Episode 172: What’s Your Writing Style?

On January 15, 2022, Kasie and Rex revisited the age-old Planner vs. Pantser debate with this diagnostic episode including best practices and tools for all writing styles. Here are the show notes:

Theme for the day

What’s Your Writing Style?

Agenda

  • Planner vs. Pantser
  • Creators
  • Revision junkies
  • Good habits no matter what your style
  • Bad habits no matter what your style
Photo by Maria Orlova on Pexels.com

Segment 1

Quick reminder that the South Carolina Writers Association (myscwa.org) events schedule is underway. Thursdays are midday sessions including generative workshops – prompts and write-ins – as well as specialty area conversations like this past week’s conversation with Brad Land around his memoir. 

Today’s session is a good “beginning of the year” session, I think, because it can be part of your 2022 writing plan. We briefly touched on some writing goals we have and we’ve done entire episodes on setting, measuring, and keeping writing goals. So today’s exploration of the various writer types and what your type means for your writing habit should come in handy.

Take an actual quiz here.

Let’s start with the three levels:

  • Lawful – this means you stick to this type no matter the project, it’s ingrained in you and difficult to change out of
  • Neutral – this is conditional; so if you’re mostly this, but sometimes that, you’re in this category
  • Chaotic – according to whim, day of the week, or color of the M&M you just drew from the package

There’s a helpful chart I found on Twitter:

Segment 2

The three types of writer are:

  1. Pantser – meaning the person “writes by the seat of their pants” with no defined direction or genre or plot, or really anything. It’s that impulsive writing fervor that I described in this episode about NaNoWriMo.
  2. Planner – the person who has a story idea and thinks through the work with outlines and other tools to organize their thoughts. 
  3. Plantser – in between these two. It’s like the Planner didn’t want to be accused of simply writing to formula so they “allow scenes to unfold” and “aren’t married to the outline” and other phrases to explain that they really are passion-driven, impulsive writers. Even though we know they aren’t. But, the full pantser who doesn’t want to seem disorganized or erratic or chaotic? They call themselves Plantser, too. They claim to use “loose outlines” or to “know the desired outcome” and to let those few certainties, like sign posts, guide their process (they do have a process, dammit. It’s not just emotionally-driven inertia).

Worse part? There’s no such thing as “most writers” when it comes to writing styles. Your critique group might lend toward one or the other tendency, but every writer is unique and every writer is the same.

When we’re in the flow, our fingers fly over the keyboard. But even then, writers measure their work in very different ways. “Fingers flying” for three hours might produce 1500 words for some and 15,000 for others and BOTH think they’ve been incredibly productive.

Some tools for pantsers:

  • Timers and writing sprints – I like a good timed writing sprint; sit down and go!
  • Character charts – name them, give their basic 411, try to keep them straight
  • Plot arc diagrams – where are we headed? Is it all flat or an uphill climb? Raise the stakes!

Some tools for planners:

  • Outlines – Excel spreadsheet much?
  • Calendared writing times – block the time out and protect it
  • Games or tricks for infusing creativity – are there any ways you manipulate the process to make it feel more spontaneous? Maybe even just going somewhere different to write?

Segment 3

Some things all writers should do no matter what your style:

  1. Make time to write – the universe won’t give it to you. You have to schedule it and protect that time. Don’t accept meetings, make plans, or pour a cocktail. Sit down and write.
  2. Set goals and measure progress – writing is a skill but it’s also a habit and the only way to get better at it is to keep doing it; so if it’s been a few days since you wrote anything, remember you’re not a writer if you’re not writing. Sit down and write. Something. Anything.
  3. Read other writers – specifically in your genre, the kind of book you want to write, but really all kinds of work will inform your own
  4. Join a critique group – get your raw pages in front of other people, or, even better, get your polished work in front of other people; share what you write and get their feedback
  5. Read your work out loud – this would be great if it’s part of your critique group’s process, but if it’s not, make time to read your work aloud before submitting it
  6. Learn to take feedback – critique isn’t about you, it’s about what’s on the page; learn to accept comments and questions without taking those comments personally
  7. Learn what you like and what you hate – the more you read, the more your own preferences will emerge; do you like a first person POV? Why not? There’s a fair chance that if you hate something, others will hate it, too. Try to avoid it.
  8. Read book reviews – what do the readers in your genre say about the other writers working there? How do they respond to things those writers have done?
  9. Attend workshops and craft lessons – writers never stop learning how to be better writers; every workshop you attend has something to offer. It’s a good idea to attend a reasonable number of lessons. Keep in mind that learning about writing is not actually writing, but there’s room in every writer’s schedule for working on their craft through lessons.
  10. Attend conferences or other networking events – go where there are other writers and listen. No one needs you to show up where the writers are and try to convince us to read your work, but we would love to tell you about ours. So listen. 
  11. Submit your work – for contests and publication; put it out there. Get rejected. Revise it and put it out there again. There’s no way to get over the stage fright of submissions, you just have to submit and get used to it.
  12. Write – as often as you can but certainly with an eye to multiple times per week; you can’t learn to dance if you only dance during your weekly lesson time, you have to practice. So keep writing, between sessions, between works, write different things: blogs, essays, letters to the editor, letters to your grandma, short stories, poems, flash fiction, whatever. Just write.

Segment 4

Some things no writer should do no matter what your style:

  1. Confuse research, writing, and editing tasks – I’ve always hated the “write without caring for spelling or punctuation” advice we used to get because, like a lot of writers, I care about the words I’m putting down and if they’re misspelled. But, research is not writing and editing is not writing. There is a time and place for each task in the creative process. Know what you’re working on and be disciplined about separating them.
  2. Emulate others’ style – genre writing includes following certain rules and conventions, but those rules are not style or voice. There are workshops and exercises that have you copy others’ work word-for-word to get a feel for sentence structure and style, but these are exercises, not original work intended for publication. Write your work, as only you can.
  3. Write caricatures or cliches – we always say “write what you know” but that would eliminate science fiction and magic and dragons, right? Even so, if we’re writing outside of our culture, including diverse characters, or working in environments that are not our first, personal experience, we should be thoroughly researching those environments and doing our best to accurately portray them with respect and discipline. Cliches are lazy on the sentence level but also on the broader environment / character / experience level.
  4. Act unprofessionally in writing circles – from accepting feedback with grace to accepting an agent’s rejection without surliness or sour grapes, professionalism goes a long way; treat others in the industry with respect because you don’t know when you’ll come into contact with them again.

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