Feeling Writers: People Who Need People

Statue of mother reading to childWriters who prefer feeling focus on human connections. Often motivated to write by their deeply held beliefs, they speak from the heart. But without facts to support their position, they may fail to persuade an audience. What can feeling writers do to ensure objectivity and frame an effective argument?

In a previous post, I wrote about the importance of following your natural tendencies when writing a first draft. Then, during the editing process, you can go back and fill in the elements you missed.

Natural tendencies of feeling writers

People who prefer feeling judgment value harmony in relationships. Generally tactful in their communication, they are empathetic to the concerns of others.

Feeling types consult their emotions when making decisions, yet they use feeling rationally. Rather than being blinded by emotion, they tend to make better decisions when taking personal needs into account.

People who prefer feeling are enthusiastic in their approach to new ideas. They tend to trust other people’s opinions, looking for points of agreement before considering potential weaknesses. When interacting with others, they may keep negative observations to themselves (and may think that you should, too).

Feeling types are drawn to writing by a desire to motivate others. They organize their material through a sense of flow. Topics may not be clearly defined, but instead transition naturally from one to the next. Their work tends to read more like a narrative than a report. They may use anecdotes to illustrate their point, and consider personal stories a part of audience analysis.

Feeling writers invest themselves personally in their material. They want to make the world a better place. In technical writing, this may mean helping a reader complete a task efficiently. They are passionate about user experience, focusing on expression and audience reaction.

As they mature, feeling writers may build on their personal values to convey factual or technical information. They learn to remove themselves from their writing, even though they’re likely to feel deeply connected to it.

Filling the gaps

Feeling types can have trouble expressing themselves objectively until they write down their subjective reactions first. If you’re a feeling writer, it might help to free-write your gut reactions to the subject, even if you can’t use any of the material, to cleanse your palate before the real writing begins.

Don’t over-focus on expression. Avoid wordsmithing during the first draft, since material may get cut or changed later. Make sure the organization is clear and coherent—that topics flow logically without jumping around. Research the material and gather data to support your beliefs. Be open to changing your mind if the facts surprise you.

In technical communication, remember that content is more important than expression. Be direct. Don’t soften your statements. Use the imperative. Make sure you understand the material so you can explain it accurately. Edit the material to be concise—this saves money on printed documents and on translation, and it makes it more likely that customers will read the manual. Don’t offer multiple ways to do a task—choose the clearest one, then offer shortcuts in an appendix.

If you’re feeling blocked, list your personal values and brainstorm how the topic connects to them. When editing other people’s work, think of it as expressing an opinion. You’re offering suggestions and asking for clarity. It’s okay to be tactful but honest. You’re a mentor, not a critic.

Advertisements

Thinking Writers: Logical Conclusions

thinking writerWriters who prefer thinking focus on logic and clarity. They tend to excel at analysis and the step-by-step progression of events. But if they don’t consider the needs of their audience, they may fail to engage readers. How can thinking writers create an emotional connection?

In a previous post, I wrote about the importance of following your natural tendencies when writing a first draft. Then, during the editing process, you can go back and fill in the elements you missed.

Natural tendencies of thinking writers

Thinking writers value clarity in communication. They tend to be honest and straightforward in how they express themselves. When addressing their subject matter, they use logic and impersonal evaluation. This emotional detachment encourages objectivity.

Writers who prefer thinking don’t trust judgments based on personal considerations. When evaluating their source material, they tend to be skeptical and to look for flaws before they look for strengths. A focus on facts helps them approach their subject dispassionately.

Thinking types are motivated to write by a desire to convey information clearly. Using critical analysis, they tend to be good at explaining how things work, and doing so in a logical and efficient way. Thinking writers methodically follow a set of criteria and organize their material through a logical unfolding of ideas. They generally advocate for one approach over another.

As they mature, thinking writers come to better understand the importance of connecting with their readers if they want to hold the audience’s interest. It’s possible to maintain control over the subject matter yet still add elements that appeal to readers on an emotional level.

Filling the gaps

If you’re a thinking writer, consider the needs and desires of the audience. Use the simplest word that will do the job. Big words are more difficult to read—even if the audience understands what they mean. Don’t use a vocabulary that’s more precise than the audience needs it to be. Otherwise, you’ll fog the reader’s mind with minutiae.

Provide sufficient background material. Explain why the topic is relevant. If you’re a technical communicator, avoid writing procedures based on what the product can do—instead, write based on reader tasks. Develop personas and user profiles. Write in second person to increase reader involvement. Unless writing for experts, assume the reader knows nothing about the subject.

When offering alternatives or conducting analysis, present the positives before the negatives to avoid alienating the reader. To increase interest, use visuals like flowcharts or graphs. Include transitions between topics. In the final draft, be concise but not terse.

To overcome writer’s block, establish an organizational structure (such as problem–solution) to develop your ideas logically. If you’re stressed because you don’t think your writing situation will reward you fairly, plan to reward yourself after you complete the project. A sense of fair play is important to thinking types. It’s okay to indulge yourself with your favorite gadget to celebrate a job well done.

Intuitive Writers: What a Concept!

Writers who prefer intuition focus on theories, patterns, and connections. They start with the big picture, then zoom in on the details. But too much attention to possibilities can prevent them from providing enough facts to support their ideas. How can intuitive writers make sure they ground their writing in reality?

In an earlier post, I wrote about the importance of following your natural tendencies when writing a first draft. Then, during the editing process, you can go back and fill in the elements you missed.

Natural tendencies of intuitive writers

Intuitive writers come to understand the world by letting their unconscious mind discover patterns and connections between ideas. They value insights into the implications of the facts more than they do the facts themselves. With their abstract perspective, they enjoy theories, complexity, and creating an overall vision.

Intuitive writers are imaginative. They see the world not as it is but as it could be. They rely on inspiration and focus on context. When planning a writing project, they think about the subject, jotting down ideas as they arise and considering a multitude of possibilities.

In a business or educational environment, intuitive writers want general directions. They expect a lot of freedom in developing a writing project. Seeking to innovate, they want to explore different options for implementing the requirements of the project. They don’t derive much satisfaction from repeating what’s been done before.

As they mature, intuitive writers become less focused on creativity and more focused on communication. They simplify their concepts to better connect with the reader. They become more careful about including facts. This makes their writing more accessible.

Filling the gaps

If you’re an intuitive writer, you may tend to think in generalities. This makes it difficult to connect with readers. Be specific. Include relevant facts and details. Say what you mean rather than simply implying it. Don’t make intuitive leaps without connecting the dots for your readers. Check with a peer to make sure you’ve shown connections clearly.

In technical or business writing, don’t forge your own path. Follow templates and reuse information where possible. Don’t wordsmith text that’s already been edited, approved, and translated unless it’s ambiguous or unclear. Follow the plan developed by the team, or else consult them before deviating from it. Remember, other team members may know things you don’t. Indulge your desire for innovation in a way that respects the boundaries set by the organization

If you’re feeling blocked, don’t let rote tasks drain your energy and creativity. Use templates for mundane or repetitive tasks. For creative writers, this might mean following a three-act structure. Not only does the three-act structure tell you what you need to include, it keeps you from going off on irrelevant tangents. Rather than wasting time on a whim, you’ll put your abundant imagination to good use.

Sensing Writers: Down to the Details

Writers who prefer sensation focus on concrete data. They start with the detail, then pan out until they can see the big picture. But too much focus on discrete data can prevent them from perceiving the connections between ideas. How can sensing writers make sure they include conceptual as well as factual information?

In a previous post, I wrote about the importance of following your natural tendencies when writing a first draft. Then, during the editing process, you can go back and fill in the elements you missed.

Natural tendencies of sensing writers

Sensing writers immerse themselves in the five senses. They see the world as it is. Relying on facts, they enjoy storing knowledge about their observations and including this information in their writing.

When sensing writers begin a writing project, they want clear instructions. They need details to develop a sense of direction. Often, they’ll use other projects that have gone well as a template.

Sensing writers organize their content around concrete elements. They’re more interested in action than in ideas. They focus on practical applications and find it easier to write based on personal experience. They tend to move in a linear way from start to finish.

As they mature, sensing writers learn through experience to brainstorm and conceptualize. They become more imaginative and original. However, they trust imagination most when it has boundaries—for instance, a writing structure to follow.

Filling the gaps

If you’re a sensing writer, be sure to get detailed instructions at the beginning of a project. If you don’t understand what’s expected of you, talk to your editor or project sponsor. Ask a peer for help.

Use other projects as a model, but also consider new approaches. While sensing types learn best through repetition, sometimes the benefits of innovation are worth the learning curve of trying new things. Be open to improvement.

Compose a rough first draft to give yourself something concrete to work with—but avoid polishing too soon. When presenting facts, look for connections between them. Transition clearly from one topic to another. Relate details to the big picture to give a sense of context.

For instance, in technical writing, tell the reader why to perform a procedure. Instead of Press the red button to launch the missile, write To launch the missile, press the red button.

To overcome writer’s block, break the rules. Writing is an art, not a mechanical procedure. Don’t be constrained by preconceived ideas. Try something new and see what happens.

Playing to Your Strengths

In school, most of us were taught to write according to the rules. Problem is, when it comes to writing, there are no rules. Or more specifically, for every writing rule you hear, there’s an equally valid rule that says just the opposite.

To follow the writing techniques you learned in grade school (or even college) might be a terrible idea for you. For instance, there are more extraverts in the U.S. population, but more introverts among writing instructors. If you’re an extravert, the natural writing process of introverts may not work well for you at all.

So forget everything you’ve been taught. During the first draft, let your creativity flow. Write according to your natural style. Don’t think about the final product—your first draft is just the clay you sculpt your masterpiece from. First get it written, then get it right.

The “right” techniques are the ones that work well for you, even if they don’t work at all for your coworker or critique partner. Chances are, you’ll be most comfortable and productive if you draft according to the preferences of your personality type. Then, during revision, use your nonpreferred functions to fill in what you missed. In my upcoming posts, I’ll outline the natural tendencies of writers according to their preferences as measured by the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI).

Note: If you don’t know your personality type, I recommend the free Jung Typology Test from Humanmetrics, although I’m told it has a slight tendency to skew toward Judging (J) over Perceiving (P). For a more thorough and accurate assessment, you can take the MBTI through a certified practitioner.

Related posts:

Extraverted Writers: Talking It Out
Introverted Writers: Thinking It Over

Finding Your Voice in Fiction

Copywriters blog about it. Literary agents yearn for it. Budding writers may know they need it, but they may be unsure how to get it (or even what it is). In a sense, voice is your platform. It’s the reason that you alone could write this story—that no one else could write it the way you did.

Many things contribute to an author’s voice. Word choice and sentence structure are part of it. But voice is also much deeper. It’s your world view, your values, your passion. In short, it’s your personality.

The websites of literary agents make it clear that they’re looking for a unique and compelling voice. If your manuscript sounds like every other submission in your genre, then no matter how well written it is, the agent will likely pass. Your personality must shine through.

Here are some of the components of voice:

Your values

David Keirsey grouped the 16 Myers-Briggs types into 4 temperaments, and identified the values unique to each. For example, the Idealists (NFs) and Guardians (SJs) value cooperation, while Rationals (NTs) and Artisans (SPs) value autonomy. But while the cooperative efforts of Guardians focus on preserving traditions and social institutions, Idealists seek to build stronger communities through personal growth. And while Artisans want autonomy so they can take advantage of immediate opportunities, Rationals focus on building systems and long-term strategies.

Think about some of your favorite novels, and consider how the voice might reflect one or more of these values. For example, I might argue that in The Help by Kathryn Stockett, Aibileen expresses Guardian values, Minny expresses Artisan values, and Miss Skeeter expresses Rational values. Yet the novel itself expresses Idealist values. The voices of the three point-of-view characters come together to give the novel a voice that’s different from the sum of its parts.

Your experiences

I’m a Pennsylvanian who’s made a home in North Carolina. I know how disorienting it is to leave your support system behind, and start a new life in a strange place with customs you don’t understand. My experience with this sense of alienation plays a role in my fiction.

But note that your experiences aren’t limited to things you’ve personally lived through. We’ve all been listening to stories—through books, TV, movies, and conversation—since we were born. The people you know also have a unique set of experiences that they can share with you. The old caveat, write what you know, is backwards. It should be know what you write. Research. Interview people. Travel if you have to. Draw on your past, but continue to build your store of knowledge.

Your interests

If you love jazz, set a couple of scenes in a jazz club. Include dialogue that could only be spoken by a jazz connoisseur. If you garden, include descriptions of trees and flowers that demonstrate your specific knowledge. These kinds of details add depth and authenticity to a scene.

Your interests may also affect the theme of your work. As a writer of women’s fiction, I’m fascinated by the effects of human evolution on behavior, particularly in the differences between men and women. In most primate societies, to avoid inbreeding, females stay in the troupe they were born into; males, on the other hand, are forced out when they reach sexual maturity, and must make their way in the world. Modern human females largely define themselves in terms of their relationships, whereas males define themselves in terms of identity. My fiction explores the conflicts that naturally occur as a result: for instance, the woman is trying to preserve the relationship but her partner is trying to preserve his identity. Or, conversely, a woman’s search for identity creates problems in her relationships.

Voice is one of those things that’s hard to define, but you know it when you see it. The best way to ensure that your voice shines through is to be authentic, to write from your core self, and to be fearless. If you’re not willing to take chances in your fiction, to expose the deepest parts of yourself, you won’t touch the reader’s heart. It’s that emotional connection to the characters that keeps readers engaged. A story without voice is a story that won’t sell. So don’t hold back. Write for all you’re worth.

Tools, Not Rules

Many blogs offer advice on how to write. Often these blogs are didactic, as if the author is right and anyone who does things differently is wrong. These authors, I’m afraid, don’t understand the difference between process and product.

Let’s assume that all novelists have the goal of writing  a saleable novel. That’s their product. It doesn’t follow that they must all use the same process in order to reach that goal.

For instance, many authors recommend that you set a weekly word count goal. That’s great advice, if you’re goal-oriented or tend to be unproductive without intermediate milestones to track your progress. But if you write every day, and you’re happy with the progress you’re making, then a word count goal is just one more worry to interfere with your creative process.

Whether setting a word count is a useful goal for you may depend in part on your personality type. SJ writers may like the structure that word count goals give them. NPs may find themselves getting caught up in research or going off on tangents without word count goals to keep them focused. NJs and SPs may find such goals helpful, or they may find them restrictive. A word count goal is a tool, and the purpose of a tool is to make your job easier. If the tool doesn’t make your job easier, then stop using the tool.

Note, though, that process differs from craft. Show, don’t tell is an example of craft. “James was angry at his brother” is telling. “James kicked his brother’s Big Wheel into the bushes” is showing. Showing is more vivid and involves the reader viscerally in the story. That’s why show, don’t tell has become a mantra of fiction writing. It’s difficult to write successful fiction without employing this technique.

Understanding the difference between product, process, and craft is key to developing into a confident and competent fiction writer. Here are some examples of advice relating to each.

Product

  • Happy endings: Romance novels must have an optimistic ending. This isn’t true for other adult fiction.
  • Likeable main character: Some people will tell you that you’ll be more successful if your main character is likeable. Others will tell you that the main character must be engaging, but not necessarily likeable. It depends on the kind of novel you’re writing. Know your audience.
  • Dissimilar character names: If character names are too similar (like Kevin and Steven), readers may get them confused.
  • Title: Selecting a title has less to do with craft and more to do with marketing. That’s why publishers often choose a different title than the one the author had in mind.

Process

  • Write first thing in the morning: Okay, there may be some science behind this. But if you’re a night owl, or you have kids you need to get ready for school in the morning, this advice might not be right for you.
  • Don’t edit while you write: Sadly, some writers become discouraged and stop writing if their first drafts aren’t beauteous. For these people, slogging through the first draft without reading what they’ve written may be great advice. Also, if you’re tempted to wordsmith each scene until it shines like platinum, only to realize after you complete the first draft that half the scenes should be deleted, you may want to force yourself to keep moving rather than getting caught up in revising too soon. But many writers find it useful to edit the previous day’s work before they start drafting new material. This serves the dual purpose of cleaning up the first draft and immersing them in the world of the novel.
  • Write every day: There’s a reason that “Remember the Sabbath” is one of the ten commandments. And it’s not just to keep grocery stores from selling wine on Sunday mornings. Humans need to take a break from work to feed their souls. As long as you’re productive, you don’t have to write every day. But if you need that habit in order to stay on track, then maybe this is good advice for you. Just don’t feel guilty if you take a day off. God said it was okay.

Craft

  • Three-act structure: The three-act structure has been the basis of storytelling in the Western world for millennia. It’s so ingrained in us that we naturally follow this pattern when telling stories. Chances are, if your story is working, then it follows the three-act structure, even if you’re not aware of it. Chances are, if your story isn’t working, then it’s not following the three-act-structure. Figure out what parts of the structure are missing so you can fix the story.
  • Conflict: Nearly every successful story consists of a main character who wants something, plus obstacles that the main character must confront in order to reach that goal. If your story consists of happy, satisfied characters doing interesting things, then no one but your mom will want to read it. The momentum behind a story is frustrated desire.
  • Engaging the senses: This is an element of show, don’t tell. Part of your job as a fiction writer is to immerse the reader in the fictive world. It isn’t enough to appeal to the intellect. You must create a sensual experience. “Flowers lined the sidewalk” doesn’t draw the reader into the landscape. Include sensory details: “Golden lilies spiced the air with fragrance, and bees hummed as they hovered over the blooms.”

Learning which advice to follow and which to ignore is one of the toughest challenges that beginning writers face. I recommend this simple guideline: If it makes you a better writer, then it’s good advice. If it doesn’t make you a better writer, and especially if it paralyzes you or keeps you from writing, then it’s not good advice. Listen to your heart, listen to your gut, and keep writing.

For more information on the three-act structure, I recommend Screenwriting Tricks For Authors (and Screenwriters!) or Writing Love: Screenwriting Tricks for Authors II by Alexandra Sokoloff.