Mirror, Mirror: Finding Your Writing Style

Absolute Blank

By Theryn Fleming (Beaver)

Some days, it seems like every second person you meet writes on the side, as if writing is to a real job what fries are to a burger. No other profession is more usurped by pretenders than writing. Unlike other jobs and careers, the superficial tools of a writer–pen and paper or computer–are accessible to anyone, and nearly everyone is capable of stringing together words in some fashion.

But having a spiral notebook and a gel pen doesn’t make one a writer. Neither does keeping a journal or penning a letter to the editor. Writing is about more than words and a writer does more than write. The most important tool a writer can have is not talent, creativity or passion. It’s persistence.

Persistence means plowing through the parts of writing that you hate, whether it’s research, editing or composing a three-line bio. Sitting down to write when it’s a sunny summer day and you’d rather be at the beach. Turfing the piece you know in your heart isn’t good enough and starting again.

Fought some of those battles and won? Congrats! A genuine writer lurks inside you. Still worried that “pseudo” applies to more than your pen name? Relax. Even the most dedicated writers can stumble during the writing process. Have a look in the mirrors below and decide which reflects your writing style. By pinpointing your weaknesses, you’ll be one step closer to reaching your full writing potential.

Background Image: Cyborg-X1/Flickr (CC-by-nc-sa)

    • Most often heard saying: “I want to write.”
    • Think you’re a wannabe? Wannabes sit in on writing classes and read books on writing. They hang out with writers. Attend poetry readings. Haunt bookstores. They purchase pretty blank books, fancy pens and expensive software. They drink a lot of coffee. They ask questions about agents and how wide their margins should be. They’re in love with the idea of being a writer. They do everything to do with writing except write.
    • #1 asset: Wannabes are equipped. If it’s a tool of the trade, a wannabe will have it.
    • Best advice for Wannabes: Practice write. Pick up one of those pretty notebooks and write for 10-15 minutes a day. Write for the entire 10 minutes without stopping. If you’re blocked, write your name or “I don’t know what to write.” over and over. Copy out your grocery list. Anything to keep your hand moving. If you want to be a writer, first you must write. Worry about content later.
    • Most often heard saying: “I have to defrost the fridge/run 10 miles/make my first million before I can write.”
    • Think you’re a procrastinator? Procrastinators have a problem with sitting down and starting to write. When they finally start writing, they’ll write for hours. Unfortunately, writing always gets pushed to the bottom of their to-do list. On some level, they don’t think they deserve to write until they get everything else finished, which it never will be. Procrastinators crave order, but can never achieve it to the level they desire.
    • #1 Asset: Abundance of ideas. Procrastinators have an endless supply of stories conceived of whilst they were not-writing.
    • Best Advice for Procrastinators: Make writing appointments. Put them in your calendar and keep them. If your calendar says “Saturday, 9am-noon. Write.”, then at 9am, sit down and start writing. Face the fact that that your email inbox will never be empty, there will always be more laundry to do and the phone will never stop ringing. Write first. When your appointment is over, then tackle the other stuff.
    • Most often heard saying: “Write what you know? But I don’t know anything!”
    • Think you’re a Tiptoer? The feeling that nothing they write could possibly be as good as what someone else might write overwhelms tiptoers. Their feelings of inadequacy cause their mind to go as blank as the page or screen they’re staring at. Though they may have tons of ideas whenever they’re doing “something else”, when they sit down to write, they nearly always find themselves flummoxed as what to write about.
    • #1 Asset: Willingness to learn. Tiptoers are soak up advice like sponges. They are eager to change and to grow.
    • Best Advice for Tiptoers: Grab a notebook and start a list. Every idea that pops into your head, scribble it down. Something funny one of your kids did. A memory from when you were six. The car that cut you off on the way to the dentist. What your boss looked like when he yelled at you the other day. Then, when you sit down to write, pick up your notebook and choose an idea at random. Without thinking about it, start writing.
    • Most often heard saying: “I’ve been published–and it only cost $50 to buy the anthology!”
    • Think you’re an Egotist? Egotists write copiously, while believing firmly in the sanctity of the first draft. Editing is something for other people. When criticized, egotists rebut the critique, justifying each flaw that has been pointed out. They are blind to the dubiousness of organizations that publish anyone and anything–for a fee–believing that, for example, being published by poetry.com makes them Maya Angelou.
    • #1 Asset: Indestructible self-esteem. No amount of rejection or criticism will ever crush an egotist’s spirit.
    • Best Advice for Egotists: Learn to recognize quality writing. Read the genre that you write-if you write poetry, read poetry. Read the classics, but also read new work by critically acclaimed authors. Sign up for a workshop with one of those authors, preferably one where you have to read your work aloud. Listen to what the others have to say. You may thank them for their comments, but do not rebut what they say or “explain” yourself. Just listen.
    • Most often heard saying: “I write for myself.”
    • Think you’re a Feel-Gooder? Feel-gooders write anecdotes about kids and pets or tearjerker sagas of the “my sister was squished by a giant spider” variety. To abort attempts at criticism, feel-gooders state up front that they don’t write prizewinning material. This invites others to say things like: “Oh, but it’s good, really!” If criticized, feel-gooders will defend themselves by saying they write for themselves, which would be fine if it was true. However, the fact that they are sharing their work proves otherwise.
    • #1 Asset: Relentlessly cheery. Can find good in any situation, regardless how dreary.
    • Best Advice for Feel-Gooders: Decide who you’re writing for: yourself or an audience. If you’re honestly writing for yourself, keep it to yourself, or share with a friend or relative. Stay away from critique boards, workshops and writing groups. It’s not fair to other writers to make them waste time on work that you have no intention of revising. If you decide you are writing for an audience, take a deep breath, bite your tongue and open yourself up to criticism.
    • Most often heard saying: “I’m almost finished.”
    • Think you’re a Perfectionist? Perfectionists write and write and write. Think of Grady in The Wonder Boys. If they do make it to the end of the first draft, then they edit. When they get to the end of the second draft, they edit again. Perfectionists hold themselves to a higher standard than they do everyone else. While they’ll forgive flaws in others, they’ll never forgive them in themselves. Submitting a manuscript with one misplaced semi-colon will toss them into despair.
    • #1 Asset: Perfectionists are above-average writers with a firm grasp on what quality writing is–except when it comes to their own work.
    • Best Advice for Perfectionists: Find a writing buddy. Perfectionists will never think their work is good enough. They need someone else to tell them when it’s done. So find someone you trust, let them read your work, and trust them when they tell you to stop. And give yourself a break. Stop agonizing over insignificant details. An editor isn’t going to reject your manuscript because you used a dash instead of a comma.
    • Most often heard saying: “I wrote for Days of Our Lives!”
    • Think you’re an Exaggerator? Exaggerators aren’t afraid to use ancient credits, or to twist the truth to make it sound like they’re more qualified and successful than they really are. That letter to the editor that Time published sounds like it was a feature article by the time the exaggerator gets done with it. They often work in partnerships with more qualified writers and bask in the reflected glory of the other’s success. Think George Michael and Andrew Ridgeley.
    • #1 Asset: Connections. Exaggerators are consummate schmoozers, able to work a crowd with the best real estate agents and used car salespeople. If they know someone who knows someone who knows someone, exaggerators will make that work for them.
    • Best Advice for Exaggerators: Recognize your failings instead of trying to hide them. Maybe you’re not going to write the Great American Novel, but perhaps you’re able to churn out stellar advertising copy. Instead of riding on someone else’s coattails or coasting on a past success, work at your writing and take some chances. Once your writing’s polished to perfection, you can use your connections to market it.
    • Most often heard saying: “I was first published at 16.”
    • Think you’re a Thwarted Genius? Thwarted Geniuses usually had early success, but then fizzled. They may have won a prize, a scholarship or had a single story published–but they never lived up to the promise of their early years. Disillusioned by themselves or the business, thwarted geniuses often turn to teaching, dispensing writing advice to others.
    • #1 Asset: Thwarted Geniuses have a good grasp on the basics of writing and can be charming and helpful mentors to beginning writers.
    • Best Advice for Thwarted Geniuses: Decide whether you’ve honestly given up on writing. Teaching shouldn’t be a fallback career. If you find yourself becoming irritated when one of your students writes better or becomes successful than you, it’s time to quit the teaching gig. Put yourself back in the student seat and give your own writing another shot. If you opt to stick with teaching, recognize your limitations and admit you don’t know everything.
    • Most often heard saying: “I had three books published last year!”
    • Think you’re a Formula Racer? Formula Racers are prolific and financially successful. They churn out generic books that demonstrate everything beginning writers are told not to do–flat characters, stereotyped plots, “as you know, Bob” description. They have a blasé attitude toward writing that not everyone can master and are eager to give advice on how to “break into the market”. They’re apt to view writing more as a smart business move rather than a calling or vocation.
    • #1 Asset: Formula racers have the business sense that most other writers do not. They know how to market themselves and their writing.
    • Best Advice for Formula Racers: Think outside the box. Formula Racers find a routine that works for them and stick to it; eventually, this becomes stale. Try writing a story where the characters do the opposite of what you normally would have them do. Read outside your genre. Consider having a well-respected author critique your work. Try writing in a different genre or entering a contest that has a word limit or other restriction, just to shake things up.
    • Most often heard saying: “What am I working on? How long do you have?”
    • Think you’re an Attention-Deficient? Attention-Deficients write, copiously. What they don’t do is focus. They jump from project to project, never finishing one before moving on to the next. Everything and anything triggers story ideas for them, but instead of just writing an idea down and saving it for later, they feel the need to write about it NOW. Hence, it takes them forever to finish any single project.
    • #1 Asset: Never lacking for inspiration. Could write 1,000 words on their big toe if asked.
    • Best Advice for the Attention-Deficient: Pick a project to focus on. Recognize that you will get distracted, but once you’ve burned off your initial head of steam on the new idea, return to the project you’re focusing on. Keep doing that until the focus project is complete. Then pick a new one and start the process over. Rather than thinking of everything as a long-term project, consider using some of your ideas as the basis for a column or compiling a book of short stories or personal essays.
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