Mastering Words: Transform Your Writing Weakness into Strength

A guest post by Angela Ackerman of The Bookshelf Muse

Each day, we seek to put our best foot forward. We shower, dress for the day’s activities, style our hair. We plan, organize, gather our things, and check the mirror before leaving to pluck stray fluff off our sweaters and straighten sleeves.

Why?

  • To enhance our strengths.
  • To appear confident.
  • To show the people who interact with us that we are collected and ready for whatever comes our way.

It’s human nature to minimize our weaknesses. We hide zits, disguise thinning hair and avoid talking about our embarrassing mistakes. But in writing, covering up flaws can keep us from success.

Attitude

All writers shares a common epiphany on the writing path. I call it Staring Into The Abyss. This experience happens when our writing has strengthened to the point where blissful ignorance rubs away and we begin to realize just how much we don’t know.

It’s a dark moment, a bleak moment. We feel shock. Frustration. Despair. Some stop right there on the path, their writing spirits broken. Others take a micro-step forward, progressing toward the most important stages leading to growth: acceptance and determination.

Once we come to terms with what we don’t know, we can set out to learn. Taking on the attitude of a Learner is what separates an amateur from a PRO.

Asking for help

Writers can strengthen their skills on their own, but it’s a lot of hard work. Reaching out to other writers will shorten the learning curve considerably. Critique partners can help identify your weak areas and offer strategies to improve. They also will know of resources which might help.

There are many great sites for writers to find a critique partner or two. I recommend The Critique Circle (free & safe to post work). There are also sites like Absolute Write, Critters Workshop and Agent Query’s Critique Partner Wanted board. Or let someone play matchmaker for you: Ladies Who Critique & Rach Writes.

Read

No matter what areas need to be worked on, books can help. Find inspiration through your favorite fiction authors and in ‘how to’ books (here’s a good list to start on). Pick up a few and take notes. If you can, pair up with another writer to read the same book and then discuss it. Learning together gives you a better chance to fully understand any topic.

Resources, resources, resources

There are thousands of articles on writing that can teach strong writing technique. Plotting, Story Structure, Voice, Description, Showing vs Telling, Style, Dialogue, Characters…whatever areas you want to develop, there is content out there to help you.

The trick is finding the best nuggets of information without losing your whole day online. Try this Search Engine for Writers for starters. Then, bookmark The Writers Resource which is a must-have for any writer. And saving the best for last, turn your gaze to the sidebar! Write to Done is a treasure trove of fantastic material for writers.

Think outside the monitor

Many of us are introverts, and it’s easy to get caught up on the keyboard and screen. There’s nothing wrong with this, unless your rectangular life preserver is holding you back. Writing Groups, Conferences, Work Shops and Retreats are all excellent opportunities to hone writing skills and meet mentors. Writing events need not be expensive–get involved in a local writing group and see what events have a low or no cost for members.

When you’re looking for opportunities to learn, don’t forget the movies. So much can be gleaned by watching films to see what makes them work. In fact, some of our biggest epiphanies as writers will come from studying screenwriting. I highly recommend reading Save the Cat & Writing Screenplays that Sell. These books are pure gold. Trust me, your writing will thank you!

Write and rewrite

Transforming writing weaknesses into strengths takes time. Choose learning strategies that work best for you and never stop writing. Each step of the way, apply new-found knowledge to the page. We learn most of all by doing, so always make time to write.

Angela Ackerman writes on the darker side of MG & YA. She blogs at The Bookshelf Muse, a description resource hub for writers. Her book, The Emotion Thesaurus: A Writer’s Guide to Character Expression is scheduled for release in April 2012.

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65 Responses to “Mastering Words: Transform Your Writing Weakness into Strength”

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  1. great column of info for writers.its’nice getting this info via internet,thanx

  2. IIT Jee 2012 says:

    Success is an easy path if one can correct the mistakes. Finding faults is easy but correcting them is not.

    • You’re right–it can be very hard. Some things I have an easy time grasping and improving on, but other things I really struggle with. I think however, this is why finding a writing group or forum, reading blogs and forming critique partnerships are all so important. Often our strengths and weaknesses are different, and together we can help each other grow. :)

  3. My heartiest suggestion to writers who are “staring into the abyss” is to stop the staring and to start mindmapping. This technique is like a magic bullet for writers. I describe it here:
    http://www.publicationcoach.com/free-articles/mindmapping.php

  4. PJ Reece says:

    Angela… critical post, thanks. Not only do writers face this crisis, but of course you’ve described the Act II crisis for our average fictional protagonist:

    “the point where blissful ignorance rubs away and we begin to realize just how much we don’t know.”

    I’ve been studying this dramatic moment, one that decides what really makes a hero… and I couldn’t describe it any better than you have:

    “It’s a dark moment, a bleak moment. We feel shock. Frustration. Despair. Some stop right there on the path, their writing spirits broken. Others take a micro-step forward, progressing toward the most important stages leading to growth: acceptance and determination.”

    You’re talking about writers, I’m talking about fictional heroes. WE’RE ONE AND THE SAME!

    • P.J., I love that! And it’s so true–we can use our own Writer’s bleak moment and eventual step forward and apply our emotional struggle to the Character’s bleak moment and really create something authentic.

      Angela @ The Bookshelf Muse

      • Z Parks says:

        PJ & Angela,

        Thank you both! I’m both a writer struggling with writing and a writer struggling with a protagonist who doesn’t know which step to take next. Both the article and your comments have been so helpful with my getting past the “I don’t know what I’m doing! I don’t know if I can keep going, this is just so hard!” stage and back into the motion of moving forward, of writing to completion.

        Thanks

        Zena @ Z’s Tales

        • I really found joining a writing group helpful, Zena. In fact the link above for The Critique Circle is where I joined when I realized I needed help. I learned a lot there, and really started to develop as a writer. I still moderate at The Critique Circle and it’s a great place for writers to get feedback and talk about writing with other motivated individuals. :)

          • PJ Reece says:

            I hesitate to use these forums to pitch a personal project…but this might be useful: I’m about to publish an eBook called “Story Structure to Die for”. It’s with my book designer as we speak. It breaks down a story into its simplest elements, an exercise that can help keep a protagonist under control. I’d love you to take a critical look at it, Angela, when it’s done. For everyone, this will be a free download from my website. SOON!

  5. I have taken up to writing as my serious hobby recently. I did used to write – reports, training materials, letters, all the typical stuff – a lot in my active professional life. I call that guided writing. I now want to practice extempore writing.
    My one big weakness is I , generally, am not able to, spontaneously and naturally, write short sentences. This blog has been a great source of many inspiring self-correcting thoughts.
    I have also taken up translation of the English articles that i read and like into Gujarati and publish them on my personal blog. I plan to create a network of such Gujaratis, who can create a knowledge platform for pure Gujarati speaking / reading people to know what others think and and write.
    Presently, I solicit your concurrence to translate this post into Gujarati and publish it. I would maintain all credits and link to this post. I would also separately send a soft copy of the translated work.

    • Hi Ashok,

      I think it’s great you’re translating writing articles to your native language so other writers can benefit. Feel free to translate this one written by me to put on your blog, provided you link back to this original post–I am all about reaching and helping as many writers as possible if I can. :) However, I can only speak for this singular post, so be sure to contact the blog owners and post authors for any other content you see here to secure the required permissions.

      Happy writing!

  6. Katya says:

    Oh my goodness, I’m so happy you talked about the necessity of reading. So many writers keep saying they try to avoid reading other books (especially fiction), if they have an open project, it was starting to seriously confuse me. They miss out on so many ideas and lose inspiration…

    ..kudos to you for straightening things out.

    :D

    • Hi Kayta,

      Reading is so important! And you’re right, often it is the first thing to go when writers are squeezed for time. I myself have been guilty of this. I find what works for me is to have a weekly reading goal. I’m also keeping track of all the books I read so I can see and appreciate what I’ve read at the end of the calendar year.

      I know when I’m drafting, I take care not to read anything too close to what I’m writing, but while I’m revising, I prefer to read the same ‘type’ of books, because it keeps me focused. I think people should explore and see what works for them, but always make time to read. :)

      • Z Parks says:

        What an interesting point! I always read when I’m blocked, but I usually go to favorite passages from books that remind me of the one I’m working on so I can see how that author handled the type of scene I’m trying to work through. It usually helps me to get inspiration, but the tricky part is not doing it exactly as it’s been done before. I wonder if I’m hurting or harming myself with this practice?

        Zena @ Z’s Tales

        • I think studying books for technique is a very effective way to learn! :)

          I remember when I first started studying other books I gravitated to the types of books I was also trying to write, and would end up writing something similar to what I was reading and studying, too.
          I believe the trick is to read a lot of different books (different genres, etc) and then you’ll gain a broader perspective of ‘story’ and have more exposure to what strong, successful writing looks like in different forms. Then, as your confidence in your own writing increases, you’ll find yourself not recreating similar story lines in your own writing but using the successful techniques. :)

          Does this answer your question, Zena?

  7. Julie Musil says:

    Angela, you make such excellent points! One thing that’s helped me learn is to just be open. It’s amazing what we see when we just open our eyes and pay attention.

  8. Ben Woodard says:

    As always, thanks so much Angela. Looking forward to your book.

  9. Ava Jae says:

    Fantastic list, Angela! I especially like your point on attitude–I don’t think we can ever learn everything there is to know about any one topic, writing included. The sooner we realize that there’s always more to learn and more ways to improve, the quicker we’ll start growing as writers.

    Great guest post! Thanks for the link! :)

    • I will admit, I have met some authors who feel they ‘know enough’ and so do not seek out ways to improve. Yet, every successful author I know has adopted a Learner stance, and takes advantage of opportunities to grow whenever they can. I don’t think this is coincidence. :)

      There’s always more to learn, always ways to improve. I think this is what keeps the writing process fresh for us–that continual opportunity for discovery.

      Have a great weekend!

  10. Eric Steinberg says:

    A lot of writers don’t realize how much they can learn from screenwriting. Great book recommendations. I’ve already requested them from the library.

    The only thing I would add to the mix is television writing. I had no formal fiction writing, but I learned a ton from reading television writer Jane Espenson’s excellent blog, where she deconstructs plot, humor, etc. She’s not currently posting, but the archives are another gold mine.

    Thanks for an excellent blog post!

  11. Hi Eric,

    I hope you enjoy those screenwriting books as much as I did. Looking to screenwriting for help is a recent thing for me. I hadn’t thought about investigating TV writing as well, but now I will! Thanks so much for posting that link. :)

    Angela

    • Eric Steinberg says:

      Thanks Angela. And me actually posting the link (http://www.janeespenson.com/) would be more helpful.

      For those that aren’t familiar, Jane Espenson was one of the writers on Buffy the Vampire Slayer and the new Battlestar Galactica, among others shows.

  12. Old Kitty says:

    Hi Angela, hi Write to Done

    These are all very important and fundamental tips on how to get the best out of the writer within! Thanks for the links too.

    Thanks for sharing! Take care
    x

  13. Staring Into The Abyss, huh? I love it! Thank you so much for sharing, Angela! :)

    • Carrie, I know it’s a bit cliche, but it sure fits. I remember that moment clearly, and it was all I could do to keep writing, knowing just how far I still had to go to really understand writing craft. I’m still in transit, too :)

  14. Mirka Breen says:

    For the list of resources alone, this is a priceless post. What a thorough, rational and helpful article this is. I’m glad you pointed me to it, Angela.

  15. Thank you for the great post, Angela! You make excellent points here and for me it really comes down to attitude. As a writer, we’re not going to know *everything* and being open to learning is what will make the difference between publication and rejection.

    Thanks for the great links also! :)

    • Thank you Melinda! I think it can be hard moving from that point where we believe we are good enough, to realizing we still have a lot to learn. It means giving up on that dream of the ‘fast sell.’ In the end though, it’s worth it to do something to the best of our ability, right?

  16. Those things are so essential. Thanks for this wonderful post, Angela.

  17. Ah yes, I remember all too well that moment when I realised just how much I didn’t know. Wonderful article with great advice!

  18. Aimee Louise Ay says:

    Hi Angela! I was directed here through Critique Circle, where you may know me as Lindymoon. Great roundup of sources, and well said — as always. Just got my free ebook and put this site on my favorites list. Looking forward to your next offerings here, there and everywhere.

    • Hi Aimee,

      So good to see another CC member here! I am sure you can attest how good it is to have the support of a writing community behind you. This is a great site as well, and I know you’ll find a ton of useful information here! Have a great week!

  19. Oh, I can’t wait for the book, Angela!! Your site is so informative and really gets the juices flowing for a writer like me. LOVED the blog.

    • Traci–thank you! You are one of the most supportive people I know, and I appreciate you so much! I’m so happy to hear our blog helps you with your writing. :) I think we’re all in this together, so anything I can do, I will :) Happy writing!

  20. Beginners mind! It’s easy to forget when bogged down in chapter 6. Thank you!

  21. Carl Duzett says:

    I considered this blog to be merely general advice about a general problem, but you listed a lot of specific, valuable resources. Thanks for taking the time to point them out. That book about the Cat is one I heard about in passing at LTUE; apparently I’ll have to look into it.

    • Hi Carl,

      Save the Cat was really helpful to me–like you I had heard a lot about it online, and finally went and bought it. The book really got me thinking about story structure in a new way, so I hope you enjoy it also. :) Thanks for commenting and best of luck with your writing. :)

  22. Stacy Green says:

    Great list with a lot of great advice for writers at any stage. And so looking forward to your book, Angela. I’ve learned a lot from your thesaurus entries.

  23. Stacy, thanks! Becca and I are excited for it to be released. The content is more organized and complete than what’s on the blog, and so we really hope it will be helpful for writers. Take car and keep on writing! :)

  24. Karen Lange says:

    Great post Angela! Appreciate your insight and all the great links. You inspire me, truly.

  25. becca puglisi says:

    Angela, this is excellent stuff. It’s such a weird dichotomy, getting good enough that you realize how ‘not good’ you are, lol. These are great ways to push through the potential discouragement and choose growth rather than surrender.

    Becca @ The Bookshelf Muse

    • It is such a weird place to be in, isn’t it? I think that it’s the sometimes-madness of writing that makes me admire everyone who attempts to walk this path. *cheers for all of us*

  26. Irene O. says:

    I came to terms with how much I don’t know and I set out to learn. I joined a Writers’ Group and for the first time attended a Writers’ Conference. It was a refreshing, enriching and illuminating experience – I could go on. Thank you for this excellent post providing more useful insights. I have learnt so much from the Bookshelf. I will bookmark Write to done too. Great job Angela!

    • Irene, so glad this post helped you and that’s great you’ve found a writer’s group and been to a conference. I am looking forward to a conference in the spring–this is one thing I don’t get the chance to do as often as I like, but it is such magic being with hundreds of writers who all ‘get it’ and are all about learning and growing. Such a high, don’t you think?

      Happy writing!
      Angela

  27. What a wonderfully inspiring post Angela (and thanks for the lovely mention :) ). I can’t wait to further explore the parallels between screen-writing and writing fiction. I don’t think I’ll look at a movie in the same way from now on :)

    Hugs,

    Rach

  28. Leslie Rose says:

    Thanks for the yummy links. I’m a craft book junkie. It’s such a rush to have an “ah ha” moment on how to add some new brushstrokes to my writing. Part of the fun of this crazy writing life is smoothing rough edges.