Things to Consider When Plotting World Domination: Play to your Strengths

WritersdontcryYou there! Stop! Whatever you do: don’t touch that pen. Before youRachel E. Morris write even one word of that outline, there’s something you need to think about long and hard. It’s a very important question. It will determine whether your first draft is filled with tears of rage and despair or with joy, rainbows, and mechanical unicorns. It is the most important of important questions, and I ask it with all seriousness: Have you sat down and thought about what kind of a writer you are recently? And no, I don’t mean what overworked, underappreciated, underpaid writers whose creativity’s constantly under assault by the mundane demands of everyday life we all are. I mean what you do well, what you suck at, and what you hope one day to not suck at. Believe me, this is a far more important question than picking out your hero’s name (though that is also a process rife with peril).

See, the success of a book isn’t just the quality of the idea—it’s also how well the idea fits your skill set and interests. I know designing your book around things you do well and avoiding things you do badly sounds like a total no brainer—but it’s actually not very intuitive. Most people are so wrapped up in the agonies of the harrowing that is outlines that they don’t think about how they made that thing they hate integral to the plot until it’s far too late—or worse, they don’t even have an outline, and they wrote themselves into a literary corner filled with all their least favorite writing techniques. Not to mention, giving your talents a place to shine can be hard when you happened to design a plot that doesn’t give you a place to show them off.

So take a little time and think about yourself.  You’re far more likely to finish a book you’re jazzed writing than one that fills you with dread. And who knows? You may even come up with an idea or two for a new book while you’re at it! Here are a few questions to get you started.

Brag to Me, Baby

Humbleness is well and good. But pre-book time is no time to be humble. I want you to brag to me, baby. Toot your own horn. Sing your own praises from the rooftops. Because I want you to think about what you do really well—and I don’t mean about how you really know your way around a comma, or how you hardly ever misplace quotation marks. I mean the kinds of scenes you delight in—and that equally delight your readers. Those blessed writing moments that are so “easy” you don’t spare them a second thought—may we all have more of them.

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Comments (6)

Thanks for the great advice! I really need to start working with outlines, so I don't write myself into a corner....

Posted by: Chris | Monday April 23, 2012 at 2:08 AM

Thanks, Chris! I'm glad you found it helpful!

Posted by: Susan J. Morris | Monday April 23, 2012 at 8:31 AM

Excellent points! When I first sat down to write after college, I was stuck in the "literary fiction" mindset--because that's generally what we were taught. But it wasn't playing to either my concerns or my strengths. As soon as I switched to writing science fiction, I felt more at ease and more interested in my material, and thus more likely to finish project. Each project since then has gotten closer and closer to my own personal interests; and now since I'm self-publishing I can basically write the exact story I want to.

Another part of my process was accepting that dialogue is my best skill; this led me to develop tighter characters and give them opportunities to talk to each other. I think/hope it's resulted in better fiction.

Posted by: Sam X | Tuesday April 24, 2012 at 8:05 AM

Thanks, Sam X! Agreed, so often, we do what we think we're supposed to do rather than what we want to do. Kudos for you for figuring out what you want, and going with it.

Posted by: Susan J. Morris | Wednesday April 25, 2012 at 10:33 AM

As someone who's trying to write non fiction, this is hugely helpful for me. My brain doesn't seem to work that way, and I have to constantly remind myself that that's fine, and I should work to my strengths.

I'm reading the second volume of Susan Sontag's diaries, and what comes through for me is her sense that she wasn't a "real" writer because she never wrote fiction. I don't want to end up like her.

Posted by: Liz | Wednesday April 25, 2012 at 4:45 PM

I'm glad you found it helpful, Liz! Susan Sontag is an amazing writer. And I completely agree: accepting yourself and working to your strengths is key to happiness and success. Best of luck with your writing!

Posted by: Susan J. Morris | Thursday April 26, 2012 at 9:32 AM

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