Practice makes perfect…or does it?

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I heard something the other day that made all my fur stand on end and had me feeling like a cat being petted backwards.  I was in a class, and the topic was strengths and weaknesses, especially in relation to having a successful, satisfying career. The speaker quoted author Marcus Buckingham, who maintains that we grow most in the areas we already know and love the most. We may be able to bring our weaknesses up to a level of proficiency, but they will never be our strengths. (The basic idea is that someone who, say, hates math and is terrible with numbers will be miserable as an accountant.)

The whole idea rubbed me wrong. I grew up believing that I could do anything I wanted to—if I worked at it hard enough. My parents’ oft-repeated quote was the old standby, “If at first you don’t succeed…try, try again.” Their second favorite was, “Practice makes perfect.”

When I started thinking about it, though, I realized Mr. Buckingham is right. I love writing, but there are some parts I’m not good at—at all. Ask my ever-patient critique partners about my greatest weakness and they’ll all say the same thing: story openings. I’m terrible at them. Truly horrible. When I first start a story, I wander around in circles, mired in everyone’s life story until the whole thing reads like an encyclopedia entry. Seriously dull and boring. It usually takes six or seven re-writes before I finally hear; “Now you’ve got it.”

I’ve been trying to figure out a way to make this process more efficient, more streamlined. Okay, I’ve been looking for a shortcut, a quick fix, a magic pill.

But maybe, I don’t have to “fix” it completely. I can build on my strengths. I am by nature a plot-driven writer, so I love, love, love coming up with exciting storylines that draw the reader into the story.  Do I have to work harder at inventing interesting characters the reader cares about? Oh, yeah, or my story people seem contrived and constructed of flat, brown cardboard. But my character-creation skills can certainly be honed and improved—and I’m having fun in the process.

I guess the challenge for all of us is to keep working on both our strengths–and our weaknesses–so everything works together to accomplish what we’re trying to do. It seems my folks were right after all: there is no substitute for practice.

Besides, who said anything worthwhile was supposed to be quick and easy?

What about you? How do you compensate for the skills that don’t come naturally to you? I’d love to hear your strategies.


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    The Conversation

  1. Gary Balser says:

    Great blog and thoughts!

    Things that I have to do which are not my strengths will find me tending to procrastinate and try to get someone else to do it. Doesn’t work but I try.

    When I can afford it, I plan on hiring people who are strong in the areas of my weakness. That gives me more time to be creative and do what I do best.

  2. Connie Mann says:

    Thanks so much, Gary! I like your approach, too–both on procrastinating and hiring help!One I do, the other I’d like to do.

  3. Great post, Connie! One thing I don’t do well is love scenes. They’re extremely difficult for me and like you, every single one has to go through 6 or 10 rewrites before it’s even passable (thank goodness for critique partners!). I read every article on writing them I can get my hands on, take notes on the scenes I read in other author’s books that ring a bell for me. But yeah… I’m with you–I just keep trying to get better at them.

    • Connie Mann says:

      But I applaud the fact you keep trying and trying and trying! I think some things will never come easy, but we’re not content to settle for mediocre, either, so we work at them! Thanks so much for sharing!

  4. Lorna Dishman says:

    I find I have too many things going on in my life that I have to write things down. I just can’t keep it all in my head. So I place my to do lists in the places that I frequent. If I’m at work it’s on my stand in front of my computer. If I’m at home, it’s on the counter in the kitchen. I have found my to do lists and sticky notes are my saviors. I can’t say I don’t forget some things, but it sure does help!

    • Connie Mann says:

      As a fellow list-maker, I can totally relate! I try to keep them all in one place these days, to give me a big picture of everything going on! Glad you’re staying on top of it all!