Strengths For Writers: A One-Day Intensive by Becca Symes
If we struggle to execute a plan, what is the most common thing we are told? To want it more.
It’s a myth: I want it, therefore I’ll do it.
This myth is the basis for the SMART goals: Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-Bound. However, these goals only work for 15-18% of people. For most people, there is a drop off in the ‘wanting’ of a goal over time, because it’s not about wanting it enough, it’s about a lack of support system. It’s not possible to keep wanting something enough on it’s own.
Only 18% of people are internally motivated (eg they will meet their self-imposed deadlines without external help). Everyone else is externally motivated, prefering to meet deadlines set by others. Another myth of writing is “Write Every Day” but only 27% of commercially successful writers do this.
We are all different, and those differences matter.
- How do you manage your time?
- Which choices for you have control over?
- Which do you not?
Strength Theory is about taking your natural talents and applying training to create strengths. This course used a ‘strengths’ test from gallup.com that can be found here, and I’ll share my results as part of this blog. The concept of strengths was developed by Dr Clifton over interviews with 2 million people. Each answer was collated into 297 common threads of talent, and these were organised into 34 themes of strength. Each person has five key strengths.
My Strengths (via the gallup test)
Points of note: 50% of writers have three strengths in their top five: Intellection, Learner, and Input. And 60% of writers have Intellection (the need to think before acting), so if you are a procrastinator, perhaps you need that thinking time before committing words to (digital) paper. Writers without the Intellection strength tend to write every day (see low % mentioned above). Neither having or not having this is any measure on the quality of words produced.
Strategic: A pattern seeker, always looking for the best option. Occasionally stalling (in work or writing) comes from “best seeking”, ie can’t go forward until the best option is found. Symmes recommended developing learning curve skills to prevent stalling. People with strategic in their top five strengths tend to prefer to create new ways of doing something. They are bored by copying others or doing it the way it’s always been done. “Wouldn’t it be cool if…?”
Responsbility: Always do what you say; has ownership over commitments. The downside of this is that it can lead to self-blame for external factors, and it is useful to develop the nuance between “commitments to me” and “commitments to others”
Learner: as the name says, loves to learn, has a growth mindset, is adventurous. The downside is that when combined with Strategic, can hold themselves accountable for things they should’ve known even when they didn’t have the data before (hindsight bias).
Input: collection of information, and has a high level of curiosity. The most common behavioural weakness is to wake up and open social media which comes from a need to input information.
Developer: wants others to succeed. A person with this strength is open to being taken advantage of by others, as they see someone’s potential and will put in energy to help them succeed or grow, but this energy can be wasted if that person is unwilling to change. Thinks they can change a person by trying hard enough.
How do some of these apply to writing, especially the combinations of these strengths:
– can waste time on research (need for more information and loves to learn new things)
– remember that faster isn’t always better, so let yourself do the research
– but try to keep making forward progress
– always looking for the magic answer/there must be a better way to do this/to succeed easier
– looks for a way to avoid the pain of doing things
– this combination tends to edit as they write or write in layers which can be slower to draft, but much faster to edit
– puts others first
– need to remember that it’s okay to put some people (eg children) before a career because that time will pass and you can come back to the career
– you’ll regret it if you don’t focus on them, but try to be certain about who you give your time and energy to
– people with developer and responsbility make the world worth living (I’m pretty sure I made a happy sigh when Symmes said this)
Personal note: listening to Symmes talk about this combination of strengths was a bit of an ‘aha’ moment, as I realised it’s why I volunteer to help people (eg RWAus Secretary for 3 years, cricket club newsletter writer, etc).
General Publishing Comments
These were scattered all through the day, but I’ve collated them here for easy of reading.
Publishing is unfair, unpredictable, and capricious. Often your input is irrelevant to the outcome.
Sometimes bad books succeed
Occasionally bad people succeed (and seeing someone unethical get rewarded can be hard to watch)
Good books succeed or fail at random (although marketing helps)
Find someone who validates your sense of frustration and whinge to them – never in public (socials)
If you have an energy consuming day job and you still want to write, try having a shower and/or going for a short walk between work and writing time. If you are working from home, try not to work and write in the same space.
Most people can’t write and publicise at the same time. This requires task orientation abilities and strengths to shift quickly between the tasks, especially because writing is a creative task and switching to business is tricky.
When you make instinctive choices, they are the right ones for you. You are valid. Be happy the way that fits you.
Listen to yourself and your intuition. Reaglign you and your goals to your strengths.
If you hear “Should” always question why? Why ‘should’ you do that? What is the reasoning behind this statement (myth) that includes ‘should’? Eg “Writers should write every day” but most writers have Intellection as a strength, which means it’s not their strong suit to try and write every day. Intellection people need the percolation time.
Of note, only 3% of writers have WOO (winning others over) as a top five strength.