Article: Aaron Rosenberg on Knowing Your Weaknesses

Author Aaron Rosenberg has been a guest at the Gen Con Writer's Symposium for several years now, and has a wealth of knowledge involving both the writing process and the business of writing to share with attendees. He is a prolific author, writing for properties such as Star Trek and Warhammer, as well as many projects of his own. His latest release is O.C.L.T.: Digging Deep, which is part of a paranormal mystery series featuring a group of misfits who protect NYC from strange happenings. Please welcome him here as he talks about how writers can recognize and work with their weaknesses.

When Melanie kindly invited me to write a guest post here, my first response was “Thanks, that’d be great!” Followed immediately by, “Oh, crap, now I have to write a blog post! I suck at those!”

The thing is, I can and do write all kinds of things. Not just genres, either, though I’ve written most stripes of fantasy and science fiction, plus horror, thriller, action-adventure, comedy, mystery, superheroes, and western. But I’ve also done picture books, middle-grade books, young adult novels, educational books, essays, poems, short stories, novellas, and roleplaying games. A lot of my friends ask me, “Is there anything you don’t write?”

To which my usual answer is, “Yes—straight-up military, full-on romance, and blog posts.”

That may sound like a snarky answer. It’s actually a serious one, and not off-the-cuff, either. Over the years, I’ve learned a few things about myself as a writer, things I think all writers should know about themselves: how/where/when I work best, how fast I write, and what I’m capable of writing. Ask me to write an epic fantasy and I’m thrilled. Suggest I write sci-fi comedy and I’m there. Tell me you want a high-octane techno-thriller and I’m happy to oblige. But ask me to do a military novel or a romance novel and I’ll reply, “Sorry, I’m not your guy.”

Why? Because I’m not comfortable writing in those two genres. There’s nothing wrong with either of them, and I admire the people who can write them well, just as I admire the people who can write any genre well. They’re just not right for me. I don’t feel that I have the proper experience to do justice to a military novel—not saying you have to have been a Green Beret or SAS yourself, but I think it certainly helps to have had some military training. And anyone who’s read my work knows that I tend to write PG-13 just as a matter of course—I prefer the cutaway to the sex scene and action or introspection to public displays of affection. I can and have written both military characters/scenes and romantic moments in my books, but those are elements rather than the main focus.

As far as blog posts, I’ve found I have two main issues. First, I’m always a little uncomfortable talking about myself. It feels too much like bragging to me. Second, I find blogging to be too much like pantsing a story—unless I have a clear idea what I want to say beforehand, I just wind up rambling without ever really saying much at all.

That’s okay, though. I wish I were better at blogging, sure. But I accept that it isn’t one of my strengths. That’s important. Why struggle to write something that doesn’t come naturally to me—and that I don’t have fun writing as a result—when I can instead write one of the things I am good at and do enjoy doing? That’s the same reason I don’t beat myself up over not writing military or romance novels. I write enough other things, it’s not like I’m lacking for projects. There’s no point in worrying about topics or genres or formats I don’t feel comfortable with.

It took me a long time to come to that realization, though, and even longer to accept it. When you’re a writer, especially a writer for hire, your natural impulse is to say yes to any project someone offers you. After all, you never know when the next project will come along, and every project is not just another credit and another paycheck but another connection and another way to prove your worth to editors and publishers and readers. You learn over time, though, to start saying no. Sometimes you just don’t have the time to do a project properly. Sometimes the money isn’t enough to justify the effort and stress involved. And sometimes it’s a topic or a genre that doesn’t interest you, or that you’re not comfortable in. And that’s okay. In fact, it’s a good thing. The more you know yourself as a writer, and the more you are willing to be honest with yourself and others about what you can and can’t do and what you will and won’t do, the more you can focus your efforts on what you really want to write, and what you’re really good at writing. In the end, there’s only so many hours in the day, and you only get so much time to write. Why waste it on something you don’t enjoy? Write what’s fun for you to write.

Which for me, surprisingly enough, has included this blog post. :)

AARON ROSENBERG is the award-winning, #1 bestselling author of the DuckBob humorous science fiction series and the Dread Remora space-opera series, and the co-author of the O.C.L.T. thriller series and the ReDeus modern-day fantasy series, among others. He's written tie-in novels (including the PsiPhi winner Collective Hindsight for Star Trek: SCE, the Daemon Gates trilogy for Warhammer, Tides of Darkness and (with Christie Golden) the Scribe-nominated Beyond the Dark Portal for WarCraft, Hunt and Run for Stargate: Atlantis, and Substitution Method and The Road Less Traveled for Eureka), children's books (including an original series, Pete and Penny's Pizza Puzzles, and work for PowerPuff Girls and Transformers Animated), roleplaying games (including original games like Asylum and Spookshow, the Origins Award-winning Gamemastering Secrets, and sections of The Supernatural Roleplaying Game, Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay, and The Deryni Roleplaying Game), young adult novels (including the #1 bestseller 42: The Jackie Robinson Story, the Scribe-winning Bandslam: The Novel and two books for iCarly), short stories, webcomics, essays, and educational books. He has ranged from mystery to speculative fiction to drama to comedy, always with the same intent—to tell a good story. Aaron lives in New York with his family. You can follow him online at gryphonrose.com, on Facebook at facebook.com/gryphonrose, and on Twitter @gryphonrose.