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Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Figuring Out Your Writing Style

Courtesy of typofi
One of the most important things a writer can learn is what type of writer they are and how they work best.

Writers, like any artist, have their own way of doing things. One way is not *better* than another, just different.

We all have the same tools, but learning how to apply them--and which ones we work best with--can make all the difference.

There really is no One Right Way to do it.

Think of all the water colorists, photographers, or sculptors we'd be missing out on if we insisted that 'real' art or paintings that are worth anything can only be done in oils. Or pastels. Or pencils.

Some writers know how they work from the start, while others have to move around a bit to get a feel for each different technique. The key is to keep learning and trying new things until you find what works best for you. (And even then, it never hurts to try something new, just in case. :))

The following are different techniques for how and when to get the writing done, and are by no means an exhaustive list.

The two groups of writers most often discussed are the outliners and the pansters. There are many shades and subgroups for each type, but for simplicity's sake, I'll be referring to each in their most general role.

Outlining can be strict and detailed or light and loose or anything in between. It can be plotting out a scene, a chapter, a novel, or the entire series. It can be a few sentences to give a flavor or create a mood, or it can catch all the fine details and turnings of the stories. It can even be a work of art in its own right.

Outliners thrive in knowing what comes next. It helps them shape each part of the story if they can see what the overall design is supposed to look like. Seeing the beginning through to the end can also keep the writer from making unnecessary detours or wrong turns. On the other hand, adhering to a plan when the characters and story have grown in a different direction can stifle the spark of magic in the story.

A panster can have a loose plan or a vague idea of where they want to end up, or they can have a blank piece of paper that's just waiting for them to populate a new world. Sometimes they know how the story is going to end, and sometimes they just wing it.

Pansters thrive in getting to know their characters and world as they go along. It's not about the destination so much as it's about the journey. Letting your characters map the story can lead to new and exciting discoveries. On the other hand, allowing your characters to exist without purpose can damage the structure and meaning of your story over all.

Like anything else, it's all about finding the right balance, for both outliners and pansters.

Another useful thing to know about yourself is if you're a day writer or a night writer or a snatch-the-time-whenever-I-can writer.

My right brain is my writing brain, and my left brain is my editing brain. I've found that I write better at night and edit better during the day. Once I figured this out, I had a lot less frustration, because I could plan my writing and editing around when the different parts of my brain are most alert. My writing and editing flow smoother when I do them at my peak times instead of trying to force my brain to accommodate my to-do list.

When we consider what type of writer we are, sometimes we get so caught up in the outliner/panster debate, that we forget there is another subset type: sprinters and marathon writers.

A sprinter does short bursts of writing at a time. They can do a number of repetitions--say, writing 100-500 words at a time or in ten minute increments--but the actual writing time is in small, contained phases.

When I'm tired or just not feeling the writing fire in my veins, I do sprints. Timing myself stresses me out and blocks the words, so I do my sprints in 500-word increments. (Or 250 if I'm *really* distracted.) After I reach 500 words, I get to check my email, a few forums, and anything else I want for about five minutes. Then I go back and do another round. Rinse and repeat until I hit the word count for the day I was aiming for.

Marthon Writer
These are the writers that can sit down and write for as long as they're able. The people that can do 5,000 or 10,000 or 15,000 words in one day. People who can finish novels in a week or so.

Pacing yourself, being well rested, and minimizing your distractions can help. Some marathon writers do short marathons (5k) on a regular basis, while others go for the bigger word counts a little less frequently.

And then there's a whole world in between sprinting and writing by marathon method. The key here is knowing what your limits are and stretching yourself without breaking your brain. For example, right now I can write at least 2k a day, 6 days a week. When I first started writing professionally, I struggled to get down 500 words a day. My goal is to one day be able to do 4k a day, but it's something I'm having to work toward.

Like any muscle, your creative endurance can grow if you work it out regularly within a range that will challenge you without burning yourself out.

Another way to determine how you work as a writer is to examine how your brain works in your creative process. How you get your ideas and how they connect to each other.

Some people have minds like flypaper. Their brains are sticky and have no trouble catching every idea that comes near them. These are the writers that have more ideas than they'll ever be able to write, because there just aren't enough hours in the day.

The problem with this is that it can lead to a lack of focus. A thousand novel beginnings without any middles or ends. Something you can do to combat this is keep an idea journal. When a new idea comes, write it down in as much detail as you have and then go back to the novel you're working on. This allows you to keep all your ideas without distracting you from finishing what you're working on, because you can always come back to it later.

Other writers are more like fishers. Ideas might be harder to come by and/or require more patience to suss out.

This can lead to frustration if you're a fisher, but surrounded by writers who have flypaper brains. The important thing to remember is that it doesn't matter whether you have one idea or a hundred. What matters is what you end up with in the end, and a polished, professional-grade novel requires hard work no matter how you get your ideas. Knowing that it takes you a little longer to find that perfect idea can lessen your frustration with yourself and your story.

Because that's what matters most in the end: the story. Knowing how *you* best get from 'Once upon a time' to 'And they all lived happily ever after' can only deepen the joy of the process.

What kind of writer are you? Any I missed?

Danyelle Leafty| @danyelleleafty writes YA and MG fantasy. She is the author of The Fairy Godmother Dilemma series (CatspellFirespell, andApplespell) and can be found on her blog.


Kaye Draper said...

How about the Working, Married, Mommy Writer?

I think I fall into the marathon category, only it's not really by choice. I only get to sit down and focus solely on writing maybe 1-2 times per week, and then only for 1-2 hours tops. I have to get out as much as I can, as fast as possible- and it's easy for me to rack up 4,000 words an hour or more, because I have been saving up my ideas all week, just dying to get them down on paper.

chihuahuazero said...

Fantastic post! I expected this post to be on writing voice, but some of the terms you used beyond outliner and pantster are unfamiliar to me.

I would say I'm primarily an outliner/sprinter/flypaper, although I lean toward the other side in terms of outlining.

For flypaper, the problem for me is getting the ideas, making it stick, but not make it stick enough that it dominates my mind and hog other potential ideas out. This happens often with the "romantic"-related stuff, I have to admit.

Sally said...


Andrea Mack said...

This is such a great post. The more I write, the more I find out about my process and what works for me. But it may not be what works for someone else.

Stina said...

I wish I could write 15,000 words a day. That would be sweet. :)

kbrebes said...

Flypaper needs focus! Now, I know. Thanks, Danyelle!

Lizzie Newell said...

What? No puzzlers listed. Puzzlers start with parameters such as: the story will be an erotic science fiction novella, written in first person, from the point-of-view of a butch lesbian, with references to noir detective writing, telling the story of an anonymous arranged sexual liaison between a princess and a man who has a neurological implant. The princess and the man end up together happily ever after.

Then puzzlers fills in the pieces. If the pieces don't fit, the puzzler moves them around or changes details and even whole scenes. Puzzlers aren't pantsers or outliners because the puzzler writing process is non-linear.
Puzzlers write scenes out of order, put them together, then write additional scenes as needed.

Traci Kenworth said...

I began as a pantster, went to outlining, and now I jot down notes for each scene instead. I find planning as I go much more fulfilling as I search for the answers along with my characters and discover the climax is just right when I get there.

Dane Zeller said...

May I add a different character? The Lister. For instance, I've listed all of my writing activities for today. Right now, I'm at item 3, writing comments on blogs. I've done item 1, writing new stuff, and item 2, re-writing old stuff. Things to come: reading fiction, studying writing...

Robin M said...

Interesting. I'm sort of middle of the road between panster and outliner. I've been trying to edit lately and having difficulties. Your comment about writing better at night and editing better during the day strikes a chord. I'm great with writing in the morning. So will have to try different times of the day and see when editing flows.

E S Moxon said...

I'm an Outliner who Pansters. I started out as a daytime marathon writer until circumstances forced me to become a night-time/whenever I can snatch 5 minutes sprinter. I'm a flypaper who is focused enough not to be distracted by a new project until I have put the last one to bed. Fascinating!! Thanks for this fun post :D