Thursday, May 16, 2013
Broad strokes vs details
A few weeks ago, I was talking to a friend of mine about multitasking.
While she's in school, she has a part time job as a manager at a very well known clothing chain. She was telling me how, everyone who applies for a job says they are good at multitasking, yet 19/20 employees can't re-fold a t-shirt while giving simple directions to a customer (like, "kids section is on the left"), which seems like a pretty basic level of multitasking.
Since I love blonde jokes (being blonde myself*), her story reminded me of the old joke about not being able to walk and chew gum at the same time.
So what constitutes 'multi-tasking'?
Maybe this is totally wrong, but I think of people who are good multitaskers as those who are good at painting with broad strokes. They can quickly assess multiple problems, prioritize them, then efficiently juggle the tasks, giving just enough effort to each as is absolutely necessary. The tasks may not be perfectly done, may not be done super fast, but they can be completed in tandem.
Broad strokes give the most impact for the least amount of effort.
Those who are not multitaskers get caught up in the details. Getting multiple tasks thrown at them at once, some will be able to prioritize quickly, others will get overwhelmed, but both will (one getting started), work on a single task until it is completed, then move on to the next.
Detail work may not seem as bold or prolific as a broad stroke, but it'll have more depth.
Yeah, sorry about all the art/painting comparisons ;) I've said before that when I'm writing, I tend to slip too far into the character and *my* writing style changes.
I've been thinking about this 'cause I'm not a multitasker, but also because I'm a pantser rather than a plotter. I can't see/organize a story in broad strokes, like an outline. I focus on the detail in front of me, finish it, then move onto the next. Somewhere in my brain the scope of the project exists, but it's fuzzy and indistinct. There's no sketch, each detail gets set into a blank canvas, like a mess of puzzle pieces dumped on the floor, they are complete in their own right, but I can only see the final product when they've all been laid out and clicked together.
Sometimes I envy plotters (and multitaskers) for being able to view their stories through a wide lens, while I'm stumbling along with blinders on until my first draft is completed.
But sometimes I feel proud because each scene I write is usually fleshed out with so many details that my brain has a dozen new avenues to explore when I am ready to write the next.
I don't think being one or the other is good or bad, I just think it's interesting how they both have advantages and disadvantages. As long as you're playing to your strengths, and not worrying about what you don't have, it's all good. Not every job requires you to give directions and fold t-shirts at the same time ;)
I wonder, what kind of writer are you, and what about your characters? Are they multitaskers, or are they detail-oriented?
Certain genres seem to call more for one type of storytelling (and character-type) than others. Like, wouldn't a fast-paced action/adventure story be thrown into chaos without a multitasker at the wheel fielding all the problems being hurled their way?
...and doesn't that kind of make you want to try writing a story like that?
...or is it just me? ;)
*See, as a natural blonde, I can find humour in poking fun at bleach-bottle blondes, especially since my sister and several of my cousins continue to use drug store products to re-capture their childhood hair colour ;)