What Kind of Writer are You?

Rabbit - exclamationSomething that often comes up among writers is the question: ‘What kind of writer are you?’  I used to think the answer was easy – that I had it all figured out.

I was certain I was a fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants writer.  All this talk of character profiles, careful plotting and chapter plans kind of freaked me out.  The idea of it all felt stifling.  Where’s the freedom?  The sense of the story unfolding before your eyes?  No, I was certain that when it came to first drafts, I was a free writer.  When writing my first few longer stories, all I had was a main character, an idea of what was important to them, a place to start and a vague place to end.  And it was through the writing that the true story evolved – the twists and turns, secondary characters, all the various plot points, and often even I was surprised by what transpired.  It was exhilarating.

But.  Through the mentorship I’ve been doing with Kate, I have learnt something new about myself.  Where my first drafts are free written, it would appear my second drafts are much more planned.  Suddenly I understood the desire for character profiles and chapter mapping.  And instead of restricting me, it was liberating.  Now that I knew the story, I could pin down what needed to happen in each chapter, who needed to be involved, and how to build the tension and develop a strong emotional and action arc.  It made it so much easier to weed out those chapters that weren’t working hard enough and to do a full rewrite (which had previously terrified me).  So, now I had it down.  I’m a fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants first drafter, and a planned-anal-organised second drafter.  Yes?  No.

As it so happens, I just finished the first draft of a new novel … and I was a planned first drafter.  This story required a LOT of research, and involved the character solving puzzles along the way, which were vital to the plot.  So I HAD to know what was going to happen at each point.  While there were still some surprising moments during the writing, I mostly knew exactly what was happening and where the story was leading.

So … I have a new theory on this whole ‘what kind of writer are you?’ business.  At least for me, it would seem that where I once thought my personality directed how I approach a story, it is actually each individual story that demands how it is written.  Who knows how I’ll write the next story.  I’m not even game to guess.

So dare I ask: what kind of writer are you?



5 Responses to “What Kind of Writer are You?”

  1. 1 Lynn Priestley January 20, 2009 at 3:33 pm

    Hi Kath,

    I enjoyed this post and it made me start thinking about what kind of writer I am. I’d have to say that after participating in a novel writing course last, my format has changed a lot. My earlier draft of my novel I am writing had been a big story “vomit” onto the page. (apologies for the graphics of that but that’s how it felt at the time). When I worked through the course, and learned of structure and character arcs and central questions and such, I suddenly had a framework to pin all that outpouring upon. And it made the story more credible because it all became more plausible and structurally balanced. It taught me how to weed out the superfluous stuff and stick to the important stuff.

    One thing I am noticing though is that I tend to hit a wall at certain points ( I’m at one again now…see the brick indentations in my forehead?) where I can’t go forward and this tends to be a point where my subconscious is working out a big shift in the story. I guess at first I thought this was a big bout of writers block but now I just relax and let my head do the walking, knowing that in a day or two, I will have a solution that will allow me to move onward. And that the story will be better for it. I have to admit that whist I love the first draft freedom, having a structure to follow does make it easier for me. And I wonder if is that structure that makes my subconscious take stock and rethink things before allowing me to move on in a direction that may not be for the greater good of the story.

  2. 2 Sheryl Gwyther January 20, 2009 at 4:40 pm

    I’m a bit of both – but have found I need to have done a lot of thinking about and around the story before I can even commit to writing anything. Can’t believe how much like painting a picture it is (i.e. abstract stuff, not visually representative).

    Then again, I’m thinking of my most recent story, ‘Charlie & the red hot chilli pepper – all I had was one idea to start with – a boy who loves the fire of chillies, plus that new chilli pot plant on my verandah. Then out came the story.

    So, yes, Kath, you’re right, it’s the story that takes you with it!

  3. 3 author2 January 21, 2009 at 11:52 am

    In the beginning I guess I pretty much let my story develop as it flowed along. I would start out with a main character, a general idea of story and some idea of ending. The more I read and attended writing workshops and conferences, the more important character development and plot became The one sentence summary came later, as did clever plot twists. A professional critique was a tremendous eye opener. In case you haven’t already seen it, there is a great article in the February 2009 Writer’s Digest with a Story Plan Checklist.

  4. 4 Katherine Battersby January 21, 2009 at 4:37 pm

    Lynn – I also find that I can become a bit stuck in a story, and it’s usually because I haven’t ‘daydreamed’ enough about the next scene. I have to give my characters time to walk around my mind each day before I start writing, to make sure I’m listening to them properly.

    Sheryl – it really is funny how much it changes from one story to the next, but like you, I typically need a story and the characters to sit in my head for a good few months before I start writing.

    Author 2 – it sounds like we write quite similarly. Thanks for the Writer’s Digest heads up – I’ll look it up!

  5. 5 Madeline Stephenson February 4, 2009 at 6:15 am

    I think I also am a bit of both. At first, I like the feeling of free-flowing ideas, but putting everything together and getting past the “stuck” points definitely demands more planning.

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About this Blog…

A blog of ramblings about the world of writing and illustrating for children, by an author / illustrator who might just have a thing for rabbits.

Katherine's picture books, 'Squish Rabbit' and 'Brave Squish Rabbit', are out with Viking (Penguin, US) and UQP (Australia). Please e-mail if you would like her to blog about something in particular.

All text & images  Katherine Battersby

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