How To Identify Your Own Style Of Writing

By: Eugenia Bivines

This article is to help identify which style, technique or strategy of writing that one may use. I will also help to understand the method in the way a writer writes and help in determinining which aproach may suite your needs.

I hope that this information will help all to become more effective in writing to help suite the needs of the reader as well as the writer by identifying which style is best for both parties.

  1. Architectural strategy

  2. Bricklaying strategy

  3. Oil painting strategy

  4. Water-colour strategy

Architectural strategy

Writing which comes ‘out of an architectural drawing of the thing you are doing’ no such dismissiveness is intended here. Academic writers in a study who used this very common plan-write-edit strategy reported that they consciously chose their writing strategies.

These writers were less likely than others to see writing as a way of thinking. In these respects these writers tended to be Planners. While most writers agreed that they wrote better when concentrating on the topic rather than on the way they were writing.

Architectural Writers showed an implicit awareness of the role of the unconscious as they exhibited the strongest tendency amongst all groups to think that it helped to leave their evolving texts and to return to them later.

They showed less of a sense of writing as intrinsically rewarding than other writers did; they were perhaps among the most pragmatic writers. They showed a slight tendency to be interlinear editors.

Writers who were word processor users showed a far stronger tendency than other writers not to find the size of the word processor screen restrictive.

Bricklaying strategy

I encountered examples of the metaphor of bricklaying in my review of writers’ accounts of their composing styles. They have to get every paragraph as nearly right as possible before you go onto the next paragraph. you are somewhat a bricklayer:

You build very slowly, not adding a new row until I feel that the foundation is solid enough to hold up the house. You are the exact opposite of the writer who dashes off his entire first draft, not caring how sloppy it looks or how badly it’s written.

In my survey, academic writers who frequently employed a sentence-by-sentence strategy were also very likely to work on a paragraph-by-paragraph basis. Their approach was, of course, largely sequential and the correction of linguistic slips tended to be done mainly as they wrote. They showed a stronger tendency than other writers not to complete a draft in a single session.

They showed some tendency to feel that it helped to leave a piece of writing and come back to it later. They usually had a clear idea of what they wanted to say and strongly disagreed that thinking would be difficult without writing: they tended not to be Discover.

They tended not to agree that the more they were concentrating on the topic rather than the way they were writing the better their writing was. They showed a stronger preference for handwritten letters than did other writers, and tended not to use the word processor (those who did so showed a strong tendency to find the screen size restrictive).

Bricklaying can be a slow process, and writers working in this way are referred to as ‘bleeders’ . Many writers who use this strategy may report - because they do only one complete draft - that they do little revision, even though they rework each chunk of text a great deal before proceeding to the next.

Oil painting strategy

Painting done in oils is reworkable over time in a way that painting with water-colours cannot be: in oils, one may paint over details in a way that would quickly become ‘muddy’ with water-colours.

The surface of an oil painting typically has what is referred to as a painterly’ texture: revealing the marks of the making.

This writer usaully begin with several ideas, start playing with them. You play with these ideas until they start to feel right. It’s something like oil painting. You lay on paint and lay on paint. Suddenly you have something and you frame it... It’s like watching a tele- type machine in a newspaper office to see what comes out’.

‘Each book is worked over many times. I like to compare This method with that of painters centuries ago, pro- ceeding, as it were, from layer to layer. This first draft is quite crude... After that I rewrite it as many times - apply as many “layers” as I feel to be necessary’.

This minimal planning and maximal revision strategy is typical of Discoverers. Those who used this strategy frequently showed a strong tendency to write to understand better what they thought.

Most writers do not consciously choose their writing strategies. These writers were, of course, major revisers, and they often deleted a lot too. I wondered whether some writers abandon this strategy as they mature or whether the older generation simply did not grow up using it.

There was some tendency for frequent users of this strategy to agree that their writing was better the more they concentrated on the topic rather than on the way they were writing. They exhibited a strong tendency not to mind talking about work in progress, and also to feel that it helped to leave a piece of writing and to return to it later.

As for their use of writing tools, they were evenly di- vided over whether handwriting was too slow for them (other writers tended not to find it too slow). They were much more likely than other writers to be interlinear editors.

In my survey the word processor showed up as being most frequently used by oil painters: 79% used one often. They showed a stronger tendency than other writers to report that they felt more productive since they had begun using the word processor.

One may suggested that the first drafts of ‘multi-drafters tend to be writer-based rather than reader-based: that is, primarily an aid to the writer’s thinking rather than tailored to the needs of readers. Such writers may delete a large quantity of the text which they generate. They may also get lost in their evolving texts and have a strong need to re-read.

The oil painting strategy is not confined to literary writers. One leading scientist in the field of biochemistry reported that: I evolve a paper out of the mist. It comes in pieces, each piece being smoothed a bit as it comes along. It isn’t a linear thing starting at the beginning and going to the end, but rather clusters.

Another reported ‘writing it several times until I see how I’m going to convey crystallize, and then sort of letting the paper flow... I write the paper and let it come as it comes... My first draft is an enormous, lengthy, amorphous mass... I found myself crossing out... I do a tremendous amount of pruning’

Water-colour strategy

The water-colours, strategy involves an attempt to produce a complete version at the first attempt, with minimal revision. Paintings done in water- colours are typically characterized by a sense of freshness and lightness of touch.

James Britton referred explicitly to this strategy as painting in water-colours’, stressing the difference between this and the oil painting strategy: ‘where one pigment may be used to obliterate another.

This is associated with his notion of ‘shaping at the point of utterance’, declaring that ‘the initial process must capture immediately as much as possible of the painter’s vision.

Such a precipitative approach (in contrast to writing which is more planned, and/or more extensively revised) is often associated with novice writers.

Carl Bereiter and Marlene Scardamalia (1987) refer to the uncritical ‘knowledge-telling’ strategy of novices. In such hands it can result in writer based prose which is insufficiently adapted to the needs of readers.

Apart from inexperience, situational factors (such as deadlines or lack of motivation) can of course lead to the first draft being the final one.

However, the water-colour strategy is also the preferred method of many accomplished writers. This may also reflect an attempt to retain spontaneity’, ‘truth to feeling’, or descriptive accuracy. Some may refer, as I have indicated, to ‘unpremeditated’ writing ‘dictated’ by an inner voice.

Notes from some professional writers

For short pieces of writing about which they feel very confident, most writers probably write in this way. For some writers it may be simply an initial strategy for producing a first draft; sometimes only for part of a text.

John Steinbeck worked this way because he felt that ‘rewrite in process... interferes with flow and rhythm which can only come from a kind of unconscious association with the material.

Ray Bradbury similarly reported: ‘I do a first draft as passionately and as quickly as I can. I believe a story is only valid when it is imme- diate and passionate; when it dances out of your subconscious. If you interfere with it in any way, you destroy it.

As one would expect, users of this single draft strategy were most unlike those favouring the oil painting strategy in showing a very strong tendency not to do a great deal of revision.

They tended to work largely sequentially and showed a very strong tendency to correct any slips mainly as they wrote. Most writers were divided over whether it helped to leave a piece of writing and to return to it later.

Most tended to prefer not to discuss work in progress. They also showed a strong tendency not to be interlinear editors. These writers exhibited a stronger tendency than others to make frequent use of the pen or pencil but not of the word processor.

Some writers generate preferences of one- drafters’ for beginning with ‘a developed focus’, generating limited options prior to writing, settling quickly on a plan, making minimal changes to the text, and doing little re-reading.

This also suggests that they tend to be intolerant of ambiguity . They may need rapid closure, and in general to dislike writing.

One writer explains his writing technique:

I write in my mind. The more difficult and complex the writing, the more time I need to think before I write. Ideas incubate in my mind. While I talk, drive, swim and exercise I am thinking, planning, writing.

I think about the introduction, what examples to use, how to develop the main idea, what kind of conclusion to use. I write, revise, agonize, despair, give up, only to start all over again, and all of this before I ever begin to put words on paper...

Writing is not a process of discovery for me... The writing process takes place in my mind. Once that process is complete the product emerges.

The use of the water-colour strategy stemmed from his dislike of writing, and reflected a desire to get it out of the way as soon as possible.


Eugenia Bivines

© Copyright Eugenia Bivines

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