A Little Wisdom from Doctor Cox


If you want to improve as a writer, something very important to identify is your strengths and weaknesses. I know it seems obvious, but you’d be surprised how many writers don’t do this.

It’s important to be subjective in this. If you are reading this saying to yourself, “I’m great at everything,” then you’re a damn liar. I guarantee you suck at some part of the craft. There’s not a writer out there that doesn’t have some thing that they struggle with. I’m currently rereading one of my Favorite authors, a many times over New York Times bestseller, and one of the most important writers in fantasy. And I’ll tell you right now, if you took out all the instances of “had” from his books, you’d cut the word count in half.

Conversely, if you are reading this saying to yourself, “I’m not really great at anything,” you are also a damn liar. Even a piece you hate has something good about it. We’re trained as creators to be humble (at least most of us), and it feels arogant to talk about the things we’re good at. But it is a very neccessary part of your growth as a writer.

So I suggest taking a little wisdom from Dr. Cox. “I want you to think about yourself… and I mean really think!… What are you good at? What do you suck at? And write it down. Not so your friends can read it, or your readers can read it. But so you can read it!”

That’s paraphrased a bit, but it’s good advice all the same. Make a list of your strengths and weaknesses as a writer. And I can’t stress enough that you need to be subjective. If you can’t be, have a couple people that you can trust to be honest read your work, and ask them to make the list.
Once you have that list, you’ll have a road map of how to improve as a writer. Work on those weaknesses. Have trouble with pacing? J. K. Rowling has a special gift for it, study how she does it. Have trouble with voice? Mark Lawrence’s work drips with it. There are all kinds of resources to help you improve those parts of the process, but you have to know what to fix first.

You can’t ignore the things that you are good at either. You have to make sure that those parts don’t suffer while you work on the others. For example. I’m good with dialogue and characterization. I’m a lot less good at description. A lot of the time, my characters seem to be flailing about in a white box. Once I knew that I have a problem with my setting descriptions, I have started to write my scenes in two passes.

I think of it like doing a comic. The first pass is all about the characters. What are they doing, what are they saying, how do they interact? I draw them in, and I write my dialogue bubbles. Then, once I have all of that, I go back and draw in the backgrounds in each panel. It works for me, and it’s made my writing a lot better, but I never would have come to this method if I didn’t know what needed improved.

So lets talk about our strengths and weaknesses. I’m strong with Dialogue, and weak at Description. What about you guys? What are you good at? What do you suck at? Tell us in the comments. You’d be surprised how much it can help just to put it in writing. And as always, no judgment here!

Comments 4

  • I completely agree, Alex. Adding in the five senses is my challenge, hands down. These days, I try to approach it in a second pass as well (or even third) to get it all down. Because laying things out, staging the scene, has to come before I specify the full setting. The benefit then is that I can do micro-edits, and smooth out the scene as I’m pulling it outside of its white box.

  • Great challenge, Alex! I am bad at character description, especially my POV character(s). I always feel super clumsy about how to accomplish this in a natural way.

    Laura, I often think of Faith’s exercise on writing all five senses, and I have become much better since having that stronger awareness. Although I confess it is often the 2nd or 3rd draft of fine-tuning that gets that fleshing out!

    Now if I can just integrate that into descriptions as well!

  • I don’t struggle with character descriptions as much when I write in 3rd person, but it’s really hard for me in 1st person.

    I’m also the same way with the five senses. Touch, sight, and sound are always there, and I’m pretty good at adding taste, but I still have to add in smells on the 2nd or 3rd pass.

  • […] one likes to think about their short comings. But as I said in my last post, the areas in which you lack are more important than the areas you’re strong in. If you […]

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