Sunday, May 21, 2006

Weaknesses

My name is JA Konrath, and I have trouble answering my email.

It sneaks up on me. I'll miss a day of replies. Then two days. And by the end of the month, I have 380 emails in my Inbox that need to be answered.

A lot of it is fan mail. A good deal of it is other authors, asking advice. Some of it is people asking for me to do an appearance.

I always answer the important stuff immediately, such as from my editors and agents. But the other stuff I always put off until it's overwhelming.

I'm not complaining. I much prefer it to getting no email at all. MUCH.

But if you've emailed me in the last month and haven't heard back, I want to tell you it isn't because I'm ignoring you.

Well, not ignoring you specifically. I'm ignoring everybody equally, so don't feel as if I've signalled you out for snubbing.

And I will get to replying. Eventually.

But this ongoing problem of mine made me think about my professional weaknesses. I can rattle off my strengths easily, as I'm sure more writers can name theirs---we all seem to know what we're good at.

But perhaps it is more important to find out what we're not good at, and strive to improve these things.

Timely answering of email is one of my flaws. Remembering names is another (I sometimes forget the names of my children---I'm awful with names.) Being impetuous (rather than careful) is yet another which has gotten me into trouble before.

These problems can be fixed, if I work at them. And having identified them, I'll make an effort to change. I'll set aside specific times to answer email. I'll pay more attention to names. I'll try to slow down and think before acting impulsively.

What are your professional weaknesses, and how will you fix them? And is it possible to turn a weakness into a strength?

25 comments:

JA Konrath said...

I didn't want to take away the focus of today's blog, but I just got my first decent review from Publisher's Weekly.

Kirkus, known to be tough, has been kind to Jack Daniels. PW says some nice things, but always manages to intersperse them with nasty comments.

The current review has nothing nasty, only one mildly disparaging thing (that it's possible to guess who my villain is), and some really good stuff including:

"...violent thrills peppered with hilarious one-liners." and "true guffaws and tightly knit subplots."

Which is a far cry from "predictable" and "ill conceived" said in earlier reviews.

I know some authors who refuse to read their reviews, and some who lie and say they never read them, and some who say bad reviews don't bother them.

While I try (boy do I try) to ignore bad reviews, a good review always makes my day. And I'm happy PW is finally coming around to the horror/humor mix that baffled them the first two books.

Now won't it be funny if Kirkus slams me?

Buddy Gott said...

Congrats on the review, Joe!

As for my own personal writing weaknesses, my biggest problem is letting myself get distracted doing other things instead of writing.

For example, I just spent 2 hours watching the DESPERATE HOUSWIVES season finale. Tomorrow I'll spend 2 hours with the finale of ALIAS and Wednesday another 2 hours will be spent on the LOST season finale.

Can I tell myself that I'm skipping writing time because those shows are well-written and I'm watching them to study the art of good writing?

Well, kinda, I guess.

Stacey Cochran said...

I have no weaknesses. None.

Bow to me, now. I am a writing machine.

Stacey

Bill Peschel said...

"But perhaps it is more important to find out what we're not good at, and strive to improve these things."

I wish I can remember where I read this, either in Allen's "Getting Things Done" or maybe "How to Have a 48-Hour Day" by Don Aslett, but the writer suggested that it's a waste of time trying to fix your weaknesses.

First, it takes a lot of time and effort to effect change, time that might be better spent using your gifts to further your career.

Second, every time you fail at it, you feel worse about yourself. You beat yourself up and wonder why you're not so dam talented that you can fix your weaknesses.

Third, if you know what you're good at, you'll be far more motivated to work at getting better at them, because the rewards are much higher.

Remember, even Babe Ruth struck out a lot, and that didn't hold him back.

PS: Congratulations on the review!

Jude Hardin said...

My only weaknesses as a writer are:
1) Speling
2) Grammar (I didn't never really learn no grammar in skool)
3) Dialogue--Yur 'posed ta write it like people tawk, right? With a bunch o' those funny li'l commas stuck up 'tween the letters.
4) Description--Every book should start with 10,000 words telling exactly what the main character sees when s/he looks in the mirror.
5) Sex scenes--It's extremely important for the reader to know the exact moment tab A enters slot B.

I have many more writing weaknesses, including procrastination, but I'll tell you the rest of them tomorrow.

Hey. Admitting you have a problem is the first step toward recovery, right? :)

Congrats on the PW review, Joe!

Bernita said...

Turn a weakness into strength?
Not sure that it's like a muscle.
Perhaps the best we can do is make a weakness negligible, ie. neutral.
What was your name again, handsome?

Erica Orloff said...

Joe:
Congrats on the good review. Kirkus has been great to my YAs, but PW . . . a little snarky. :-)

As for my weakness? If a messy desk is a sign of genius, Einstein has nothing on me. However, while I used to embrace this as a somewhat endearing quality, I am realizing lately it's nothing short of insane. I am constantly losing things on my desk and spening precious time I do not have to spare in search of a scrap of paper here, a signed contract there. Then I resolve to clean and organize it "once and for all." And within a week of that feeling of accomplishment when it's all nice and neat, it looks like I never cleaned it at all.

Aimless Writer said...

Yay! for the PW review. Nice to know they are finally waking up. I've read both your books and am panting for the next one to come out...pant! pant! pant!
Anyone who gives you a bad review is an idiot.
My writing weakness; PROCASTINATION! I fight this by making appointments with myself to sit down and do it. I'm on the synopsis now-the hardest part. You wouldn't happen to have a sample synopsis laying around, would you?

Mark Terry said...

Congrats on the review.

I would say the distractability of the Internet is one of my biggest weaknesses.

And even more so, I can be my own worst enemy. My brain does a particularly excellent job of second-guessing my career direction and other choices.

Jaye Wells said...

Joe,

Great review. Must feel great.

Weakness? Impatience is my biggest challenge. While it keeps me hungry and pushes me, it also drives me mad in a business like this.

I'm sure I have lots of writing weaknesses. But I figure the only cure for those is to keep on keeping on.

Jaye

Tasha Alexander said...

Joe, huge congrats on the review!!! Fantastic!!!!

Adam Hurtubise said...

Congrats on the review, Joe.

Adam

Kalen Hughes said...

Congrats on bending PW to your will . . .

I'm not sure my main weaknesses can be used for good:

1) I have a pathological inability to say NO.

Can you have it done in a month, says my editor. Sure, I say (while the tiny voice of reason inside my skull screams NO NO NO NO FRICKEN WAY CAN YOU HAVE THIS DONE IN A MONTH NO).

2) This gets combined with my urge to always play homeroom mom.

Would you like to volunteer to be President of your RWA chapter? Sure, sign me up. Are you going to give a workshop this year? Sure, let me send you a proposal. We need someone to coordinate the chapter contest? Sure . . . .shoot me now. Sew my mouth shut.

I give too much of my time away.

I’ve SWORN now that I have a contract and deadlines that I will STOP being the go-to-girl . . . but it’s so hard to change one’s nature.

JA Konrath said...

Kalen, that's a great response.

I'm putting together a collection of essays about writing to put on my website. Can you flesh out that response and get me a 5000 word essay on the topic by Thursday?

Bethany said...

I am almost a carbon copyu of kalen.

1) Yep... I can't say no to a deadline. Even if it means I take a day off from the day job, write my fingers to the bone, and give up eating and sleeping for 3 days. I'll MAKE any deadline given to me (isn't that crazy).

2) I just like to write the initial draft and move on. One refinement only and then I get bored. So for me, it is a CONSTANT battle to take what I've written, put it aside for a while, rewrite, and THEN show it to the world. See, I like instant gratification. Doesn't everyone?

3) I hate proper grammar. So, um, as you can see from this response. VERY relaxed writing. It works perfectly for my genre. Not so much in other areas.

Justin R. Buchbinder said...

I'm not a professional writer, as I've only sold or placed 5 pieces and nothing beyond newspaper print as far as non-online goes... but my downfalls go thusly:

> TOO willing to help others. I will gladly put aside my own work to read the work of others, critique it, edit it, offer suggestions.

> TOO much like a piece of tofu. I notice that, as I'm reading a book, my writing style ever-so-slightly begins to take on the style of whoever I'm reading. I've alleviated this by NOT reading while I'm writing.

I'm sure I'll find others if and when I get pro published!

Anonymous said...

On his 43 Folders website, Merlin Mann calls this "Patching Your Personal Suck."

The idea is to know your weaknesses and try to find simple solutions and tricks to get you over them.

S. W. Vaughn said...

Wow! Kick-ass review! Major congrats, JA, and well-deserved.

Oh, weaknesses; I have many! My biggest problems are:

-Meeting self-imposed deadlines (the only kind I have at the moment)
-Taking praise seriously, even when it comes from strangers, and occasionally letting said praise overshadow criticism I should pay attention to
-Impatience, in regards to queries and revisions
-Spending lots of time reading informative and entertaining blogs about writing, instead of writing...

How will I fix them?

-Threaten self with removal of coffee pot from office if deadlines are not reasonably met
-Go back and read The First Novel I Ever Wrote (shudder)...true torture that reminds me there is ALWAYS room for improvement
-Hit fingers with ball peen hammer when tempted to e-mail agents and editors after query goes unanswered for 24 hours; same when tempted to revise novel the day after completion
-Er...get less sleep.

Kalen Hughes said...

JA, you are evil . . . EVIL I SAY! EEEVIIIILLLLLLLL!

Barbara W. Klaser said...

Some of my weaknesses are similar to others mentioned here:

I'm too easily distracted by the internet (still laughing my ass off at Jude Hardin's response).

I write too much. It's too detailed, and a lot of background creeps into the story. I wind up spending too much time unwriting (cutting, deciding what to cut).

I imagine that whatever little fantasy entertains me will entertain the reader, rather than sticking to what I know about what makes a story work.

Lack of discipline. You would think I'd at least have a cleaner house, with as much time as I spend not writing, but I have no discipline in regard to housekeeping either.

Impressionability. I tend to let the rules, others' opinions, and trying to please everybody who ever lived get in the way of telling my story.

Maybe it all comes down to discipline. . . .

But I'm okay with email.

Congrats on the reviews!

Anonymous said...

The rather odd thing is that PW gives "Whiskey Sour" a starred review, if you look at their archived reviews on the website.

My understanding is that PW normally asks the same reviewer to review the same writer, to ensure consistency in the reviews. But who knows? Maybe they changed reviewers.

S. W. Vaughn said...

Was reading back through your archives and discovered you own a Brother word processor.

Good Lord, I thought I had the only working model of those lovely clunkers in existence. Brother word processors are hardcore. Laptop of champions. :-)

Amra Pajalic said...

I suck at writing query letters because I'm unable to take a step back and view the story objectively so I can describe it in a way that sounds halfway interesting.

I also suck at being able to decribe my own writing. Sandra Rutton wrote a post about voice and where she fits in the crime writing community. I have no comparisons to offer because I can't evaluate it at all.

I also suck at the whole promotional thing. I have no problems keeping to my writing deadlines but I've wanted to create a website for years yet haven't come close. I think it comes down to that whole thing of stepping over the line where my writing is my own personal passion to thinking of it in commercial terms. Something I have to work on.

I even have a problem in terms of writing commercial stories to promote myself. While I'm very capapable of writing commerical stories I protect my writing too much as precious and life-affirming and then can't use it to this end. But that's because my day job sucks and this is all I have to make me feel special so I can't "sully it." Basically I need to get the stick out of my arse and get real. So that's going to be my big goal for the latter half of the year.

Sandra Ruttan said...

Congrats on the review Joe.

And you know, I hear you about email. I try to respond to stuff right away, or I end up forgetting about it. And since I average somewhere around 200 emails a day... well, I'm obsessive about clearing out my email as quickly as possible.

I just got an email yesterday, saying apparently I hadn't replied to something since March. Ooops.

Cheryl Mills said...

I think I have a damnable weakness.

Revision.

Short stories? No problem! But slogging through these hulking novels I've created is, well, daunting.

I KNOW they are not saleable as is. Heck, they may never be saleable, but that is something I think I should let agents/editors determine, not me.

I do have passion for the stories, the characters I've created and I do want to eventually send them out into the world. But so far all I've been able to do is create new outlines, make tons of scribbles on the manuscript pages, and rewrite the openings a dozen or so times.

So I think what I'll do is set aside the first draft and create a full second draft without peeking. Just using my revised outline (I actually added a character and two sub-plots. The first draft was very centrally focused. Whadda want from someone who has no idea what they're doing?), plodding along. Then I can worry about a third, and hopefully final, draft where I pull the best from both versions into a cohesive, frightening, suspenseful narrative. If I can't learn to handle revising a novel, I'll never, ever, get anywhere.

Damnable, I say!

(and congrats on the review!)