Monday, October 25, 2010

Online Persona Workshop Week Four: Playing to Our Strengths

Since your online presence is most definitely an extension of your writing self, when trying to put together the most comfortable, highest impact persona, you’re going to want to play on your strengths.

It’s not just about who we are and what we have to say, although that is a large part of it. The key to making this work for you is to have it spring naturally from your authentic self. Which means using our writing strengths to feed the online persona.

So, do you know your writing strengths? This week’s exercise is to write down what you think your top five writing strengths are.

The second part of the exercise is to think of three trusted people who know your work well. They can be writing group members, critiquers, beta readers, your agent, fellow writers. When they give you feedback on your writing, what do they say your writing strengths are? Your voice? Your use of language, humor, ideas, storytelling?

If you and your writing buddies/partners/group haven’t discussed this before, pick two or three people who know your work well and ask them what they think your core writing strength is.

Compare your list to theirs and see if there is a consensus.

The reason this is important in terms of your online persona is this:

To keep people coming back, your blog/FB page/Tweets will need to do one of the following:


Your writing strengths will go a long way in determining which of those approaches will feel most natural for you.

Some blog topics or angles will only work if someone has a dynamite unique voice. It’s the WAY they tell it that makes it fascinating.

For others it will be their ability to CONNECT emotionally on the subject matter, or bring INSIGHT to the topic. Or perhaps simply they way they turn everything into a STORY of some kind.

To get a firm grasp on these different angles, go back to your own list of your ten favorite blogs that you like to read. Look at each one on there and ask yourself, Does the blog entertain me? Offer me much needed information and guidance? Give me strength and inspiration? Make me feel like I’m connecting with a larger community?

Which of those most closely match your writing strengths?

Some writers (and bloggers) have very distinct voices that come through loud and clear no matter what they’re writing about. No matter what they talk about, we’re entertained.

And then there are the rest of us. ☺

So for example, both here and on my personal blog, I think the ways I connect with blog readers are by informing and inspiring.

What I am sure about is that I am not entertaining. In fact, the mere idea of trying to entertain someone makes me freeze up, unable to think of a thing to say. I might be entertaining by accident, but pretty much never by intent, so writing an entertaining, voice driven blog is pretty much outside of my skill set.

That makes sense when I look at my actual writing strengths, one of which is, I think, my ability to slip inside wildly different skins and feel and be that person. It’s what allows me to write a 10 year old timid boy being dragged around the world by his intrepid aunt, a precocious eleven year old Edwardian budding Egyptologist, and a medieval teen assassin. So having a unique, defining, always recognizable voice simply isn’t one of my strengths.

But that’s okay because this exercise is about identifying what we DO have.

Do you love to research?
Are you totally obsessed with certain topics and consequently pretty keyed in to new developments and discoveries in that area?
Are you a lush, descriptive writer?
See things with a unique, unusual perspective?

These are just a few of the different sorts of writing strengths people have. I would lovelovelove if people would feel comfortable talking about their writing strengths in the comments, because then we could talk about what sort of blog those strengths play to. But I also recognize that can feel awkward to talk about—especially out in the wide open internet. To help out with this, all those brave souls who DO talk about their writing strengths will be entered TWICE in this week’s drawing. How’s that for motivation?

However, if talking about your own strengths isn’t comfortable, maybe you could tell us if the blogs you are drawn to entertain, inform, inspire, connect, enlighten, or share. Or if they do something else entirely.

Speaking of which, the winner* for last weeks prize is…#3. lizamich! Please email me and I’ll get that out to you.

This week’s prize will be a copy of Made To Stick, a fascinating book about creating ideas that resonate, and that relates to the stories we tell. However, if you would rather have a copy of last week's The Hero Within, I’d be happy to send you a copy of that instead. Your choice!

*Methodology: I numbered the comments 1-10, skipping my own responding comments, then hit the ol’ random number generator.


Caroline Starr Rose said...

I don't entertain, either. I'd say connect and inform. Blogging for me is a bit like having a captive audience: I can talk about books I love/want to read and people actually respond!

Beth C. said...

I don't think my blog is the entertaining sort. I admire those who have that knack. Maggie Stiefvater comes to mind. She can write about scrubbing a toilet and yet it's a beautiful post with 100 comments.

I think I approach my blog as a format to make friends with fellow writers. It would probably fall under that connect and share label.

As for my writing strengths... it's easier for me to jump to part two. I'm on a critique site, and have several people who review all of my novel chapters. The most comment compliments I get are: 1) my writing is smooth, 2) I have a way with descriptions, 3) I make people feel like they are there in the scene.

Now if you want me to list my weaknesses, I'd probably hit the word limit for comments.

Alex Beecroft said...

I love to research and I'm a lush, descriptive writer (slightly too much so if some reviews are to be believed.)

I often want to gush about the things I've found out while researching, but I don't do it for fear of boring people. (And possibly because it would be too revealing of myself to expose my own enthusiasm that way.)

Heather Wardell said...

I'm still struggling with what my blog should be. I don't want to have a "typical writer's blog", bemoaning my lack of agent and all that, but I'm not sure what I do want.

As a writer, I believe my strength is characterization. That's what the people who've read my self-published novels tell me... the characters seemed so real to them.

Anonymous said...

My blog probably falls under the “inform and share” categories. I enjoy talking about writing events and favorite books, etc. Wish I could be more entertaining, though.

Top five writing strengths that have been pointed out during professional critiques: originality, voice, evocative language, polished, and that I trust young readers to figure things out.

I’d actually agree with these comments. I'll add that I always trust my intuition.

Mike Jung said...

I love this post, Robin. As an introvert and (entirely separate from the introversion) a somewhat maladjusted person I often find it hard to talk honestly about my strengths. But false modesty is not a terribly useful thing, and in fact it's often really important to be able to toot our own horns, so to speak. So here I am, giving it a try!

My blog probably does fall into the entertaining bucket - I'm told that my spastic ramblings are funny and engaging. I think it also sometimes falls into the "heartfelt" and even "inspiring" categories too, however. I blog mostly about writing, but I try to frame it around my identity as a human being, which means I introduce occasional thoughts about my family, my place in the cosmos, and life in general.

I think those things are also among my strengths as a writer in general - I have the ability to write humorously, but I can also write in a way that communicates genuine emotion. And my biggest strength is probably voice - all the years I've spent writing irreverent letters, knockoff stories, songs, emails, blog posts, Facebook updates, tweets and (of course) my one finished manuscript have honed my writerly voice to a nice, sharp edge.

R.L. LaFevers said...

Sorry to be take so long to get back here. It's been a busy coupla days at Chez LaFevers. :-)

Caroline, I think that's a great place to blog from because most writers were readers first, so it's a huge passion where we can connect.

Ha ha, Beth! Isn't that the truth, how we're so much more adept at numerating our faults? And those strengths you've been told you have strike me as great strengths for blog writing. Vivid descriptions and being able to pull people in with your writing definitely pertains to blogs, too!

Alex, just as with Beth, lush descriptive writing is a great blog strength. And of course, it seems like sharing all that fascinating research would be a great way to connect with and build a blogging audience. And I even plan on talking about exactly that fear of exposure next week, so stay tuned.

Going to start a second comment in case blogger eats this.

R.L. LaFevers said...

Hm, Heather. I can totally understand (and applaud!) your not wanting your blog to be just another typical writer's blog. And I'm trying to think how having a gift for characterization could support that. Can you see any connections with any of the other exercises you've done with the workshop? Like hobbies or facets of yourself that might click with that characterization strength?

Wow, those are some awesome (and numerous!) writing strengths, Kimberly Lynn! Do you feel like you're tapping into those strengths with your blogging? Or do you think there's a way you could be utilizing those strengths more for your online persona? (Although I'm not sure if that ties into your blogging goals...)

Hey Mr. Mike! You make such an excellent point--false modesty is NOT a useful thing and doesn't help anyone. Especially when trying to build a realistic career/author presence. We need to be honest with ourselves. I would agree that your online presence is all about voice and entertaining, or at least what I've seen of it. One of the other things I've been struck by with your online presence is how supportive you are of other writers, whether its with your FF on Twitter or posting pictures of Blue Boarders books on FB. Not only are you entertaining, you're generous. Two big wins.

(And just as an aside, I have misspelled strength every time I've typed it tonight. What's up with that??)

Melissa said...

okay, I'm a humor/voice/entertaining kinda person in my writing. My real hesitation is that it's hard work sometimes to keep a good sense of the ridiculous up in a project I'm working on...I'm not sure I have enough left over to put it in a weekly word count isn't where I'd like it to be already. I wonder how much time maintaining a fun blog would be?

Maybe I should try to write a faux-post every week for a few weeks and just save them...and see if I can shoehorn it into my life with relative ease, or whether it stresses me out. That right there might help me decide about whether or not starting a blog now is a good idea.

Anonymous said...

Thanks, Robin!

No, I’m definitely not tapping into those specific strengths. Time and privacy are two issues that probably influence the way I blog. Also, I like to keep posts short and with a somewhat professional tone. Maybe this is what zaps the voice?

My primary interest is picture books and making more connections with parents, teachers, and librarians. I do have some fun ideas for the future, but it takes so much time with everything else going on around me.

(Do you like my clever excuses?)


Looking forward to your next installment...

Anonymous said...

Hmm. My strengths seem to be snappy dialogue and careful plotting. But that doesn't seem to help with branding.

R.L. LaFevers said...

Mel, that is perhaps the single best reason for NOT working on an online presence--it saps too much of your creative energy and uses up that most precious resource of time. So I think that's a hugely valid reason for passing right now.

Having said that, your idea of playing with some faux posts and building up a reserve supply is a great one. But only if it doesn't sap your writing energies.

Kristin, you're right, careful plotting and great dialog doesn't seem to lend itself well to blogging, at least on first glance. Let me mull that over a bit...

Anonymous said...

I AM SO EXCITED THAT I WON!!!! Thank you! (And even if I hadn't, your posts are fabulous -- thank you!)