Fighting Your Strengths

Sometimes where writing is concerned, it’s easy to confuse skill with enthusiasm. I mean, if you have two separate pieces of prose, one that flowed siwftly from the pen (metaphorically speaking) and one where the composition of each and every word felt like an exercise in either pulling teeth or deciphering Linear-B, one might draw the obvious conclusion that the first piece was playing off of one or more of your strengths as a writer, while another, say a long narrative section, was getting done by sheer persistence since you’re fighting against a severe weakness in your craft. It ain’t, as the man said, necessarily so. Sometimes you’ve got that backwards.

I’m taking the example nearest to hand: the novel project just prior to the most recent one. I wrote a complete draft but then basically stuck it aside and never did much with the working draft for various good reasons, but now that the most recent project is at rest for the moment I’ve been going back to this one and trying to get it into shape for possible submission later. I still like it. I still think that the cosmological and theological questions I wanted to play with there made for a good story. At least, “in theory.” One problem though, and it’s sort of a big one–everybody talks too darn much.

Completely my fault. As anyone who’s read much or maybe any of my work should know, I love dialogue. I don’t pretend to know whether we’re talking about cause and effect here, but one possible reason that I love dialogue is that it’s one aspect of writing that I have always found extremely easy. Get two interesting characters with something at stake, something to potentially gain or lose, and get them talking to each other? Feh. The scene practically writes itself. Yet in this project that very strength was killing the book.

I have to fight the urge to get carried away, and clearly as I reviewed the text of this book, it was obvious that I hadn’t fought hard enough. Which brings up something I’m not, or at least didn’t use to be good at–cutting. I had to struggle to learn this, and it took years. Lots of them. But I finally turned that weakness into a skill. I am still not a fast or enthusiastic cutter. I would even say I’d have to improve to be reluctant. But I’m a precise one. Which is fortunate, since judicious cutting is all that will save this book. More than save, it may just reveal it as something that’s every bit as good as I thought it was when I wrote it.

If your strengths can kill your work, your weaknesses can save it. Reminds me of the First Law of Power (Black Kath’s Daughter): “What Power Holds, Weakness Frees.” Strengths can bind and limit, weaknesses can cut the cords. All you have to do is recognize both for what they really are.