After class the other day, I was talking with a member about balance from one side of the body to another. That’s the other kind of balance we find in yoga. The poses — Tree, Star, Dancer, Airplane, Warrior III — allow us to develop that calm center that keeps us from getting knocked off balance by the ebb and flow of life. But there’s another sort of balance, the kind we should infuse our practice with — both yoga and writing.
When we practice yoga, we talk about staying balanced, doing to one side what we do to the other. But sometimes, we’re coming to practice unbalanced. One hip is tight, or an arm is weaker than the other. We wobble all over the place on the right foot, but are rock-solid on the left. In those cases, we bring ourselves back to balance by giving extra attention to the side that needs it. When I practice on my own, I often stay in Pigeon up to twice as long on my right side. That set of external rotators is tighter, and it takes longer to get the muscles to relax and loosen to match the left side. In the big picture, practicing like this brings me to balance.
It’s the same way with writing. We all have our strengths. Some people are great at the intricacies of plot. Like chess masters, they can see all the players on the board and figure out how things will go three, six or 10 moves out. Others are fabulous at creating characters that seem like they’re going to jump off the page. Some writers create description so sublimely we can see exactly what they see. Some have dialogue that makes us feel like we’re eavesdropping on the characters. And then there are those whose action scenes get our hearts racing.
But for every strength, we have an area that doesn’t come as naturally. The plot that has giant holes. Characters that feel like paper dolls walking across the stage. Description ridden with cliches. Dialogue so stilted as to be painful to read. Action scenes that plod.
It’s tempting as writers to play to our strengths, just as it is in yoga. I’ll happily do Warrior II, Triangle or Pigeon all day. Cow-Faced Pose, Seated Forward Fold, Warrior I? Not so much. My body doesn’t like those poses as much, so I tend to avoid them. We do the same as writers. The action expert keeps things moving so nobody has time to spot the gaping hole in a character’s motivation. The plot whiz twists things up so much you don’t notice the descriptions use the same phrases over and over again. The dialogue expert uses that to camouflage how little is actually happening.
But just as the poses our bodies like least often are the ones they need the most, so, too, do we need to focus some attention on the areas of writing we stumble over. I’ll be the first to admit I have plotting issues. That means in any project, I need to spend more time working on that — and I need to use the places I am strong to help me with that.
Now, we’ll all always have our strengths. This isn’t a call to abandon what we do well to spend endless time working on the other elements. But the more competence we get in the areas we struggle, the more we can let the places we excel carry our story into new heights of brilliance.
What areas of writing are your strengths? Which ones need more attention? Do you give them that attention, or do you avoid it?