Lately I've been in the process of “returning” to share my work regularly on this blog and just online in general, and I've been finding myself overwhelmed from all of the how-to's and advice out there. If you're someone who is always trying to improve what you do, you know exactly where I'm coming from.
If you're ready to end the madness, here's a little bit of advice that will help.
Focus on what YOU do best.
When I started focusing on what I can do well, I gained confidence in my projects. I enjoy looking up ways to better my craft and seeing how others are approaching what I want to do, but I had to remind myself that I am me, and they are who they are.
Don't forget who you are in the process of trying to take in the advice of others.
...Because it's your strengths that will make your work unique. When you create your stories with a focus on what you do best, they turn out being the best of you. When I do what I'm good at, the enthusiasm is hard to restrain. I want to write and draw, and just make the best work that I can. The best thing about working in your sweet spot is that when you love the story you're telling, it shows in your writing. Those will be the feelings you give to your readers.
When I started asking myself, “What am I good at? What is the one thing that's my thing?” amazing things began to happen. I felt a sudden calm within, and all of those swirling voices faded like a summer breeze. I stopped looking at what everyone else was doing, and began to focus more on what I can do, and focus is golden. Having focus enables you to go forward with your projects without looking back.
I tell stories with my writing and art. That is my thing. My focus. Not starting a podcast, or creating an email course, or whatever. It's not that I'm never going to try anything new–it's more like I'm going to resist the temptation to drop what I'm good at to chase the shiniest, most popular thing.
This applies, even to the little things. You may read advice about a method of plotting your story that's different from the method you currently use. The author may go on about how simple this makes things, which is attractive. But think, "Do I like how I'm currently plotting my stories? Is what I'm doing working?" If it is, stick to it!
There have been times where I've tried suggestions that people say are simple, just to find that it's not me at all. Instead of struggling to make this other person's method work–forcing it to fit, go back to what was best for you and regain your focus.
And if you really need to improve, keep looking through methods until you find one that fits you. Or look at the parts of your method that are not working, and tweak them a little instead of taking on a whole new way of doing things.
You shouldn't have to force something to feel comfortable. This is coming from a girl who has bought attractive pairs of high-heeled shoes in a size too small more times than necessary. They made me look awesome, and I got compliments, but my feet were killing me. Don't squeeze into something that doesn't fit you. It's not worth the pain.
How to Zero In On What You're Good At
It's really hard to do this because it's so easy to be swayed by well-meaning advice. The best way I've found is to write a few lists. First I write what I'm good at in general:
- Telling stories with writing and art.
- Creating graphics.
- High school settings
- Friendship to romance
Something similar to this that I've found helpful is to write a list of things I like in stories and things I don't like. Then I go through the list and star the things in the “Like” list that I'm proficient at. For example, I like reading stories with high school settings, and I have a lot of experience with using that as a setting in my own stories. Often what you like and what you're good at overlap.
Add New Things Slowly
When I was starting The Altered-Realities of a Dream-maker, I was doing some research on writing, and I saw how many writers were expressing how they enjoyed typing out their entire stories over handwriting. I even came across a few articles on how to make typing a rough draft easier for those who are used to writing by hand.
I am a hand-written draft person, and when I read this advice, I decided to give it a try. With the second book of ARDM, Summer Nightmares, I typed the whole first draft. At first it was tough to keep myself from over-correcting (That's why I've preferred writing by hand for so long), but once I turned off spellcheck and found ways to type without depending so much on the backspace button, I was able to find my zone in typing out my first draft. In the end, I liked it.
But when I started the editing process…oh wow. It was so rough. When I write by hand and then retype it, the draft comes out way smoother. All of the editing made me go cross-eyed. I did not enjoy editing my first draft as much as I usually do. So I've decided that for as much as I like typing, I'm going to write the rough draft of the next book by hand to avoid the editing nightmare. Yet, with a future story, I'm planning on typing the draft because it fits what I'm trying to accomplish with it.
The point of this story is that I tried something new, and overall it went well. It is going to have a place in my writing process, but I'm not letting go completely of where I excel, which is writing drafts by hand. Don't let go of where you excel, but lean into it instead.
Publishing and Promotion
Keeping an eye on what you're good at is especially important when you move from writing to publishing. Everyone has their best methods for publishing a story. Although there are some rules that would be in your best interests to follow (Like, have a nice cover), be aware that there is no formula for success. Following the exact same promotion plan as someone else is no guarantee that it's going to work for you. There are many roads that lead to promoting a book. So what does work? It's hard to know for sure, but things go the smoothest when you pick a promotion method that fits in with what you're good at, and it's something you can do consistently.
A lot of writers use Twitter. I used to use Twitter, but I'm not very witty, and I'm shy about replying to people. So now my Twitter account just sends out alerts when I update my blog. Pinterest, on the other hand, I use it everyday. I love Pinterest, and I've begun sharing my blog posts there. I like the marriage of graphics and text. That's what comes easily to me.
Promote your work in ways that come naturally to you. Don't start a blog if you don't like blogging. Don't run a YouTube channel if you don't like seeing yourself on video. Do the one thing that is your thing when it comes to promotion, and then do it well.
Regain Your Focus
The whole point of this is to find direction and focus within yourself amidst the information overload. There may be a lot suggestions and pointers out there, but no one can do what you're good at the way you do it. It's so tempting to try this and try that, but it's much easier to get things done when you focus on what you can do and keep moving forwards, instead of backwards and sideways.
Focus on the one thing that you do best, and do it. If you need to improve, add the skills slowly as you go.
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