On Knowing Your Limits

I know I’m good at a lot of things. Here’s a few that are in some way related to the art of writing:

  • After 5 years of teaching Business English here in Poland I have an excellent grasp of English grammar. I know the rules, can explain them in endless ways with endless examples and generally bore anyone to death on this topic. I even get paid to do just that ūüôā
  • I have a history of reading¬†a lot of non-fiction, so my formal, business, science and a lot of other specialist and semi-specialist vocabularies are significantly higher than the average sci-fi/fantasy author. I did a dodgy, online vocab test :p
  • I worked as a Cisco-certified Network Administrator in another life so have a very thorough understanding of a wide range of computational technologies.

There’s more, but I wanted to give you a very impressive-sounding but short list. There’s a point though – it’s not grandstanding.

Here’s a longer list of things I’m truly terrible at, but would make my life as an author¬†sooooo much easier.

  • Literally anything graphical, from Photoshop/The GIMP to drawing, painting, or even sketching stick figures. I’m truly, seriously, bafflingly, frustratingly, completely useless at this whole sphere of activities. It’s just pathetic ūüė¶
  • Real-world technologies and tools which don’t plug directly into a computer and allow themselves to be controlled by it. Think: guns, cars/trains/planes, construction, carpentry, police procedures, medical anything. The list is literally endless.
  • Getting/thinking overly-emotionally. I’m a very mentally¬†and¬†emotionally stable person, and this isn’t always a good thing (just ask my fiance), especially when you need to write about these things, or simply write from a position of passion. I’m just too logical.
  • Marketing! Full stop. End of scope. Now, I’m sure I¬†could understand marketing and do it successfully, if I really, really tried. I just can’t bring myself to fill my head with all of that nonsense. Is it actually nonsense? Definitely not. It’s a critical business skill. It’s just one I can’t bring myself to focus on for long enough for any of it to sink in.

So why am I writing this blog post now? Because I’m currently 20% of the way through book 2 of the Upheaving Nidola series, I have a Y.A. novel maybe 40% done and I’m in the initial stages of planning a sci-fi book (probably a standalone). Crap! I just realised I’ve watched a lot of sci-fi (it’s my favourite TV genre) but I’ve literally never actually read a book set in space. So how do I go about writing one? Amazon was kind enough to email me a $5 voucher yesterday for installing their Kindle software on my phone, and as I need background material (and the voucher handily expires today) I just blew $5 of Amazon’s hard-earned, virtual cash on 2 books set in space. It’s a good, entertaining start.

I know my limits. They are both broad and extensive. I have a lot of gaps to fill, and always will. No matter how much information – general and highly specific – I cram into my brain, I’ll always have disabling limits. We all will. The trick is to admit them and find ways to mitigate them.

I guess this is why highly-successful, fiction authors say that extensive reading of other people’s fiction is an essential part of the writing process.

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