STS – 2015 June – Hemingway or Twain? Understanding Your Author Personality

Hemingway or Twain?
Understanding Your Author Personality
Jeanne Martinson, MA

When we read about an author we admire, we say to ourselves, “This is how they do it. This is how they write. This is how they research. This is how they edit. This is how they market. It must be the right way." And then we follow their lead.

Fiction writers sometimes look at Hemingway and say, "If I write like Hemingway, I'll be that successful." Or, “If I write like Twain, I too will be prolific.”

Well, Hemingway wrote standing up, saying that “writing and travel broaden your ass if not your mind and I like to write standing up.” Charles Dickens, Virginia Woolf, Lewis Carroll all wrote standing up as well, and the seven foot tall Thomas Wolfe used the top of his refrigerator as a writing desk. Twain and Truman Capote both wrote laying down, Truman bragging that he perceived himself “a completely horizontal author”.

Both fiction and non-fiction authors have their claims about substances helping or destroying their writing quality and quantity. Twain wrote daily, smoking 40 cigars. "A bad writing day is when I ran out of cigars before I got that last brilliant thought." Hemingway started drinking at 2 p.m. and we know how that turned out.

We look to our writing heros for the perfect number of words an author should write in a day. George Bernard Shaw wrote 1000 words per day, Thomas Wolfe 10,000 and Hemingway a mere 500.

Writing style, habits, surroundings, interactions with others and decisions about process all affect our success. As an author, you must ask yourself - whose ‘ways of writing’ are you paying attention to? The only answer should be – your own. The person you should be paying attention to is you.

When authors get stuck on a book writing project, they may be receiving too much advice from too many people and none of it is working for them. An author needs to respect his own style and inner author personality so that he can move forward in this adventure with speed and serenity.

The first step to success as an author is to identify your author personality. By knowing your author personality, you can save yourself pain and frustration as you move through the obsession to repurpose cycles of a book writing project.

So how do you figure out your author personality? There are four distinctions to consider:

  1. Are you an introvert or an extrovert?
  2. Are you pressure prompted or pleasure prompted?
  3. Are you a linear or a lateral thinker?
  4. Are you an early bird or night owl?

Each of these questions affects, to a lesser or greater degree, your success in the different steps of a book writing project. These are four different and separate questions. They do not create an amalgamated model. By knowing even the answer to one of the four will set you free in some ways to be a successful author.

In this article, we will focus on the third question: are you a linear or lateral thinker.

Georgia asked Penny to review several chapters of the book that she was just completing. Penny asked for a table of contents, the chapters for review and the outlines for the remaining chapters of the book. Georgia laughed and said, “I don’t have the table of contents and won’t till the book is done. I am not sure which chapter will go where. I certainly didn’t do chapter outlines. I will just see where the pieces fall and it will all work out in the end.”

Penny shook her head and mumbled to herself “If this book isn’t a disaster, it will be a miracle.”

Georgia and Penny definitely look at this book project differently. The difference is their preference for linear (left brain) or lateral (right brain) thinking.

Have you ever sat through a personality type assessment and been told you have a brain, but only half of it is working? That the two different sides of our brain control two different modes of thinking? There is still some squabbling over the relevant science, but we have seen considerable evidence to support the idea that people do relate to information differently – one more holistically and one more logically. We can think both ways, but we have a preference for which one is our dominant strategy.

Experimentation has suggested that the two different sides or hemispheres of the brain are responsible for different ways of thinking. The left is considered analytical in approach while the right is described as holistic or global. Left brainers prefer to learn in a step-by-step or linear sequential format beginning with details leading to a conceptual understanding. Right brainers prefer a lateral approach to learning, beginning with a general concept and then going on to specifics.

Left brainers respond to word meaning, logical plans, can recall people’s names, are punctual, logical, sequential, rational, and objective. Right brainers are random, intuitive, holistic, synthesizing, subjective, impulsive, and can recall people’s faces.

In the example above, Penny is more left brained and Georgia more right brained. Penny believed that a sequential framework was necessary for pieces to fall logically into place beneath or within. Penny compared Georgia’s writing style to throwing a bunch of stuff on a table and hoping it would fit together.

Left-brain and right-brain differences tie to what we find important in a task or project. Left brainers are more likely to see what needs to be done by when and how. Right brainers are more likely to see why it needs to be done or not and who should be involved.

Consider a ladder and a kangaroo.

How do you climb a ladder?  You start at the bottom and climb to the first rung, then the second, then the third, and onwards to the top. You don’t start at the first rung, jump to the third, flip over to the other side of the ladder and then back to the second rung on the first side. That would be illogical, time wasting and frankly foolish. If you are a linear thinker, your mind works exactly like climbing that ladder - rung by rung, logically climbing in one direction looking at the next step in front of you.

One of the consequences of being an author who is a ladder (linear thinker), is that if you get stuck on a chapter, you might never finish your book. If you think you have to write chapter 2 before chapter 3, you linear thinking may freeze you from success.

In grade school, do you remember the days of book reports? One day your teacher announced the book report assignment with instructions to first write a table of contents. Did you think, “That's logical,” and then went forth and wrote a chapter for each of those items under that table of contents, in linear order - chapter 1, 2, 3, 4, 5.

Kangaroos are not linear thinkers and do not climb ladders in their minds. They are more likely to jump about quickly from place to place and surprisingly arrive at the desired location.  Kangaroo students had to write the whole report and then go back and write the table of contents.

The two major differences between left and right-brain dominance that will affect your author personality:

  1. The left side of the brain processes information in a linear manner. It processes from part to whole. It takes pieces, lines them up, and arranges them in a logical order; then it draws conclusions.  The right brain, however, processes from whole to parts, holistically. It starts with the answer. It sees the big picture first, not the details. A left brainer outlines the book and then writes it, a right brainer writes the book and then outlines it.
  2. Left brainers process in sequence. They are list makers and enjoy making master schedules and daily plans. They complete tasks in order and take pleasure in checking them off when they are accomplished.  The right brain, however, is random. A right brainer moves from task to task and back again, and is often seen as being unorganized by others working on the same project. A right brainer may write a book, 15 chapters all at one time.  A left brainer is most comfortable writing one chapter at a time, in order.

 

Jeanne Martinson, MA is an author and speaker on diversity and leadership and is the founding president of CAPS Saskatchewan. This article is a chapter of Jeanne Martinson’s seventh book, “Hemingway or Twain? Unleashing Your Author Personality” coming out in August 2015. For more on Jeanne’s writings see www.martrain.org

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  1. How did you know about the outlines I did after I wrote the essays?

    I have learned to use an outline but the best stuff gushes out and then gets organized.

    Good article.

    The point is to pick what works for me and turn off the chatter that doesn’t apply to me.

    Reply

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