What’s your Storytelling Super Power?

storytellingsuperpowerIf there’s one thing I learned from Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, it’s that when you’re up against tough odds, it only makes sense to play to your strengths.

To be sure, having a crack team to support you makes a huge difference. But there’s only so much Ron and Hermione can do for you. At some point you have face the dragon. And when you do, you’ll be totally on your own. The only way you’ll be able to defend yourself is if you know your strengths.

Discover your writing strengths

Knowing what kind of stories you are drawn to can help you figure out which projects to focus on. There’s nothing worse than spending hours banging your head against the wall over a project that you’re not equipped to handle. Sometimes you can gain valuable experience from working on things that you’re not good at. That’s how we grow and gain new skills. But there’s absolutely nothing wrong with playing to your strengths, with knowing what you’re good at and doing that thing.

Not to mention, unless you’re a complete masochist, nobody enjoys forcing themselves to do something they’re not good at. The good news is, at least with writing, you don’t have to! You can figure out what you’re good at and focus on those kind of projects and your readers will love you for it! Why? Because you’ll get better and better at telling those kinds of stories… and the enjoyment you take from creating projects that resonate with you on that kind of level will shine through in your writing.

Why your storytelling super power matters

Me? I’m an underdog. Well, I like underdog stories. My favorite movies are Field of Dreams and Empire Records, both stories with characters trying to overcome tough odds and beat the establishment. (“Damn the man! Save the Empire!” Am I right?) And my current WIP will end up reflecting that. Full disclosure, though, it doesn’t right now! I had been trying to write a Survivor story (think Castaway or The Fault in Our Stars). But after taking the quiz and taking stock of where I was at in my manuscript, I realized my main character was telling me she was an underdog and that she wanted a few changes made to her story to reflect that.

The result: Now my story has a clearer direction! You don’t always have to throw out what you’ve been working on when you realize it should be something else. Sometimes, a few tweaks or the introduction of a new antagonistic force will make all the difference. For me, the key was to NOT give the main character everything she wanted right away, and to raise the stakes so that she has to choose between what she wants and who she loves.

What’s your storytelling superpower?

Wondering what your storytelling strengths might be? Gabriela of DIY MFA and I developed this awesome quiz to help you figure out which stories interest you. I recommend you give it a try! Click here, answer 7 simple questions, and find out what your strengths are.

Once you’ve taken the quiz, hop back over here and let me know what your superpower is! And then dig in and figure out what that means for your writing! Just knowing what your strengths are won’t make your stories stronger. What strategy do you have to play to those strengths?

(Hey! Did you know that Gabriela has a book coming out this summer? Check it out and order your copy here!)

Want to know more about how to up your writing game? Sign up for the Writing Refinery email newsletter. You’ll also receive a free Character Detail Sheet that can help you learn everything you need to know about the main character in your current WIP!

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When the going gets tough, real writers…

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This post is part of the DIY MFA Street Team Question of the Week series

You know the saying… “The best-laid schemes o’ mice an’ men / Gang aft agley…” (Thank you, Robert Burns). It’s our way of mourning the death of every New Year’s resolution… If you’re anything like me, you start out the year with the best intentions (#writeeverydamnday). You may have even had a plan for how you were going to accomplish your goals.

But what plan doesn’t run into kinks? Sometimes the kinks are nothing more than the common cold or sleeping through your alarm a couple of times, but other times major life stuff comes up that you can’t just get around dealing with. That’s how life goes. We all know it’s true. Having a plan for how you’re going to accomplish your goals when everything is going smoothly is one thing. What’s your plan for when everything “Gang aft agley”?

What Real Writers Do

If you’re the kind of person who never makes a false move, you’re probably not reading this blog, and obviously I’m not writing this post for you. Honestly, you’re the person we all aspire to be… but you’re also the person who makes the rest of us feel shitty when real life gets in our way. Why can’t our lives go perfectly, too?

Lofty goals of writing  (Stephen King writes 2,000 words a day, “and only under dire circumstances do I allow myself to shut down before I get my 2,000 words.”) are all well and good, but come on. Who has the time/energy/resources to live up to Stephen King’s standards?

So if you don’t live up to that prescriptive method (or anyone else’s list of things that “real writers” do) does that mean you’re not a real writer? Or that you don’t take your craft seriously?

No freaking way. You should always have goals, always set out for the top of the mountain. The good news is, you don’t have to feel shitty when you have to stop before you get there. Because let’s face it, it’s gonna happen. And your writing life (career/identity/dream/whatever you call it) should be built to take it. How?

My friend Gabriela at DIY MFA* calls it “Honoring Your Reality.” Also known as Elisabeth’s Second Commandment: Don’t compare your journey with someone else’s.

The secret is recognizing what you need in order to be the most happy, healthy, productive person, and doing that. It doesn’t matter that Stephen King writes 2,000 words a day. How many words a day can you write? Or maybe it’s how many words a week? Whatever your number and time-span is, own it. Be proud of yourself for getting any words out at all. IMO, some words are better than no words. The actual number and time spent writing varies from moment to moment.

Honor Your Reality

For me, the more I allow myself to do what I need to do, the easier I find to make time for the things that really matter to me. And right now, writing is one of them. But sometimes it’s making sure I’m well rested. And sometimes it’s going out with my friends and having a new experience. Because those things, even if they take away from my writing for a day, will make me a better writer in the long run.

Who writes well when they’re exhausted? And who writes creatively and with nuance when they’ve been shut away from the world for too long (well, besides Emily Dickinson)? But see? Even she honored her reality. She could have said, “I’ll never be a real writer because I haven’t seen enough of the world.” And we all would have missed out on the beautiful brilliance of her voice and her perspective.

And sometimes there are even heavier issues than just being worn out or needing to get out for a while. Sometimes life throws you a real curve ball… When that happens you have to give yourself the space and grace to do what you can when you can. The alternative is living with pain and guilt and shame. And, having been down that road before, I’d advise against it.

So you, yeah you. What’s your reality? What do you do when the going gets tough and you’re struggling to find the time to write? Do you make yourself feel terrible for it? Because you should stop that right now. Figure out what you need to be the person you want to be. And then go do it! That’s what “real writers” do. We write. And we also live.

(Hey! Did you know that Gabriela Pereira of DIY MFA has a book coming out this summer? Check it out and order your copy here!)

Want to know more about how to up your writing game? Sign up for the Writing Refinery email newsletter. You’ll also receive a free Character Detail Sheet that can help you learn everything you need to know about the main character in your current WIP!

 

Why I write

Write what you loveI’ve been a reader since very young. At 3 years old, I memorized Peter Rabbit… literally knew which words went with which pages, even though I wasn’t associating words with meanings quite yet. I knew that story so well, backwards and forwards, what happened when… we have a recording of my 3-year-old voice “reading” the story to my aunt, and when I get to the end of it, I just start the whole story over again…

I think that being a reader, falling in love with books and stories, is part of how one becomes a writer. There’s something magic about the way that words unlock the world. They lift you out of your current experience and thrust you into another place and time, be that world fictional or utterly real. We are transported by the words on the page, made to think of something other than ourselves if only for a moment. And once you connect with that magic in such a personal way, who can resist the draw of being able to harness the power yourself?

I wrote my first book when I was in elementary school about dolphins, on construction paper and stapled together, complete with researched and organized chapters and oil pastels illustrations. (If I can find it, I’ll post pictures here.) After that I was hooked. I created stories in my head and in spiral notebooks, about horses and unicorns in elementary and middle school, and about angsty love and rejection when I was a little older. Nothing that was worth publishing, most of which I would never share with anyone, not even my most trusted companions. I stopped writing in college (got distracted), but I picked it up again a few short years later.

Now I write light YA fantasy, crafting strong female characters to speak directly to that angsty, rejected teenager I was all those years ago. I’m planning a self-publishing adventure this summer (follow my progress at http://www.elisabethkauffman.com) and the fulfillment of a promise I made to myself as a teenager to publish something that I wrote.

How we came to this land of writing matters for one very important reason. Your writer’s origin story is what you should fall back on when the going gets tough. If you’re serious about succeeding in this often frustrating and soul-crushing world of publishing, you’re going to have to remind yourself why you started in the first place.

For me, when I get scared of sharing my writing because I’m anticipating the painful process of internalizing feedback (growth HURTS, people, it’s why they call them “growing pains”) and getting better as a writer, I think of that teenage me, shiny-eyed, expressive, and innocent. She wanted these stories to be told because she wanted a story to relate to. When I suffer through the painful parts of this process, I do it for her.

Who do you do it for?

*Just FYI, the fab Gabriela Pereira of DIY MFA is releasing a BOOK in June. Learn more about it here.

Own Your Process

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This post is inspired by the DIY MFA Street Team weekly prompt.

We live in a magical time. No really, we do. This age of information makes learning a new skill, improving your craft, and finding your tribe remarkably accessible. All you have to do is a quick Google search and you’ll be flooded with more ideas and connections than you could have time to work with if you spent the rest of your life sifting through them all.

So it amazes me when people stay stuck in a rut, when they don’t reach for what they’ve always wanted. It’s right there in front of you! Grab it!

I am one of those people sometimes. It took me nearly a decade after I graduated from college with a BA in English Literature to branch out and decide to reach for my dreams. Still, the more I connected with others who were doing what they loved, the more I realized that it was possible. And one day I just couldn’t sit idly by any longer. I had to give my dreams a try.

Now, just because all of the information you could possibly need is there for the taking doesn’t make the process of achieving your dreams easy. But you can do this thing called being a writer, and you can do it successfully, if you own your process.

What Do You Need to Succeed?

What do I mean by own your process? I mean know yourself. Know what you need in order to be successful. Do you need to enroll in an MFA program and have some external authority riding you to make sure you meet your deadlines and work on your craft? Go enroll then! There are plenty of programs out there willing to teach you what you want to know, willing to give you the structure that you need to make the most of your writing.

But if you don’t have the funds or the flexibility in your schedule to make an MFA program work, does that mean you’ll never become the writer you want to be? No way! You just have to know what you need and then go out and get it.

Do you need writing instruction? There are blogs (ahem) like this one that give you tips and advice for crafting a better narrative or strengthening your main character. Do you need inspiration? Cultivate a reading list of authors you love and authors who can teach you something about your own writing as well.* Do you need motivation and accountability? Look for writer-friends who will make sure you put your butt in the chair and do your work. They might be people you know in your hometown, or they might be people you know on the web.

When I decided it was time to seriously pursue my dreams of writing and owning my own business, I went straight for whatever advice and help I could find. I found the DIY MFA community, to level up my writing game. I began intentionally setting aside reading time for books on writing and editing. I connected with the Editorial Freelancers Association to ask questions and get advice from other editors who are out there doing what I want to do. And I have an accountability buddy who meets me on Google Chat at least 3 mornings a week, to make sure that I get up and write/revise/outline, whatever I need to stay on target for my goals.

Do-It-Yourself

Whether you go to a traditional program or cobble your own MFA together (like I am) in the space you have to do it, you are the one doing the work. The writing is yours, and the ideas are, too. You don’t actually need the permission or validation of an outside party to get started. You just have to have the willingness to try something new, to take a risk, learn a new skill, to fail and try again. As I said, these are magical times. All the resources you need are at your fingertips, just waiting for the spark that YOU give them to come to life.

*Just FYI, the fab Gabriela Pereira of DIY MFA is releasing a BOOK in June. Learn more about it here.