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Gigi Will Know: How can I figure out my strengths and weaknesses as a writer?

How do you gauge your level of writing and how to improve?

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Have a query about craft? Need some clarification on an aspect of the publishing industry? Looking for career advice? Email your queries to [email protected] with the subject line “Advice Column.” We can’t wait to read your questions!

How do you gauge your level of writing and how to improve? I have different types of writing experiences, and as I move up in my writing career, I would like to figure out my strengths and what I need to improve upon.

Thank you,

—Trying to Progress

Dear Trying,

Oh, my stars. Are you telling me you’ve never heard of the Pen-to-Paper Skillorometer? Well, then, you’ve never lived! Please send $299 to me in care of The Writer magazine, and I’ll send one right out to you. You hold one electrode up to your forehead and the other to your heart and read your work into the attached funnel mic. If you don’t Feel Something™, then you have no skills and can move on to something else, like pig farming, accounting, or wolf biology.

No. Of course not. I jest, in part: If you read your work out loud to yourself, and you find it moves you and feels true, then you probably have something there, and you can build on it. So that’s my first tip. Trust in yourself.

Second, along those same lines: Pay attention to how your body reacts as you’re writing. Do you hit certain points and then suddenly have to get up and examine your front yard? Do you recall ironing that urgently needs your attention when trying to write a character or trying to build a plot? Does your stomach decide it needs to be fed tout suite when you go to write poetry or nonfiction? Then those are things you should work on. Conversely, what makes your brain really sing, your hands move across the page or keyboard? What makes you lose time when you’re working on it? That’s the stuff that might comprise your strengths.

I detect in your note a certain earnestness. There’s nothing wrong with that, but there’s also nothing wrong with working on bettering the stuff that interests you and not the things you feel like you should be working on. There, too, pay attention to yourself – ask yourself if you’re enjoying one skill or another.

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On the other, equally valid hand (I know! So useful!), a great way to increase your skillset is to take classes in every form of writing. You might stumble onto something you didn’t know you liked and are good at.

I do have one suggestion you can act on right now, though: Your letter mentions you have “different types of writing experiences” that you want to chart as you are “moving up in your career.” But you don’t say what kind of writing experiences, nor what you want in your career. So I suggest you hone in on specificity for a while, try to work that skill a little bit. Then come back and tell me what you think you really need.

There is No Try; Only Do,

—Gigi, channeling Yoda

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