Illustration by Mary GrandPré
One of my favorite scenes in the Harry Potter series is the scene in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire in which Mad-Eye Moody gave Harry advice. To steal an egg from a dragon for the first task of the Triwizard Tournament, Moody suggested that Harry play to his strengths and bring what he needed. For Harry, this meant using a summoning charm to retrieve his Firebolt so that he could utilize his Quidditch skills in the execution of the task. The result was the moment where Harry shouted, “Accio Firebolt!” and his Quidditch broom soared from the castle and came to his side, and it was awesome.
Moody’s advice is exceptional not just for a boy wizard, but also for writers.
Play to your strengths
Especially if your writing isn’t currently paying your rent, you’re probably writing because you just need to. “A writer always writes,” said Rachel Balducci. “And not because of the need to produce as much as the need to just exhale. Verbally/mentally/emotionally speaking.”
If that’s the case, you’d better not be wasting your time writing anything other than exactly what you want to write.
For example, a standard piece of advice for writers is: practice your craft on short stories, make a few sales, get a few published credits, and then attempt a novel. And that is good advice. It worked pretty well for Stephen King, among many others. But what if you don’t want to write short stories? What if you just want to be a novelist? In that case, Mad-Eye Moody growls, “Think now. What are you best at? Play to your strengths.”
It also happens that a writer comes up with a great story and tells it very well, but it gets rejected by agent after agent and publisher after publisher because it doesn’t fit neatly into preconceived genres. If that happens to you, should you rewrite the story to neatly fit expectations? No, not unless you want Moody’s magic eye to swivel in your direction. Play to your strengths. After all, children’s books weren’t supposed to be about babies from murdered families who grew up among vampires and werewolves until Neil Gaiman won the Newberry Medal for The Graveyard Book.
This advice applies to a writer in so many more ways. How does it apply to you? Think about what you’re best at and what you love the most. Are you in some way applying that to your writing? Why not? Play to your strengths. They’re uniquely yours, and the world is waiting to see the fruits of them.
(Continued in Part 2: Bring What You Need.)