Thursday, June 2, 2011

Conference Secrets: Unlocking Your Writing Process

What if I told you that I knew, exactly, how your favorite writer wrote, would you be my BFF? If I told you the sweater she wore, the kind of coffee she drank and where she sat, would you want to see pictures? And if I told you that she always outlined, using three highlighters (blue, green and yellow) and that she used post-it notes to keep track of POV changes, you'd be on your way down to Staples to buy supplies, right? I know you would because I'd be right behind you, up to my eyeballs in highlighters and stickies. I, like most struggling writers, am looking for the magic bullet, the key to How To Write.

According to Tamara Girardi, the writer and educator who led the Unlocking Your Writing Process workshop, there is no magic bullet, no magic post it diagram. Because your process as a writer has to be individual to you, or else you'll be like a salmon going upstream, working harder than you have to.

Everyone learns differently. From an educational point of view, the cookie-cutter teaching method of bygone eras no longer works, if it ever did. According to work done by Felder & Silverman, there exist eight types of learning and people fall on a wide range across the spectrum of learning.

If you can find out what kind of learner you are, or more specifically, how you process information, you can customize your writing process in the way that's right for you.

So, how do you figure out what kind of learner you are?
Take a test.

Take this test and it will email you the results. You may be surprised to find you are not exactly the learner you think you are. AND most people are a combination of several things, sometimes falling in the middle of the range. 

Taking the test will place you somewhere along the continuum of these pairs
Sensory - Prefer concrete, practical, procedural information. They look for facts.
Intuitive - Prefer conceptual, innovative and theoretical information. They look for meaning.

Visual - Prefer graphs, pictures and diagrams
Verbal - Prefer to hear or read information, look for information/explanations with words.

Active - Prefer to manipulate objects, do physical experiments and learn by trying. Enjoy working in groups to problem solve.
Reflective - Prefer to think things through, evaluate options and learn by analysis. Prefers to figure out problems on their own.

Sequential - Prefer to have information presented in a linear way, in order. Details come first to create big picture.
Global - Prefer a systematic approach, holistic approach. Big picture comes first, then details fill in.

I wrote (here) during the conference of a heckler we were unfortunate enough to have in the audience. She was unhappy with the workshop because it wasn't providing 'answers' on how to write. Everyone else in the audience seemed to get the message, that the answer was inside of ourselves, that Tamara was giving us the tools to unlock those answers. This woman was really, really unhappy and her testy, querulous questions definitely cast a pall over the audience, which was a shame since the topic of the workshop was interesting and, I think, valuable.

For instance, It helped me see that I didn't have to follow the advice I'd been hearing on outlining plot, that that is not the way I process information. I had tried to outline in the past and found it not only difficult but a kill joy. I'm not saying it's not valuable, not at all. Just not for me. That was Tamara's main message. You get a lot of advice as a writer, from blogs, author interviews and especially at conferences. All well and good. But if you're armed with the knowledge of how you learn, you can quickly pick out what will help and what won't. And you'll have a deeper understanding of two facts: No one is a better authority on how you should write than you. And second, advice for writers is highly subjective. Take everything with a grain of salt.

So, what do you think? Is the answer to How To Write out there, or inside? What works for you?

Check out Laura's Pennwriters Conference Post: Shaping Story Arcs


  1. Soon as I saw the words, 'magic bullet,' I shook my head. Doesn't exist. (As Tamara confirmed a paragraph later.)

    Or does it? I think the magic bullet does, in fact, exist. But it's different for every writer. A bit like a thumb print, a snowflake and a g-spot (not to get bawdy on you.)

    But we're all so unique as people, why would anyone-- least of all a storyteller!-- imagine that the mysterious process of giving life to a narrative would be something you could press out of a tube.

    How-to manuals chap my flank. It's like, just get out there and trust the process, people!

    Two cents. ;)

  2. I've been struggling with trying to understand how my learning style translated to my writing style. I took the test and figured out where I landed, and your post really helped clarify everything. It also took a bit of brain power, and I think I'm ready for a nap.

    Active and Reflective Writer: Means I do well to think through writing problems on my own, but I also benefit from bouncing ideas off of other writers. Yay, writing groups!

    Sensing Writer: My moderate preference shines a light on my need to use facts to tell a story; make things up realistically. No fantasy in the near future for me, not yet anyway.

    Visual and Verbal Writer: I rely on words to gather information and explanations, but a visual really drives concepts home. So, besides books and the Internet, research in the field will help me to write more realistically and vividly.

    Sequential and Global Writer: Not only do I like to see the big picture, the general direction my story/novel will go, but I do also like to have some details planned out ahead of time (i.e., outlining).

  3. Interesting post.

    I'm all for tutorials on how to improve my craft. I have a lot to learn about the countless facets of this art we call writing.

    BUT, speaking of art. I don't think anyone can "teach" the magic that lies within us.

    You can give me a paintbrush and tell me what color is the best choice for the daisies. You will never, on the other hand, be able to tell me how to make that flower jump off the canvas, to have its viewers taste, smell, and feel its presence. Or to leave thinking they have experienced a sun.

    Just my humble opinion.


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