Guest Post By Jenny Hansen: Playing To Your Strengths

Hi everyone!

Welcome to the Life List Clubs bi-weekly blog fest. If you aren’t familiar with the Life List Club you can find out about it on the tab up on my header (or click the link). Today, I am guest posting over at Carrie Mumford’s site on “Five Questions That Lead to Success“.

I am happy to host the fantastic Jenny Hansen of “More Cowbell” today. Jenny is an upbeat tech-master with a wonderful sense of humor and a great friend. Without further adieu, here’s Jenny.

Playing To Your Strengths

As a corporate software trainer, I’ve got to be ON each day I’m in the classroom. It doesn’t matter whether I was up all night with a teething baby or if my best friend and I had a fight. Nobody cares about those things when they come in for a day of Word or Excel or leadership training. They’re focused on what they need to learn and it’s my job to deliver.

There are personality types who would hate my job. They’d get tired by all that “on” business. I see it a little differently. Every day that I walk into the classroom, I know:

  • All my problems get checked at the door.
  • I’m going to provide a service.
  • I’m going to have a fun day.
  • I’ll get to see people learn, and light up over what they learn.

Do you see a trend with perks I listed above? It’s me, me, I, I. Even though it doesn’t look like it. Training is a vacation from my own busy head where I get to focus on other people. It works for me because it plays on some of my innate strengths.

I went to a Training conference earlier this year that was geared toward the accounting industry. The keynote presentation was called, “Building a Strengths-Based Organization” and it shined the light on a disturbing trend:

Society, starting with our schools and continuing through our workplace management teams, sure does put a mighty amount of focus on improving our weaknesses.

After hearing some speakers at that conference, I started thinking crazy thoughts. What might happen if these organizations put this same amount of energy in developing peoples’ strengths?

What kind of mountains could we move as writers if we applied our efforts toward being stellar at the things we’re good at, rather than focusing all our energy on our “faults?”

I’m not talking about turning into a bunch of narcissists that can do no wrong. I’m talking about making it a primary goal to discover your innate strengths and spend more time playing to them. This conference spun my head around and, strangely enough, most of what I learned applied more to writing than it did to training.

Let me give you an example:

We did an exercise in the conference pre-session where we listed the things we were good at – we had 60 seconds to scribble them down off the top of our head. We were directed to find the skills we’d always been good at.

Hint: Most people don’t “see” these innate skills as anything nifty or unusual. In other words, they don’t see their own special talents. (Sound familiar anyone?)

The abilities people came up with were amazing – there was so much talent in that room and the majority of it was not being used the workplace (read: writing), where we spend at least 50% of our waking hours. How sad is that? These abilities were being relegated to the hobby side of the fence.

My innate strengths, in no particular order, were: writing, teaching, motivating others, doing hair and learning software.

I felt extremely lucky when I looked at my list. Life pushed me early into a job I am uniquely suited for. Except for the “doing hair” part, my innate strengths describe the perfect software trainer. No wonder training feels so easy…it draws on at least three areas of my innate strengths, so it doesn’t feel like work.

This brings me to another worrisome trend:

I’ve noticed a disturbing trait that’s common to creative people, in this case writers: Many writers seem to think that because they have weak areas that they are bad writers.  

I have a question for you perfectionists: Why is it acceptable for multiple attempts when learning to ride a bike, or dance the tango, or knit but it’s an “epic fail” to write a few books before you get good at it?

Lots of first novels remain unpublished for a reason. They were practice for the other books. I don’t get why it’s expected to take years to learn the piano but it’s not acceptable sit down at the writing page and have less-than-perfect prose fall from your fingertips.

It doesn’t mean you’re a slacker just because you like to do the things that come naturally to you. In fact, I’m going to take this further and issue you a challenge:

Pay attention to the things that are easy for you and try to do them more often.

The easiest way to bring your “A” Game is to play to your strengths. In American League Baseball, they can use pinch hitters or pinch runners. Why can’t we do a little of that in our own writing groups?

In my critique group at Writers In The Storm we have:

  • Pinch World Builders (Fae Rowen)
  • Pinch Steamy Scene Pros (Sharla Rae)
  • Pinch Description Writers (Laura Drake)
  • Pinch Theme Builders (that would be me)

I can’t write a transition to save my life. I’ve had it take me an entire page to get my characters from an elevator to the front door of a building. (Yeah, that was embarrassing.) While we’re on my biggest “weaknesses”:

·        I feel like a voyeur when my characters’ clothes come off.

·        I can’t figure out how to build a space world.
·        The thought of writing a 400 page novel makes me sweat.
Does this make me a crappy writer? Nope.

It just means that my strengths lie elsewhere. I have to go to my A-Team to get my “A” Game sometimes. And that’s OK. I want to know when the Writing Police decided that we have to be great at every single aspect of our writing.

Even though the 400 page novel makes me sweat, writing a single scene gets me all fired up. That’s the way I’m wired. Writing short is fun, and falls into the playtime category. Writing long (as in a novel) is extremely hard for me. Still, it’s a dream of mine to publish novels so I keep at it.

What are your innate strengths? I’m not talking about the things you’ve learned to be good at. What were you always good at? Share your uniqueness in the comments section – we want to hear about them.

Happy Writing!

Jenny fills her nights with humor: writing memoir, women’s fiction, chick lit, short stories (and chasing after the newly walking Baby Girl). By day, she provides training and social media marketing for an accounting firm. After 15 years as a corporate software trainer, she’s digging this sit down and write thing.
Jenny is an avid seeker of “more”…More words, more creativity, More Cowbell! Finding those qualities that are unique in every person and every piece of fiction gets her all fired up. Whether it’s words or skills, hobbies or jobs, Jenny wants to hear more about your “COWBELL.”
Find Jenny on Twitter at jhansenwrites or over at More Cowbell. She’s also a founding member of the Writers In The Storm blog.

About Gene Lempp

Gene Lempp is a writer blending elements of alternate history, the paranormal, fantasy, science fiction and horror for dark and delicious fun. He unearths stories by digging into history, archeology, myth and fable in his Designing from Bones blog series. “Only the moment is eternal and in a moment, everything will change,” sums the heart of his philosophy. You can find Gene at his Blog, Twitter, Facebook, Goodreads, WANATribe, Google+, Pinterest and StumbleUpon.
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36 Responses to Guest Post By Jenny Hansen: Playing To Your Strengths

  1. kerrymeacham says:

    Thanks for bringing Jenny over Gene. Great post. I think we tend to focus on our weaknesses (mine is definitely grammar), so we spend a lot of time there. I do try to spend time in the areas where I’m better too, because I know that’s where I’m eventually going to make or break the story. Thanks again.

  2. catwoods says:

    Wow, Gene, great choice of guest blogger today. I needed this little reminder.

    Jenny, thanks for this post. Today I will focus on my strengths: voice, humor and general storytelling. Plumping up my characters will have to wait for another day.


  3. Marcia says:

    Thanks, Gene for hosting Jenny.

    Jenny, a great thought-provoking post. You’re right that most people probably don’t sit down and list their greatest strengths…nor do they like to talk about them fearing they’ll sound full of themselves. But it’s important to identify them so they can lead us to our passion and help us know when we need to learn more about a task to be completed. Mine are perception, leadership, writing, perseverance and teaching. Thanks for this, Jenny.

  4. hawleywood40 says:

    What a great post Jenny! I recently grew discouraged about what I see as a weakness in my short story writing of the horror/paranormal/weird vein. Then I thought about how I’ve always been GOOD at writing humor, which is a very different animal. Of course trying something new and different in my writing will be harder! I’m learning to see the fun it in and challenge myself to become a more well-rounded author while still reminding myself of the areas I am strongest. Thanks for your valuable insight!

  5. Jess Witkins says:

    Jenny, I loved this post. It was intelligent, inspiring, and it MADE SENSE! I always felt bad about being such an observer. In truth, it’s that trait that helps make it easier for me imagine dialogue or character descriptions in my writing. I am always pulling ideas out of places I go. What a wonderful reminder you’ve given us. Thank you.

  6. Catie Rhodes says:

    My strength? Hmmm. I don’t quit easily. I guess that’s not really a writing strength, though, is it? I do “voices” well in dialogue. They go from my head to the paper without a hitch. All the other stuff…yeah…it needs work.

    Thanks for a great post. You reminded me that nobody can be great at everything. We all have to have a team of friends around us to help us sort things out. 😀

  7. Gene Lempp says:

    See, I knew you all would love Jen. Thanks to everyone for the great comments.

    Jen, love the post. You make some excellent points and it really helps us perfectionists (yes, I too suffer from this dreaded curse of human productivity) to get a reality check every once in a while. Thanks for your wonderful and powerful words 🙂

  8. Jennie B says:

    THANK YOU JENNY!! It’s crazy that I’m reading this now, becasue I entered a contest a while a ago and they wanted to put all of the entries into a book and publish it. They came back with a critique and I immediately thought it was crap. I realized if I wanted it to be at my best level the entire thing would need to be re-written. I told the people who held the contest that I didn’t want work included becasue I didn’t feel like it was my best stuff. They just came back and told me that I almost won the contest, which completely shocked me. I guess I get so negative that I forget to see the good in more work. Thanks so much for the great post. You are an awesome lady!

  9. Jenny Hansen says:

    See, I’m getting out of my comfort zone too…I can’t find the reply button to respond individually so I’m going to do a big response right here. 🙂

    Kerry – The great thing about grammar is that other eyes can help you catch that one. When you’re the super-huge NYTBSA, you can hire professional editors who ROCK at grammar. Having read your blog, with your engaging voice, I think you’ve found your big strength.

    Cat – You and I share strengths and weaknesses! My 2nd or 3rd draft is where I always have to “put in the rest” (and get them from the elevator to the car).

    Marcia – Those are smoking skills (and ones that the rest of us Life Listers depend on)! I have realized that it’s not just that people don’t sit down and list their strengths, they actually DON’T see them.

    Pam – I’d love to see your humor writing. Your blogs that I’ve seen are a stitch and I think it would transfer well. I think it freshens up the writing when you go for the strength area, then thread the other stuff in.

    Jess – THANKS! I think that, outside the classroom, listening and observing are some of my weakest skills. I get busy rushing around with life and baby girl and I miss things. Good for you…that’s a golden skill.

    Catie – Who says “not quitting” isn’t a great skill in a writer? I think you’re minimizing, my dear. You can learn craft, but that dogged perseverance? That’s a gift. And so is your dialog. 🙂

    Gene – Thanks for having me. It’s just an honor to be on your blog, my friend!

    All – Thanks for taking time to comment. It’s nice to wake up to all these great responses!

  10. Jenny Hansen says:

    Jennie – Your comment snuck in while I was doing my Response Manifesto. 🙂

    That is primo that you almost won the contest! Why do we always assume our stuff is crap? I do it too, believe me. I think it is very key to have people who double-check you and keep you honest. It’s also important to do what you’re doing and enter your work in contests. Will you let us know when it comes out, so WE can see your brilliance?

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  12. Excellent post. It’s so easy to beat ourselves up. Thanks for reminding us to pay attention to what we do well.

  13. Author Kristen Lamb says:

    LOVE this post and AMEN, AMEN, AMEN!!!! We spend too much time focusing on weaknesses and writers are the worst (been guilty, too). Thanks for this awesome post.

  14. Piper Bayard says:

    I’ve always been good at characters because I’ve always been an outsider looking in. We moved a lot when I was a kid so socializing was a conscious skill for me. I never had the chance to let instincts take their course regarding relationships. To make a long story short, put that early survival skill of observing to fit in with the fact that I’ve known just about every “type” of character on the planet, and I can honestly say I’ve been or known every character I write. I don’t have to study psychopaths. I just remember the ones I’ve known.

    Thanks for hosting Gene. It’s great to see two of my favorite people in the same place.

  15. Jenny Hansen says:

    Sonia – I’ve been to your blog and I’ve seen you do amazing thing. Hopefully, this helped remind you that you dance with the fairies (and look fabulous while you do it!).

    Kristen – THANKS! You know I love your blog and value your opinion (giving a group wave to all of you on this one).

    I see the most extraordinary writers kick their own asses right off their computers. Hell, I’ve been Captain Bringdown myself, plenty of times. It’s why the writing community is SUCH a big deal – #myWANA, #LifeListClub, #ROW80 serve an amazing purpose. I don’t know what I’d do without all three.

    Piper – I didn’t realize your were one of those nomadic kids. It’s a rough time when you have those years with two new schools but, you’re right, it has made your writing so real and deeply moving. Thanks for stopping in and leaving a comment. I’m having a great time seeing like fifteen of my favorite people over here on Gene’s blog. 🙂

  16. carrie m says:

    Great post! I really loved your point about learning to play the piano: it sounds terrible for a long time but everyone seems to understand because you’re just learning. Thinking of my writing as a work in progress, or something I’m learning to be better at, sure takes a lot of pressure off!

  17. Jenny Hansen says:

    Thanks, Carrie! I really don’t get why everyone thinks they have to be perfect off the bat. I look at stuff I did 10 years ago and the perfectionist in me wants to cringe. But it wasn’t awful writing, it just wasn’t where it is now after 10 years of practice.

  18. Jenny Hansen says:


    I’m signing off for the night but it looks like all is well over here at your place. I’ll swing by to take a peek tomorrow too.

    Thanks for having me! You were a wonderful, gracious host. I’m sad I won’t get a LLC guest post from you so we have to make a point of doing a guest post trade sometime soon. You let me know when the timing is good for you…Have a great weekend!

  19. Aj b33m3R says:

    Awesome insight there. Thank you.

    PS: For your “space” problem 8)
    ‘Writers Guide to Creating a Science Fiction Universe by George Ochoa and Jeffrey Osier’

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  22. What an insightful post, Jenny. I see myself in your description. Many years ago, a friend described someone to me, outlining all the strengths of the person. I was impressed–until he said that he was talking about me–and then I told him he was overstating. But, you know, he was right. I do have those strengths; I’m far from perfect, but that’s okay, too.

    Wonderful point about practice–everything else needs it, so why not writing?

    Thank you, Jenny, for a great post, and thank you, Gene, for hosting Jenny.

  23. Jenny Hansen says:

    AJ – I don’t have that book! Thank you for stopping in and taking the time to recommend something.

    Wow – TWO mash-ups! Gene and Barbara both put together amazing links…follow those pingbacks above!

    Elizabeth – what a fabulous story! Did you blush profusely when you found it was you? And why do we DO that?? I’m thinking you need to blog that story…

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  25. Hmm Jenny your post got me thinking. I will need to identify my strengths and see if there is more I could do with them. I also love the #mywana #row80 etc. crowds, they really do help us Captain Downers. 🙂 I see a lot of friendly faces I recognize in the comments section here.

  26. jamilajamison says:

    Such a fantastic post! I fall into this trap so often, of dwelling on my flaws and weaknesses rather than considering my strengths. This is definitely the reminder that I need as I continue to work on all of my various projects.

  27. Oh, Jenny, I’m sooo lucky to be on your A-team. (In P.E. at school I was never picked for the A team!) Thank you!
    Fae Rowen

  28. Jenny Hansen says:

    Nicole – You are so NOT a Captain Bringdown! I find you wonderfully upbeat, and you sure encourage the hell out of me every other time I see you. 🙂

    Jamila – We ALL fall into this trap. I think it is the really hard part about being a writer (i.e. a creative person who hangs their unmentionables out all the time). Just keep swimming…you’re right where you need to be, my friend.

    Fae – You’re on my A-Team too. I mean WHAT would I do without my fellow Writers In The Storm posse??

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  30. I’m big on perspective and I happen to love yours on this topic. Me? I can talk a blue streak. That translates into writing conversational blogposts readers seem to like. I also remember my junior high English teacher praising my ability to write as if I’m having a conversation. Makes for strong dialogue. And I’ve never feared a mike in my hand. That’sleading me toward the public speaking I plan to do.

    Thanks for this excellent point of view!

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  33. Jenny Hansen says:

    Excellent, Joanna! I do public speaking, even though having a mic in MY hand is not a happy place. I have done several posts on public speaking and presentation skills over at More Cowbell. Now I know who I need to ask when the speakers start getting booked out. 🙂

    Thanks for your comment!

  34. Sharon K Owen says:

    I loved this concept and the idea of pinch hitters. i will introduce this concept in my own writers group.

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