Who You Are Determines How You Write

There's a reason the great philosophers advise, "Know thyself."

There’s a reason the great philosophers advise, “Know thyself.”

Yesterday, I reflected on my writing process and how it’s changed through five novels, and I said there is no one way, no correct way to write. There is no specific path that leads to a completed novel. Everyone writes differently, and every trail has its ups and downs, its positives and its negatives.

I’m a huge supporter of the notion that if you’re going to write at all, you have to write for you. So, your needs, your lifestyle, and your personality will determine which writing strategies work for you. Before you write a novel, think about why you want to write it, and what you’re hoping the experience will do for you. And let those goals determine how you write, because if they don’t–if you try to force yourself into a writing pattern or system that doesn’t fit you–you’re setting yourself up to abandon a draft with lots of potential.

For instance, consider these points.

OUTLINING? If you love the thrill of discovery, if you’re a risk taker, if you write for the adventure of discovering what might happen, then you might prefer writing without an outline. If you want a safety net, or if disorganization distracts/worries you,  you might want to outline to a greater or lesser degree in order to give you some feeling of control or security. Sure, writing as a “pantser” (by the seat of your pants) leads to lots of scrapped pages. That doesn’t mean it’s WRONG. It means it’s a different style, that’s all. As long as you don’t beat yourself up about starting over or scrapping a scene or two–and you have the strength to do it when you need to–this style works great for many people. Including me.

WAITING FOR THE MUSE? Some people might write “when the muse strikes.” They can’t bring themselves to write on a daily basis or when it feels like a chore. The big drawback to this is time. You will not write quickly. If that doesn’t matter to you, and you don’t care about being prolific, and you feel comfortable letting the possibilities stew in your head from time and time before you write more words down, then who’s to say you’re writing process doesn’t work? Sure, I’m always hawking the advantages of writing each and every day. I think it has advantages. But if it’s not for you, it’s not for you. Ignore me when I say that, please. And don’t feel guilty for writing the way you write.

EDITING WHILE WRITING. People do this to greater and lesser degrees. Some call it a mortal sin of writing, but honestly, if you don’t care about how quickly you get that draft down, and you’d feel more comfortable with a more polished draft when you finish, then take some time to edit as you write. Just watch out for the trap of perfectionism and stalling…. If you find yourself there, adjust. Write more, and stop editing. Find incentives to get yourself going again.

WRITING IN A LINEAR STYLE. Some people know they want a specific, awesome moment in their novel, and they start with that. It gives them motivation when the time comes to write around those star moments and set them off. Others, for their comfort and ease, don’t veer from writing scenes in the order they plan for them to appear in a final draft. They’d feel flustered and in a state of chaos if they wrote a different way. They use those star moments in a system of delayed gratification. They become rewards when you finally reach them, and incentive to plow on toward them.

I’ve been stunned to see how different the process works for different writers. What do you guys think about this? How big of a distraction for you is editing while writing? Do you outline much? How detailed are your outlines? Is there one way of writing that you swear by?

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10 responses to “Who You Are Determines How You Write

  1. Thanks for this post Victoria.
    Having alluded to writer’s block in my first and still shiny new blog post (of 12.12.12) it’s reassuring to read the point of view of a more experienced writer. I wonder if each book will require a different approach? At this early stage (novice) I like to edit each of the chapters after drafting them, but not until perfect. Isn’t that why God made editors? I’d love to hear what works for other more experienced writers.

    • my process is: write, then let it sit a bit, then read through as quickly as possible and take notes about issues, then edit, then edit again once or twice, and then off to beta readers. That’s just me, though. I don’t think every book requires a different process as much as that you, as a writer, tweak and change your process as you go. I used an outline for my last book just to experiment what that was l ike, to see whether I liked it. It did take some of the pressure off, but somehow, I feel like my first draft is rougher than usual. (I attribute that to the NaNoWriMo panic to get as many words as possible down, not to the outline itself.)

  2. I’m only on my first ‘proper’ attempt at a novel, and I went to pen and paper as the urge to edit every line is much higher on a computer. I’m focusing on getting a draft down without any editing, unless there is something huge I don’t want to forget, then I’ll put it down as a note.
    Also, I started with a clear plan, but as more comes to my mind, I adapt that plot for the better I think. As I’m creating my own world, it’s fun to look at how it develops, and I think it is an interesting world!

    • Sounds like you have a great process going! I always say one of the most important things is to be flexible with your plan, and you’ve got that down. Good luck!!! I wrote large chunks of my second novel in a notebook at work and during lunch breaks 🙂

  3. Great post. I write with pen and paper because I love the flow of the pen across the pages and the words come more quickly for me than staring at a computer screen and getting nothing. I have a plan but am often promoted by ‘the muse’ with assistance. Once I’m in the flow it’s often like someone is telling me a story and I’m taking dictation.

    • The times I’ve written with pen and paper and I’ve loved it! I love how the side of my hand gets ink all over it. It’s almost like a badge 🙂 I’ve written mainly on the computer for a while now, though.

  4. Pingback: i write for a feeling. « Sick with Poetry.

  5. I couldn’t agree more. Everyone has their own way and style of writing.

    For me, I have to write linear. If I skip ahead (and I have tried it), I tend only to write the fun bits. Then I don’t want to go back and fill in the blanks! I have to write on the computer, my handwriting can’t keep up with my brain! Planning, I’m kind of on the fence. I usually have a general idea of how the story will end, or at least, what the climax will be. But I do write to find out what happens. For me, writing is like reading one of the best books ever, where I get to decide exactly which path the characters will take. I do write faster though, if I plan about a chapter or two at a time.

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