1. Education
Richard Nordquist

Are You a Gusher or a Trickler?

By November 9, 2012

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In regard to the work habits of professional authors, Robertson Davies insisted that there are just two kinds of writers, "gushers" and "tricklers." Take a moment to consider which category you fall into.

[James] Thurber was a gusher; for one story which was 20,000 words when finished, he wrote a total of 240,000, and fifteen different versions. It is interesting that the torrential Thurber is the one who talked most about that dread of all writers - drying up. . . . Frank O'Connor was also a gusher; he rewrote some of his stories even after they had been published.

The tricklers may be represented by William Styron, who says: ''I can't turn out slews of stuff each day. I wish I could. I seem to have some neurotic need to perfect each paragraph--each sentence, even--as I go along.'' Dorothy Parker, also a trickler, said: ''I can't write five words but I change seven!''

The industry of the gushers commands respect; Joyce Cary, Frank O'Connor, and [Truman] Capote--we see them writing and revising, rejecting pages by the handful, and finally piecing their work together from the mass. But the tricklers have an agony of their own; they cannot continue until the last line written is as right as they can make it. Both methods seem to take about an equal amount of time.
(Robertson Davies, A Voice from the Attic: Essays on the Art of Reading, rev. ed. Penguin, 1990)
Click on "comments" to let us know whether you think of yourself as a gusher or a trickler--and if you're content to be one or the other.

More About Focusing and Revising:


November 10, 2012 at 12:05 am
(1) Blocker says:

I’m a trickler AND a gusher–the worst of both worlds. I agonize over every word in every sentence. Then 9 times out of 10 I end up throwing the sentence away. And then I try it again and again and again . . .

November 12, 2012 at 12:03 pm
(2) Hester Higgs says:

Re the above comment; doesn’t that make you a quintessential trickler? Where does the gusher figure in here?

I myself am a trickler. But every once in awhile I’ll have an inspiration to handwrite the ideas as they stream through my head- a mini-gush, if you will. Then, I put those ideas through the meat grinder when I take them to the keyboard!

November 12, 2012 at 12:19 pm
(3) Leslie says:

I am a trickler. I agonize over every word, sentence and paragraph!

November 12, 2012 at 12:22 pm
(4) Leigh Ann Williams says:

Such a gusher! I go on and on and on, and my students tell me I “overexplain” things, but I love words and tend to use them too much! I have to edit even an email so that I’m not rambling as I am in danger of doing here….

November 12, 2012 at 4:08 pm
(5) Chickaddd says:

On paper you could call me a gusher. I can start writing and correct the mistakes when I go over the draft.

On the keyboard it is different. I guess that I am a trickler. I am going back and correcting my spelling, spacing and so on as I write.

When I finish the final copy, on paper or PC, I reread it from beginning to end and then proof read it to double check for mistakes.

November 12, 2012 at 8:24 pm
(6) Christine says:

I’m such a trickler that if i can’t something down in my mind that satisfies me I won’t write it at all. Once I do write though I don’t like to do revisions. I am less satisfied with them most of the time and end up with almost all of my first drafts intact. I always admire writers who can keep churning out material and wish that I could do that.

November 14, 2012 at 4:47 pm
(7) Catherine says:

It’s the same with new language production! There are two main groups: the ones who talk much but make a lot of mistakes, and the ones who talk seldom but make almost no mistakes.

November 14, 2012 at 7:40 pm
(8) Onion says:

I’d like to be a tickler. Someone who can grab the reader by the lapel and make them want to read more.

November 16, 2012 at 6:38 pm
(9) Donald says:

I’ve tried both and am never satisfied. By the time I’ve finished the first paragraph, I’m already revising the first sentence(s). I think I’m more in love with the act of writing, watching the words take shape on the page and hearing the pen scratching than anything else.

November 16, 2012 at 6:43 pm
(10) Donald says:

I guess I’m a tricker. Although I will write furiously for ten minutes, I always end up revising the first paragraph and then rewriting the whole thing. I’ve tried gushing, but just can’t keep going back to rewrite. I do the same thing with e-mails.

November 22, 2012 at 6:23 pm
(11) reasonvemotion says:

Both types seem to me to be Obsessive Compulsive, as me I am neither.

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