March 15, 2020: Writing Styles
To all the writers out there: What is your style of writing? I do not mean your genre of choice or your literary voice. I mean, how do you actually work best? While there are as many ways of working as there are writers, I believe there are two major categories into which all of these individual structures fit- sprinters and marathoners.
These are the writers who may have other jobs, or small children at home, or other responsibilities that make it impossible for them to have a “normal 8 hour writing day”. It may be the cooking show host who is now writing a cookbook, or the mother of three who is a picture book author. For sprinters, writing in small bursts of time and energy just works best.
- Can work very intensely for brief periods of time.
- Can easily fit writing tasks into smaller chunks of time.
- Will chunk a large project into many smaller tasks/sections.
- Can easily ‘switch-gears’ to focus on a specific task/topic.
These are the writers who need to immerse themselves in their craft in order to do their best work. The bestselling novelist who clears her schedule for weeks at a time and immerges with another completed, polished novel. The writers who seek out fellowships and retreats in order to find solitude and extended, devoted writing time.
- Can lose themselves in their work and write for hours/days.
- Would rather clear their schedule of other commitments and focus solely on their
- Work at a steady and constant pace.
- Need larger chunks of time to fit in warm-up and wind-down time
I am a sprinter. I used to feel guilty about that. I would look around at so many of my writing peers and think that they devoted much more time and energy to their writing than I did. In on-line writing groups, I would read about the hours that they all wrote each day. At writer’s groups, I would listen to anecdotal stories of how the passion of writing pushed them and drove them into submersing themselves in their current writing project. I would hear them lament about all that they had to give up or push to the back burner in order to make writing a priority. And my guilt grew. Did I deserve to be a writer if I did not suffer and give things up in order to write? Was I not as passionate about my craft as my peers?
Then I read a book by Laura Vanderkam on time management. As a classroom teacher, a university professor, and a writer, time management is a topic on which I am always researching and reading. One of her key premises is that in order to really optimize your time, you need to have a realistic picture of what you actually do each day/week. Using her time sheet template, I tracked my time and activities in 15 minute increments for two weeks. What surprised me was that I am writing more than I thought. I am just doing it in small bursts of time. Yes, I have a devoted hour of writing every morning at 5am, but that is not all of the time I am working on my craft. My time logs were filled with small blocks of time that read: worked on outline of new story; researched dates of lighthouses; edited blog post; worked on mms (manuscript) revision. And these blocks of time added up to some serious time. They just were not planned blocks of time devoted to writing. They were making use of the time I arrived early at the university prior to the class I was teaching, or the time I was waiting to meet a friend at a coffee shop, or the time I was watching the football game on TV with my husband.
Sharing this with a writer friend, she stated that she could not work like that. She needed the time and space to write, edit, revise, think, and plan, without the interruption, distractions, or time constraints. That was when I realized she was a marathoner, and I am a sprinter!
Both types of writers get to the finish line. One approach is not any better than the other- they are just different. Sprinters can get there through small bursts of focused writing, while marathoners immerse themselves in their work. Which are you?