I'm a big fan of The Creative Habit by Twyla Tharp, who encourages readers to make a list of the skills that are needed to excel at their craft.
So I've been thinking about what makes a writer skilled and where I can focus my attention, building on what I'm already good at and developing what still needs more practice. It's a lot to balance, and no wonder that we're all still figuring this out as we go. I hope the list below will help articulate the many elements that go into building a writing career. As you read through it, I encourage you to ask yourself:
• What skills have I mastered?
• Where am I still growing?
• What else would I add to this list?
Rather than feeling guilty for not shining in every area, study what skills feel more natural to you and celebrate them as your special blend of magic. Only then, set an intention to develop the skills that don’t come quite so naturally but feel important to your work. And remember growing as a writer is about more than practicing writing. It’s about growing as a human being. So be gentle with yourself. Being human isn’t always easy.
• Pacing, plot, story structure
• Character development
• Tension and transformation
• Organizing ideas
• Describing and dramatizing rather than declaring (Thanks to Cheryl Klein for this clearer way of saying "show don't tell!")
• Word choice
• Natural dialogue
• Point of view
• Having something to say about the world
• Economy of language
• Distilled, distinct ideas
• Knowing how to wait for an idea to ripen
• Combining the inevitable ending with a surprise
• Paying attention and understanding psychological truths
• Empathy and the ability to see a story from multiple POVs
• Addressing universal themes
• Focusing on the essentials
• Capturing details that ground and engage the reader's thoughts and feelings
• Knowing when to break the rules
• Believing this craft has the ability to change lives
• Self awareness and understanding your creative process
• Diplomatically working with agents, editors, illustrators, designers, and marketing experts
• Meeting deadlines
• Collaborating and communicating
• Dedicating time to the craft
• Cheerful, warm outlook, having a sense of humor
• Understanding the business of publishing
• Seeing a book through from idea to shelf to sales
• Being entrepreneurial
• Studying the canon and those you admire
• Researching best sellers and comps
• Exploring new trends and techniques
• Being willing to take risks
• Always experimenting
• Constantly seeking inspiration
• Studying favorites and looking for patterns
• Including wild, random elements in the process
What combination of skills makes you the writer you are? How about the writer you aspire to be?
Heidi Fiedler is a children’s book writer and editor. Whether it’s a poetic picture book, a zippy chapter book, or a kid-friendly take on the physics of time travel, the books she works on are quirky, playful, highly visual, and often philosophical. Heidi is also the creator of Visualize Your Story: An Instagram Workshop for Writers and Editors. Learn more about Heidi and the work she does at helloheidifiedler.com.