There is a lot of advice out there about how to write and how to establish “good” writing habits. But every writer is different, and no amount of good advice will help you if it doesn’t jive with your personal style. I can say with certainty that if you try to write in a manner that’s at odds with your natural inclination, you won’t succeed. You may have a little initial success but you won’t have longevity.
I’ve identified four types of writers and their writing habits. Which style fits you?
The Sleepless Marathoner: “If I’m writing, I’m not sleeping.” When inspiration strikes, the sleepless marathoner doesn’t mess around. They start working on their idea almost immediately. They work on it obsessively. They work on it at all hours. They work on it when they should be eating or sleeping. They work on it exhaustively. Like the African Wild Dog, they run that book down for hours until it’s spent and finished.
The Waiter: “I have to wait until I have inspiration.” This second style of writer tends to write irregularly, because they’re waiting for the right moment or for inspiration. I often hear these writers say that they have to be in the right mood to get any significant or productive writing done. They may start lots of projects but have difficulty finishing any of them because the “mood” changes. They may frequently re-write first chapters or start projects over and over. But for as long as the “mood” lasts, they can be very focused and productive.
- The Dailyer: “I write X every day.” X in this case can mean words, pages, scenes or chapters. I see this style most in published authors writing guest blogs on top tier writing sites and doing wide circulation Q&A’s. This type of writer sets a goal for themselves and meets that goal every day. There are two sub-categories to the Daily writer: low-volume and high-volume.
High-Volume: I’ve heard writer’s say they aim to write 10-20 pages a day. Does this sound like an insane number to you? Me too but I’ve seen a couple of writers do it during National Novel Writing Month. Stephen King says in his book On Writing that he writes 2000 words a day, six days a week. I also like to call these types of writers “job writers” because they treat their writing time like a full time job. They get up in the morning and write for 6-8 hours at least five days a week.This much writing may feel unnatural and does not suit everyone. Like a palfrey or gaited horse who uses a unique non-standard 4-beat gait to cover ground quickly, smoothly and for extended periods of time, the high-volume daily writer will set make large strides in their writing every day without straining themselves.
Low-Volume: These writers also write every day, or almost every day, but they have smaller daily word goals. They might try to write one scene every day or set a more modest word count goal such as 500 words. The key here is slow but steady progress.
The Deadliner: “I have to have a deadline.” It doesn’t matter if it’s an academic or work deadline, the deadliner finds it difficult, or even impossible, to get motivated to write without some type of reward. That reward may be a good grade or money. They need clear, well-outlined goals and someone to which they are accountable. This type of writer may be naturally good at writing but it probably isn’t their passion. It’s just a usable skill.
Once you identify the style that comes naturally, you can use it to work for you, whatever your writing goal. Next week I’ll talk about the pros and cons of each style and offer tips for writing productively.