’ve been successful at this so far. It does take me a lot of effort to really listen in a scene and make sure each person in a scene sounds like himself or herself.

One Point of View: This year I came to the realization trying to juggle more than one person’s point of view isn’t my thing. Recognizing all of the stories I’ve written have always been from one point of view, one character’s point of view is what I’m much better at. My brain concentrates better on just one task and in this case, one person’s story. I can stay inside that person’s world and mind better and it’s easier for me to see things as they do.

Oddly enough, while I don’t particularly care for first person, I noticed a fair amount of the stories I’ve had published have been the ones written in first person. Maybe because this point of view allows more freedom in truly getting deep into the emotion of the person something third person can restrict.


Setting: I’ve been trying to make more of an effort to bring settings out more. After all it’s what helps ground readers into the world. It’s a struggle for me because in my head I can see it perfectly but it’s difficult to figure out how to translate that visual onto the page. Stories I’ve written of late I think I’ve done a better job but more often than not I worry if I don’t have enough information. What confuses as I study what I read are authors who have the ability to use very few words to give the reader the setting while others go into beautiful, lengthy descriptions. As a reader I respond to both so as a writer I’m unclear as to which route to take.

Descriptions: In a similar vein to setting, descriptions trip me up. Mainly in regards to what characters look like and how best to introduce this when the reader first meets them. There are two schools of thought as to what is the “best” approach. Does one do a quick paragraph description or does one sprinkle details throughout? Personally I like getting the description all at once. I tend to forget what people look like unless there is some kind of memorable feature or if the author beats me over the head with reminders.

As I writer I struggle with seeing the characters in my head yet can’t seem to find a creative way to describe them beyond generic things like blue eyes, curly blonde hair, short, tall, has a limp, etc. This struggle filters over to what people are wearing. Since I tend to write sci-fi, fantasy, and historical fiction, what people wear and look like tend to be kinda important because it gives a visual cue to the reader as to what kind of person these people are.

Endings: I struggle mightily with endings. Beginnings I’ve gotten better at seeing where the appropriate place is to start the story and middles are easy. But endings, yikes. My spouse was the first, and still only person, to point out I seem to have a tendency to kill off characters as a way to end a story. This reeks of lazy writing to me.

Since I do some form of outlining, I’ve concentrated more on endings. I’m also listening to the most common feedback I get that my endings are weak. Honestly getting suggestions for what might work helps spurn my creativity. At least I can take some comfort in I’m not the only person who struggles with endings as many, many books, TV shows, and movies leave many of us unsatisfied.

Crowd Control: This is a term I use to refer to whenever a scene has more than two characters. I find managing two people easy enough. Anything more, oh dear. I have a tendency to forget people until rereading the scene. And heaven forbid there be anything else in the scene like weapons or animals to consider. I’ve started to take up diagraming on a piece of paper where people are physical at in relation to others to have a visual.

Emotion: This one could be in my head. Probably is. But I think I have yet to truly be comfortable allowing a character to be 100% honest in a story.

While I do well writing from a character’s point of view, I feel myself pulling back. I’m scared to dig deeper at times to let some kind of uncomfortable emotion come out for fear of offending. It’s not unusual for an author to be blamed for something a fictional character does. A fictional character is not a reflection of the author. Yet fear of judgment and possible hate email holds me back from allowing any kind of raw, pure emotion aside from what is socially acceptable from coming out.

This is something I view as pretty detrimental to my characters and ultimately my career and probably the one weakness which worries me the most. It’s also the one I think there is no amount of advice which can be given other than my own internal work to get over it.


So there you have it. My strengths and weaknesses as I see them right now. It is my hope I can turn some of these weaknesses into strengths. But I must keep in mind, and every other writer must keep in mind as well, that you cannot excel in all areas. Play to your strengths and work on your weaknesses.

Weekly Musing: Genre Beef

East Coast vs. West Coast. Hatfields and McCoys. Republican vs. Democrat. North vs. South. All famous feuds. Another kind of feud, less known, is Literary Fiction vs. Genre Fiction. Apparently as a writer you must pick one or the other. Like any good feud each side believes their side is the correct one.

Bollocks. I’m not one for conflict. Absolutely hate it and try to avoid either being directly involved in and I get massively uncomfortable when I see people arguing. So to learn that there is this apparent battle between Literary Fiction and Genre Fiction greatly puzzles me. I don’t understand why anyone thinks one is inherently better than the other is. Granted Literary Fiction has been around a lot longer although there are examples of Genre Fiction with Mary Shelly’s Frankenstein, Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter, Jane Austen and the Bronte sisters, Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray, and many others. But being able to say “First!” doesn’t mean it is better. It simply means it was well, first.

Before I go any further let’s briefly define Literary Fiction and Genre Fiction. Literary Fiction is fiction which holds literary merit in that it involves social criticism, political criticism, or commentary on the human condition. In other words, it is serious literature examining reality rather than providing an escape. Think of all the books you were forced to read in high school and college. On the flip side Genre Fiction is fiction aimed at the general population and is broadly considered escapism. This is the type of stuff not forced upon students because it’s not serious enough. But just like Literary Fiction having elements of Genre Fiction creeping onto the pages, there are countless examples of Genre Fiction with heavy Literary Fiction elements. Ursula K. LeGuin’s The Left Side of Darkness, The Ends of the Earth by William Golding, and Daughter of Fortune by Isabel Allende are but a few examples.

hope it is as obvious to you as it is to me how inherently snobby and rather dumb these definitions are. And I’m sure it obvious why these two have beef. There’s this notion those who write Literary Fiction are smarter, better educated, and better writers because they write Serious Stuff. Plebs need not bother. Those who write Genre Fiction are frivolous, write fluff for the masses, and must be worse writers because they don’t write complex, emotionally fraught work.

As a writer and a reader, why does there need to be this distance? Plenty of Genre Fiction books could definitely be considered literary not only because of the beauty of the prose, but also because of exploring themes supposedly only owned by Literary Fiction. Sci-fi and Fantasy often explore themes of humanity, right and wrong, gender roles, stereotypes, rights of the individual, etc. Historical Fiction teaches us not only teaches about the past, but also shows us gender roles, human rights, and how people try to fight societal norms. Women’s Fiction explores issues an entire gender typically faces such as discrimination, how does one define what a woman is or is not, and finding strength from within. I’ve read Mysteries which while primarily focused on whodunit, also spoke about racial differences and classism. I’m confident many other genres also explore serious issues.

So why is there this rivalry? What is it accomplishing? One thing that bugs me personally is trying to shove people into boxes, labels, whatever because it’s easier for them to know how to act rather than treating each person as an individual. Why can’t people just read and enjoy what they want without judgment? Why can’t writers just write whatever suits our fancy without a giant label on it?

Because human beings love those labels and the publishing industry is run by humans. Genre labels help readers figure out what they want to read. They help publishers determine how to market a book. Labels help libraries and book retailers know where to shelve a book. Labels aren’t necessarily bad, but when people start poo-pooing one genre over another than it’s just silly.

At the end of the day it’s perfectly fine for a book to just be a book but let’s reexamine the archaic assumption only Literary Fiction is serious and therefore better and Genre Fiction is fluff to be looked down upon. Not to sound all lovey dovey but can’t the two just get along? Our genre doesn’t detract from we write because we have stories to tell. We all have the desire to share with the world those stories regardless if our motivation is escapism or enlightenment.

Weekly Musing: Submission Sabbatical

When one decides to write the expectation is at some point you will submit your story in the hopes of getting published. If you’re a fiction writer you usually start off writing and sending short stories out. If you write non-fiction then essays are probably your best bet. In essence it’s how we build up our resume so that if and when we decide to take the next step to get to the big leagues, we can show others have taken a chance on us. It’s also a way to start building up our brand. It’s also a way for potential agent or publisher to see our previous works. With sending out work comes a huge amount of anxiety. Will the editor like it and accept it? Will it be rejected?

A few years ago I didn’t realize I had to worry about publishing credits because it could possibly up my chances of getting a novel published. I was under the impression the process was write book and figure out how to get it published. This additional wrinkle of publishing short stories to build up my street cred was curious to me.

On the surface this makes some sense to me. Yet when I examine it a little more, I see some cracks in the argument. If I’ve completed a novel to the best of my ability and send it around to agents and publishers, they’ll be reading and judging if that manuscript, and only that manuscript and me are worth taking a chance on. Of course in the query letter I will have the opportunity to brag about publishing credits so perhaps it will be helpful. But if someone doesn’t have previous publishing credits should they be automatically be excluded from consideration? Do previous publishing credits mean that one’s novel will be better than someone who has never been published? I believe the short answer to all of these questions is no.

Perhaps I’ve come to this conclusion because 2016 hasn’t been as generous as previous years. Yes, I’ve had a few things come out this year *INSERT LINKS*, but those were stories submitted last year. So far everything submitted this year has been rejected. Beyond boilerplate answers, I’m not completely certain why. Perhaps I’ve picked the wrong outfits. Perhaps I’m trying to make a story fit criteria that it truly doesn’t.

But with a year of rejections it’s been difficult to keep going. Some weeks I’ve received two to four rejections. For my self-confidence those weeks really suck. From the start aspiring writers are told to develop a thick skin. Realize not everyone will like everything you write. That rejection is a part of the industry and most of the time rejections do not mean you are a crappy writer.

When I look at how many places I’ve sent stories to, I guess it makes sense I’d receive more rejections, but my hope is more places = more chances I’ll get a yes. I keep track of my submissions so it would be easy enough to count up the rejections. But I don’t want to. I already have a visual with each rejection nailed to a wall, something I stole from Stephen King’s On Writing. I’m now on my second nail having run out of space on the first nail in mid-2015.

It’s unclear to me if having this visual is good for my self-esteem. While I accept rejection as normal, I am human. My skin has thickened over the years, but still rejection hurts. And honestly it is difficult not to take it personally. After all with each word I write I am sharing a piece of myself with the world. Unfortunately the wary my personality processes rejection is tell myself I suck. Don’t worry, though, this thought does eventually go away.

So as the year has gone on and I’ve received nothing but rejections, I noticed it was getting to me emotionally and mentally. I started finding it more difficult to justify writing even though it truly is the only thing I want to do. It’s the one area I can admit I have some natural ability. At times it’s been hard to find the motivation to put pen to paper, to revise anything in the hopes of making it good enough for someone else. I also wondered what happens to my chances of landing an agent or publisher if I don’t get another short story published.

Instead of continuing to submit my work I am taking a break. It’s not permanent and next year I’ll gather the courage to put myself out there once more. At first this decision was kind of scary and I questioned if I was being too sensitive. But I hope I know me. Know there are times when something isn’t working or is too painful, to not press through. In this case I’d become demoralized and any joy I got out of writing had been sucked out.

I don’t know what, if any, impact this will have on my career. I doubt it will because I believe I am getting better even if the number of rejections grows. At this point what matters most is 1) revising the novel I’ve been working on and off on for years. It needs to get done to send to beta readers and agents, 2) concentrating more on writing with a clear head without the weight of getting published, and 3) improving my writing. Any other thoughts need to be brushed aside.