writing and learning style

May 23, 2010

In the past, I blogged about how being “left-brained” vs. “right-brained” influences writers.

I imagine that their cognitive or learning style influences writers and readers too. Literature describes at least three different learning styles. Visual learners prefer learning through images, diagrams, demonstrations, handouts, etc. Auditory people learn best through listening to instructions. Kinesthetic people prefer hands-on experience and experiments.

There are a lot of sites online where you can test your learning style, for example this one. The program that tests hemispheric preference also indicates whether you are visual or auditory.

I talked to a lot of writers who are visual writers. They describe seeing scenes unfold like a “movie” in their heads when they write. Personally, I’m not a visual writer at all. I don’t have that movie. I think in words, not images. I always considered that a disadvantage.

But then I discussed it with one of my critique partners, whose first drafts have few visual details. I thought that might be because she’s not a visual writer either. But it turns out it’s the opposite. She’s a visual person and has vivid pictures in her head, so she tends to forget putting them on the page in the first draft. Putting the images into words isn’t always easy. And when the “movie” stops, many of the visual writers battle writer’s block.

Auditory writers often say they hear their characters. Entire dialogue scenes might come easily to them.

Our cognitive style influences us as readers and beta readers too.

Strongly visual readers might need just a few setting details, and their imagination will take off. Less visual readers might need more details to be able to “see” the setting.

When I was working on Second Nature, I had a test reader who’s strongly visual. She sees novel plots like movies in her head. During the whole story, she continually asked me “How did he say that?” and “How did she sound?” For her, there were too few auditory clues on the page, while auditory readers might be able to imagine sounds and voices without a lot of cues.

So, are you a more visual or more auditory person? Does it influence your writing or reading?



  1. I’m more visual in practice. Simply because I miss a lot of auditory input due to a hearing impairment. I think I mentioned this in a previous post comment.

    I visualize the setting for my characters and often begin scenes in my writing by establishing them. (I did take screenwriting at one point, so this “style” element may be a residual from that.) I am hugely people-centric in my descriptions. I have to remember to have my story characters interacting with their environment continually through a scene in order to remember to include setting details.

    I notice in my writing that I do a lot more with body language to contextualize auditory content (dialogue), too. I know exactly from where this stems. I’ve spent a lifetime watching people for clues about what they’re feeling about the topic, or how they’re reacting to my speech, simply because there were periods of time growing up when, unless I read lips, I wasn’t hearing more than one word in ten.

    I have a great deal of difficulty following multiple conversations in a room, and very quickly the sound will simply become dissonant to me and I have to leave, find a quiet place, or create a one-on-one conversation to calm and focus myself. Consequently a lot of my characters get agitated in large presses of crowds, and separate themselves, or step back and observe. It’s my own modus operandi.

    In educating myself, I find I have to read a passage I am hearing read, or hope the teacher — if she’s facing the board — is writing down on that board pretty much everything she’s saying. I had a devil of a time with a math course where the professor was only writing down the problem steps, and only doing the “why” explanations as he faced the board, in a heavy Asian-origin accent. I nearly flunked the course.

    As a teacher, I write on the board, and then speak to the class directly, echoing the written words. I will also take advantage of watching the class to notice which students are still writing, which haven’t written anything, and which have “I still don’t understand” expressions on their faces. It helps me gauge whether to go back and reiterate, or if it is safe to go on, or if a more interactive intervention (“spot check questions”) are more apropos.

    Just exactly the same ways I have handled general conversation all my life.

    • Sounds as if a few of my colleagues could learn something from you! Watching body language is so important if you work with people.

      I’ll need to re-read one of your novels to see how it translates to your writing.

      Thanks for commenting!

  2. What a thoughtful blog! This material is fascinating.

    It’s especially near and dear to my heart given that I covered the learning styles and left-brained/right-brained differences in the TTT workshop I led this past weekend.

    The point was to make folks aware of their own styles and how easily they ignore other styles AND/OR neglect to include information they assume everyone else sees/has.


    • The personality traits, styles, and experiences we bring to the table influences how we see the world and how we react to things — may it be work or reading or writing.

      That’s part of why it’s so important to include beta readers in the writing process, because they allow us to see things through different eyes.

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