VOX SCBWI: My Strengths and Weaknesses

From Autumn/Winter issue 2010

We asked members: What do you consider to be your greatest strengths and weaknesses?

I’m always pushing myself to write better and therefore I’m a compulsive reviser. I need to know when to stop! Paeony Lewis

Over the years I have seen my greatest weaknesses turn into a strength. I had a passion to write for children but life got in the way. Finally I got my youngest two off to nursery and reception and sat down to write the stories in my head.
Then I had to confront a big weakness: I have NEVER been a disciplined person, one who did a certain chore at a certain time. My native state was a creative fog in which I drifted through life, barely clocking the essentials so that at least my kids were dressed and out the door on time. The new children’s writer in me quickly learned that if I left breakfast dishes in the sink and ignored any other thing clamouring for my attention (this was before the internet), then I had just two hours of quiet writing time before going to collect the youngest. I discovered that, even writing very slowly, I eventually produced a book. Today, although I’m still a creative drifter, I try to follow that pattern – sitting down for at least two hours every morning to write. It doesn’t get done otherwise! Donna Vann

One of my overall writing strengths is being able to come up with ideas for stories. I have a great time thinking up characters that would appeal to children. I give them names, assign them attributes, and even find them friends and interesting situations in which to act. In terms of storytelling, my biggest strength is creating dialogue. I have a fairly easy time making characters talk to one another. For me, it’s much more difficult to write the exposition – how to get a character from this point to that point, how to describe setting in a believable way, etc. so that’s my greatest storytelling weakness. Greatest weakness for the whole writing process? That’s easy – procrastination. Even when I have extra time in my day (which doesn’t happen all that often), I tend to fill it with meaningless chores, surfing on the internet, and/or reading a book instead of working on one of my writing projects. I still haven’t figured out why I give so little time to my writing. I guess I’ve had enough rejections from children’s book publishers that I’ve lost some of the faith I had in my writing and storytelling abilities. Or maybe its because I have lazy tendencies and actual writing is much harder work than chores, surfing and reading. When people ask me if I like being a writer I often say that I like ‘having written’ more than I like ‘writing’. Maybe that’s it? But since I can’t ‘have written’ without ‘writing’ perhaps I’d better stop procrastinating and start to tackle one of my in-progress stories now. So many vibrant characters are waiting for me to get my act together. Eileen Nester Ramchandran

From an illustrator’s point of view, I think my strengths are doggedness in the face of adversity. A willingness to change the illustrations, re-jig and even start all over again, if things aren’t working out. My weaknesses are self-doubt and an inability to draw hands and things with wheels. And a fear ... I’ll get found out! Kate Shannon

My greatest strengths: I have the self-discipline. I know the difference between good and bad writing. I’m quite hard on myself. I can write well. I’m good at writing with the senses, putting the story in the here and now. My weaknesses: I sometimes lose the nerve to network as I should. Sometimes, the imagination lets me down: it is a paltry thing after all. Look how science fiction continuously failed to predict. And I worry, but only occasionally, that at 58 I’m still inclined to write for young adults more than anything else. But the latter is more of a worry than a weakness. Gill James

My greatest area of strength as a writer is probably my obsessive personality. Writing is not a sane activity. Otherwise, the areas I feel are strengths include: a strong imaginative life – in other words, I’m a fantasist; visual writing and a good ear for dialogue; pageturnability and characterisation as well as the ability and desire to work collaboratively and professionally with editors. I also enjoy the rewriting process (within limits!). But, most importantly, I am able to ignore a messy house for weeks on end. My greatest weaknesses are: disorganisation and a profound need for eight hours sleep a night; an unhelpful tendency to self-doubt and self-criticise. I am an intuitive and impulsive writer. I have an antipathy to intensive pre-plotting or boffiny world-building. This can lead to a great many rewrites, so I’m trying to learn to plot more in advance. Ellen Renner

My weaknesses? Letting it go. The baby’s born, weaned, grown, we’ve had our ups and downs and now its goodbye – very tricky. But the up side of never letting go is that I can keep coming back to clean and dress and feed the baby and never get tired of it (actually not sure if that’s a strength or a weakness). Addy Farmer

Strengths: Keeping on keeping on (because my eclectic transferable skills don’t seem to apply to sensible reliable jobs); self-discipline with deadlines (a must in this industry); ability to accept criticism despite it smarting a bit; being able to see weakness in own work; ability to work alone without going insane; admitting defeat where appropriate (sometimes it’s just not possible to do something – I’m a human-being not a machine). Weaknesses: Thinking that all other illustrators’ work is better than mine therefore I might as well give up (aka not silencing the critic!); not looking at other work enough; looking at other work too much; Facebook (it sucks you in although I have gained writing work through FB); crisps (very distracting when popping to kitchen for refreshment break); impatience leading to ‘not starting’ personal projects (aka trying to eat the elephant in one mouthful instead of digestible chunks); deadline dread – mostly unfounded. Paula Knight

Hmmm. My greatest weakness, I think, is that I am too much of a perfectionist. I always try to fix errors in my drawings to the point that I sometimes lose the freshness of the movement. Maybe that could also be seen as a strength because I’m always trying to get better, always trying to move forward so I’m improving a lot and I can feel it, I can see it. Manuela Pentangelo

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