What type of writer and reader are you?

Back in 2015, I was chatting with a dear writer friend, Paul Dale Anderson, about the different types of writers and readers.

If you’re a new writer searching for your voice, understanding which classification you fall into might help. Professional writers should also find this interesting.

Some of you may be familiar with Neurolinguistic Programming (NLP). Though many call it junk science, most agree with the basic theory behind it: Our brains process information through one of our five senses. Though some rare individuals favor their sense of taste or smell (usually together, and these people are often chefs or perfumers), for most of us, it comes down to either visual, auditory, or kinesthetic.

Kinesthetic links the process of learning to physical activity. Meaning, kinesthetic people can read or listen to instructions, but deep learning occurs via the process of doing. Obviously, this doesn’t mean kinesthetic readers need to act out the plot — though that’d be cool to watch! — they better absorb the storyline when it relates to experiences and actions.

Clear as mud? Cool. Moving on…

Paul Dale Anderson authored 27 novels and hundreds of short stories. He earned graduate degrees in Educational Psychology, taught college-level Neurolinguistic Programming (NLP), and earned an MA in Library and Information Studies from the University of Wisconsin. He also taught creative writing for Writers Digest School (both Novel and Short Story) and for the University of Illinois at Chicago. Paul was also a Certified Hypnotist and National Guild of Hypnotists Certified Instructor.

Sadly, the writing community lost our dear friend Paul on December 13, 2018. You can still plant a tree in his honor here, which I just discovered. Seems fitting for such a kind and generous soul. Anyway…

What he shared with me in 2015 is pure gold. And today, I’ll share it with you. The italicized paragraphs below are Paul’s words, not mine.

Even from beyond the grave, his knowledge and expertise still dazzles…

Too many writers are unaware of how the human mind processes language. Various structures in the brain—some in the left hemisphere and some in the right—work together to make sense out of symbols. Symbols include, besides alpha-numeric digital representations, sounds, gestures, signs, maps, smells, tastes, and physical feelings. It is the mind that gives meaning to each symbol based on prior associations dredged out of memory. The map is not the territory but merely a representation of the territory.

During conversations with fellow writers at the 2015 Nebula Award Banquet in Chicago, I identified successful new writers by which symbols had salience for them and the way they accessed information.

Some writers were very verbal and had a fluidity of language based primarily on auditory processing of sensory input. Those people were able to instantly duplicate and respond to what they heard as they heard it. Sounds themselves had salience. Those writers are akin to the musician who plays mostly by ear, translating auditory input into kinesthetic output without the additional steps auditory-digital types like me require to process input and output.

I work differently. I “see” stories, then translate them into words that describe my visions. First I see the scenes. Then I see the written symbols that best represent that scene. I see each letter, each punctuation mark, each space at the beginning of a new paragraph, the way words and white space look laid-out on a page, the way each page contributes to the story as a whole.

I write at the keyboard where my fingers automatically translate the symbols in my head into kinesthetic actions that produce the symbols that appear on the screen or piece of paper. I cannot listen to music while writing. Background music interferes with the words in my head. Other writers find that listening to music while writing is a big help.

If you are primarily kinesthetic, you might prefer to write with a pen on paper before revising your works on a keyboard or sending your notebooks to a typist. The feel of the paper itself, the touch of the pen to paper, produces words from your subconscious faster and better than any other process. Kinesthetic writers also love to pound out words on manual typewriters. They write with a flourish that adds to their style. James Patterson is a kinesthetic writer.

If you’re more like me, however, you separate the process into a series of “drafts.” The first draft is primarily visual, and you describe what you see.

The second draft includes imagined sounds, tastes, feelings, smells. During the third draft I read all the words aloud to hear how the words sound and to feel how they roll off my tongue. I add punctuation marks to match my pauses, inflections, intonations. I tend to cut unnecessary flourishes out of my stories unless they add momentum to the plot or help describe a specific character.

If a story is to work, it must engage all of the reader’s senses. Some readers are primarily auditory, some are visual, some are kinesthetic, some olfactory, and some gustatory.

The majority of people in this world are auditory. They respond best to dialogue, to alliteration, to phrasing. If you are primarily auditory like Stephen King, you might find writing easier if you dictate and capture the words into a digital recorder. Kinesthetic people respond best to action and they translate words on paper into muscle movements. If you want to appeal to every reader, you need to reach each of them in their own personal comfort zones.

That last line is a killer, right? No pressure. LOL

I fall into the auditory category, both as a writer and a reader. I write with headphones on, but the music becomes white noise that narrows my focus, transporting me into my story worlds. My first drafts consist of mainly dialogue with no tags and minimal narrative and description. After I gain critical distance, I’ll add sensory details and other enhancements.

As an auditory reader, I can’t listen to audiobooks. I need to read the words to hear the story rhythm. Audiobooks rob me of that.

Paul told us readers fall into the visual, auditory, and kinesthetic categories. For fun, let’s look at reading subcategories as well.

  • Motor reader: These readers tend to move their lips and may even mimic speech with their tongues and vocal cords when reading. Their reading range is very slow (150 to 200 words per minute) because they must read word-by-word at the rate they speak.
  • Auditory reader: These readers vocalize minimally or not at all, but they do silently say and/or  hear the words. They read in the 200 to 400 words-per-minute range. Auditory readers are skillful readers with vocabularies large enough that they can quickly recognize words.
  • Visual reader: These readers engage their eyes and minds when they read, but not their mouths, throats, or ears. They can read many words at once because they read ideas, not individual words. They read at a rate of 400+ words per minute.

If we believe Paul, with all his experience and degrees, most people fall into the auditory reader category. If your sentences don’t sing, the auditory reader may DNF your book. We also can’t forget about the visual or kinesthetic reader. Striking the perfect balance for all three can wrench a writer’s stomach, but it’s a goal worth shooting for.

What type of writer are you? What type of reader are you? If you’re an auditory reader, do you enjoy audiobooks? Or can you only hear the story rhythm by reading the actual words?

This entry was posted in #amwriting, #writetip, #WritingCommunity, readers, reading, reading habits, Writing and tagged , , , , , , , by Sue Coletta. Bookmark the permalink.

About Sue Coletta

Sue Coletta is an award-winning crime writer and an active member of Mystery Writers of America, Sisters in Crime, and International Thriller Writers. Feedspot and Expertido.org named her Murder Blog as “Best 100 Crime Blogs on the Net.” She also blogs at the Kill Zone, Story Empire, and Writers Helping Writers. Sue lives with her husband in the Lakes Region of New Hampshire. Her backlist includes psychological thrillers, the Mayhem Series (books 1-3) and Grafton County Series, and true crime/narrative nonfiction. Now, she exclusively writes eco-thrillers, Mayhem Series (books 4-8 and continuing). Sue's appeared on the Emmy award-winning true crime series, Storm of Suspicion, and three episodes of A Time to Kill on Investigation Discovery. Learn more about Sue and her books at https://suecoletta.com

28 thoughts on “What type of writer and reader are you?

  1. Fascinating stuff, Sue. I believe I’m both an auditory reader and writer, though I enjoy writing longhand when I’m figuring out characters and plot holes and stuff. I wonder if I could be a little of both an auditory writer and a kinesthetic writer.

  2. So interesting. So many can listen to music while writing. I can’t do it. I have music on while I prep salads or wash dishes, etc. But have to have quiet in order to write.

    I likewise have tried to listen to books on audio without success. If I put on an audio book I just end up off doing other things because it doesn’t retain my attention and I have no idea what the narrator was even saying. I’ve got to see the words on the page.

  3. Wow, Sue, reading and absorbing all the info in this post required three reads and three cups of coffee!

    What type of reader am I? A combo of auditory and visual. Audiobooks don’t keep my interest b/c my mind wanders. I have to see the words. Yet I’m also aware of how they sound in my head. I’d rather read the transcript of an article than listen to it.

    Side note: I learn a lot from talking with book clubs and finding out what particular aspects resonate with them as readers. Whatever they like, I try to do more of in the next book.

    What type of writer am I? I don’t know. Many writers see the story in their minds like a movie. I don’t. I can’t see it until after I’ve written it. The words come first, followed by images. I guess that means ideas have to be written down then sensory details are filled in later. The skeleton has to be there, first then I layer on the muscle, sinew, flesh, and skin.

    Oh Wise One, what classification does that fall into…besides weird? 😉

    • “I can’t see it until after I’ve written it. The words come first, followed by images. I guess that means ideas have to be written down then sensory details are filled in later. The skeleton has to be there, first then I layer on the muscle, sinew, flesh, and skin.”

      Debbie, you spoke for me too–that’s exactly how I’d describe writing for myself most of the time.

  4. I’m visual when it comes to writing. I have to see the words on the page, and I have to be able to move them around, which is why I can’t imagine using dictation software. I can’t listen to audiobooks. I like to see the words on the page when I’m reading.
    I’ve a bit of the kinesthetic in me, too, as I will walk around the house (or go for a walk) when I need to work out plot points.

  5. I’m a visual reader, and a combination visual/kinesthetic writer…I think. I have to “see” the story before I can write it, but I often act out something in the story, like blindfolding myself and walking around the house when I wrote a scene set in a dark cave.

    • Fascinating, Patricia! I locked myself in an oil drum to experience my character’s terror, but it was more for realism than having to act out the scene. I just didn’t have any life experience of being trapped like that.

  6. Great post, Sue. Wonderful information. Very interesting.

    I’m both an auditory writer and reader. I learn best by both reading and hearing the new information. Abraham Lincoln said he read a book three times at once by seeing, speaking, and hearing the words. I don’t read audiobooks because I live in a rural community and all my trips are 5 – 10 minutes. I prefer to hold a physical book and turn pages.

    I saw a delightful example of a kinesthetic (writer) story teller yesterday. My pre K granddaughter, Marian, sat down beside me and told me that she had heard the story of Joseph being sold into slavery in Egypt during Sunday School. Her older sister read the story from the Bible. I asked Marian to tell me the story. She started, fidgeted, then said she couldn’t tell the story sitting down. She promptly stood in front of me, waved her arms, flourished, and moved around as she enacted an amazingly accurate rendition of the story. Precious.

    Have a great week!

  7. Thought-provoking post, Sue! Like Debbie, I required some extra caffeination to get my mind going first thing (in my case, strong, black tea 🙂

    I’m a combination auditory/kinesthetic as a writer. I find dialogue very easy to write. Writing it well means rewriting for me so that it sounds snappier and carries more punch. I also find the physical act of writing spurs more imaginings. I usually type, but I will write by hand to change things up, especially if I’m stuck. The problem is then deciphering my own handwriting, so I have to watch my handwriting speed.

    As a reader, I’m auditory. I hear the words spoken in my mind. I do listen to audiobooks, almost always when I am doing something else, such as driving, exercising, or, especially these days, jigsaw puzzling with my wife. We’re currently listening to Patrick Stewart’s epic memoir, Making It So, which he reads, making it a real treat.

    It’s been quite a while since I looked at NLP, and seeing it applied to reading and writing was absolutely fascinating. Your dear friend has given us all gift. Thanks for sharing it with us this morning.

    Hope you have a wonderful week my friend, filled with words.

  8. Wonderful post, Sue. I would say I’m a hybrid visual/auditory reader/writer. I visualize the scenes in my head as I’m writing, but the melody of the words is important to me. As far as creating the story, I must be kinesthetic since running or walking always inspires new ideas.

    I also listen to audiobooks, podcasts, or lectures while I’m doing chores or running errands.

  9. Back in grade school, when we were forced to take those “what kind of learner are you” tests, my scores would come out almost the same with one or two eeking past for the win.

    Reading your post, I was saying yes to almost everything. I must visualize the scene to write it. I liesten to music, and while I write my sentences must have a decent rhythm to them or they feel off. But then, my first drafts must be bursting with emotion or it feels flat (I always cut back later).

    Same for reading. I must hear every word in my head, visualize the story, and sometimes I move my lips. Also can’t just read, must be tv or music or sitting outside with outside noises.

    And as for writing/reading for hours upon end, forget it. More than once I read for five minutes then scribble stuff down for five minutes. (And I’m going to point out that that last sentence there was an example of me having to rewrite because the rhythm was off.)

  10. I’m with you, Sue. I like ambient noise when I’m writing, usually coffee house sound with some jazz in the background.

    I don’t like audio books for fiction. I need to be able to go back and read something, or dwell on something on the page. Strangely, I don’t have a problem listening to nonfiction.

    • Hmm, that is interesting about nonfiction, Jim. It must relate to left/right hemisphere. You’re using your analytical mind while listening to nonfiction audiobooks.

  11. Grandmaster science fiction writer Poul Anderson, notice the different spelling, had really good advice on writing. One bit I’ve always passed along to my students is that each descriptive scene should include at least three of the five senses. It’s amazing how that can bring a scene to life.

    We really need to focus on sensory elements in our writing because it hits buttons in the reader’s brain that no other media can replicate. It’s why readers continue to be readers despite all the other media out there.

    • So true, Marilynn. Without emotional resonance, we’ll lose them. Paul was such an intelligent, giving soul who loved the writing community. We’re blessed to have known him.

  12. Thought-provoking post, Sue, and something I never considered. According to the descriptions, I’m definitely a visual reader. As for writing, the story just pops into my head and I type it. Scenes, dialogue, characters, are all there. I need silence for writing, and can’t listen to anything and get something out of it. In school, lectures floated out the window, but I could memorize 20 pages of information and ace tests. I can’t read music, but ’hear’ original songs in my head, and can play them on the piano, then note-by-note transfer them to a computer program that prints them out. Weird. 🙂

    • Sounds like you’re a visual writer, too, Becky. The interesting part is, when it comes to music, you lean more toward audio/kinesthetic. That’s what makes this subject so fascinating, IMO. We can be a little of all three, depending on what we’re doing.

  13. Nice piece, Sue. It’s hard to believe five years have flown by since Paul passed away. He really was a great guy and true gentleman. A loss to the reading and writing world, for sure.

    I’m not sure what kind of a writer I am -some days kind of a crappy one – but as a reader I’m all visual. Funny, not half an hour ago Rita and I were talking about our reading and writing styles. She is auditory and has to have background noise whereas it urks the ever lovin outa me and blows up my concentration. So we long ago reached a compromise. She wears ear buds when I’m around, but then she was the irritating habit of vocalizing her response to whatever she’s listening to.

    I gave in yesterday, though, and took a two hour listening break when she tuned into a Joe Rogan podcast with Elon Musk. What a pair and, man, can they swear.

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