Working With the Writing Strengths We're Given - Clifton Success Strengths for writers
In August of last year I attended the Romance Writers of Australia annual conference. The highlight of the event for me was a workshop designed to help writers discover their personal Success Strengths.
For anyone seeking to attain a specific goal in life the prevailing wisdom is to find a person who has already achieved that goal and then do what they did. The problem is, when that plan doesn’t work, people assume they’ve done something wrong, that it’s due to some fault or flaw in themselves. This workshop explained why that isn’t the case and why the prevailing wisdom is simply wrong.
Based on his studies of successful people in various fields (from athletes to artists, musicians to scholars) educational psychologist, Donald Clifton identified 34 success strengths that help people attain their goals.
Everyone has these strengths in a different balance but your top five are the most influential when it comes to your approach to attaining any goal. By discovering and working with your particular blend of strengths you have a much better chance of reaching success. By attempting to follow someone else’s path, you could actually be working against your strengths and reducing your chances of success.
As part of this workshop participants completed a Gallop questionnaire to determine their top five Success Strengths. We then discussed what impact these various strengths might have on our individual approach to writing and publishing our work.
What a relief it was for me to do this! For years I’ve berated myself for not being able to write faster. I looked at other authors who consistently churn out 3 or more books a year and thought, ‘Clearly that’s the path to success. What’s wrong with me? Why can’t I be like them?’
In doing the workshop questionnaire I learned my number one success strength is what Clifton calls Intellection. People with Intellection as a main strength like to think deeply about things. They tend to analyze and study, including their own behavior and creative process.
Churning out 3 or 4 books a year is simply contrary to my number one strength. Forcing myself to do go down this path would mean fighting against my natural tendencies and the very strength that could actually get me where I want to be. In the long run if I kept it up it could very well lessen my enjoyment of writing and lead me to give it up altogether.
Intellection, in combination with some of my other top strengths, likely explains why I plot and outline my stories so comprehensibly before I write them. All those times I tried and failed at ‘pantsing’ I assumed I just lacked the spontaneity that approach required. In reality I was simply fighting against one of my natural strengths. A strength that could get me where I needed to go if I only let it! It wasn’t because there was something wrong or lacking in me, it was because I was trying to follow someone else’s path, someone with different strengths to mine.
My particular blend of strengths also explains why I love the editing process so much (what better way to think and analyze!) and why other authors with different strengths despise this stage. And interestingly, a friend who was with me at the workshop discovered her tendency to write about groups of characters rather than a single hero or heroine is likely because Community is among her top five strengths.
Discovering my top five Clifton strengths was most enlightening. Now when I meet a successful author who’s doing things a bit differently to me, I remind myself that that person got to where they are not by the one and only path to success, but by following a plan compatible with their particular blend of success strengths.