Understanding Your Strengths and Weaknesses

Michael Atkins
4 min readMay 26, 2021

“How any person decides to emphasize strengths and mitigate weaknesses is something people have to figure out for themselves. I’m wary of the self-help literature that suggests there are certain rules. I’m very happy for people to look at my story and say it’s possible to achieve many things.” Daniel Tammet

I remember a time when I was talking with a friend about what makes a great writer. I wanted to know if a secret ingredient helped James Joyce or Fitzgerald write the way they did.

I honestly don’t believe in talent, in some God-given gift, or stuff like that. In fact, I believe that talent is something people have invented. It’s just a lazy way of thinking. For instance, you tell someone, “You’re talented.” And you think that he’s so good at what he does just because he was born that way. You think there’s nothing you can do about it — nothing that the other person did to acquire his so-called “talent.”

So, I told my friend that great writers don’t stress too much about what they can’t do. They know what they’re good at, and they stick to that.

In a way, it might even seem like being lazy, but if you don’t have a specific skill to write dialogue, odds are that you’ll never be able to write brilliant dialogue.

Let me give you an example: Cormac McCarthy. Comparing him to G.G. Marquez, stylistically speaking, is like comparing a five-year-old’s finger painting with a Degas. But what McCarthy excels at, in my opinion, is dialogue. And he’s usually fantastic at exploiting this. For example, when you see a movie adaptation that uses the exact same dialogue as the novel, that’s when you know you’ve got a master of dialogue.

Experience makes such an immense difference. I would like to ask any writer who is reading this to think of one scene or paragraph they really struggled with and try to figure out why they struggled. I would bet that it was because they were trying to do something they could not do.

Let’s just overly simplify fiction writing and say that all fiction tries to convey a message. Well, the message has to reach the reader in a certain way. The way you choose to transmit your message makes the difference.

Michael Atkins

Technologist and life-long language learner. Speaks fluent Japanese and Indonesian among other languages. Inspiring the world through love of language learning