Are you a Storyteller? Or a Wordsmith?

When you start writing a novel, you think the writing itself is the process. Then you finish the first draft, and you realise that, no, it’s the editing that’s the process. But the process actually starts before any of this – at the idea development stage.

A lightbulb moment

Whether you’re a plotter or a panster (i.e. you write by the seat of your pants), you start off with a germ of an idea that requires love, care and attention in order for it to grow into a full-blown story.

With your first novel, you discover which processes work for you by trial and error – and most of us have to stumble through our first novel blindly! Reflecting on the various processes is a really useful way for an author to learn what they should or shouldn’t do next time.

However, talking to a lot of “second book” indie novelists, I believe I may have discovered a pattern that links which type of writer you are to which types of idea development help.

My caveat here is that my theory is in no way scientific and is based purely on anecdotal evidence!

I believe there are two main types of writer and everyone sits on a sliding scale between the two. Depending where you are on the scale depends which idea formulation processes work for you.

The first type is the Storyteller – they are driven by the story and just happen to use words to tell them, although they could just as easily use images. These authors quite often talk about being able to see their book play out in their heads as a film and they simply write it down.

The second type is the Wordsmith – they see patterns in words, which grow to form ideas. These authors think up their books in words and sometimes have fully formed sentences pop into their heads.

The terms aren’t about distinguishing the quality of the writing – Storytellers may write beautifully and Wordsmiths may tell awesome stories. It’s about the point of origin for their creative process.

It’s a generally accepted idea within the publishing world that you should read while you write in order to improve your writing. But novelists I’ve spoken to who identify as around 90% Storyteller often don’t do any reading in the weeks where they’re working on their novel.

Instead they seem more likely to binge-watch TV, as this seems to stimulate the “internal film reel” into action. Wordsmiths, however, will find themselves reading the back of food packets as they seek to absorb as many words as possible!

Storytellers will not only chat about their ideas to anyone who will listen, but they will also spend more time chatting to people in general, using that interaction to get their creative juices flowing.

Whereas Wordsmiths will ponder internally on their work and are more likely to have sparks of inspiration when in the bath or when walking in the park – activities where they can indulge in some serious mind wandering.

I believe I’m about 75% Wordsmith and have discovered that walks help best when I take a route I know well and meander along rather than travelling at any great pace. I make sure I have my phone with me so I can dictate sentences to myself in order to capture them as they form.

I’ve also discovered I have more productive writing days if I don’t watch any TV the day before because the visual images will be stronger than my word-focused writing thoughts.

If my theory is true, during writing periods, Storytellers should watch more TV and up the socialising, whereas Wordsmiths should read more and increase time spent on solo pursuits.


This article was first published on award-winning book blog Being Anne as part of The Second Cup first anniversary blog blitz.

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