Whenever I talk to a fellow writer about his or her latest masterpiece, the conversation always ends up at the same age-old creative crossroads: is it better to outline first or to simply write? I’m a doer, and for some reason — maybe it’s the universe’s way of sharpening my debating skills — the other person always seems to be a planner. I like to think of these two creative camps as distinct writer subspecies, each with a different mechanism for ensuring their writing’s survival. Writer, meet writerus plannerus and writerus doerus.
Writerus plannerus is a creature whose creative survival is all about planning and order. When an idea strikes, the primal reaction of writerus plannerus is, “think, then do.” This creativity mechanism can take many forms: in some cases, the writer outlines down to the smallest detail. Other times, writerus plannerus limits the planning on paper to major plot points and character arcs, or might simply jot down notes on the story’s starting and ending point. A less common type of writerus plannerus will commit these details to memory rather than expressing them on paper. Writerus plannerus is biologically hotwired to believe that thinking through a story before committing it to paper will yield the greatest chance for its creative survival.
Writerus plannerus’ natural predators are disorder and time constraints. This writer subspecies reacts to sudden changes in creativity by calmly retreating to the proverbial drawing board. Writerus plannerus is typically be observed in its natural writing environment taking frequent pauses, leaning away from the computer or notepad in contemplation, and appearing deep in thought. Famous writerus plannerus include John Irvine, Jack Kerouac, J.K. Rowling and Joseph Heller.
The other major branch of the writerus is the subspecies writerus doerus. This is a creature whose creative survival hinges upon doing. Writerus doerus is biologically hotwired to write first, flesh out the details later. In order to carry out this creativity mechanism, writerus doerus engages in heavy freewriting that is revisited and reworked substantially. In some circumstances, writerus doerus embarks upon a writing project with the kernel of an idea. In other situations, this creature’s writing is fueled merely by the inspiration of the moment. Writerus doerus is driven by the belief that allowing an idea to develop organically as one writes is the best way to ensure its creative survival.
Writerus doerus fears outlines and concrete details, viewing them as constraints that hinder the innate creative process. Writerus doerus is typically observed in its natural environment writing at a frantic pace without pause, often neglecting to take breaks, hydrate or properly nourish itself during an inspired streak. The subspecies adapts naturally to changes in creativity and inspiration, and prefers to address flaws or incongruences later in the writing evolution process — typically during editing. Famous writerus doerus include Margaret Atwood and Ernest Hemingway.
Although these writer subspecies may seem to come from different biological branches and have developed different adaptive writing traits, they have one common trait: the motivation to consistently work on their writing. Whether you’re a “think, then write” or “write, then think” type, your ideas won’t come to fruition without a little dedication and work on your end. So, writer, go out and ensure your writing’s creative survival using the method that works for you.