This week’s writing challenge from Marketing for Romance Writers gave me flashbacks to the days when I had to endure job interviews. Inevitably someone on the selection committee would ask the dreaded question, “What’s your greatest strength?” The first time I heard it I was stymied. Since I went through a long period in which I changed jobs (both voluntarily and not) every 3-5 years, I got used to it. What is more important, I learned quite a bit about myself.
What I did well, I discovered, was bringing order out of chaos. Whether my task was creating a new organization from scratch, attacking a complex and broken process to bring order and efficiency, or managing the various threads of a massive technology project, I worked best when I stepped back, examined basic goals, and began to tug all the parts and pieces into a coherent whole focused forward. Rushing doesn’t work. Patience and tolerance allow the parts and pieces to develop and settle into place.
Is that strength useful in my writing career? Oddly, yes. I no longer have dozens of people to manage, technology services to provide, or process to manage, but I have plenty of chaos. Stories come to me in bits and pieces: a character here, a setting there, a situation, a scene, perhaps an ending. During the pre-writing phase, research adds to the chaos. I find interesting tidbits that may enhance the story or may be perfectly useless. Passionate love for history and geography only adds to the stew.
The hard part with writing is to focus on basic goals. In business those were givens. In writing they are not. I create them. Before I can make order out of the chaos, I have to know what story I want to tell. I need to know what I want these characters to do at the end and how they will change to get there. Once I know that, I can let the story emerge. Patience and tolerance for disorder are required because when I try to force it the story becomes artificial.
Sometimes your strength is also your weakness, but that’s a thought for another day.