I was taught to write with a negative mindset. I was told to view my stories with the attitude of it all sucked, and I had to make it better. Now, I understand the philosophy behind the “kill your darlings” and the “it all sucks” viewpoints–it’s so we don’t get attached to, or lazy about, weak writing, especially those of us who were storytellers raised with the “write crap, revise later” philosophy (which I’m sure I’ll have more to say about in another post).
Today, I’m going to offer different advice:
Not everything you write is crap. You, like every other storyteller, have strengths and foci. That skill, whatever it is, and however strong it is, is likely what got you telling stories in the first place. You might be an idea person, a dialogue person, a character person, a pretty prose person, a worldbuilding person, or a plot person. You might be a combination of these. Whatever your strengths are, you have them. Now what you want to do is tell your stories to that strength, and then revise to that strength.
For example, if you’re a character person, focus on that and making your whole story stand out to highlight your characters. Instead of thinking, “Gosh, I really suck at dialogue,” approach it with the mindset that “Gosh, how do I make this dialogue really make my characters pop even more?” Are you a worldbuilding person? How can you characters make your worldbuilding narratives even more exciting?
The trick here is not to focus on your negative or weaker aspects of storytelling in themselves. To just say “I suck at dialogue, I need to write better dialogue” is a goal without direction or purpose. But polishing your dialogue to help make your witty character even wittier? Now we’re on to something.
So, as you approach your next story revision, consider your strengths as a storyteller. List them. Use them as a guide as you go through your story, and revise positively, not negatively. The goal with revision is to make a better story, and while it is the old wisdom that we all suck and write crap that must be polished, I wonder if revision would be less painful if we approached it from another angle.