What is the difference between a Creative Writer and an Analytical Writer? What are they? Is one better than the other? Can I be both?
The short answer is this: There are two primary ways writers approach writing based on the way they think, creatively or analytically, and one is not any better than the other. Many writing instructors lump analytical and creative writing into one block (among fiction writers, this may be delineated as “pre-writing,” “writing” and “re-writing”) when in fact these are two different skills which use two very different parts of the brain.
Here is a basic summary:
The Analytical Writer
- intellectual/technical approach
- better at: problem-solving, analysis and structure
- best at: pre-writing and rewriting
The Creative Writer
- emotional/intuitive approach
- better at: exploration of the internal life of characters, feelings and reactions
- best at: emotional content and putting text on the page
In a perfect world, every writer would be both creative and analytical, but we do not live in an ideal world and we are rarely as analytical or creative as we would like to be. More often than not, we are more one than the other, although seldom to the exclusion of the other.
Which Type of Writer Am I?
The Creative Writer
You May Be a Creative Writer If…
You work by diving right into your material and writing.
- You write best in the heat of the moment.
- You start at a given point and expand outward, working from the inside out.
- You find that the more you write, the more the story writes itself.
- You explore story and characters by pushing, prodding, and exploring “what-if” scenarios.
- Organization and structure are not primary concerns for you as you expand your work like a painter spreads acrylics on canvas.
You write more instinctively than systematically.
- You see the forest for the trees but not necessarily the forest as a whole.
- Your scenes are well fleshed-out and filled with content, even if your scenes lack pertinent plot-forwarding direction and may tend to run long.
- You access your creative powers by tapping into the intuitive and emotional parts of your inner being.
You write emotionally.
- You translate your characters to the page by thrusting yourself into the heart of their inner emotional lives.
- Your focus is more on how every piece of your story feels than functions.
- You are highly in tune with your characters, their thoughts, emotions and reactions.
If this sounds like you, then you may be a Creative Writer.
What To Work On:
Once you have your initial vomit draft splattered on the page, go back and deliberately structure your story and plot BEFORE revising or revisiting your draft. Then stick to it and mercilessly cut your “darlings” (as Faulkner called them).
Although you may love your characters and love your scenes, every scene must further the plot or deepen character (preferably both). Scenes that serve neither purpose or do not directly apply to the spine of your story should be cut, no matter how much you love them. You may have a harder time than the Analytical Writer in letting these gorgeous little frivolities go.
Ensure that your setups are paid off, that small details included in your story are somehow pertinent to the story, and that your story maintains an even tone, direction and central spine throughout its entirety.
This is a difficult—if not seemingly insurmountable—task for you. Rewriting is an analytical process that requires you to keep your eyes on the forest and your head out of the trees. Approach rewriting as a completely separate process from your initial writing process. In fact, try letting your vomit draft sit for awhile before taking on your first rewrite. When you are ready, approach your rewrite one step at a time to make it manageable. Start by reading through your draft and making a checklist of any and all issues, big or small, that you think need fixed or any changes you wish to make—but don’t actually touch your draft yet. Next, address each point on the list one at a time, in any order. Do not combine items on the list unless they are directly related (you don’t want to overwhelm yourself with taking on the whole forest at once, just one tree a time will suffice). You may even find it useful for you to intercut your writing and rewriting sessions into alternating blocks or by starting every new writing session by rewriting your previous session’s work before moving on. Regardless, you need to find a process that works for you—even if it is a long, complicated and laboriously painful one.
The Analytical Writer
You May Be an Analytical Writer If…
You don’t start writing until you have a plan or outline of some kind.
- You work best before and after the moment, in planning, pre-writing and re-writing.
- You structure and sketch a rough outline of everything before actually filling out the spaces in between.
- You pre-write copiously by idea-generating, researching, note-taking, scribbling, structuring and summarizing before getting down to actual text.
- You seldom write off-plan unless a new discovery is made, at which point you adjust your schematics to fit the new data or you plot out the newly-adjusted story before actually writing it.
You write more systematically than instinctively.
- You see the trees for the forest, working outside in by establishing a framework before you start writing.
- You design and execute your story like an architect who sketches first, draws second, then inks and colors his/her work, each layer with more detail than the last.
- You prefer to let your work sit for long periods before revising so that you can go back to it with a fresh, critical eye.
You write intellectually.
- You utilize the analytical parts of your brain to work intellectually and logically to justify action and reaction.
- The actual playing out of your scenes is of little concern in the early stages so long as the goal and direction are maintained at the structural level. The actual content of your scenes will be written out last.
- Unlike the Creative Writer, your scenes are less emotionally intense but contain more analytical content. While intellectually stimulating, your scenes may lack emotional heat or easily become didactic.
- Your focus is more on how every piece of your story functions than feels.
- You are highly in tune with the progression of your story, its constituent elements and the procedures required to reveal information and advance the plot.
If this sounds like you, then you may be an Analytical Writer.
What To Work On:
Putting down the first vomit draft of your work can be one of the hardest things for an Analytical Writer to do. The temptation is to keep planning and summarizing instead of actually producing pages. Also it may be hard to keep interested while filling in all the little segments that need fleshing out. Address this issue by pre-writing to your heart’s content—outlines, character bios, backstories, histories of places and things, whatever you want—but do not begin writing your initial draft until your outline is done. When you do start writing, try to do so in as long, contiguous segments as possible to prevent your work from coming across as disconnected or episodic. Just as like the outline, don’t start rewriting until you’ve completed your initial vomit draft. It’s too easy for you to get lost in revisions without ever finishing a single draft.
This is a major issue and involves several parts, the most important of which is centered on exposing the emotional content of your story and getting close to the heart of the matter with passion, truth and depth. While this may be natural to the Creative Writer it can be downright baffling to the Analytical Writer. Try free-writing to open your mind, letting the creative juices flow with emotional material. Connecting with the emotional heart of your material can take as long as two or three hours of work if you aren’t writing on a daily basis, considerable less if you are. Look beyond your objective outer core, searching deep within your feelings to tap into the dormant emotional power lying hidden there.
Stemming from the previous issue, your characters may be colorful and interesting with myriad pasts and every manner of depth, but may still lack the emotional elements which humanize them, allowing us to feel for and with them. It is vital that you find a way to develop the inner monologue, tactics, feelings and emotional responses of your characters. Try writing long, detailed bios which catalogue and develop their inner emotional lives, even if you have to start out by exploring them intellectually. Eventually your characters will start talking to you and you will be able to effectively translate your characters onto the page.
Can the Analytical Writer succeed? Yes. You’ve probably heard of an author by the name of Michael Crichton. He employs meticulous planning and research before sitting down to write.
Your degree of analytical or creative ability is no measure of skill or success. Whether you triumph as a Creative Writer or an Analytical Writer fully depends on you and your ability to overcome obstacles in order to achieve your goals—just like the characters in your story.