Monday, August 24, 2020

Knowing Your Writer Archetype Will Help You be a Better Writer

I spend most of my time talking to writers. What I’ve noticed, over the years, that there are some things that we all deal with.
We all have a relationship to ideas, for instance. 
Some writers are bombarded with them--they come from all angles all the time, and they are all so exciting. They’re idea extroverts.
Other people get one good idea at a time and they’re perfectly content to work  at that one thing until it’s perfect, even if that takes the rest of their lives. They’re idea introverts.
Or how about our relationship to our audiences? 
Some people write outwardly--without an audience, there’s no purpose to their work. Others write inwardly--they’d write in their journal and never let anyone read it, if someone would pay them to.
I started to notice patterns in the way that writers manage being writers. And if we can tap into those patterns, we can learn something about ourselves that will help us become better writers.

Every writer has an archetype and if we lean into that archetype, we’ll be more successful and (even more importantly) happier.

I’ve tested this theory on hundreds of writers. The results have been stunning. What had previously been confusing, suddenly made sense.
Knowing your archetype answers questions like:
  • Why does it take me so long to write a single blog post?
  • Why don’t I ever finish the novels that I start?
  • Why do I keep losing interest in my ideas?
  • Do I have to write the same way as that successful writer over there does?
  • How come my desire to be a writer hasn’t translated into a career?
I believe that your archetype is your archetype, whether you write fiction or nonfiction. For instance, the way I write (my natural happy place as a writer) doesn’t change whether I’m blogging or writing a middle-grade book.
I came up with five archetypes. I wonder if you’ll find yourself in one of these. Here’s a quiz that will help you figure out your own archetype.

The Hesitater

The Hesitater has trouble getting started. They want badly to be writers and they think about it a lot, but for whatever reason they can’t seem to get the momentum going to actually pull the trigger and start writing with any real consistency.
Facebook Groups for writers and MFA programs are full of Hesitaters. These writers are learners. They want to be sure they know everything before they pull the trigger and actually do the work.
Maybe they lack confidence. Maybe they’re pulled in too many directions by other projects. Maybe they lack experience and just really don’t know how. Whatever the reason, the Hesitater teeters on the brink of getting started but can’t seem to get themselves over that edge.
If you’re a Hesitater, you might find that the whole idea of being a writer, building an audience — all of it — just seems huge. Too much! There are so many things to learn, so many ways to screw it up, so many places where you could fail. It’s much easier to study and really think hard about it, then it is to actually do it.
Hesitaters are never only hesitaters. They have one foot on the gas and one on the brake (and often the right foot doesn’t know what the left foot is doing.) When they finally take their foot off the brake, they’ll move into one of the other archetypes as well.
Hesitaters need to build systems that help them overcome their perfectionism and quiet their inner editors. They also need systems that are designed to make sure that they actually put their work out into the world, once they do get started. They often do well with self-imposed deadlines.

The Skipper

There are writers who skip all over the place — they write about one topic today and another one tomorrow. Their happy place is having an assignment. Skippers are often journalists, freelancers, ghostwriters, or copywriters — working for a paycheck or with a contract and always knowing that they’ll be paid for their work.
Often Skippers end up writing for other people, taking assignments and thriving on the thrill of always having something new to research and write about.
The Skipper might struggle to find their own niche, if that becomes something they want to do. Diving deeper into a single topic doesn’t come naturally to them. They like the excitement of trying on something new when they start a new project.
They also train themselves to leave themselves out of the story and write with a journalistic voice, or in someone else’s voice all together, so finding their own voice if they want to shift gears can be difficult.
Because they are so often not writing to a dedicated audience, Skippers usually aren’t focused on building their own dedicated audiences at all. They might find that the work that they do involves building audiences for other people.
If a Skipper writes fiction, they’re often able to shift gears and write in any genre. They are more likely to be focused on what’s selling than on some ‘story of their heart.’ They might also write on a contract or as a ghostwriter, where they get paid, but don’t have their name on the book at all.
Skipper’s need systems that help them find and keep track of assignments. If they are moving into blogging or fiction writing, a system designed to help them remember that building an audience is important and that putting themselves into their story is essential.

The Spiller

Spillers put a strong emphasis on being confessional. When they write, they spill their guts on the page. Often their purpose is healing and they want to let readers know they aren’t alone in the world. There is someone else out there feeling what they feel or who has experienced what they are experiencing — and that matters to them, a lot.
Spillers write for themselves, often focused on storytelling. They’re happy when readers find them and relate or are helped by their work. The truth, though, is that they would almost certainly write what they write (even if it was only in a journal) whether there or not anyone ever reads.
Their storytelling is so healing and so important to them that they’d do it without an audience.
It can sometimes, also, feel like the Spiller is writing just to see if they can make us blush. They are fantastic about putting themselves into their stories and they are often extremely transparent and honest. The reader is drawn to their posts if for no other reason than they can’t look away.
The Spiller has a story to tell and they are going to tell it, no matter what. Nothing will stand in their way. While they want to help their readers, they are usually less focused on building dedicated audiences. They’re often happy with some anonymity in their work.
As a result, Spillers are the writers who are most likely to find themselves fielding negative feedback — because they are often writing on controversial subjects without holding back.
If a Spiller writes fiction, they often tell deeply personal stories or highly controversial stories. Memoirists or writers who write fiction based on their own true story are often spillers.
Spillers benefit from systems that remind them to include their audience in their stories. Their systems need to help them to actually build those audiences, which is important if they want to create writing careers.

The Teacher

This is my own writer archetype.
I am the kind of writer who writes with a strong emphasis on teaching. Even my fiction has an educational bent to it. I want readers to come away having learned something. As a result I have trouble writing about things that I’m not either an expert at already or strongly invested in learning about myself. I’ve had the same niche for two decades.
The Teacher needs an audience who expects to hear from them on a regular basis. On many levels, it’s the connection that feeds them. Because if your goal is to teach, then you want to know you’re reaching other people and they’re learning from you.
Teachers are writers who often bombarded by ideas — and who get as excited by other people’s ideas as they do their own. That’s a lot of ideas! They often write fast and publish prolifically, because they are so excited to share what they’ve learned.
Teachers are the writers who seek to build community. They have their reader at the top of their mind when they write. Without readers, it can feel like there is no purpose to their work. Teachers need students, after all.
Even when a Teacher writes fiction, they’re desire to reach out to the reader and share their ideas is apparent. They can’t help teaching what they’ve learned. Children’s book writers are often Teachers. But there are plenty of Teachers writing for adults as well. For instance, read Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander and you feel like you could go be a nurse or teach a class about 1700s Scotland.
Teachers need systems to help them manage all of those ideas, to keep from being impossibly distracted by them. They might have to work hard at remembering to put themselves into their stories and make themselves vulnerable, rather than just teaching all the time (which can come off cold, academic, and boring.)

The Artist

The Artist’s main focus is the craft of writing. If the Spiller writes mostly for themselves and the Teacher writes mostly for their audience, the Artist writes mostly for their muse.
This writer crafts their work and presents it to the world, much in the same way that a fine artist might hang paintings in a gallery. They tend to be focused on their readers individually. They want to entertain and delight.
Lyrical, literary, poetic prose is this writer’s happy place. They might spend a week or more carefully choosing every word in a 1000-word essay, unbothered by other ideas trying to muscle their way in. When they are in creation-mode, they are fully focused on that project. Their ideas usually come one at a time.
As a result, when they’re done writing that project, there’s often a period of let down and a need, almost, to recover before they can focus on the next thing. They might not even be sure they’ll ever have another idea worth working on again until it shows up.
The Artist, because they are less focused on mass audiences or earning an income, are the most rebellious archetype. They’re often rule breakers, going wherever their muse leads, rather than worrying about things like a paycheck or being a bestseller.
When an Artist writes fiction, it’s often literary and can be very avant-garde. They care more about entertaining and creating art than they do about anything else, so they’re willing to push boundaries.
The Artist’s struggle is with perfectionism. They often work slowly, producing less output than the other archetypes. Their anxiety about creating something beautiful can keep them from actually putting their work out into the world and so Artists are often also Hesitaters.

Most writers have a primary and a secondary archetype.

For instance, I’m solidly a Teacher writer, but I lean towards being a Spiller. I care more about storytelling than I do about perfection.
What that means, for me, is that I’m a Teacher who struggles a little less than some Teachers do to put myself in my stories, because I’m also a storyteller and a little bit of an oversharer.
Like most writers, I can be a Skipper when I have to. I’ve worked as a journalist and a freelancer, because I need to feed my family. But whenever I could stop doing that and focus on a different type of writing, I did. A true Skipper would be happiest doing that type of work.
You might be an Artist with a bent toward being a Teacher — so you are dedicated to your craft, but your work often teaches readers something. Or maybe a Skipper with a Spiller tendency — which might mean that you have a job working at an online magazine that lets you write confessional stories for a large audience.

Here’s an example:

A while back, I wrote a story about my recent discovery that I love granny panties.
As a Teacher, I wrote about why I love granny panties and why other women might, too, and how to find them.
A Spiller might tell a far more intimate story about how giving up more delicate underwear helped them come to terms with a bad experience.
An Artist might write a poem about their underwear, or maybe a gorgeous essay about granny panties hanging on a line, fluttering in the breeze.
A Skipper might write a post that would fall into any of the three above lanes, that’s sponsored by a company that makes and sells granny panties.
And a Hesitater would plan a post in one of the above categories, really think about it, but either never write it, or write it, but never publish it.

Shaunta Grimes is a writer and teacher. She is an out-of-place Nevadan living in Northwestern PA with her husband, three superstar kids, two dementia patients, a good friend, Alfred the cat, and a yellow rescue dog named Maybelline Scout. She’s on Twitter @shauntagrimes and is the author of Viral Nation, Rebel Nation, The Astonishing Maybe, and Center of Gravity. She is the original Ninja Writer.

Monday, August 17, 2020

Stuck In The Middle

Now that we are just a smidgen by the middle of summer, or maybe a little more than a smidgen but we'll pretend we aren't. Writers can do that with ease. But what some seem stuck on from the tweets going out or that articles asking for advice is trying to get from the middle to the end of their current work in progress.

No writer's block at play. Stuck is the word of the day when it comes to the middle. Not sure a day needs a word, but today we will give it stuck. Not that it cares. Days don't have feelings so I think we are safe. See? I just proved the opposite too. Sometimes there is too much to say in the middle and the old making a long story short needs to come into play. Now on with it we go.

Can't get by the middle? Still stuck? Maybe you aren't.

You may have a plan. Plans change.

You may think there is more story. Thoughts change.

You may need more story. (For word count to submit or the like) Needs change.

Maybe this isn't the story to submit. Maybe this story isn't at the middle. Maybe you are stuck because you are more than a smidgen by the middle. Maybe you are actually near the end.

Sometimes you have to change your train of thought and then you become unstuck. A better word of the day. Short stories could be long stories and long stories could turn out to be short stories. Instead of dictating to your story, your story may be dictating to you.

This is it. This is all you get. Take it or leave it.

Wow. Your story sounds harsher than the day and its word. But it may be true.

But what if it is not?

Determination could be at hand. You could make it drag by adding more words and your determination makes it the middle. That kind of unstuck isn't always the best. Thinking about the why can factor out that determination and also allow you to realize you may be near the end.

Of course there are times when one is just stuck. What to do?

Take a break. Work on another story. Watch or read something else to get the brain going in other directions. Take a walk or exercise in some other way. Play with the kids. Just do something that gets your mind off of it and onto something less stressful. This too can allow you to see if you are well by the smidgen or right in the middle. Clarity from stepping away.

Do you get stuck in the middle? Have you found that you weren't actually at the middle and near the end? Maybe closer to the start than the middle? Can you ramble like me? Do you have a word of the day?

Hopefully stuck isn't it and some unstuck came due as you read through.

Monday, August 10, 2020

10 Steps to Making a Story

Only ten steps? Well, if you start with the actual writing, we can probably break it into ten major ones. Let's try.

Think of these as the key moments in your story.

1. With the HOOK, your job is to grab your readers and make them read beyond that first paragraph. This hook has to be fresh and memorable. In fact it should be able take an old topic or theme and put a unique twist to it. It should plant this question your readers' minds: “What happens next?” Put that hook in your first chapter, if possible on the first page, and best of all in the first line.

E.B. White knew all about great hooks: "Where's Pa going with that axe?"

2. The INCITING EVENT is where your story kicks off. It's where the readers see the conflict. And it creates a question that as a writer you must answer at the CLIMAX of your story. There are a lot of places for this event to occur: before the story opens, at the beginning, or at least in the first quarter of the book.

In The Hunger Games Katniss, an independent girl with skills and a drive to protect others, sees her sister drawn to be Tribute in the Hunger Games.

3. The KEY EVENT puts your protagonist smack in into that plot. Let's say your inciting event was a murder. Well, that murder doesn't affect your character until you a) put him charge of the investigation b) have him enter the room and leave his fingerprints c) make him the prime suspect.

The Key Event always follows the Inciting Event--the sooner the better.


The First Plot Point comes at the end of the "First Act." It signals the beginning of "Act Two."  Here's where your character's usual world changes. You've already set up what's normal for this character, you've shown what his world looks like (setting), you've introduced your important supporting characters, and you've made the stakes clear and hopefully high. At the first plot point your character's world has shifted, maybe it has turned upside down, and now he has to deal with a whole new set of rules and issues. 

A husband is arrested for the murder of his wealthy wife and must prove his innocence.

You put this first plot point about 25% into your book. Think of this as your first quarter and you have three quarters to go.


Reaction. Reaction. And more reaction. That's what your character is busy with during this part of your story. Remember his world is upside down and he's in deep trouble, struggling to get out of it. Think about Dr. Richard Kimble in that now ancient TV series, The Fugitive. He was in act two, part one for a long time.

Think of this part of your book as leading up to half time. It should fall between 25% to 50% of your story.


Get ready for another major change here. Your character has struggled to survive in a futuristic survival game, or chased down clues to prove he's innocent of the murder. Now this character is a lot more savvy and ready to take the ball and run with it. 

Katniss uses her cunning to outsmart those who try to manipulate the games.
Dr. Kimble (after many years) now starts using better strategies for closing in on the "one-armed man."

I guess it's pretty obvious that you plunk the midpoint in the middle. This is the end of act two, part one and the beginning of act two, part two. 

Here's where your character stops being victim and turns proactive. He’s got some plans for taking charge of the situation and fixing whatever mess you've put him into.

Here's where you're heading into the 75% part of the story.


This is the last major plot point. Here's where things are going change again, and not for the better. Your character is at the crux of his situation. He has to come to terms with who he is and what's been keeping him from succeeding in whatever quest you've set out. 

This comes at the beginning of act three, again that 75% part of the book. There's a lot happening here because you're setting up for...


Here's where all those threads (main and complicating side ones) are tied up. Any conflict is resolved. Katniss saves not only herself, but her village and sets off the revolution. Dr. Richard Kimball snags the real killer.

You've come to the 90% mark in your story. You're heading into the highest peak and the moment when the book ends. 


This is an important part of the story. It gives your readers a chance to breathe and relax. They've followed the character through his trials, his failures, his self-doubts, and now they have an opportunity to see him as the changed person. Maybe they'll even glimpse a bright future. 

I guess I don't have to say this is The End.

Wednesday, August 5, 2020

The Insecure Writer's Support Group - August Edition

Purpose: To share and encourage. Writers can express doubts and concerns without fear of appearing foolish or weak. Those who have been through the fire can offer assistance and guidance. It’s a safe haven for insecure writers of all kinds!

Posting: The first Wednesday of every month is officially Insecure Writer’s Support Group day. Post your thoughts on your own blog. Talk about your doubts and the fears you have conquered. Discuss your struggles and triumphs. Offer a word of encouragement for others who are struggling. Visit others in the group and connect with your fellow writer - aim for a dozen new people each time - and return comments. This group is all about connecting! Be sure to link to this page and display the badge in your post. And please be sure your avatar links back to your blog! Otherwise, when you leave a comment, people can't find you to comment back.

The awesome co-hosts for the August 5 posting of the IWSG are Susan Baury Rouchard, Nancy Gideon, Jennifer Lane, Jennifer Hawes, Chemist Ken, and Chrys Fey!

Let’s rock the neurotic writing world!

Our Twitter handle is @TheIWSG and hashtag is #IWSG.

Every month, we announce a question that members can answer in their IWSG post. These questions may prompt you to share advice, insight, a personal experience or story. Include your answer to the question in your IWSG post or let it inspire your post if you are struggling with something to say. 

Remember, the question is optional!

August 5 question - Quote: "Although I have written a short story collection, the form found me and not the other way around. Don't write short stories, novels or poems. Just write your truth and your stories will mold into the shapes they need to be."
Have you ever written a piece that became a form, or even a genre, you hadn't planned on writing in? Or do you choose a form/genre in advance?

You set aside some precious time to write. 
You prepare a cup of delicious coffee, open your laptop and get ready to write... but you're not sure what.
 Sometimes, the first drafting should be a wild and wonderful ride, full of discovery, dreams and promises. 
Write with abandon. Go with your gut. They say that your gut never lies. Let your truth pour onto the page. 
But how do you write your truth? 
Think about this: what do you believe? What universal struggle have you witnessed or experienced? Dig deep and find your gut response concerning your experiences.
Remember that your writing matters if it's written from a place of wanting to connect. 
Once you get that right, then who knows what gems are just waiting to be shaped into an interesting blog post, a poem, a memoir, novella or a novel series!

There's still time to enter the anthology contest.

Guidelines and rules:

Word count4500-6000

Genre: Science Fiction

Theme: Dark Matter

Submissions accepted: May 6 - September 2, 2020

How to enter: Send your polished, formatted (double-spaced, no footers or headers), previously unpublished story to admin @ before the deadline passes. Please include your full contact details, your social links, and if you are part of the Blogging, Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter IWSG group.

In trying to get books to move and sell and gain some momentum, Voyagers is discounted on Amazon from $4.99 to 2.99 for the eBook from tomorrow through this Friday.