Author, Know Thyself! How your personality type shapes your writing

brain power by Allan Ajifo. CC by 2.0.
brain power by Allan Ajifo of aboutmodafinil.com. CC by 2.0.

 

 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:

  • Guardians
  • Artisans
  • Idealists
  • Rationals

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.

According to tvtropes.org, INTJs’ natural talent for planning and system-building also makes them the perfect villains (though we’re not all evil!). Some examples of fictional INTJ’s include:

  • 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.

 

Test Yourself

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).

When Life Gets In The Way – Writer’s Block and Creativity

time by
time by Sean MacEntee. CC BY 2.0.

Ever feel like there just isn’t enough time in the day to accomplish everything you’d planned?

Or worse, that there was enough time but you’ve squandered it, frittered away the hours doing God knows what when you could have been – should have been – writing, or reading, or doing anything but watching back-to-back episodes of The X-Files on Netflix? (Guilty as charged.)

When I started this blog, I had the best of intentions. I posted something new every week, and I had no problem coming up with the time or energy to maintain the schedule I set for myself. The same went for my writing – I worked on my current novel every day, rain or shine, without fail.

But somehow in the past couple of months, something changed…

Life got in the way.

First there was some day job stuff that took up a lot of energy.

Then I had knee surgery, and my convalescence ended up being longer than expected.

And then…and then…and then…

And then, nothing. “Regret for wasted time is more wasted time“*.

Over the past few weeks, there has been nothing and no one preventing me from pursuing my goals but me. But the thing is, the longer you let your ideas and imagination languish, the harder it is to get back up and keep going. So here’s how I gave myself the kick in the a** I needed:

1. No judgment.

When you know you’ve been procrastinating, and you feel bad about procrastinating, but somehow can’t make yourself stop procrastinating – don’t worry about it. Just don’t. Maybe you needed a little vacation, maybe you’re just being lazy, but it doesn’t matter. Judgment and self flagellation is just more wasted time.

2. Find inspiration.

Maybe you find it incredibly relaxing to be out in nature, like I do. Or maybe you get off on the hustle and bustle of busy city streets. Maybe you like to play video games, or read comic books, or listen to music to unwind. If you’re stuck in a non-creative rut, at least put yourself into a good headspace so that you’re able to create when the time comes. So if watching Netflix all day is your thing, go for it. But on the other hand, if it gives you cabin fever and makes you lash out like a rabid badger…you might wanna put down the remote.

3. Learn something.

Watch a documentary. Read a book. Browse Wikipedia for towns with weird names. Maybe even talk to someone new. With more resources for knowledge at our fingertips than ever before in the history of the world, don’t you think it’s kind of a sin not to learn just a little bit every day?

4. Create something.

It doesn’t matter if you make a craft out of macaroni and popsicle sticks, or if you paint a masterpiece. I believe that just the simple act of creating something – anything – because it’s fun, or interesting, or challenging will pay off hugely. There have been more studies done and articles written about creativity than I could ever hope to summarize (or fully understand), but the Wikipedia article on creativity is here for anyone who is interested.

 

* According to Wikipedia, Mason Cooley was an American professor known for his witty aphorisms (an original thought, expressed in a concise, memorable form). Also from his Goodreads page:

  • “Reading gives us someplace to go when we have to stay where we are”
  • “When you can’t figure out what to do, it’s time for a nap”
  • “If I can’t serve as a role model, let me serve as a warning”

 

 

 

 

 

You Can’t Throw a Gavel Without Hitting a Lawyer-Turned-Author

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My Trusty Gavel by Brian Turner. CC by 2.0.

Some of the jobs I’ve held include: short order cook, nanny, postmaster’s assistant, and “background talent” (read – extra in movies and commercials). But of all the jobs I’ve tried, the one that I’m least likely to write about is the one that I spent the most time training for – my current profession of lawyer.

Although it sometimes seems like you can’t throw a gavel without hitting a lawyer-turned-authour, there are two main reasons you won’t catch me writing about my day job any time soon (though I’ll never say never):

  1. My source material would be pretty boring – and that’s how I like it.

Some writers have no problem turning the day-to-day life of a lawyer into the stuff of thrillers, but I have a hard time associating the reality of my job with the kind of romance and adventure I enjoy reading about. Actually, scratch that – I actively avoid romance and adventure in my day job. It decreases the odds of getting sued.

Do I personally find my work exciting? Yes. Would the general public? Eh, maybe it depends on the day, but if I had to guess – no. The types of law I practice do not lend themselves to Grisham-esque scenarios. Nor is there anything particularly glamorous about wearing pantyhose for 10-12 hours per day.

  1. Writing is my escape from the ordinary.

Everyone is familiar with the old advice to “write what you know”, but that doesn’t necessarily mean you have to write what you do. So far, I have written about ancient Greek legends coming to life, the colonization of a far-away planet, and the adventures of a high-class madam. As you may have guessed, I have first-hand experience with exactly none of these scenarios.

But I do have a lot of fun writing about them!

How about you? Are there any jobs you find duller than dirt? Any that you can’t, or won’t, write about?

(I assume all those romance-blog-enthusiast international spies out there are sworn to secrecy, but let’s hear from the rest of you!)

This post is re-blogged from my post on the Romance Writers of Atlantic Canada blog, a great place to learn more about some very talented romance authors. Check it out here!

To Write Is An Act of Courage

Image by Julie Rybarczyk
“Sometimes even to live is an act of courage. – Seneca, 1st century AD.”
Courage by Julie Rybarczyk. CC by 2.0.

I recently came across an entry on style and body image blog Already Pretty that resonated with me. Entitled “What Could You Accomplish?”, the post discusses a conversation the author had with a female friend, who said that she would never run for office because of the scrutiny and criticism she would receive for her appearance. Apparently, the friend had worked in politics for years, loved public speaking, and was passionate about her beliefs.

But she still hesitated to put herself ‘out there’ in public, in case she was dismissed for not being [attractive/stylish/fill in the blank] enough to be a politician.

The author went on to mention a talented musician friend who keeps her music in the background for similar reasons, and I was reminded of the fears I have about putting myself ‘out there’ as an author – particularly of romance novels. Although the author of the Already Pretty post discusses fear of judgment in the context of body image, I, like many authors, sometimes find myself thinking similar thoughts about my writing.

I wonder if I’m fooling myself, if my writing is any good, if anyone could possibly be interested in what I have to say. If the people who know me in my ‘real life’ – my family and friends, my coworkers and colleagues – will think less of me for following this dream. (After all, in many people’s minds, my dream is associated with an image of Fabio standing against a dramatic, full-color backdrop, hair flowing in the wind).

That image is a good reminder not to take myself too seriously, but when I have doubts, I also tell myself that my goals and dreams are not made ridiculous by their packaging. It helps to think about what might have happened if all the other writers I love had been too afraid to declare publicly that yes, they are authors – and no, they’re not ashamed.

What if Stephen King, for example, hadn’t listened to his wife’s encouragement when she famously fished the first draft of Carrie out of the trash bin? Or what if Nora Roberts had given up after her first rejection?

As Terry Pratchett says in his book Moving Pictures:

“You know what the greatest tragedy is in the whole world?…It’s all the people who never find out what it is they really want to do or what it is they’re really good at…It’s all the people with talents who never even find out. Maybe they are never even born in a time when it’s even possible to find out. It’s all the people who never get to know what it is that they can really be. It’s all the wasted chances.

I’m determined not to waste mine.