What is your process, your style, and your rhythm? Get clear in your own mind how you create. Then accept your way of working—or change it if it is not effective.
Do you remember, in school, when the teacher could not be satisfied with you just showing up, but she had to make you stand, give your name, and tell the class something interesting about yourself? If you were like me, you were instantly filled with dread because, suddenly, nothing you had ever done in life—ever—seemed important enough for this intense moment of social anxiety.
As you scramble to come up with a unique idea that hasn’t already been stolen, the time for you to speak gets closer. Then the person right before you gives some amazingly bizarre fact, such as they play an obscure folk instrument and have won awards at festivals (true story). Suddenly, that random tidbit about having broken a bone while racing your brother on a scooter just doesn’t seem to hold up in comparison. Time to change tactics and story!
Writing can be a lot like that. No matter the reason you are inspired to create, the anxiety of wondering whether your work will live up to the expectations of those who read it will always be there. As writers, we naturally wonder about the uniqueness of our ideas and whether they will be as good as, if not better than, the work that came before.
One way to soothe that anxiety is to know yourself first.
Nobody writes the same. Just as no two snowflakes are the same, no two writers have the same processes, styles, or rhythms. Understanding how you create is an adequate starting place for overcoming your apprehensions, as well as a way to stay with your writing.
Process, style, and rhythm can each be defined in many ways when applied to writing. You may find that their meanings and significance are similar, often overlapping, and may even be indiscernible at times, but they combine to form a unique quality that manifests itself in your writing.
First, understand your own process of writing. I am a free writer. It is hard for me to plan what’s going to happen in a manuscript, whether it is a scholarly paper or a novel. I like to follow my instincts and the natural progression of an idea. For some writers, this relaxed method creates more anxiety than it releases, and brainstorming or flow charting might be your way. These processes are especially useful if you find yourself stuck. Julia Cameron suggests a process she calls “Morning Pages” that involves sitting down each morning and writing, longhand, at least three pages of whatever comes to mind. Even if you don’t use anything you’ve written, you’ve begun to settle into a mindset of creating.
If these methods are still too loose and unstructured for you, you may prefer outlining, a particularly useful process for many types of non-fiction writing. Opinions about outlining are mixed among fictions authors; the process is almost offensive to “pantsers,” those free-wheeling and free-flowing writers. But “plotters” are more amenable to outlining because they tend plan and organize before they ever begin writing.
Once you have settled into your process of writing, you will eventually develop a certain style. Style refers to the personality or voice that your writing takes. The arrangement of sentences and paragraphs, sentence structure, word choices, and literal or figurative language all contribute to style. You must choose how you wish to speak to your audience and in what context you wish for them to receive your work. Being authoritative and impersonal might work well for producing work for a scientific journal, but not so for a romance novel which likely calls for a more intimate and dramatic tone.
Rhythm is the most difficult aspect to define because the meaning can change, depending on the context. For our purpose, let’s consider that rhythm creates a “mood,” just as it does in music. A piece of writing, as in music, has an overall or general rhythm, but the rhythms may vary from scene to scene or chapter to chapter to best serve the story or the purpose of the writing in that snapshot of time. Look at where your writing glides, moving slowly, allowing the reader to take in every moment and word, and where it rushes, forcing the reader to keep up or get lost. Consider what you want the audience to feel in a particular part of your writing and match it with the appropriate rhythm.
There is never a wrong way of writing as long as you are producing work that is meaningful to you. Don’t force yourself to model any of your processes, styles, or rhythms after anyone because you (or they) think that’s how you should be writing.
Identify and accept your own, unique ways of creating.
And if something isn’t working for you, don’t be hesitant or afraid to use a different method in any of these aspects of writing. Only by experimenting will you learn what works best for you. Write in the ways that make you happy, and your creative work will always be rewarding.
With permission from Dr. Eric Maisel, The 97 Best Creativity Tips Ever! (2011) was the inspiration for this post.
Bonnie Snow was an intern with Around the Writer’s Table, working toward a graduate certificate in publishing and editing while in her senior year at Florida State University. She is inspired by the editing field’s penchant for helping others see their dreams realized. It’s important to Bonnie that the art of editing come, not only from refining writers’ works, but also in understanding the vision that authors wish to impress upon others and fully supporting them in their fulfillment of their purpose and passion.