When your strength is your weakness

We all know what it's like to go into a job interview and have your potential boss say, "what's your biggest weakness?" It's sort of pointless to even ask this, because everyone knows how to play the game-- you make a strength sound like a weakness.


"Oh, I just care too much!"

"Sometimes, I put in more hours than I need to."

"I give so much to those I'm working with that I forget to take care of myself."

Basically, anything that says "I will give my life to this job." Yeah right. But what if your strength actually is your legit weakness?


Such is my case when it comes to writing. Here's the thing: I write slow. I don't mean I stare at a screen for five hours and only write a paragraph. I mean it takes me years to be satisfied with a piece. Years. Revision after revision after revision to look at a 20 page short story and be like, "It's done! Can't make it any better!" I don't understand people who can complete even one short story a month and send it out to journals. That's crazy to me.


For a long time, I wondered why I was such a slow writer. My epiphany came while I was writing a dad character, Chris. The thing about Chris is that he changed a lot from the time his wife, Randa, met him in college. He used to kind of look like a preppy Teddy Ruxpin, like the douche bags from those 80's movies with the wavy hair parted on the side. But then as he got older, he got into cycling and lost way too much weight. His hair went from brown to blond--naturally--which almost never happens. The more lean and blond he got, the more Randa realized he was kind of a jerk.


It would be fine if I had left the backstory there. But no. Because see, Randa's friends had warned her about him. Everyone knew something human was missing, and she just couldn't see it. But she really thought he was going to give her the type of life she wanted. Randa was a little bitter already about her choices. She'd been a successful hand model before she had her kids, before she got that thyroid condition. Now her dream is dead.


Have I gotten to the plot yet? No. (And by the way, in the story, all of that is not two little paragraphs. It's like, six pages.)


When I was fifteen, I turned in a short story in the form of a questionnaire filled out by a teen girl with a distinct voice. My creative writing teacher wrote, "Great character. Can we put her in a story?" Such a simple comment, but I was lost. Put her in a story I never did. I think about this often.


My strength as a writer is that I see everything. Once I'm the a flow with a character, I know random bits about their life. I know how their kitchen looks. I know about a weird dream they had when they were seven and the kind of music that they hate. I spend so much time documenting all of this that it takes me forever--or sometimes never-- to get to the actual plot of the story. At that point, the strength becomes a weakness.


A "normal" and "awesome" writer would be able to cut and mold more quickly than me. She'd be able to find the meat of the thing and toss the rest. But I feel like it all matters, much like how you feel all the details of something that happened to you matter, even as your friends urge you to just get to the point. So there it is. My biggest weakness is that when it comes to my character's lives, I see too much. So do I get the job, boss?


What about you? What's a strength you have as a writer that also at times gets in your way?

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