Using Your Personality Type to Make You a Better Writer

Image Credit: Yen Hoon (via www.freeimages.com)

Image Credit: Yen Hoon (via www.freeimages.com)

By Marcy Kennedy (@MarcyKennedy)

The beginning of the year is a practical time to look back and learn from the year that has finished and to set goals for what we’d like to accomplish in the coming year. It’s easy to remember to do it now rather than at some other arbitrary time.

This year, for me, that analysis meant two things. Over at Janice Hardy’s Fiction University, I’ll be starting a series of posts about writing an author business plan. (You can see my introductory post “Three Questions to Ask Yourself Before Writing An Author Business Plan” already.)

And here, today, I want to show how learning about our personality type can help make us better, happier writers. I got the idea for this post thanks to my friend Jami Gold’s blog on “Wrapping Up the Year: What Didn’t Work?” After reading her post, I wanted to put my own spin on the topic.

Like Jami, I’m a huge fan of the Myers-Briggs’ personality types. My favorite site explaining the types is actually Dr. David Kiersey’s (I love his book Please Understand Me II), but 16 Personalities is also a helpful resource.

Before you continue reading this post, I recommend that you go take this free personality test at HumanMetrics, yet another good resource. Retake the test even if you’ve taken it before. One of the things I like about this particular version (as Jami mentioned in her post) is that it gives you percentages so you can know how strong you are in each measurement.

It’s important to know the strength of your preference on each measurement because, if you’re close to borderline on any quality, you might want to also read the description of the other type. Certain elements of that type might apply to you better, depending on the specific situation.

I’m going to use myself as an example below. I’m an INTJ (what Kiersey calls a Rational Mastermind). It’s one of the more rare types (less than 2% of the population), and it’s even more rare among women. I’d never met another INTJ until I started actively interacting with other writers on the Internet.

So once you’ve taken your test, read up on your type, and taken notice of which measurements you show stronger and weaker preferences on, how can that help you become a better writer?

#1 – It can guide you in choosing a publishing path.

Obviously, many factors go into choosing whether to self-publish, traditionally publish, or become a hybrid author, including time and finances. However, our personalities also need to play a key role in our decision because they influence whether or not we’ll be happy with our choice long-term.

My husband says I have problems with authority, but the truth isn’t that I’m anti-authoritarian. The truth is that, as an INTJ, I won’t follow traditional methods or established ways of doing things if they’re not the best, most efficient way of going about it. “Because I said so” is never a good enough reason for me, and I like the freedom to try new ways of doing things.

Independently publishing is a good fit for INTJs because we don’t like trying to fit within a mold and we don’t like arbitrarily being told what to do. We like to be able to ensure the quality of what we do, research alternative ways of achieving our goals, find the best way, and remain flexible (we’re contingency planners).

If you have a personality type (like the ESTJ or ISFJ) who prefers to follow the established way of doing things and figure you don’t need to reinvent the wheel to get things done, you’re not as likely to be happy with self-publishing. You’re likely to feel more comfortable with a traditional publication path.

#2 – It can help you find the most comfortable writing style for you.

I’ve tried writing by the seat of my pants (pantsing). I’ve tried a middle ground. Both made me miserable during the writing and more miserable as the rewrites added up.

I love planning out my books before I write them. I’m what’s known as a plotter or outliner. For me, plotting a book is like solving a puzzle. Plotting a book before writing also tends to save time. You end up with a cleaner first draft with fewer big picture problems. And plotting a book in advance of writing takes significantly less time than writing and revising multiple drafts as you try to figure out your story and fix problems.

Comparing this to my personality should make it obvious why planning is the best writing process for me. INTJs love problem-solving and hate inefficiency and what we interpret as wasted time. INTJs are known for their enjoyment of designing and executing plans. They don’t like to make decisions on the spur of the moment, without the ability to do sufficient research.

Contrast this to a personality like the ISFP (Artisan Composer). They’re more impulsive. They find planning or preparing tedious. They want to follow their muse, and “they climb the mountain because it is there.” In other words, they’re explorers. This tends to manifest itself in writers who prefer to write by the seat of their pants. They’re also called discovery or organic writers.

If you’re forcing yourself to write in a way that doesn’t suit your personality type, you will be less motivated to write and, consequently, less productive. Pure pantsing or pure plotting might not be right for you either. Carefully considering your personality type might give you ideas for what middle ground adaptation will suit you best.

#3 – It can help you spot areas of weakness in your writing.

I’m going to give you an example based on my personality type so you can see how to read through your own personality type with an eye to where you might be weak as a writer.

INTJs tend to prefer facts to emotions when it comes to decision-making. Emotions, to an INTJ, aren’t trustworthy and are too easily swayed. It’s not that we’re emotionless. It’s that we’re more like Vulcans. We have very intense, deep emotions that we like to keep a tight rein on. We’re very private people. We’re extremely uncomfortable with big, public displays of emotion, and we’re not entirely certain how to deal with emotional outbursts by other people because, to us, those often seem irrational.

As a writer, this means I have to put conscious effort into ensuring enough emotion makes it onto the page. What I interpret as a highly emotional scene can often come across to others as still needing more. By being aware of that potential weakness in my writing, I can dig deep, amp up the emotions on the page when necessary, and use beta readers and editors as a tool to tell me if a scene is still reading cold.

Each personality will have weaknesses that reflect themselves in what we write and in our writing process (in her post, Jami talked about how her perfectionism can make her a procrastinator). Being honest with ourselves about them can make us stronger, better writers in 2015 and beyond.

What personality type are you? I’d love to hear how you feel this has influenced your writing!

Interested in more ways to improve your writing? Deep Point of View is now available! (You might also want to check out Internal Dialogue or Showing and Telling in Fiction.)

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