"The Writing Problems of Visual Thinkers"
III. Problems of Context
A good writer establishes the context for what is to follow.
There are so many contexts in which to interpret experience that
unless the writer directs the reader to a specific context, even
the meanings of the most ordinary words become uncertain. "Male"
and "female" mean something quite different when referring
to electrical plugs than when referring to the mating rituals
of whales. (Bransford and Johnson, 1972, is the classic demonstration
of interpretation by context.)
|Visual thinkers seem to have unusual
difficulty writing so that readers can see both the forest and
the trees--main points and supporting details. Two tendencies
pull them in opposite directions.
On the one hand, visual thinkers have a natural love of detail: Looking at a tree, they may be drawn to the patterns of shadows cast by the tiniest hairs on the veins of the leaves. Seeing so much, visual thinkers get lost in aesthetic detail-a tendency I suspect is exaggerated by most artistic training.
On the other hand, visual thinkers think in wholes. They love visual orderliness, balance, and proportion. Indeed, if Silverman (1989) is correct, visual thinkers have a cognitive need to see the big picture. Given their disposition to gestalts, why do visual thinkers have difficulty organizing prose?
|Visual thinkers may have difficulty
organizing the details in their writing because they tend toward
what I can only think to call "aesthetic indiscrimination."
Verbal thinkers constantly analyze, compare, relate, and evaluate.
Good writing is fundamentally biased-biased toward a particular
point. In writing, the elements of thought are not equal.
Most thoughts are subordinate to other thoughts and all are subordinate
to a single overriding theme.
Well-organized prose does not suddenly happen at the keyboard; it is the end result of a long process of analytical perception and a commitment to a particular strategy for sequencing the elements of the thought. Good expository prose grows from a subtle analysis which ranks details so they can be ordered in support of a central theme and expressed verbally. To repeat, expository writing is based on a thought process that is, at heart, analytical.
But everything can seem sublimely equal to a visual thinker. Every detail matters, no detail is irrelevant. Visual thinkers tend toward an approach to life that Manfred Clynes called "apreene"-a state of perceptual openness in which they "trust that whatever may come into awareness is worthy to be well received and even treasured" (quoted in Curtiss, 1987, p. 218).
Perhaps this receptive, non-evaluative attitude is a byproduct of the brainwave state required for producing vivid visualizations, so that visual thinkers thus gravitate toward a state of consciousness inimicable to the precise use of words. Techniques for inducing more vivid visualization often emphasize such receptivity (e.g., the deep relaxation used in Autogenic Training). Perhaps this mode of thought is more fundamental and "natural" than analytical thinking; perhaps it evel leads to more humane and holistic creations.
Unfortunately, when visual thinkers have writing problems, this mode of thinking can lead them to become immersed in a flood of ever-changing details of texture, color, and form, or space into a wholeness in which everything is intensely real but "there are no words for it." Then, visual thinkers, inclined to consider each element of perception, thought, or writing equal to all others, tend to produce static, digressive prose that lies passively on the page and offers the reader little direction or help.
|Visual thinkers have difficulty organizing expository prose because their preferred mode of thought is even more fundamentally different from the organization of expository prose than oral thinking is. Prose is organized by story, focus, sequence, drama, and analysis-none of which is native to the country inhabited by a visual thinker. The writing of a visual thinker is like a map of all the possibilities; a verbal thinker writes like a guided tour.|