Friday, March 19, 2010

Which Kind of Writer Are You?

by Scott Rhoades

We all write for our own reasons, but I think those reasons can be grouped into a few categories. Chances are, we all fit in most of the categories to some extent, but we probably favor one over the others.

Here are my proposed groupings, all greatly generalized.

1. The Word Lover

I put this one first because it's probably where I fit best. I've loved words since I was small. I love the rhythm of words, and how the sound and look. Often, when people talk to me, I watch their words float toward me. Sometimes I pick one of those words and picture it in my head and turn them around and flip them over and examine them from all directions. It can make it hard to follow a conversation.

For fun, I pick a word and research its history and look for unexpected related words. I got two new books today to help me with this game. I still have the spelling list I made in third or fourth grade when we were allowed to make our own list. It's all long words, most having to do with dinosaurs, all words that look and sound really fun. The teacher commented that she'd never seen a list like it.

I've never found a toy I like better than words. I can build all kinds of stuff with them. Like stories. As early as five or six years old, I used to trace pictures of stories from books and make up new stories around them. I don't remember exactly how my love of writing started, but it's a good bet that it came from reading, which I started doing at an early age because I liked to find the patterns and sounds of words that I saw on signs and in early reader books.

I suspect that other word-lover-writers have a similar history. I've talked to a few who do. Word lovers often have to work harder at novels (although they enjoy that work and what it teaches them about language and words), but they enjoy the rhythms and sounds of poetry, songs, and other forms.

2. The Yarn Spinner

Some people are natural storytellers. They love telling stories and watching how people react. These people can invent a plot and make it entertaining with very little efforts. Sometimes, but certainly not always, these writers might not have the greatest mechanics, but they make up for it by telling a great yarn. These writers probably have an advantage in our modern entertainment-driven world, because their stories are just plain fun. They're page-turners. They're a fun ride.

3. The Maker of Imaginary Friends

Many writers have a bunch of people living in their heads. These writers like to let their imaginary friends out and watch them romp, so they make up situations and watch how their buddies react. The stories are entertaining, but the real strength is the detailed cast of characters who jump off the page, as real as the person sitting next you. They make us care about these people like we care about our neighbors. Maybe they are our friends. Or maybe we like to watch their lives fall apart so we can gossip about them.

4. The Treasure Hunter

The treasure hunter sees how much money some writers are making and wants a piece of the pie. They probably got decent grades in writing classes and figure this is an easier way to make a fortune than the lottery. Many writers find this kind of writer easy to criticize, but the fact is, writing is a business, and these writers take it seriously. They're not trying to write junk. They're trying to give the people what they want, as many people as possible. It might be harder for these people to actually meet their goals, and they're probably the most likely to give up before they finish when they discover that writing is a lot of work. But those who stick with it often create entertaining, successful stories that draw readers to them. There's really nothing wrong with taking this approach, and these writers still have to learn the writing ropes. They might not have the same romantic notions about what it means to be an author that the rest of us have, but that doesn't invalidate their work. I just wish them luck. They're in for a surprise.

5. The Literati

We've all known these writers, and most of us have been annoyed by some of them. These are the writers who want to contribute to the immortal realms of Literature. They are Artists, nay, Artistes. The worst of them are above the rules, better than the grammarians, superior to, well, just about everybody. These people will not accept rejection, criticism, or failure. Which is too bad for them, because they're almost certainly destined to fail. However, this class also includes the people who are genuine artists, whose love affair with writing leads them to push the limits of the art, to take writing to places where it's never been. The best recognize that telling an entertaining story is part of the art, but they are not limited by the set conventions of storytelling. As a double major who spent (and still spends) a lot of time with both English and German lit, I love these writers (the good ones) and admire them greatly. And I sometimes have serious issues with the bad ones.

How about you? Where do you fit? Are there other groupings that I missed? This isn;t just a lightweight question. If you understand the kind of writer you are, you'll know your strengths and develop them. You'll also look at the other groups and learn from them.

Because, the truth is, the really great writers fit in all five categories.


Nikki said...

What a great post! I am a word lover. I love that I can take the same words and change them around in a sentence and make them mean something completely different. In high school I had convinced myself I was going to be a lawyer, after all, it's mostly bending words to mean what you want them too. But I'm enjoying writing way more than I think I would have enjoyed being a lawyer.

Paul West said...

I'm probably more of a "Yarn Spinner," with a bit of "Maker of Imaginary Friends" thrown in. I love to make up story situations and have my characters react to them.

Juliana said...

I am, unfortunately, more of the word lover/literati that annoys people with my complex and wordy descriptions that don't drive the plot.

That doesn't bode well for any ambitions I may ever develop for getting published. :)

Cathy Witbeck said...

I'm a big time yarn spinner. I used to get invited to sleep overs just because I could tell the best ghost stories.
I got a big kick out of your categories, Scott. What a fun way to look at writing.