R.J. Anderson (rj_anderson) wrote,
R.J. Anderson

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Are you an Intuitive or a Sensing Writer?

Over the past year or so I've been giving a lot of thought to my own writing processes, including trying some other writers' tried-and-proven methods for generating first drafts, revisions, and so on more efficiently.

Some of this has been for good, but most for ill, I'm afraid. I found out the hard way that if I think too much about what I'm doing as I write, I end up paralyzed. Writing for me is like walking a tightrope: the only way I can do it is to keep myself focused on the destination and not allow myself to look at my feet (or worse, that yawning pit below where things like sagging middles, cardboard characters, and inconsistent worldbuilding lurk).

It seems to me that a lot of writing how-to books and articles are really geared toward Sensing writers: they all depend on the idea of being able to break your book down into parts, or categories, or different threads, and systematically work your way through that particular method until all your narrative ducks are in a row and you have a finished book. And this is a perfectly valid way to work, it can result in some very excellent books, and those who are comfortable with this approach are often much better at turning out novels and stories on a regular basis, so I'm certainly not going to knock it.

However, I've come to realize that I am just not a Sensing writer, and step-by-step breakdowns of how to write (or revise) only make me panic. I get overwhelmed by the sheer number of steps involved, the seeming complexity of all the individual parts that have to go into making the book work, and worst of all the many, many things that could be wrong with every scene I write -- and I can no longer see the story at that point, or enjoy the writing process any more.

When I write (or even revise), I don't break it down into sections or layers -- I do everything at once as I go along. Style, characterization, plot, setting: I go over and over each paragraph until it has all the parts my story seems to need, and then I go on to the next paragraph. And when I get a brilliant new idea for where to take the story, I go back to what I wrote before, and touch it up so the seams don't show. Which means that by the time I get around to typing THE END, it may be six or eight or even twelve months after I started, but what I have is a fairly decent draft that only needs a bit of polishing before it's ready to share with my critique group or my editor.

It's a method I could never break down into steps and describe, because it's all intuitive -- I just feel my way through the book, adding a dash of this here and a pinch of that there, and tasting as I go along. There is no recipe, and if I try to follow somebody else's recipe I just end up unhappy and frustrated. And through the painful process of trying other methods and failing to make them work for me, I have come to understand that I am an Intutive and not a Sensing writer.

So I've had to stop reading many of the writing how-to articles and blogs I used to frequent. I have no doubt they contain a lot of useful and important information, but that isn't how I personally learn and grow as a writer. I have to just jump in to writing and flounder around and tackle projects that are stupidly ambitious without realizing how ambitious they are, and make my mistakes as I go along and then have them pointed out to me by readers more objective than myself -- looking at the specific context of a book I personally wrote, that's when I learn.

What about you? Do you intuitively hold the whole book and all its parts in your head as you write, and discover its strengths and weaknesses as you go along? Or do you break it down into smaller parts or drafts, outlines, step-by-step methods, charts, and the like to help you get the job done?
Tags: writing
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