View Full Version : Writer Characteristics

E.G. Gammon
10-12-2006, 05:57 PM
I thought since this new board is designed to bring us all together as simply, writers, it might be interesting to discuss some of our writer characteristics, routines, habits and methods to see how alike or unalike we all are.

I'll go first:

One thing about me is I keep my works-in-progress to myself. I've been working on my series for... ah well, you know... and people are shocked when they find out my mother - the most important person in my life - knows little to NOTHING about it (and she and I live under the same roof). Is it paranoia? Fear of rejection? Perfectionism? I don't know; it's just how I am. Anyone else this way?

Another thing is, I tend to write better at night or when I'm really tired, which, unfortunately, yields many unproductive days unless I catch my second wind (usually the time when I have my best ideas). That's probably the reason why I keep a notebook and pen by my bed - so I can write down all those late night ideas.

And speaking of ideas, I always get them in the STRANGEST places - places you wouldn't normally think to bring a notebook and pen to: the shower, waiting rooms, the car, the bathroom...

Finally, I'm very picky about what kind of pen I use and what kind of paper/notebook I use it on. Writing just isn't quite the same to me without a black, uni-ball VISION, fine-tipped pen and a clean, white legal pad. Anyone else have a favorite brand of pen or certain type of paper/notebook you HAVE to use?

Ok, your turn.

aka eraser
10-12-2006, 07:01 PM
I'm with you on the tight-to-the-vest thing. I've learned over the years that talking about the work eats away at the energy required to do the work.

Your post has me wondering if there's such a thing as traits common to all writers. Off the top of my head, I'd volunteer curiousity as being one.

10-12-2006, 07:22 PM
I think 'observation' is another trait... I love to watch people.

In order to write believable characters, dialogue and situations we need to be sponges, right? Singer-songwriters are similar.

Poetic Pen
10-12-2006, 07:43 PM
Although these aren't traits necessary to be a writer, they are two traits that apply to many writers I know (myself included) - procrastination and impatience. Some days, it takes everything I have to get my butt in front of my computer and work. On the other hand, if I'm waiting to hear back from a critique partner, agent or editor, it's hard to imagine what could be taking so long. Go figure.

10-12-2006, 09:56 PM
One trait I see in every serious writer I know in real life is the ability to be content with their own company. Who else can sit alone in a room, with blank screen or page, and create all the company they'll need?

Maryn, who'll see if she can think of other traits we might share

10-12-2006, 10:03 PM
I love reading. I am fascinated by people and what motivates them. I daydream. I have an overactive imagination. I am curious. I work best using all my senses -- I love to touch, taste, hear, see, etc. something to really "get" it.

I'm a contradiction -- I am not observant per se (don't notice things in my peripheral vision to save my life)...instead I hyper observe. I zone in on one person or thing and tunnel vision him/her or it.

I get bored easily. When I write, I need to change my environment -- one day on the couch with laptop, another day at the kitchen table, another at work (where I am now and surely to be fired if caught!).

I also find that I write better with paper and pen. For convenience, I use the computer...but to really connect myself to the writing process, I need to have pen in hand.

I also (and wish I didn't) need to be fresh. I have a hard time writing when tired. I can't properly think through a sentence or thought when fuzzy-headed. I need to break that cycle, b/c I am the mom to 2 small kids and nighttime is the only real time I have to write. (That, and work...but see above!).

10-12-2006, 10:25 PM
I lock myself in a room when I'm writing. Any outside distubances really annoy the heck out of me. I've gone through weeks when I've been engrossed in a project and haven't left the house. Little things such as positive rejections excite me (and non-writers just don't understand why!)

I guess I'm not alone in those traits. I actually wrote a blog entry about this a while ago: http://www.mridukhullar.com/journal/2006/04/18/were-not-quirky-were-interesting/

10-12-2006, 10:39 PM
I think 'observation' is another trait... I love to watch people.

In order to write believable characters, dialogue and situations we need to be sponges, right? Singer-songwriters are similar.

I agree. I think great artists have a great understanding of human nature and human weakness.

10-14-2006, 02:16 AM
I, too, am with E.G. on the "not alking about the WIP" thing. For me, it just needs room to germinate in privacy. It'd be like having company over before the house is clean.

I have a notebook-pen standard, too. It's black Bic medium ballpoints and Five-star Steno-sized notebooks. Nothing else will do.

As for universal traits, I agree with curiosity and observation. And I think there's another element to that. I think we try not just to see and learn, but to understand, categorize, and define. We seek patterns and rules and exceptions to those rules. We want life to make some sort of sense.

I think that's a big part of what writing is - fiction or non. We're trying to say, "this is how it is." To reign in the chaos a bit.

I would guess that daydreaming is another common trait. Everybody daydreams, but mine are embarassingly elaborate and constant.

I wonder if there's a pattern with writers with regard to introversion/extroversion. I'm not sure on which side I think most writers would fall.

10-14-2006, 02:23 AM
I keep everything in my brain (except what's actually WRITTEN, of course). No note books or index cards, etc.

I work the best during late night (12-3 a.m.) or very early morning (before 7 a.m.) even though I am not a morning person. 4 p.m. is the worst time for me -- creatively I'm at my deadest.

I talk to my characters in public all the time. And to convince other people around me that I am not crazy, I carry a Bluetooth headset and pretend I'm speaking on the cell.

I also don't like to talk about my WIPs. I sometimes check with my writing group and close friends for sanity checks or brainstorming purposes, but I pretty much keep it to myself throughout the draft process.

I like taking LONG drives to think about my WIPs. Many ideas come from these long drives.

I have begun to keep a pen and a notepad near my bed so I can jot down notes about my dreams.

10-14-2006, 02:35 AM
Sheer bloody-mindedness - otherwise we'd all give up after the first couple of rejections.

10-14-2006, 02:40 AM
It's so good to read stuff like this. It tells me: Amy, you are not the only one. (I hate being singled out from the group.)

My characteristics (which match many of the writers above me):

*I daydream. All the time. It's a real problem.

*Other people fascinate me. I people watch when I'm not daydreaming. In fact, between those two activities, have no idea how I get any day job work done, let alone write.

*I keep a pad of paper/pen in my purse for all my Great Ideas and then never use it (except to write notes about specific grocery items to buy soon). But one day, I know a great inspiring thought will come and I will write it in my little notebook and all my writing dreams will come true.

*My best ideas come while I'm driving (or in the shower).

*For inspiration, I visit author websites, ezines, blogs, etc. Also, before I read a story, I always read the author bio. Seeing what other people have done and accomplished pushes me to want to write more and better. I think that says I'm a competitive freak, but I embrace labels.

*I love my own company. In fact, sometimes I prefer it. And yet, I have this need to expose myself to other people. Oh, ha! Now that I re-read that, let me clarify: not expose as in creepy guy on the street naked under a trenchcoat; expose as in emotionally put on paper my most intimate and embarrassing moments for others to enjoy in lurid, macabre ways.

I bet that last characteristic is a good indication I should be heavily medicated.

10-14-2006, 03:40 AM
I agree with the keeping projects to myself part. I'd rather not inflict half-baked things on unsuspecting people. I love to people-watch. Malls are wonderful for this, especially the food courts. For some reason, food brings stress out in people. I'm not that keen on talking to people, though.

I love writing late at night (or very early in the morning, depending on which side of midnight I'm on) but that rarely happens due to the day job.

(so glad that I don't feel weird here)

10-14-2006, 04:06 AM
I write best in the early morning, which is most likely a product of a quiet house and I'm not yet stressed from the day. I need quiet. Silence. Clack, clack, clack of the keyboard is all I want to hear.

I write better when I write quickly. If I agonize too much over a word choice, or slow down to look over what I've written, I'm toast.

Bottomless Cup asked about introversion/extroversion. I test as an INFJ, a personality make-up that only 1% of the population can claim (as if they'd want to), and yet you'll find INFJ's all over writer's boards. So my guess is introverted.

Like maestro, I talk to myself. In public. No bluetooth. *sigh*

I think we all share a fascination with office supplies. I write on the computer, but I brainstorm on paper. With black, fine-tip rollerball pens. I prefer the cheap spiral notebooks, if only because I'm cheap and I go through so many.

And absolutely on what Maryn said: I actually prefer to be alone. (should have thought of that before I married and had a bunch of kids)

10-14-2006, 05:55 AM
Reading plays a huge role in my writing because it motivates and inspires. This is where I am very meticulous. While reading a book, I underline certain passages or phrases, a different description or explanation, and mark the page. Afterwards, I write them in my little black book under the title and authorís name along with the page number. If I love the book, it gets a seal of approval with a Shakespearian sticker on the front cover, name, and date.

When, and if, I need a boost, I read the passages and phrases of other writers whether they made the top list or not, I still walked away with more knowledge than before. This gets me wanting to write. Then I write best at night with music in the background. If the creativity doesnít pour into the computer then I turn to pen and paper.

I pretty much keep to myself enjoying the luxury of peace and quiet. I do people watch, but Iím not one for interaction.

10-14-2006, 07:27 AM
I think we all share a fascination with office supplies.

Ah, yes, I have put in restraining orders against ME at Staples, OfficeMax, Office Depot, etc.

(same with Best Buy, Home Depot/Lowes, etc.)

10-14-2006, 07:37 AM
I too keep my writings to myself. I have an absoulute love of reading as often as I can. I am inspired by reading and watching people. My best ideas come to me at the oddest of times and I prefer to keep my work on my computer. I very rarely use pen and paper for fear of others reading my work. I am intrigued by others. At times I think I am odd because I get actual visual pictures in my head when listening to people. Some of my best ideas come to me at 3:00 am which is hard because I work full time and write in my spare ( lol) time. I love my alone time because that is when my mind is free to create.

Silver King
10-14-2006, 08:14 AM
Does anyone else ever read famous passages and think, "Heh, I could do better than that."

It doesn't mean the passages would be better, but it helps to know the internal editor is working while reading.

10-14-2006, 08:54 AM
All here seem to be primarily involved with fiction, except for KitKat and myself. A lot of what has been stated as applicable to fiction writers
I think does not necessarily apply to full-time non-fiction writers. But, there are some aspects in common.

Degree of aloneness:
Yes, independent NF writers should at least be able to manage working alone for relatively long periods. I don't know if I actually like my own company so much as I seem to now prefer the absence of company while I work.

Time of day for writing:
It has to be morning or afternoon. My energy levels are too low for writing in the evening or very early morning. This is partly related to the fact that a significant portion of my schedule is aligned with those whom I have to interview, and these usually work regular hours.

These are usually generated by reading news and magazines and websites for various related things.

The only quirk I have is the need for a clutch pencil. I make numerous entries in my diary for scheduling various aspects of my work, yet these may change for an assortment of reasons. I use a thin, hard leaded clutch pencil for making entries - I prefer the feel of the instrument and how it writes on the page. And a rubber (eraser to the North Americans here) for making alterations. Other than this, it is the computer and paper and pen when I slip into writing my article content plans, and for scribbling assorted notes.

Sometimes, but come time for heavy thinking and analysis, usually not - silence is necessary.

PS. KitKat, I am not entirely sure if you are involved with writing fiction or not. Are you?

10-14-2006, 01:33 PM
Memoires play a large part in my work. People, places, events, emotions; all are mixed into my work. That's why at times I find it hard and painful. Parts of the real me are in my work, my thoughts and ideas, hopes and fears.

I have in the past been totally obsessed with writing (particularly one novel) that it affected my relationships, and put a hell of a strain on them. I try not to do that now, but the work doesn't have the power, least to me, that the work produced during that time did.

Of late I have seriously thought about giving up writing, submitting, and putting myself through this self-induced hell. Life would be a lot quieter and peaceful. Will I? The jury is still out on that, though during this period of doubt two ideas have been outlined. One so research heavy and personal it frightens me silly at times. The other is a sequel to the work that totally obsessed me from 1999 to 2001.

As to where the ideas come from? I don't know, they are just there one day.

As to working; when I am able to get time, normally in the mid morning before work or weekends. The sounds of others in the house and from outside are my background noise.

10-14-2006, 02:20 PM
For me, I keep my work in progress very close to my chest too. I tell people that I like to write, but I don't tell them very much about what I write; I did make an exception a few weeks ago though, in The Jamaica Inn in Bodmin, Cornwall; I sat and told an old friend the outline of my story I'm working on at the moment. After I told him, I wished that I hadnt, in case someone had overheard me; but then I told myself they would never rememeber half of what I'd related anyway.

I've always liked my own company, ever since I was a kid, even though I come from a large family; I've always liked the things I could do on my own and under my own steam, like drawing, reading and writing, but writing was always the main love of mine.
I've also always had a very vivid imagination -- I like people watching, sitting outside of cafes and watching people going by, noticing someone particular and thinking that they look worried or somtimes sad, so make up stories in my head about how I think they live. I've always loved conspiracy theories too, nothing like a bit of good old conspiracy to get my mind ticking! lol.

I've also always been a dreamer and would often walk to school in the mornings and telling stories off the top of my head to the girl I walked to school with; usually stories about me and her and the boys we fancied at the time. I think my dreamings and stories were to make up for the not-so-good home-life; funny thing is, the kind of stories I write are definitely not slushy kinds or fantasy, they are real-life and gritty, sometimes quite raw, but I've lived that kind of life and so will only write about what I know.
I've also always been good at writing poetry and songs since I was very little, but that kind of writing isn't what I focus on, my main interest is stories, usually people struggling and then getting what they want in the end ... I do so love happy endings! lol :)


10-15-2006, 04:15 PM
I think a fascination with people: their lives, their motivations, their hopes and fears, is essential for writers.
Likewise a high degree of empathy - we need to be able to imagine how people feel in specific circumstances.
Comfortable being alone, as already said. But also I would suggest it helps a writer to be sociable too - people, after all, are our raw material (even though we don't advertise that outside writers' forums like this! Don't want to make them all nervous, after all ...)
A facility with words - they're our paint. c.
A formidable courage - this is an in-depth subject, but very briefly: I think writers have the most amazing courage. We're diving deeply into emotions which most people shy away from, we're risking rejection all the time etc.
A desire for order, for making things okay, or at least satisfactory.

Edited to add - sorry. I'll leave the above as it was, but clarify it to say that I realise it doesn't apply to all writers - I was assuming fiction writers only and I now realise it's a forum for all writers.

10-15-2006, 04:30 PM
Some random thoughts:

I share my work. I'd rather share information than hoard it. I find when people ask me about what I am writing, I realize I am not in a room with people who are looking to steal or grift the work. Rather, they are asking to support what I do and, eventually, read or buy the work. Besides, "... there is nothing new under the sun."

I'm a people watcher. After 19 years of reporting, I tend to watch and listen closely. I also have a fairly good memory.

I'm constantly learning from books, television, the Web and from people. There's also the knowledge of doing. I'm no longer afraid to fly and very soon I won't be afraid to jump from an airplane.

The ability to tell a story. I know an editor can help. But every princess cut starts with a blood diamond.

The want to see things happen on paper (or on film) the way they happen in my brain. Every creative struggles with this.

Acceptance. I want my work to be liked. I'm not selfish enough to believe that if I like it, someone else will (though I do think that, but also know there's a long way to go to prove that true). Besides, No one would care to be published if that were the case and too many people are in love with this romantic fantasy that someone will "discover" how wonderous their writing reads.

I write best from 10 p.m. to 3 a.m. I like to listen to music when I write. I hunt-and-peck type. I like to be alone in the room when I write.

Finally, I write for the same reason guys join drama, glee and homemaking classes (and I quote): "Chicks dig scars, memory fades but glory lasts forever."

v/r, Jason

10-15-2006, 05:49 PM
I loved reading this post. I too am fascinated with other people and places--I have a photographic memory and I pull other events, situations and even smells and tastes from the backlogs to inject into a new story or poem. I am very curious and find that I have to be careful I don't sound like I'm interviewing friends and acquaintances when I am interested or curious about an aspect of their lives. I am very empathetic, which I find works in writing, but can sometimes get me into trouble in the "real" world. I love order and quiet but seem to always be immersed in chaos. But I loved reading about other people's quiet time. I write on a laptop and have frequent leg burn to prove it. I don't share any of my work with anyone. Anyone who knows me would be quite surprised to find out that I write. Actually, I think they are quite surprised when they find out I speak in complete sentences--or can even spell sentences. I am a dreamer. I feel like I'm writing my personal ad. ;)

10-15-2006, 11:28 PM
Although these aren't traits necessary to be a writer, they are two traits that apply to many writers I know (myself included) - procrastination and impatience. Some days, it takes everything I have to get my butt in front of my computer and work. On the other hand, if I'm waiting to hear back from a critique partner, agent or editor, it's hard to imagine what could be taking so long. Go figure.
Ditto. Although procrastination wasn't a problem with the first draft its been killing me on the editing. Impatience... don't even go there.

10-15-2006, 11:34 PM
I think we all share a fascination with office supplies.
You should see my stash, lol.

10-15-2006, 11:38 PM
Does anyone else ever read famous passages and think, "Heh, I could do better than that."

It doesn't mean the passages would be better, but it helps to know the internal editor is working while reading.
I can't read anything without seeing the mistakes... why in hell can't I see it in my own work???? Sometimes I read over my stuff three or four times before I see what's wrong. :rant:

10-17-2006, 10:02 PM
This is from my first post ever at AW. . . 3/12/04. . . in the Uncle Jim thread. . . I had been lurking for a long time before that but this is my first actual post at AW. When I saw this thread I meant to post this, but it is hard digging through all of that for one little post. I have more to say on the subject of writer characteristics, but this was my first impression of the AW folk.

First- Thoughts
I have noticed that the people who seem to be the more accomplished of writers who post here have several characteristics in common that I feel are paramount to making yourself a writer. Foremost is that that have a capable handle on english prose and it shows in these discussions. Second, I have noticed that all lot of you express the tendency towards insomnia. Confidence, or excessive hubris, and the ability to type well also seem like characteristics that many of you seem to share.

To hear these characteristics pronounced here makes me feel better about being a writer, I get a general feeling that I am not alone in my struggle as an artist.

10-17-2006, 10:12 PM
I certainly never have insomnia. I sleep like the dead.

I am curious about things, but it's a focused curiosity. Only on things that interest me, not everything.

I do notice typos, but I don't obsess about them.

I procrastinate big time.

I never share my work with anyone in RL.

I don't have a facination with office supplies, except for a subdued anger over the price of ink.

I write at night after the family has gone to bed.

I generally have a beer or two as I write.

I tend to listen to music as I write.

I have trouble reading anything without it throwing me into a temporal loop of cosmic daydreaming as I ponder all the possible ways a particular scene could have been rewritten.

10-17-2006, 11:01 PM
*bouncing in my seat* i'm another one who doesn't share her work with anybody.

i love the written word. if i like something i've read, like a sentence or passage or whatever, i read it over and over to better feel the impact. i can't do the same with the spoken word.

the written word can't be shouted down like the spoken word. i think it is more powerful than verbal speech as well.

i'm not a quick thinker. with writing, i can go over my words and edit before i let anyone see what i have put together.

i take criticism better with my writing than i do with speaking. i feel like i can improve my writing without feeling self-conscious.

Simon Woodhouse
10-18-2006, 01:37 AM
Sheer bloody-mindedness - otherwise we'd all give up after the first couple of rejections.

I'm with you on this. I'm not a very determined person in general, but when it comes to writing I'm quite focused. I've thought about why this is, and come to the conclusion that when I'm writing I don't have to rely on anyone else. It's all down to me, so I've no excuse not to do it.

10-18-2006, 05:20 AM
I tell people - well friends and family actually - that I write. But then again, I've been telling them that for so many years now, they all probably think that it is just another one of my 'unfinished hobbies.'

I am also a night writer...actually I am a night liver (no, not the kind you eat). I just don't do mornings unless I am forced to (like when I visit my daughters with their small children).

And when I do write with pen and paper, I like to use my beautiful maroon, gold-tipped fountain pen made just for left-handers, that I special ordered from England.

10-18-2006, 05:36 AM
Oops....I forgot to add...that when I get bored with my writing, I do tend to either pick up a book and read - hoping that it will spark my need to write more - or watch one of (what I like to call) my writing movies. These would be: Throw Mama From the Train, Funny Farm, The Grass is Always Greener On the Other Side of the Septic Tank, or even Secret Window, depending on what mood I'm in.

Ol' Fashioned Girl
10-18-2006, 05:45 AM
Plain ol' cheap Bic pen, black ink, yellow legal pad. I'll share a WIP if someone asks; if no one asks, no big deal. I get my best ideas juuuuuust as I'm drifting off to sleep - but I never remember what they were when I wake up.