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December 17, 2015

Does Our Personality Affect Our Writing Process?

Gears with text: Does Our Personality Drive Our Writing Process?

Over the last couple of posts, we’ve been talking about how everyone’s writing process will be unique and how there’s no “one right way” to write. All that matters is that we discover a process that helps us reach “The End” for our book.

Those posts reminded me of an article I came across a few months ago. The gist of the article was that our personalities—as measured by the Myers-Briggs test—shape us as writers. For fun, the post’s author took a guess at what the test results of several famous authors would reveal.

Whether we put any stock into tests like Myers-Briggs, I do find them interesting for providing insights into strengths and weaknesses—either for ourselves or for our characters.

For example, I’ve written before about how we can apply those types of tests to our characters. By knowing our characters’ flaws, we might come up with ideas for our story’s arc (as our characters are trying to overcome one or more of those flaws over the course of the story).

I’ve also touched on how our test results might provide insights into areas we might struggle with. A better understanding of our personality traits might help us develop a writing process that works for us. *smile*

What Traits Do We Have?

I like this version of the Myers-Briggs test because it not only gives our results, but it also tells us how strong we are in each measurement.

(This is how I know I’m a borderline INTJ/INFJ. My T and F scores swap from day to day and are never that strong.)

Some of the links that I like for explaining the variations are this one (related to the test link above) and this one. (That second link gives very detailed explanations and an overview of how we might change with maturity.)

Once we understand those strengths and weaknesses, we can decide whether we wish to fight against our grain to improve, or we’d rather accept our limitations and find a way around them, or if we’d like to embrace them as part of our process.

For example, my personality type tends to become frustrated with too much focus on details. To put that into writing terms, I’m ready to tear my hair out after a nitpicky copyediting session.

I could fight that tendency, but why? I’d much rather work around my weakness and save that time and energy for an aspect where I’ll have a greater chance of success.

Instead, I can ensure my work receives strong copyediting by others with that strength, and not fruitlessly try to overcome that weakness by forcing myself to do something I’m not good at (and hate doing).

How Do Those Traits Affect Our Writing Process?

Andrea Wenger did a series of posts about the 16 Myers-Briggs personality types (Extraversion/Introversion, iNtuition/Sensing, Thinking/Feeling, and Judging/Perceiving) and their writing strengths and weaknesses:

As I mentioned, I’m a borderline INTJ/INFJ, and as I’ve learned more about those two categories, I’ve gotten better at balancing my traits. Where one type is weak, another might be strong, so I let that stronger aspect take over for the appropriate elements of my writing.

Let’s take a look at some of those writing traits to see how these understandings might apply to us…

Writing Processes and Blind Spots of the INTJ or INFJ:

According to Andrea, some of the ways INTJs might approach a writing project and some of the writing pitfalls INTJs might experience include:

  • INTJs require long periods of concentration.
    True, but I’ve been trying to train myself to get around this by using 30-minute sprints. This same trait applies to INFJs as well, so I get a double-whammy of weakness here.
  • Are innovative problem-solvers who want control over the product and the process.
    Yeah, there’s more than one reason I decided to self-publish. *cough* control freak *cough*
  • If you’re an INTJ, one path to success as a writer is to draw on your natural curiosity about how things work and your talent for explaining this for others.
    That’s my blog in a nutshell. *smile*
  • Tend to be good at weeding out information that isn’t pertinent to the project. Be sure to keep audience needs in mind, however. Concise is good; terse is not.
    True, I had to work at developing my voice, and the last major puzzle piece of storytelling craft that fell into place for me was portraying character emotions.
  • Set a high standard for themselves and can become frustrated if they can’t achieve it. Avoid pushing yourself toward an unrealistic goal. Tap into your desire for efficiency and recognize when 99% is good enough.
    Very true, as a perfectionist, I’ve had to learn to be okay with that “99% good enough,” or else I’d never get anything done.

On the other hand, my INFJ side is where I get my tendency to write by the seat of my pants:

  • The thought of using an outline may leave you feeling straitjacketed.
    Yes! I like the freedom to explore, discover, and listen to my muse, which comes more naturally to me in pantsing mode.

Embracing vs. Overcoming Our Traits

Understanding our personality traits isn’t about beating ourselves up for our weaknesses. Instead, it’s about learning what to watch out for or what to give ourselves leeway on.

With some of those aspects, I’m working to keep them from being a weakness:

  • I have to corral my perfectionism to prevent it from holding me back.
  • I have to ensure that I’m letting my voice shine through the message I’m trying to convey.
  • I have to learn to write in short bursts, or else I’d never write because it’s hard to find the big chunks of time I’d prefer.

However, other aspects I’ve embraced:

  • I’ve let my control-freak self take over for self-publishing.
  • I’ve let my curiosity drive my blogging efforts for digging deep into issues, finding patterns, and explaining them to others.
  • I’ve let my desire for freedom take the lead in pantsing my way through writing.

Like I mentioned above with my hair-tearing-out urge after a copyediting session, I could spend all day looking for adverbs to eliminate. Or I could let my editors point out extraneous ones for me.

Similarly, I could plot a story with an outline before writing (and have done just that). Or I could trust myself and my muse to pants my way through a story.

After analyzing when I fight and when I embrace my traits, I discovered this simple truth:

If a trait isn’t a weakness causing us trouble,
there’s no reason to fight it in our process—
even if advice tells us otherwise.

Granted, that’s not an earth-shattering insight, but when we’re doubting ourselves, it might give us another layer of understanding.

  • Is the aspect of our writing process that we’re doubting an element of our personality?
  • Is it causing problems for us, or are we just doubting ourselves because of “advice”?
  • Can we make the aspect work for us sometimes, or would it always be a weakness?
  • Can we fight it, or would it be better to work around it?

No Advice Can Apply to Everyone

If we think about all those other 16 personality types, it makes sense that some advice will be geared toward people with different strengths and weaknesses from ourselves.

If we look through all those links above, we’ll see that some types would need encouragement to do more research and some would need encouragement to say “enough!” to endless research. Some like deadlines, and some don’t. Some are verbose, and some aren’t.

Some types might find it easier to establish themes. Some might struggle with showing emotion. And still others might forget to include any setting.

The needs of any one type might even change depending on the genre we write. Some genres are more plot oriented, so some traits might flow naturally with those reader expectations while other traits might require us to find a way around weaknesses affecting our ability to plot. Vice versa for character-oriented genres or stories.

There’s no one-size-fits-all for writing advice. So when we’re faced with advice that doesn’t feel right, we should ignore it. And maybe understanding ourselves a little better will help us shut up those whispers of self-doubt. *smile*

Do you know your personality type and the associated traits? Have you ever thought about how those traits affect your writing or your writing process? Do you have traits you try to fight or overcome? Do you have traits you embrace and make them work for you? Have you ever struggled with advice that you weren’t sure should apply to you?

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What do you think?

33 Comments on "Does Our Personality Affect Our Writing Process?"

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Davonne Burns

While I’ve known my personality type (INFP/INTP) since high school I’d never considered how it might affect my writing process. Trying to balance my love of research and my love of very long plots has been a challenge. As does my love of abstract ideas, which aren’t very helpful when you need concrete setting so your characters aren’t floating in a vacuum.

I’ve found that most advice about plotting doesn’t work for me. If I overwork an outline or plot before I get around to actually writing it, I completely lose interest in the story. In my head it’s already done and there’s no reason to go on. So pantsing with a very vague outline works best for me.

Thanks for this and I appreciate that you used your own strengths and weaknesses as a writer for examples. It definitely helps to see where others have used the information to their benefit and how it’s possible to successfully apply the knowledge.

^_^ great post.

George Donnelly

Great post. I’ve been thinking and researching the same thing for awhile and am convinced it’s true that your personality type influences to a great degree your optimum writing style.

BTW, you’re not really borderline INTJ/INFJ. You’re one or the other. The way to find out is by looking at the cognitive functions and their descriptions. This is a good site for that:

http://www.cognitiveprocesses.com/16Types/16Types.cfm

The only difference between INTJ and INFJ is the secondary and tertiary processes. Both have dominant Ni (introverted intuition) and both have Se (extroverted sensing) as the 4th. For INTJ, Te and Fi are the 2nd and third. For INFJ the second and third are Fe and Ti.

Just judging by the frequency and expressiveness of your blogging, you probably have secondary Te, meaning you are INTJ. If you had the INFJ’s Ti, you’d be more terse. In fact, INFJs tend to live in a protective bubble so you might not even put yourself out there as much as you actually do.

If you had secondary Fe, you’d be more focused on making sure everyone was feeling alright, to put it generally – a more counseling kind of focus.

But only you can decide. HTH and thanks.

Carradee

Myers-Briggs can be handy, but it’s important to remember that—as you said—the boxes don’t apply to everyone.

In my case, it doesn’t really help me. I’m technically borderline for 4. I test as INTP or INTJ, but when I have the more in-depth introversion/extraversion tests, I come out as an ambivert—and that’s because I essentially have 1 introvert “recharge” feature that is such an extreme that it literally balances out the rest of my (essentially extraverted) “recharge” features.

I’ve long known that I love technicalities and such “Ooo, can I write a short story in past perfect tense?” challenges are FUN for me and are part of my creativity. This is is part of my personality. (Gives some problems when someone gets upset and wants to argue, because I’ll get distracted by technicalities.)

But I’ve realized lately that much of how I have to work to actually be able to get words on the page stems from junk that has little to do with me as a person and more to do with you-know-who. (Example: Routines are dangerous. They give others targets to sabotage.)

So just as a note for folks reading this: If you have some mind junk going on (trauma, a mood disorder, something), that can affect and/or interfere with your writing process, too.

Glynis Jolly

This was so insightful for me. Knowing more about my general personality traits helps me understand why I approach my writing the way I do. I will no long worry about if my manner of writing is the best way for me. I now know for sure.

Christina Hawthorne

Whoa, great post, Jami. Informative and fun. I took the test and it came out the same as it always does: INFJ where the N is always there, but weak, and the FJ is strong. I’m one of those “I” people who’s comfortable in small groups, but wilts in large ones unless it’s a formal setting.

I also went to Andrea’s post about the INFJ and gobbled it up. Loved it! How remarkable that this comes on the heels of my own self-discovery in recent months. For some unknown reason I’ve worked hard over the years to ignore my strong F and it left my writing feeling (pun not necessarily intended) hollow. I’ve spent this year adapting my writing to Deep 3rd and the resulting efforts pulled me further into the F I’ve ignored. I even posted on the topic last month (“The Human Element”).

It’s amazing how we can fight ourselves.

Taurean J. Watkins (@Taurean_Watkins)
I tested INFJ and it’s scary how right on it is for me What throws me off is this point- “Writing, counseling, public service and even politics are areas where INFJs frequently find their niche.” Glad about writing, but counseling, public service and esp. politics I don’t quite get. I’m more in need of counseling than having the mindset or skills to counsel others. Public service goes back to the “volunteering” we’ve talked about, and while I want to give back, I simply can’t ignore my need to supplement my income, but I won’t go there here (LOL). As for my personality type inclining me toward politics, I’m conflicted about that, Even though you said in an e-mail my “Too Long Reply” to Kassandra’s guest post on the myths of emotions had political pinnings you were uncomfortable, I now can see how you felt a lot of what I said was political. Because I used to think politics about nothing more than bullying people in ways that effected countless lives, that’s why I reacted negatively/defensively whenever someone says what I talk about is political. Just like how I didn’t grow up in a “Sex Positive” environment, I never saw any positivity in politics growing up, but the more I try to learn, the more I realize outside the bullying and sniping that does go on, there is some compassion and nobility in there, too. Still, I don’t think I can work in politics, I’d have to give up too much… Read more »
Karen McFarland

You know Jami, every time I take the test it comes out different. As of today, it said I am an ENFJ. Who knew? Yet, until I read your post had I thought about how this would or could affect my writing. I know I have little patience for craft books. I am a learn as you go kind of girl. I’ve always been that way. So it takes me several drafts. Oh well. That’s the way the cookies crumbles. As long as I don’t, crumble that is, then I think I’m okay. Good post girl. Thank you! 🙂

Aura Eadon

Jami thank you so very much for this post (and all your posts actually – I read but I’m not leaving comments often). This post is extremely useful and very relevant to my current circumstances as I am in the process of looking for a job related to writing. I took the test and found that I’m INFP. The thing is I never thought to connect that to my writing and that’s why I believe that your post is so brilliant and helpful. When I read Andrea’s description of INFP writers, I had a moment of revelation as I recognised my traits and preferences as a writer. Both yours and Andrea’s posts will help me focus my CV for the job hunting I’m currently engaged in, but also, they will help me to focus the editing process for my two WIP novels. Thank you so much, love and gratitude.

Ashley
Ashley
Oooh! This is amazing timing on your post. I’ve been thinking a lot about Myers-Briggs lately… and especially about INTJs. I was explaining to an INTJ friend that to me that type is the extreme end of what’s stereotypically considered the “male” way of looking at the world (logically rigorous and emotionally ruthless), which is supported by the fact that 50% more INTJs are men than are women, and that I assume it makes it harder for male INTJs to find (female) matches than the reverse, since it widens the “worldview gap” between them and prospective partners. But we started debating whether a female INTJ, being closer to the male point of view, would actually have an advantage in finding a match, or not. I’m still not sure how it would play out in the modern world; I admit that since my INTJ heroine lives in Victorian England, being that type probably makes her life a living hell (sure, men respect her for being less emotional and illogical than women are supposed to be, but then there are all the social conventions to deal with, and once she’s actually in a relationship, do the men find themselves wishing for a more stereotypically gentle/warm/whatever woman?). I’ve been thinking I would love to ask an actual female INTJ about it but didn’t have much hope of meeting one (since they’re supposedly only .8% of the population!). Would you care to weigh in on the question at all? (If not, no worries and… Read more »
Serena Yung
Serena Yung
Omg I love this post!!! And you know how obsessed I am with personality theories, haha. I’ll redo the test and read the posts later, but I just realized something very interesting about myself: When I was a teenager, I hated details and only liked the bigger picture things. But NOWADAYS, I’ve grown to enjoy looking at concrete stuff and thinking about/imagining the details. It’s really funny, but yeah I think I do seem to like details even though I didn’t when I was a teen. As for your example with copyediting, wow, I just realized that I actually really love doing copyediting tasks, or line editing, i.e. word/language-level things. I have a friend who asks me to edit her (short) research papers sometimes, and though I grumble about how many hours they take me, haha, I have to admit that I derive a lot of pleasure in polishing up her language. (She tends to write with a lot of jargon and unnecessarily long, complex sentences 🙁 , so I work hard to simplify everything to make it more reader-friendly. Cuz as you know, the less brainwork your prof has to do when reading your paper, the more he or she will like your paper, ahahaha!) It wasn’t just with my friend’s research papers, though. I already discovered before that that I enjoy editing people’s stuff on the word and sentence level. And I REALLY love the process of obsessively “listening” to the rhythm of words and phrases and tweaking… Read more »
SwedenMike
SwedenMike

INFP

And I am still at the idea stage, it will burn.. 😉

Jennifer Barricklow

Thanks especially for talking about how being borderline in one area can affect you. I consistently test just a point or two over the dividing line for one of the poles, so I consider that my predominant type, but I try to remember (not always successfully) that the alternate end of that pole can be a factor for me as well.

I was a little disappointed to not learn anything new from Andrea Wenger’s post about my predominant type, though I was pleased to realize I’ve developed strategies that address the blind spots she mentions. Inspired by your example, I turned to the post about my “alternate” type and found that the blind spots align uncannily with several things I’ve been struggling with lately. Quite an “aha!” moment, let me tell you.

So thank you again for the timely reminder to check my rear-view mirror for that shadow side of my personality and its potential backseat driver influence.

Evolet Yvaine

This is pretty cool. I remember filling this out at the last long-term job I had. I took it again and I’m an ISTJ, but because I appear to have marginal or no (1%) preference of Thinking over Feeling, I also have characteristics of an ISFJ. Thanks for this post, I totally plan to post the results from the test and from the ones above that pertain to writing.

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[…] around to reading some of the posts I’d saved in my Inbox, Jami Gold’s answer to the question Does Our Personality Affect Our Writing Process? intrigued me enough to finally post this […]

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[…] I’m fond of the Myers-Briggs Type Inventory (MBTI) and similar assessments. Jami Gold shares some MBTI resources in her exploration of personality and how it affects writing process. […]

Julie Glover

I could talk Myers-Briggs personality types all day (used to give the test and interpret results). Like you, I’m borderline on thinking-feeling, so that I’m really an INXP (INFP/INTP). When I read descriptions, I lean toward INFP though, so that’s what I claim.

As part of my personality, I know that it’s hard for me to keep going on a project until the very end; possibilities and starting projects are far more exciting than nitpicking a manuscript to perfection. Which is why I set solid goals and rely on critique partners to help me get to the right point. I agree wholeheartedly that you should play to your strengths, while not neglecting important facets but finding support from other sources who are good where you are weak.

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[…] “Does Our Personality Affect Our Writing Process?” (Jami Gold) […]

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[…] can also follow my Write with Personality blog, which was recently featured on BookRiot and Jami Gold‘s blog. It focuses on topics related to writing and personality […]

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[…] reading some of the posts I’d saved in my Inbox, [tag]Jami Gold[/tag]’s answer to the question Does Our Personality Affect Our Writing Process? intrigued me enough to finally post this […]

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