What’s Your Writing Personality? Take This Quiz and Find Out
Every writer has his or her own special mark — it’s like a fingerprint, and editors can use it to identify you the way a detective identifies a perp. “She’s 300 words over the assigned word count — that’s Pat for you,” they may say. Or, “It’s just like Darren to call me up in hysterics because I removed a comma.” (Sure, your editors may also peg you as the on-time writer or the best speller ever, but we’re going to concentrate on editor-bugging problems here.)
Read on and answer the questions below to find out if you have a writing foible that may be holding you back.
1. Your article is just about finished. You:
A. Put it aside for a day or two so you can proofread it with fresh eyes.
B. Close your eyes and hope for the best as you hit the Send button.
If you answered B, you’re a Slapdash Scribe.
A misplaced comma doesn’t concern you (though a misplaced check would!), and you believe that double-checking your facts is the fact-checker’s job (hence the name). You may be the most brilliant wordsmith since Nabokov and churn out article ideas that make editors swoon with delight, but if you don’t pay attention to the details, you’ll gain a reputation as a sloppy writer. Here are some things you should double-check before turning in your masterpiece:
- The spelling of your sources’ names. There’s nothing more embarrassing than your editor having to print a correction because you misspelled a source’s name!
- Your sources’ credentials (is that doctor a Ph.D., an MD, or something else?).
- Your spelling. Remember, the spell check function on your computer can’t tell the difference between you’re and your, too and to. (And if yours can, please tell me what the brand is…I’ll buy stock!)
- Statistics. Double-check your math to make sure your stats make sense.
- Your backup materials. Every assertion you make in your article should be backed up by research or by an expert. Include with your article a list of the sources you interviewed and the studies you consulted.
2. How do you feel about alliteration, puns, and jokes?
A. I use them sparingly.
B. Hey, did you hear that one about the duck and the cigar?
If you answered B, you’re a Smart Aleck.
Okay, I have a confession to make: I’m a recovering Smart Aleck. Probably from my stint writing for men’s magazines, which are more wiseass in style than most, I’m a master of the alliterative subhead, the double entendre, and all-around cracking wise.
Luckily, many magazine editors and readers appreciate a dollop of humor. But leaning too much on such trickery is the herald of the lazy writer. Why bother coming up with a meaningful subhead when I can get away with a funny one? Why rack my brain over the perfect conclusion when I can end with a joke?
If you’re a Smart Aleck, ask yourself before penning that amusing simile comparing Martha Stewart to a teakettle: Does this help the reader understand my topic, or am I just filling space? Is there a more meaningful way to say this?
3. How many interviews do you do for your articles?
A. As many as I need to get the scoop and no more.
B. The more the merrier!
If you answered B, you’re an Over-Researcher.
You have trouble getting your articles in on time — or getting your queries out the door — because you’re looking for that one more stat or quote that will make your piece sing. Then you feel bad leaving out a single precious fact, so your article or query is so overflowing with numbers and quotation marks that there’s barely room for the actual words.
A good rule of thumb is to conduct one interview for every 500 words in an article, plus one more for good measure. So a 500-word article would include two sources; a 2,000-word article would have five. For a query, interview just as many people as you need to get a few juicy quotes; you want to wow your editor with your quote-getting prowess, but you don’t need to practically write the entire article.
4. Your philosophy about writing style is:
A. I use as many words as I need to get the point across, and I’m generally straightforward.
B. My goal is to fill the reader’s head with beautiful imagery. I like to think of myself as a modern-day Lord Byron of the magazine world.
If you answered B, you’re a Writerly Writer.
You love to write, and it shows. Your articles often come in hundreds of words over the assigned word count, but you can’t bear to cut a single one. Your writing is filled with metaphors, emotion, and flowery descriptions.
This is great if you’re writing for a magazine that expects an ornate style, but for most publications, straightforward is the way to go. Editors tend to cut through elaborate prose like an explorer hacking through overgrown brambles, and they are not amused when they need to trim an article by a few hundred words to get it to fit the allotted space.
Keep in mind that your editor’s — and your readers’ — time is limited. That’s why articles are getting shorter and shorter (who has time to read 10,000-word essays anymore?). To come in at word count, comb through your prose for unnecessary adverbs and adjectives and try to tame your inner poet.
5. What’s your reaction when an editor changes your lede?
A. I feel that the editor knows the needs of the magazine and has the right to make reasonable changes.
B. She wouldn’t dare — not after that hissy fit I threw the last time she tried!
If you answered B, you’re a Diva.
A Diva can be an editor’s worst nightmare: He fusses at every moved comma and cries foul should the editor be so bold as to swap a word.
If this sounds like you, remember that the editor most likely understand the needs of the magazine and the interests of the readers better than you do…she works at that magazine eight hours a day! If she makes a change you don’t approve of, bring it up gently and ask nicely if she might reconsider. If she introduces an error into your article, bring it to her attention — minus the histrionics.
Or you can take on my attitude: As long as they pay me, they can do whatever they want with the article! Of course, there are limits — my name is on the article, after all — but I don’t stress over minor changes.
6. How much time do you spend writing an article?
A. Enough time to do as good a job as possible.
B. Does that count the twenty minutes I spent pondering whether to use a dash or a semicolon?
If you answered B, you’re a Perfectionist.
Wanting to get things right is a good thing. But tearing out your hair over every word, every comma, every quote? Not so good. If you’re bent on writing the perfect query, chances are you’ll never get it out the door; after all, it can always be better. And if you’re intent on writing the best article ever known to editorkind, you’ll probably miss your deadline as you struggle towards perfection.
That’s not to say you want to become a Slapdash Scribe. Your perfectionist tendencies are a benefit in that you probably turn in clean copy with backed-up facts. You just need to tame your tendency to go overboard. When you write an article or a query, use as many sources as you need to educate and entertain the reader, set the piece aside so you can proofread it with a fresh set of eyes, and even have a friend or fellow writer check it over for you. Then bite the bullet — and get that thing out there.
So what’s your writing personality, and how does it affect your career? Let us know in the Comments below! [lf]