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Musing on Writing Styles and Efficiency

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August 29, 2012 by jcfarnham

Firstly I’ll need to clarify some thing. In the context of this post writing style means “the method by which you write” rather than anything else.

I would like to present to you a theory on writing style that has been taking shape in my mind over the past month or so. It’s a sort of aggregate of general writerly advice, and something Edmund Schubert mentioned in a blog post of his, that I’ve attempted to distill.

Put simply: By figuring out how you work as a writer, I believe you give yourself a better chance at working effectively and efficiently. Perhaps upping your game even.

Now try and stay with me for this. Imagine a four quadrant x-y graph.

On the x you have Plotting at one end, Pantsing on the other. And on the y axis you have Schubert’s Swooping and Bashing.

The plotting vs. pantsing debate is an arguement I imagine has been raging since the dawn of writing (though the first mention of “pantsing” I can find is from the NaNoWriMo forums. Typical.) If this is the first time you’ve heard of either here are some definitions: A Plotter is a writer who outlines and plans a story so they have a kind of roadmap for when it comes to drafting. A Pantser on the other hand is a writer who prefers to figure things out as they go. I’ve also heard pantsing called being a “discovery writer”.

The terms you possibly haven’t heard of however are Swooping and Bashing. Rather than referring to degrees of outlining, these mainly refer to editting styles. A swooper is a writer who runs through a draft from start to finish ignoring mistakes to fix them later. A Basher is therefore the polar opposite. Some Bashers supposedly even write a sentence or two, “bash” them into shape before moving on.

By placing these both on a x-y axis I believe it becomes easy to figure out what kind of a writer you are. After all, you can’t simply be one or the other, it’s far more of a continuum. You could be more of one than the other for sure, but not in all cases perhaps? I’m certainly that way.

Now my point is not to suggest one quadrant of this graph is better than another. I’ll explain this using myself as an example:

Being a visual kind of person I like to be able to picture things. For example, seeing where I fall on this graph (some where in the plotting-swooping quadrant) helps me to clarify exactly how I work, rather than it staying as some nebulous idea I don’t really care about. And knowing your “writing style” to me is the first step towards being able to make more effective use of your time. Clarification helps avoid all that nasty time wasting doing things that work against your creativity.

So here’s an exercise that you can do even if you think you know where you’d fall. It might help you become more efficient with your time even.

1) Plot yourself on my style graph.

When does writing come easiest to you? When you plot and bash? Pants and Swoop? Any other combination therein? For “extra credit”, you might want to factor in the time of day you work best. For me this appears to be between 10pm and midnight.

2) Reflect on how you can use this to become more efficient.

If you find that you more often fall in the same quadrant as me rather than anywhere else, you probably won’t find any use in worrying too much about grammar at an early stage. I personally prefer to get a draft done and then fix it (most of the time. I some times cycle through a couple of times within the same draft before getting to the end). To me there isn’t anything to fix until it’s written. It allows me to see the bigger picture. And I can see where I’ve written myself into a corner and can try to fix it before I spend hours working on grammar and spelling I’m going to end up cutting regardless. I also outline, so I find having my roadmap dramatically speeds up the time it takes to swoop out a draft.

I’m not so much giving advice here rather than suggesting a subjective method of helping you to engage with other people’s advice effectively. Not everyone is the same and following advice to the letter may not work for you. It might even detrimental. The point is, don’t waste your time writing in ways that, for you, are inefficient. By finding yourself in the quadrants you can then tailor any future advice you may find so it best helps you.

We live in a world with massive, massive emphasis of finishing a draft fast, editting fast, getting the book sold fast, getting the next one finished and out fast. Fastfastfast! In fact, the industry often demands it and if you can’t become more efficient then you may eventually find yourself losing your audience. “What ever happened to that one guy who had that awesome book?” Don’t be “that one guy”. Make them remember you. Keep pumping out the quality work 🙂

And with a bit of luck, being able to visualise and clarify your writing style will help. It helps me.

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