Are you a hedgehog, fox, eagle or hummingbird?

Reading time: Less than two minutes

This is my weekly installment of “writing about writing,” in which I scan the world to find websites, books and articles to help other writers. Today I discuss an article about Italo Calvino…

I once worked for an editor who believed that Italian journalist Italo Calvino (1923 to 1985) was the best contemporary writer who ever lived. The editor suggested I read Calvino’s novel,  If On A Winter’s Night A Traveller, and I tried, but I just couldn’t get through it.

Frequently described as a mystery story, a satire, a romance and a treasure hunt, all in one, the book only irritated me.  But in retrospect, I think I was too young. Perhaps I’ll try it again. What’s had me thinking about Calvino (pictured above) is a recent column in the very fine blog Brain Pickings, by Maria Popovna. 

In her post, headlined The Hedgehog and the Fox, Povovna describes Calvino’s belief that all writers can be divided into two camps. She quotes Calvino describing his system:

The hedgehog is the writer who has one unshakeable conceptual and stylistic unity, whereas the fox adapts his strategy to the circumstances, [the Italian novelist and journalist Alberto] Moravia is a hedgehog in that he is tenaciously consistent with himself whatever he writes, both in terms of poetics and of his vision of the world. Whereas I change my method and field of reference from book to book because I can never believe in the same thing two times running, therefore I am a fox, even though I dream of being a hedgehog…

I agree with Calvino that there are two types of writers in the world, but my taxonomy focuses on two entirely different characteristics. My two categories are born-writers and born-editors. In working with  thousands, of writers over the last 30 years, I’ve noticed that some people write easily and fluently and then abhor having to edit their work. Conversely,  I notice that others (the majority) sweat and strain over producing each word of their rough draft and then are thrilled with the opportunity to edit — this is the fun part of the writing job.

If forced to name my categories, Calvino style, I might call them the Eagle (for the born writer) and the Hummingbird (for the born editor.) This is because the born writer, whom I admire immensely, seems so focused and determined, while the born editor (which is how I see myself) seems to spend so much energy flitting from one flower/task to the next — managing to get the job done but spending tremendous effort in finishing it.