Admittedly, this “blog lab” is not strictly about blogging. It’s about writing, productivity, and whether certain practices yield faster results than others. I’ve been curious about such questions for a while, mainly because of my dissertation work. How does one write expediently without sacrificing quality? Is that even possible (for me, academic writers, creative writers, anyone)? Interestingly, writer’s habits unexpectedly became a central concern of two, tuberculosis-themed chapters in my dissertation.
While browsing Slate, I came across Michael Agger’s analysis of productive writing practices in “Slowpoke: How to be a faster writer.” One framework Agger outlines in his article is pretty compelling, at least in my opinion. He cites Ronald Kellogg‘s “Professional Writing Expertise,” which asserts that writers typically fall into two categories: one is either a Beethoven or a Mozart. [Note: I haven’t read “Professional Writing,” which is included in the 2006 edition of The Cambridge Handbook of Expertise and Expert Performance, but I want to check it out as well as Kellogg’s The Psychology of Writing.]
I didn’t share Agger’s piece on my twitter feed, but not long after reading it, I noticed that it was being passed among the academics, teachers, and writers that I follow. It apparently struck a chord. (No pun intended–really! It’s funny how the mind works.) Read on to learn about what makes one a Beethoven or a Mozart, and then tell me which category best describes your approach to writing.
Beethoven vs. Mozart: The Writing Types Defined
While quoting some key lines from Kellogg’s “Professional Writing Expertise,” Agger defines the “Beethoven” and “Mozart” writer as such:
Some writers are “Beethovians” who disdain outlines and notes and instead “compose rough drafts immediately to discover what they have to say.” Others are “Mozartians”—cough, cough—who have been known to “delay drafting for lengthy periods of time in order to allow for extensive reflection and planning.”
Apparently, Agger is a Mozartian–that is, he “delays” the actual act of writing in favor of first indulging in sometimes lengthy periods of reflection. As a Mozartian, then, is Agger a slowpoke–or worse yet, an unproductive–writer ? Not necessarily. He relates that
[a]ccording to Kellogg, perfect-first-drafters and full-steam-aheaders report the same amount of productivity.
I like Kellogg’s framework, and I recognize both the Mozart and Beethoven approaches in my own writing habits. But, I’m still puzzling over the implications of the above statement, which perhaps I’ll be able to clear up when I read Kellogg’s article in its entirety. For now, though, let me indulge in a little “what if.” If “productivity” means producing quality written material in a fixed amount of time, then according to Kellogg, writers’ planning preferences have little impact. It seems, then, that Beethovian writers must take time to evaluate and reformulate their writing; otherwise, wouldn’t they be more productive than Mozartians? Beethovians, then, improve their work while writing and/or after finishing a project. Because Mozartians indulge in the “pre-writing” phase, they do not need to spend as much time revising during or after the writing process as do their Beethovian counterparts.
As I’ve said, I’ve been both a Mozart- and Beethoven-style writer, particularly in my dissertation efforts. When I began writing my dissertation, I had a good idea of what I wanted to say about each text in my study, but I hadn’t fully figured out how those arguments fit together. In trying to hammer out a concrete framework for my project, I simply couldn’t move forward. I was frustrated, and I had little to show for my efforts. So, one day, I decided to just jump in. And I wrote. And wrote. And wrote. And very quickly, I found myself with two completed chapters. I was a masterful Beethovian. Moreover, I had a keener sense of my project’s overall trajectory.
As I began to write the second section of my dissertation–chapters three, four, and five–I changed my approach, albeit somewhat subconsciously. I became a Mozartian, and I spend a great deal of time in the planning phase–gathering research materials, outlining, prewriting, revising outlines, etc. Writing the second section of my dissertation seemed to drag out forever.
My experiences writing the first two sections of my dissertation appear to controvert Kellogg’s observation that Mozartian and Beethovian writers report the same amount of productivity. After all, I completed the first section extraordinarily faster than the second. But bear in mind that I don’t consider the first section to be “finished.” Although it by no means needs a facelift, it could use a makeover: I need to revise the first section so that it follows the same organizational framework as the second section. Once I do that, I think I will have spent the same amount of time working on each section.
What does my dissertation narrative imply about writing and productivity? Perhaps it’s best for writers working on dense or lengthy projects to move between Beethovian and Mozartian writing styles. Starting my dissertation as a Beethovian gave me the confidence to dive into a seemingly insurmountable task; slowing down and becoming a Mozartian gave me valuable clarity and insight about my project. Now, as I work on the final section of my project, I’m picking up considerable speed! I’m a Beethoven once more, but I’m a better one, as I’m benefiting from my earlier work as a Mozartian.
What type of writer are you? Beethoven or Mozart? Or something else?
I don’t know. I think it depends on what time of day it is, when it’s due and how much coffee I’ve had. Awesome post. I’ll be thinking about which one I am all day.
It seems I’m pretty much a Beethovian…
@Sharon – I agree. Caffeine has a huge impact on my slowpoke factor. I started drinking beverages with caffeine in college to get through my thesis. I haven’t looked back since!
@MTO – I envy you! I think I’m mostly a Mozart, except maybe when it comes to blogging, which is maybe why I enjoy it so much?
I wonder about these two categories. Mozart was a much faster and more fluent writer than Beethoven, who was a comparative plodder. Mozart completed over 600 works in his 35 years, Beethoven 135 in 57 years. This is the main difference between them. So Mozart’s way, which was simply to compose the entire thing in his head and then ‘copy’ it down, is effectively several times faster. Except that this is a skill few actually have. Even Beethoven didn’t ! Anyone for whom composition is trial-and-error (they include me) is basically a Beethoven.
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