Explore your writing persona

I write well. Therefore I must be a writer.

No, that’s not enough.

Those of us who may still be young enough to think about our career approach towards writing and bold enough to believe that we can make a livelihood out of it (or at least a life by which I mean derive satisfaction in or find a vocation through writing) need to focus on our writing persona as early on as possible.

It’s not enough to believe we can write and have some proof that others enjoy what we write. Being able to entertain or inform others is a great sign of encouragement no doubt and certainly helps us along on the path to good writing. But we all know what an uphill battle it is from the point we find out we are good to the point where others are willing to take us seriously.

We need to explore who we are as writers very well before we invest a whole lot of time and emotional involvement on a path that provides very few tangible rewards most of the way. By exploring our own writing persona I mean finding out what we want to do or enjoy doing and what we can actually do and achieve through writing.

Pursuing a kind of writing which we don’t enjoy will not let us excel and pursuing a kind of writing which we want to do but can’t excel at will only bring repeated disappointments.Β  I have seen this take an emotional toll on people and prevent them from exploring other kinds of writing they could have been good at only if they had tried.

Sadly, writing, unlike many burgeoning fields, is still a feast or famine scenario although that is changing somewhat. So one needs to be very good and work very hard in order to make any kind of mark at all.

Unlike other pursuits, it’s possible to get emotionally involved in one’s own writing so we are not able to let go. This is especially true with creative writing but can happen to other areas too. Spending many years pursuing one goal neglecting other opportunities within the field of writing itself can prove damaging.

Writing is not easy to evaluate objectively.Β  Friends and well wishers are sometimes unable to assess merit. If the writer is someone close to them, they think it’s good. Or friends don’t feel confident enough to call a piece bad in case others think it’s good and they expose themselves as ignorant. Sometimes friends don’t have the heart to call bad writing bad writing simply because it’s writing. Had it been a math problem they would have easily told us that the answer was wrong if it was. So it’s hard to get dependable feedback.

But if one is good, as most of us who have invested time and hard work in such a materially unrewarding field must be to an extent, it’s a matter of figuring out what kind of writing we are likely to do best.

tear-shaped doodle
(Photo credit: dyekoy)

There are a few simple questions we can ask ourselves to figure out what kind of writers we are.We can keep adding to the questions I am sure.

  • Set 1: Is my style light, fun, witty and chatty? Do I use a lot of cliches but in a creative way? Am I more interested in breadth than depth? Do I have the ability to create short, engaging pieces people can relate to from the world around me? Am I simply curious about many things? Do I have the ability to make people relate to what I write?
  • Set 2: Do I have an analytical bent of mind? Do I like composing complex arguments? Is my writing really involved with critical issues? Do I like to explore issues in depth? Am I interested in writing about politics, literature or social issues in very specific ways? Do I have at least a little bit of attraction for abstract ideas or logic?
  • Set 3: Do I have a clear, logical bent of mind and a practical, goal-oriented style? Am I persuasive? Am I intuitive about the needs of the audience who may use my writing for a certain task or read me to fulfil a very specific need? Can I modify my writing for different audiences?
  • Set 4: Am I creative? Can I play with language, tell a story or evoke an emotion? Can I think of things to tell that will attract my readers even though they may have nothing at all, practically speaking, to gain from reading what I write?

These are a few questions I think we need to ask ourselves before we commit to the pursuit of any kind of writing at an advanced level.

It’s tragic for the creative writer after five years to discover he can’t tell stories but could have been a great technical writer. It’s sad if the technical writer looks out of the window sighing and wishing he had pursued creative writing. It’s a melancholy professor who sighs because he thinks the convoluted sentences in his scholarly piece would squeeze the life out of him while he could have had a great job at a magazine as he meets the content writer who feels she has a frivolous style and wishes she had been a teacher.

The grass does not always need to be greener on the other side if we install sprinklers early and sow the right kind of grass.

73 thoughts on “Explore your writing persona”

  1. Just figuring this out now that I’ve been trying to write in a style that doesn’t at all work for me. Super questions – thanks for sharing!

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  2. Interesting belief. However, even with these sets of questions it can be difficult for a writer to tell whether the have a gift for composing new language, or what have you. Often, writers are too close to their own pieces to tell that they should simply head in another direction. I have been writing for about four years now, but am currently in a block. Should I simply stop and try to pursue something else? Or should I continue to move forward? Is my writing really bad, or do I simply need an editor to make it good? These are questions that you brought up, but I am unable to answer.
    Otherwise, a well written and persuasive piece.

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  3. This is very timely… I’m thinking of writing a children’s book, which is a departure for me. It takes courage to break out of the default setting, and also we will never know what we’re capable of, or just as important, not so capable of, if we don’t take a risk.

    I’m also giving a lot of thought to reviews lately. I just published my ebook, A Deconstructed Heart and am hoping for reviews. I think I will learn more from the bad reviews (of which there are sure to be some) than the glowing ones from friends/family.

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  4. This is a timely piece for me, because I am always drawn to literary fiction and am about to embark on a children’s book. I am curious to see if I can pull it off. It takes a bit of courage to pull out of default thinking, and I needed a push from my daughter, who told me that she could see me being good in this genre. I liked your point about objective evaluation: I just published a book on the Kindle (A Deconstructed Heart) and asked friends for reviews, and while I’d love those, hopefully positive, reviews to help sell my book, I really want constructive reviews that will help my writing.

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  5. If found the article enlightening, especially the section regarding writing sets. Thanks for the read, and thanks for your frequent visits to my original short stories. It’s encouraging when someone of your eloquence is enjoying my works. πŸ™‚

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  6. Since I have two different interest in writing, I go back and forth with my writing style. I guess you can call me a health care jouranlist, since I write about issues of health and weightloss measures; but I also have a desire for creative writing, mostly for children. Don’t really know how I’m doing yet as I’m a late bloomer and still aspiring. Thanks for the post.

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  7. Today I learnt about ghost writing. As the only non-creative writing student on the course I took to this better than most. The reason I believe is that I am an Educational Ethnographer and frequently interview then rearrange to suit my study and put very little of myself into it.
    I love CW’ing and I write every day but honestly researching and analysing texts is what I do best. I have fun with the blog and journalistic endeavours but doubt anything will come of my short stories

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  8. I love the last paragraph of this! I don’t think I’ve ever struggled with this because I’ve always known that I’m content to be a creative writer even if the only people who ever read my words are family or obliging friends. Do I want to be published someday? Hell yes I do. But I am happy (not settled-happy, but like tickled-happy) to just produce creative writing that I think is good. I wish the same self satisfaction for any writer!

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  9. I’d add another set: Am I willing to work hard at the writing, learn as much as I can, understand how sentences and paragraphs work, read the best writers to see how they do it? I’ve worked as a writing coach with too many “writers” who love the idea of being a writer but aren’t willing to get beyond expressing themselves to learn the real craft of writing. And they resent deeply any suggestions about what they need to learn. I’d like to be a classical pianist, too, but I know it won’t happen unless I work very hard at the scales and the lessons, every day. Expressing myself at the piano may be fun for me, but it ain’t music!

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    1. These are great questions. Do you mind if I add these to the main body of the blog attributing them to you?

      This also leads to another related set (related through hard work): research. Researching the context of the subject matter. (Again, people assume they have to work hard at some fields such as math and science but writing, they assume, comes and should come from the heart! They don’t realize that the more effortless it looks, the more work has gone into it!)

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  10. You noted that it is possible to get emotionally involved when it comes to your creative writing. I would say that is a key ingredient – particularly during the first draft. From the 2nd draft on, one must be more analytical.

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  11. This is so important; I can tell a pretty good fictional tale, but just suck at anything analytic. I was fortunate a few years back to just spend time writing, feeling my way around what sorts of stories best utilize my brain. I love the math problem example. πŸ™‚

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  12. This was a great article. I was conscious of my family’s opinion being bias when they told me they liked what I’d been writing. So I gave it to my old English teacher to read–no man critiques a work quite like him! I also gave him a copy to give to someone in my intended demographic to read. It was really helpful getting unbiased feedback and encouraging since they both really enjoyed it.

    I also liked the different types of writers. I think I might be mostly Set 4 with a bit of Set 1. And that suits what I’m writing and how I write it.

    I really love your blog when I get time to read your articles. They’re very informative πŸ™‚

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  13. Althouygh I agree with most of the points you say, especially your 4 steps for analysis, I think you have to distinguish between good writing and popular writing. In popular writing, you don’t necessarily need to know or even show your persona…all you have to do is, like Arthur Hailey, have an index of topics and a notion of what goes where and when, and presto, a big seller. The onlyproblem there is to be careful you don’t plagiarize yourself, as some prolific writers have done. Good writing, on the other hand, is almost surely to come out of writing what suits and pleases you, and then, with any luck, you might write that top-seller. Even if you don’t, you’ll have saved your soul.

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    1. By “persona” I meant not just who we are or a distinctive voice that’s ours but what we can do. Although coming up with big sellers seems easy, they are not and so even if we’re only attempting popular writing, “a notion of what goes where and when” might be something we should be sure we *can* manage before we set out on that path. Thanks for a great comment.

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  14. This is a very interesting post. I started writing because I enjoyed doing it.I started with creative writing, but after a while I found myself stagnating. I then realised that I enjoyed making light of every day situations, putting a humourous spin on life. I cannot evaluate my writing from my friends and family because they just say that everything I write is good, even when I know, that it could be a lot better. But, since I started blogging I have learned a lot from other bloggers, and as a result of that, from myself.
    I am a mixture of Set 1 and Set 4. My income is not from writing alone, but because I do get paid to write I do copywriting as well. It’s not my favourite thing in the world, but it pays the bills.

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  15. I like this. Some writers I wonder if they really want to do creative writing or just be famous. I think that’s a category you could add too. Thankfully most of them don’t last through the real guts of writing.

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  16. “Pursuing a kind of writing which we don’t enjoy will not let us excel and pursuing a kind of writing which we want to do but can’t excel at will only bring repeated disappointments. I have seen this take an emotional toll on people and prevent them from exploring other kinds of writing they could have been good at only if they had tried.”
    Good to broaden one’s horizon’s for sure. I wanted to be a reporter when I was young, but found that was not to my liking and therefore I did not excel at it. Sadly, what I like to do; creative writing, memoirs, etc. is a much harder sell, (but I DO think I’m good at it). My attempts to be become a published writer years ago lead to repeated rejections and caused me to give up. The stresses of life completely buried my muse, but, it’s back now and I hope to give it another shot. You’re never too old to write. Right?

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  17. Another thought-provoking post. Thanks.

    I think this post combines two issues that are interwoven, but should be untangled:
    1) style/voice,
    2) genre.

    I think that your points about establishing your voice (stylistic choices on the page represent the inner you that you want to represent to readers) is right. Until you figure out who you are as a writer, you are unlikely to win people over as fans. Also, establishing your voice can help you move from a writer to a published author whose new work people gravitate to because they already know they’ll like your style.

    On the other hand, I don’t think a writer needs to be locked into one genre. In fact, I think it invites stagnation. Different genres sharpen different skills, and adding new skills to your repertoire only can help you as a writer. I certainly favor a particular genre, but venturing into others has built me up. Don’t try something you hate (at least any longer than you can tolerate it), but don’t reject something simply because you’ve never tried it before.

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  18. Nice post. So difficult to be objective when analyzing something so subjective in the first place. I agree, taking stock, self reflection, and also investing some time to see if you can sustain and build upon your original plan.

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  19. I’m going to have to come back here and answer all the questions on paper so I can really analyze myself, I started a blog at work that was supposed to just be a fun way to promote hair products, but I’ve been in a funk with it after about the first 3 blogs or so, even though I have forced myself to keep going.

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  20. I agree it’s good to recognize and pursue writing in an area that showcases one’s strengths. However, it’s also possible to be adaptable and to learn to write for different genres and purposes. Many writers have a novel inside them, bursting to get out, but to earn a living they must do copywriting or marketing or teaching while they do their fiction writing during whatever hours of the day they can snatch.

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  21. Interesting idea. I’m not sure that we’re limited to only one type of writing. I’ve done all kinds of writing, and made some good money doing it, though I haven’t written for magazines and periodicals. I am enjoying pursuing creative writing now while I spend more time at home while my kids are growing up. I have to think about whether a writing persona might be helpful as I move forward. Thanks for the contemplation.

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  22. This is a very interesting post. I battled this demon myself a couple months ago and basically came up with a 50/50 mix of set 2 and set 4. The thought I invested in my strengths and weaknesses actually had quite an impact on my next novel. Luckily, the story is young enough (barely more than a seedling) that the sprinklers should have a noticeable effect.

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  23. I think you are right, one needs to know where he/she stands in order to move further. Before I started a blog, I sent pieces of my writing to close friends and I never got any useful feedback. All they said was, “Is is very good”…well this was only because they loved me so much and wanted to encourage me. Now, when I have started my own blog, I am able to see my weaknesses more clearly and I’m learning to edit. But I still do not get the constructive criticism that I need the most.

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    1. I’m in a trickier situation. I do get a lot of feedback, mostly from those I don’t know, that I write really well and they love my writings. But I prefer to write on something else and very few people also encourage me to write that way. It’s all complicated. I think I know where I’m good at, like the writer says “reader taking us seriously” is something important for us to care. But I want to be good at something else.

      To be more exact, I’m good at my own language and I lead a very popular blog in localized language. But i want to be better in English writing. So, you understand where the situation is.

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  24. I spent years writing for the wrong audience and being corned into writing in a style uncomfortable to me by co-authors, editors and reviewers. Then I finally found a new audience, my style and advocates this year. My productivity has increased tenfold. I hope your tips on style can help others to discover theirs.

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  25. Such a thought-provoking post! Thankyou. You are so right. It’s very easy to head down a path with little thought for strengths, weaknesses, what we enjoy and what we dislike… Writing can be so rewarding on a personal level if we take the time to nurture ourselves in the process and shop around for seeds to sow. Turning on the sprinklers… now! πŸ˜‰

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  26. This is actually one of the big problems that I’ve been struggling with recently. I actually disliked (out of personal preference regarding the subject matter not your analysis/writing style) your post on Romance being dead, but that’s only because I’ve always dreamed of writing the next romantic novel, reviving the genre. Recently though I’ve just given into what I enjoy doing more and comes naturally to me – writing scripts. Wish I saw something like this earlier on in my young-ish writing career!

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