hunters and farmers

Being Bad at Middles

writer at work

As I’ve mentioned elsewhere, I’m more of a hunter-type personality than a farmer.  This isn’t ideal for living in modern society, but isn’t completely unworkable…  It does, however, have some interesting side effects, one of which I’d like to share, as it definitely has to do with my writing process.

That side effect is being bad at middles.

I’ve always been fascinated by people who love process, in much the way that one is fascinated by gruesome traffic accidents or unusually large insects.  It’s an awful, awful thing, but you just can’t turn your eyes away.  In my case the reason for that is that I don’t understand it.  I love the rush of a new project, delight in the sense of something just about to finish… but have no passion whatsoever for the nuts and bolts of what happens in the middle.  I push forward to the best of my ability, but rely on whatever talent I might have, and the planning I did in the first throes of new-book enthusiasm to get me through at a hopefully high level.

In the middle of something, I often look around and see friends enthusing about their passion for rewrites or for tweaking their hyper-detailed outline for the hundredth time before starting the actual writing and I scratch my head and wonder how they can keep the enthusiasm alive for long enough to actually finish a book.

Honestly, experience tells me that many of them don’t and most books are sacrificed on the altar of perfectionism before anyone can even see their imperfections.

But some of them do get written, and polished, and edited and published.  I find that wonderful, in the sense that it fills me with wonder.  I know I would never have the follow through; I would drown in the mire in the middle.

I’m like that with everything, whether it be a project for work or a book I’m reading–but it seems particularly applicable to writing.  Generally, my enthusiasm for any given piece of work is lowest right in the middle.

I’ve developed a number of strategies to cope.  I often have more than one piece of writing going on at the same time, or I write something really short that I can get finished when the enthusiasm is still upon me.

Another way to cope is to borrow joy across different aspects.  Perhaps a few hundred words on a bogged writing project can be spurred on by the promise of reading the final fifty pages of my book in progress later on… or of starting a new drawing.  Small highs from other walks of life can spur things on.

Of course, nothing renews enthusiasm in writing like a sale… but that’s not something I can control.

Does my method always work?

No.

On those occasions, you need to fall back on that old staple: sheer bloody-mindedness.  It’s gotten me through more fallow periods than I can count.  It does have the downside that you may despise the words you’re putting down, but I’ve found that coming back a couple of weeks later will improve that text immeasurably… even if you don’t change a single letter of it.

Anyway, that’s how I do it.  Your own mileage, as always, will probably differ wildly.

 

Gustavo Bondoni is an Argentine novelist whose latest novel is a thriller entitled “Timeless”.  You can check it out here.

 

 

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On Hunters, Farmers and ADD

11th Century Chinese Warrior

Earlier this morning, I was thinking how much easier (yes, easier) life was in the 11th century.  Essentially, if someone was irritating you, you rode out (or walked out, depending on your level of income) armed with as many instruments of mayhem as you could take with you, and resolved the issue.  I am not a particularly violent person, but sometimes, when modern life gets political, whiny and just plain moronic, I do envy those inhabitants of simpler times (although the lack of bidets is always “problematic”, as the PC crowd likes to say) when society wasn’t as apt to frown upon occasional major bloodshed in the course of friendly arguments.

And now, it seems that this may be linked to the fact that I am easily distracted.  Hmm…

Research into Attention Deficit Disorder has led to any number of avenues, most of them focused on getting hyperactive children to be able to focus and learn at the same rate as other kids (drugs, mainly). While your attitude towards this might vary, there is little question that the drugs make these children nice little zombies who can actually stay awake through boring history classes without distracting those around them who are more teachable and focused.

hunting a wooly mammoth

However, another current believes that there is little wrong with these children psychologically, but that their minds have a preponderance of hunter-type characteristics – a genetic remnant of less civilized past. As you can imagine, most elementary schools on the planet are not equipped to train children to hunt mammoths, something in which this kind of child would probably excel as they are generally better at improvisation and real-time problem-solving than they are at concentrating on something they don’t need at the moment. They aren’t necessarily bad students, but they are the type which will toss things together at the last moment. In modern life, they tend to be the brilliant thinkers who put the great ideas out there and let others take care of the details.

On the other hand, ”normal” children are those in which the ”farmer” brain type is dominant: meticulous, detail-oriented, planners. They are generally a teacher’s dream, and are the ones who can turn the great ideas into working systems, which they then enjoy refining and refining some more. They are the ones who will give us a working highway system, but also the ones that give us 65 mile-per-hour speed limits because their nature is to plough the furrow again and again, as far as they can. Most overdone social trends (see helmets on ski slopes) have to do with farmers going a little too far into the details, into places where people outside the extremely specialized clique can no longer communicate effectively with them. Most people have a little of both, with one side predominating, while some – very few – are able to balance both sides, and can be Farming Hunters or Hunting Farmers.

Of course, all of this is extremely relevant to the business world, on two fronts: marketing and recruiting. Marketing because it is important to remember that you can’t sell things to farmers the way you would to hunters, and recruiting because, for technical reasons I won’t go into here, it is important to have a good balance of both personality types on your sales force (and I assume you would want your accounting department to be composed exclusively of farmers). Internet entrepreneurs tend to be hunters (which explains why they break the mold, and also why their long-range planning is sometimes… questionable).

So how does all of the above relate to this blog?

 

detail oriented

Simple. Polymaths seem to be Hunter-type personalities, while specialists, those men and women who are completely absorbed in one topic, seem to be farmers (remember that ADD research?), which is what makes academia so frustrating for so many.  The plodding, bureaucratic specialist is prevalent – and that means that the maverick needs to either learn to accept that or to ply his trade elsewhere.  That may be the reason that the less detail oriented personality types tend to find their way into business or the military as opposed to academia.  Hell, even in these fields, detail orientation is often praised, while big-picture thinking is suppressed.

Which begs the question: How much are we losing because of this?  Is over-specialization driving us to a dead end?  We at Classically Educated think so – which is why these posts are so eclectic…  But, ask around, you’ll find that most people disagree with us!