It’s one of the first rules of characterization we writers learn—give our protagonists a fatal flaw. Even better? Use that fatal flaw to bring about the character’s ultimate triumph. It is one of my favorite character arcs, how that flaw can end up being the thing that saves us, given the right set of circumstances.
As writers, we need to remember to apply it not just to our stories, but to ourselves and our writing and publishing journey.
We’re human beings, so the grass is always greener on the other side—except that it’s not.
So instead of pining for those other personality traits that you think might bring you success, identify your own perceived weaknesses and use them to cheerfully slog your own path to success.
While introverts have always been in the minority, in the past certain occupations seemed well suited to the introvert—an author sitting in a garret slaving away at their book in solitude, for one. But in the age of social media and platforms, it’s easy to perceive being an introverted author as a flaw. It’s easy to look at those extroverted authors as being the lucky ones—the ones for whom grasping publishing’s brass ring (however you define it) will be a snap.
Or will it? Because even in the age of social media, writing requires long stretches of solitude. And extroverts don’t simply like people or crowds or socializing more than introverts—they process the world around them through their socializing and that is how they recharge their batteries. So being an extroverted writer has its downsides as well.
But what if instead of focusing on the downsides, we altered our perspective a bit and used those very downsides as a source of strength? What if we recognized that there were at least 57 varieties of publishing success and there were plenty of paths for both extroverts and introverts?
So the introvert who tends to beat themselves up over their lack of drive in the marketing and promotional aspects of their career can instead, knowingly and with full intent, opt for a different route. Use the very characteristics that define you as an introvert and let them lead you to your own flavor of success. For an introvert that might include:
- spending more (solitary) time in the pursuit of mastering craft
- use social media to connect with readers rather than trying to broadcast to or attract them.
- focusing on your ability to form deep, meaningful connections with people to plumb the depths of the human psyche in your work
Extroverted writers might have more trouble staying focused on their work. In fact, I sometimes suspect that the adage ‘butt in chair’ was invented specifically for extroverts. But there are areas where their natural social skills can contribute greatly to their success as a writer.
- use social media often to keep their batteries charged for the harder, solitary work of doing the actual writing
- use their natural ability to network to spread the word about their work and aspirations
- meet and write with other writers to stay motivated
- pull others into their orbit to accompany them on their journey so that when they do cross the finish line, they have a built in cheering section.
But of course our social preferences aren’t the only area where our weaknesses can be our hidden strengths. That same potential exists at the very core of who we are. Being a smart ass, a compulsive liar, highly competitive, OCD, excruciatingly sensitive, or being a daydreamer can all feel like definite weaknesses.
Except when you let that smart ass sense of humor seep into your work so that your writing has that same sense of attitude or flippancy. Or maybe that smart ass attitude is the very thing that gives you the buoyancy to try again after your umpteenth rejection.
And I’m sorry, but what is writing if not compulsive lying? You’ve been practicing your fiction writing your entire life and didn’t even know it!
Being highly competitive or OCD pretty much ensures that you will keep trying until you get it right. That you have the drive and focus to do the 18th draft or polish every sentence in the entire book—five times—to be certain it shines.
And daydreaming? One person’s daydream is another’s pre-writing exercise. Just as the very things that make a person hyper sensitive are the very things that will allow them to perceive and capture the full spectrum and intensity of human emotions.
Rigidity can fuel discipline, insecurity can provide the impetus for constantly striving, and being selfish means you will be very, very good at carving out time for your writing.
Quickly now, without thinking too much about it, write down your three most glaring weaknesses. Have you examined them from another perspective? Is there a way they can serve your writing, bring your voice to life, or aid you toward your publishing goals?
Now I want you to do the same thing again, but this time really think about it. Find a quiet hour or so and really think about your core weaknesses, wander back through your childhood memories and those painful high school years and identify those things that have been tripping you up since your were old enough to remember. What about those weaknesses—the ones that lie at the very root of your coping mechanisms? Is there a way of flipping them around so that they can serve your writing or publishing goals?
I’d be willing to bet there is. They might even serve as the cornerstone of your success.
(photo courtesy of Flickr’s Steve Corey)