An introduction to personality types (and a bit about me)
Lately I’ve been thinking about how personality type affects my writing – specifically, how it can improve or hinder my word count. In my day-job-world, I’m currently enrolled in a management course that has afforded me the opportunity to take all kinds of personality tests (I love this stuff). And when my writers’ group met last weekend, we were treated to a great presentation from the fabulous Linda O’Toole on how to harness our personality types to get the most out of our writing time.
One thing I have learned from all of this is that I am an INTJ – a personality type outlined by the famous Meyers-Briggs instrument (MBTI). According to this “test”*, my personality profile looks like this:
I Do you focus on the outer world or on your own inner world?
This is called Extraversion (E) or Introversion (I).
N Do you focus on basic information or do you add meaning?
This is called Sensing (S) or Intuition (N).
T Are your decisions based on logic or people and circumstances?
This is called Thinking (T) or Feeling (F).
J Do you get things decided or do you stay more open to new options?
This is called Judging (J) or Perceiving (P).
According to Wikipedia**, INTJs are one of the rarest of the sixteen Myers-Briggs personality types and account for 1-2% of the population. So does this mean I’m a super special snowflake?
Well, no. Not particularly.
It just means that I’m my own special little weirdo, like everyone else. No one personality type is any better than the others, because each comes with its own quirks and pros/cons. According to various combinations of characteristics, the sixteen Myers-Briggs personality types are sometimes further grouped into one of four categories:
My INTJ classification makes me a Guardian, meaning that I am supposedly analytical, pragmatic, logical, and not scared to tell someone when they’re being stupid. As you can probably imagine, there are benefits (getting stuff done) and drawbacks (calling the boss stupid). The Myers & Briggs Foundation says that its instrument is approximately 75% accurate, and in this case I think they got it right – I definitely see myself in the INTJ profile. I love efficiency, and at times I can be both a loner and an excellent leader.
- Jafar from Aladdin
- Bruce Wayne from Batman
- Howard Hughes from The Aviator
- Rupert Giles from Buffy The Vampire Slayer
- The James Bond villain, Le Chiffre, from Casino Royale
- Ebeneezer Scrooge from A Christmas Carol
- Maleficent from Sleeping Beauty
and the list goes on.
How does your personality affect your writing?
So how does all this affect writing and learning? I found this Georgia State University paper*** on student learning and the Myers-Briggs type indicator fascinating. I’ve summarized some basic key points below and added my own ideas about how knowledge of these traits can be harnessed to enhance your writing:
Extroversion v. introversion
- The majority of university undergraduates are extroverts, while the majority of university faculty are introverts.
- Extraverted students report learning best when working in a group (think writing partners, collaborative projects, and critique groups), while introverted students want to create frameworks to connect information so that it becomes knowledge (think plotters v. pantsers, outlining, using writing programs like Scrivener).
Sensing v. intuition
- Sensing students prefer organized, structured lectures (think RWA University online classes, how-to books, and workshops rather than panels).
- Intuitive students must have the big picture to understand a subject (think plot mapping, “write the ending first”, and reading widely in your genre for research).
Thinking v. feeling
- Thinking students like clear topics and objectives. “Thinking” writers will likely be more comfortable working with agents/editors/publishers/writing groups who set clear deadlines and provide specific feedback.
- Feeling students need to work in harmonious groups. For writers, this may mean that deadlines and sales numbers aren’t as important as working with a team of people who really “get” your vision for your work/career.
Judging v. perceiving
- Judging students focus on tasks and like to take quick, decisive action. When writing, this strength can be maximized by fast-draft writing (getting it all down on the page without worrying about revision until later) and colour coding dialogue or scenes for easy mixing and editing later.
- Perceiving students often postpone assignments until the last minute – not because they’re lazy, but because they want to gather as much information as possible. If you are a perceiving writer, you may find that you have a tendency to over-research or plan a project, and that you never get around to actually finishing it. You can get around this by breaking a project down into more manageable sections (think of the three act structure, for example). You might also find it helpful to set yourself a specific word count for the book and break it down by chapter so you know exactly how much should fit into each section.
So now that you know so much about the MBTI, where can you take the “test”? The answer is that while the official MBTI must be administered by someone who has been trained and certified in its use, there are plenty of similar, free resources online.
This one, for example, is not endorsed by the Myers & Briggs Foundation, but it is “based on Carl Jung’s and Isabel Briggs Myers’ typological approach to personality”, and the results were pretty close. (According to this test, I’m an INFJ today rather than an INTJ).
And this one also thinks I’m an INFJ. I assume the difference is related to how I’m feeling today, rather than some flaw/discrepancy in the tests, but they’re still pretty darn close either way. (And for those who are interested, I prefer this test over the one above – there is more information given, and it was more fun to answer).
* I say “test” in quotation marks because the Myers & Briggs foundation website is quite clear about the fact that “MBTI® tool should be referred to as an instrument rather than a test or psychological assessment”. For more on finding reliable MBTI® info on the internet, check out the Foundation’s webpage on “Trusting MBTI® Information on the Web“.
** Yes, I am aware that I quote Wikipedia a lot on this blog, but this isn’t exactly scholarly, peer-reviewed academic writing.
*** “This material can be copied and used for educational, non-profit purposes only. Copyright: Harvey J. Brightman, Georgia State University”. From The Master Teacher Program website (warning for those reading at work – there is a video on the homepage that plays automatically on click through).