What’s Your Writing Superpower?

It’s human nature to want to progress. One of the best and worst parts of being human is that once we solve a problem or master a skill, we immediately start looking towards the next thing.

We don’t just do this to ourselves, but others too.

At a friend’s wedding, we ask when they will start having kids; a week after someone has given birth, we ask when they will have another; and we toast a new graduate while asking, ‘What now?’ (This problem is so prevalent that Ann Patchett wrote a commencement speech and then published a tiny book by the same name.)

We do this as writers too. We’re constantly looking for ways to develop our skills, to reach a greater audience, and to generally improve.

When we read a great work of fiction, we inevitably compare it to our own work.

The gap between where they are and where we are may be wide or narrow, but it is there all the same.

We’re told one of the best ways to improve our writing is to read more, and this is one of the easiest ways to become aware of our weaknesses as a writer, but it can also be a great source of inspiration as it shows us what is possible.

Reading is one of the best ways to improve your writing.

As creatives, we are so aware of the gap between where we are and where we want to be.

With our eye on the prize, we focus intently on our weakness.

We’re berate ourselves for being ‘bad’ at …

  • Setting
  • Description
  • Dialogue
  • Underwriting
  • Overwriting
  • Character
  • Plot
  • Structure
  • Tension

Of course, it’s important to be aware of our weaknesses, but I invite you to think about what are your writing superpowers?

What’s your writing superpower?

What aspects of writing come naturally to you? What can you do so easily that you’re not even aware of it, or think about it as special?

Write them down or ask a writing buddy, your critique partner, betareaders, or editor.

To give you a little inspiration here are my three superpowers:

  1. Dedication
  2. Discipline
  3. Application of feedback

You’ll note that none of these aspects have to do with craft element but instead relate to mindset and behaviour.

What writing skills come to you so naturally you don’t even think of them as special?

1 / Dedication

I gave up a lucrative job and moved city (multiple times) to pursue writing and writing-related study. (NB: I don’t have a mortgage or kids, but I do have a high tolerance for risk!).

You don’t have to give up your job or move cities to prove that you are dedicated to writing, those are massive decisions with massive ramifications, and to be honest, it’s the mundane, garden-variety dedication that creates meaningful results.

I started a weekly blog seven years ago and later a YouTube channel as a way to document my experiences and share all the writing advice I’d come across (and yes, to build a platform. Let’s be transparent here!).

I consume A LOT of writing-related content, which means I’m able to recommend other resources to my coaching clients and to reference them myself when needed!

I’ve seeped myself in this community for years, and while I don’t know everything, I know a lot.

My dedication to writing is the reason all of these things have happened.

I didn’t give up when I got rejected or even when other things had to become the number one priority.

2 / Discipline

I make time for writing and when I show up, I work with little distraction, not even my inner critic can stop me.

My inner critic may say things like, ‘This is a waste of time. You’re ruining your life. This sucks. You suck. This is boring.’

I acknowledges these comments, often by writing them down, and I think, ‘okay this may suck. This could be boring, but I’m going to keep writing anyway.’ And then I do.

Part of the reason I am so disciplined with writing is two-fold.

One, I’ve worked a lot of soul crushing job and I really want to make this current trajectory to work.

Two, I know the following statement to be all too true: ‘Resisting writing is harder than writing.’ Even on bad days, even on shit days, writing is always better than not writing (even if only for five minutes).

Of course, you don’t have to be saving the world with your writing all the time. Even superheroes deserve a break.

3 / Application of Feedback

I’m great at receiving feedback from betareaders and editors, but I didn’t realise this was a strength until my mentor pointed it out!

They said so many people will accept punctuation suggestions but then reject all the critical advice surrounding plot, structure, characterisation, and so on.

I am always open to feedback and while I’m aware that makes these changes will be work, I know they will lead to a better book/short story/article.

I don’t take the criticism personally because I work with smart and kind people who I trust so I know their feedback is coming from a good, informed place, and it’s often great fun to brainstorm potential solutions.

As life coach, Cheryl Richardson says, ‘Don’t go to the hardware store for milk!’ by which she means, be selective in whom you seek advice from. 

It’s so easy to only focus on our weakness as a writer, and this makes sense because awareness is the first step to improving that aspect of our craft, but it’s also important that we celebrate and acknowledge what we’re actually good at too.

Know I’d love to hear from you. In the comments below, please share 1-3 of your writing superpowers. Remember, these can be related to mindset, behaviour, habits, or craft.

Access The Follow-Through Formula training video

Follow-through_ How to complete a long-term writing project (1)

Need help finishing that short story, novel, memoir? No problem. The Follow-Through Formula is a free video training which unpacks the five strategies you can use to go from idea to completed project.

To access, please join my email newsletter and you’ll receive a thank you email containing the link to the free video training.

You’ll also receive my weekly newsletter which is sent out every Thursday morning. This is where I share links to my latest blog and YouTube video as well as other inspiring goodies that I only share via email.

Writing and Productivity: What Can We Realistically Expect of Ourselves?

Our writing practice is rarely perfect, and for so many of us, it isn’t our number one priority (though it may be close!).

Other responsibilities like work, study, care giving, or even health may consume the bulk of your time, but in many ways, this is totally natural and to be expected.

Many professional writers only write for one to four hours a day, whether that’s a result of their schedules or their energy levels.

For the rest of us, we squeeze writing into the fringes of our life. Maybe twenty minutes before or after work or an hour or two over the weekend.

Most of us are doing way more than we should be doing. In fact, I shared the below image on my Instagram, Facebook, and newsletter a few weeks ago and the response was really interesting.

The point of this exercise was to show the mismatched between what I actually get done in a day compared to what social media and hustle culture tell me is reasonable. (Obviously, I exaggerated the left-hand side as a way to make this post funny, but also show how ridiculous these expectations are).

The comments I received back on this post were pretty illuminating. Everyone knew that the left-hand side was a joke, but many actually thought the right-hand side was also overloaded.

  • Some of the comments were things like:
  • Woah! That is intense!
  • So intimidating.
  • I would take half a day to write that.
  • Just one day? I’m in awe.
  • You are a maniac.
  • Puts my day to shame.

    Now, I’m not including those here as a way to big note myself, I’m sharing them because these responses legitimately surprised me. I don’t have a typical 9-5, Monday to Friday job. I have multiple streams of income from working as a sessional academic, coaching, hospitality, editing, and freelance writing.

I’m largely in charge of my schedule, and what I wrote on the right is what I literally did one random Tuesday. And to be honest, I was embarrassed to share this post because I didn’t think it was enough! I was afraid that it would make me look scattered, unprofessional, and unstructured.

On this particular day, I remember feeling frustrated that I hadn’t gotten more done. While I did do four writing session on my novel, I was also aware that I didn’t make any progress on my thesis, I didn’t edit the short story I’ve been working on or the three journal articles that I have in the pipeline.

I also worried that the mini-breaks throughout the day like taking an hour for lunch, meeting my mentor for coffee, and watching an episode of TV would make me look lazy and indulgent.

I shared this activity as a way to show other people how ridiculous hustle culture is and how real life is so much more colourful and responsive; instead, it showed me how much damn pressure I put on myself. Maybe you can relate.

By placing these two lists side-by-side, I wanted to visually depict how our mental to-do list measures up to what is possible in a given day.

The left-hand side doesn’t take into account interruptions or the daily chores we do to keep life ticking along, things like bills and laundry, and seldom does it refer to other people, whereas in real life, we’re usually dealing with other people all day.

Of course, this too can be a daily point of frustration.

Hustle culture and our obsession with productivity can mean that we deeply resent these interruptions because they are ‘stealing time’ away from writing. But something that we need to remind ourselves of is that the story isn’t going anywhere.

We can tend to these interruptions, responsibilities, or the administration of life and then return to our writing, or better yet, we write first and then tend to these tasks second.

Anyway, I just wanted to share these quick insights with you and invite you to have a crack at this activity yourself, either in the comments or using paper and pen as I did. If you do the latter, feel free to tag me on social media (@authortaraeast) or send me a copy via email (authortaraeast@gmail.com), I’d love to see what your two lists look like.

Access The Follow-Through Formula training video

Follow-through_ How to complete a long-term writing project (1)

Need help finishing that short story, novel, memoir? No problem. The Follow-Through Formula is a free video training which unpacks the five strategies you can use to go from idea to completed project.

To access, please join my email newsletter and you’ll receive a thank you email containing the link to the free video training.

You’ll also receive my weekly newsletter which is sent out every Thursday morning. This is where I share links to my latest blog and YouTube video as well as other inspiring goodies that I only share via email.

How to Produce Art when the World is Falling Apart

Sir Philip Sidney stated that poetry was “the first light-giver to ignorance, and first nurse, whose milk little by little enabled them to feed afterwards of tougher knowledges.” Ezra Pound believed that “The arts, literature, posesy are a science, just as chemistry is a science. Their subject is man, mankind, and the individual.” And yet, still, sometimes, we struggle to justify our creative practice.

If you’re in the middle of a personal crisis, it’s unlikely that you will have the energy or the mental bandwidth to produce art.

If you stop to consider big problems like climate change, terrorism, refugees, our shrinking job marketing, rising house prices, the privatisation of health care and a multitude of other issues, sitting down to work on a short story or novel can seem self-indulgent and pointless.

What good is a novel when the world is falling apart?

It’s important to acknowledge these feelings of inadequacy because simply ignoring them won’t do anyone any favours. However, it’s equally important that artists continue to produce work despite this feeling of inadequacy. Art itself may not be able to solve our complex, incomprehensible social, economic, political and educational problems, but artists must continue to use their skills and ability because we need art, even if the world is falling apart.

At their most basic, novels provide a space for escapism and entertainment. At their best, a novel can inspire us into action by forcing us to confront our own behaviours and beliefs. We may ask ourselves why we do the things that we do, whether our behaviour is contributing to the solution or to the problem, and how can we change for the better both individually and as a society.

Stories don’t have to change the world. If you want to write stories for the sole purpose of escapism, both for yourself and your reader, then that is an honourable use of time. We need a little escapism. We need books that we can read at the end of a long day; books that offer comfort instead of further confrontation. It’s okay to read funny books or adventure stories or mysterious. Not only is it nice to escapes into a different world with different people and different problems, it is also nice to see those problems get solved.

Here’s the thing though, even nice books have value beyond mere entertainment. Whether consciously constructed or not, narratives contain the observations and reflections of their author. They are stories about people living with other people. They contain insight and knowledge about human behviour, our relationships with ourselves and others, our desires, strengths, and weaknesses. A novel is a response to the experiences an author has had and the observations they have made. They contain magic, and though this magic is unlikely to reverse climate change, novels can still teach us something about ourselves and the world we live in.

Novels have purpose.

A well-crafted and thoughtful novel that asks hard questions may not alter the general public opinion, but it can cause a shift within a reader. You may choose to write a dystopian novel based on scientific fact about where we’re heading environmentally, or you may write a speculative fiction novel about what the world would look like if women became infertile (The Handmaids Tale – Margarett Attwood), or if we intentionally used clones as a means for organ harvesting (Never Let Me Go – Kazuo Ishiguro). Stories such as these act as a type of role play. They allow us to ponder and explore potential future spaces. If we continue to remain passive about particular issues, what will happen? Additionally, they provide a container for our personal and social fears. Not only is the writer able to unburden themselves, but it also allows the reader to experience their innermost fears while remaining within the safe, imaginary confines of a story.

The world may have a lot of problems, but when has it not.

If you’re still struggling to justify your need to create art, perhaps my final point will convince you. When we looking back on the type of art that was produced at any given moment in history, we can see the prominent concerns of that time through the themes, structures, and styles that are repeated across different works by different artists. We need to write stories that capture this moment in time. That explore our societal concerns. That showcase our collective psyche. Artists need to make their contribution to the historical record because we have skills that scientists and politicians don’t have. We can take incompressible problems and present them in a consumable format that will make you feel something, and that is a very special skill indeed.