When you want to discover what you think about an idea, what do you? Do you write an essay? Do you call up a friend? Do you sit in a chair and ponder? As a novelist, I found it interesting to discover recently that writing plays a very different role in my thought processes than it does in the thought processes of some of my other friends. Understanding the role of writing in the mind of a given author can be helpful for readers and other writers alike, as different writers will use their writing for different purposes, and knowing how one thinks about writing – and how writing shapes one’s thoughts – can help one know how to best approach a project.
Until recently, I was only truly familiar with one way of writing and processing – mine. When I have a vague idea, I might jot down some thoughts about it on paper, but this tends to raise more questions for me than it answers. To really understand something, and to feel qualified to incorporate it into my writing, I tend to have to go talk to another real live human being. Depending on what the topic is – a plot point, an idea of character development, a world that I’m building, or an issue of culture, religion, or morality – I have different friends that I talk with. But I find that I don’t want to commit the time and effort to really writing something until I understand how I feel about an issue, and I don’t really understand my own thoughts and feelings until I talk about it with another person.
In contrast, other writers process their ideas themselves by writing. If they want to know what they think about something, they write an essay on the topic. They may not be as comfortable with talking out loud – they are more eloquent, complete in their thoughts, or coherent on paper, they believe, and so they prefer to interact intellectually with others via the written word.
These two styles of thought processes may lead to very different types of writing. I have always been comfortable sharing my written work, as it tends to be a coherent whole that reflects thoughts that I have previously engaged with, absorbed, and assimilated before beginning a writing project. However, I do not write until I know what I’m going to say, which can lead me to not want to write until I have thoroughly discussed a topic with my friends, my family, and my dog (if no one else is available). Others, who write to find out what they think, may find their work to be more exploratory and personal in nature. It may change over time in tone, theme, and even message, as they write to find out what it is that they believe or think about a topic. Writers of this sort may find that they need to rewrite their work more times before it is acceptable in their opinion to send out for others’ feedback, or that some drafts or pieces of writing never get shared at all, as their purpose is for personal edification rather than for distribution.
Neither style of writing is better than another, but knowing what your style is can help you write more effectively and achieve your goals. If you are the first type of writer, here are a few tips for making progress on a story:
- Identify writing buddies who you can have serious writing conversations with – who will help you analyze plot and character holes and give you advice on exactly what magical powers the three-crested owl should have.
- Once you know what it is you want to say, outline your work carefully so that every point you make works together and builds on the story you already know you want to tell.
- Start writing! At some point, you have gathered enough information and talked with enough people that you do know what you think and what the right decisions will be for your story, so go write them! Procrastinating at this point will only put off creating the story that only you can tell.
If you are the second type of writer, however, here are a few tips:
- Identify good editors who are willing to invest in your manuscript and tell you which parts are inconsistent, need work, or just don’t make sense.
- Don’t worry about not making sense in your first draft. Just write.
- Once you have written your first draft, go back and rewrite! You probably know far more clearly now what it is that your story is trying to say than you did at the beginning, so go back and tell the story that you now know is trying to be told.
Whichever of these methods speaks to you more, go forth and pursue it with passion. Have fun with your writing, and the end result will be a story that you can be proud to share.