I wasn’t such a big fan of personality tests when I was younger, but once I joined the workforce I was required to take the Myers Briggs test and it changed my life. I discovered that in spite of a cheerful tendency to smile a lot and a skill for using words well, I was in fact not Miss Congeniality like everyone else thought. I was very much an introvert. Well, that suddenly explained a lot.
They say that a smart person understands others, but a wise person understands herself. The fact is, the more you understand yourself, the better you can make your approach to writing work well for you.
Recently a popular website came out with animals to represent all sixteen of the Myers Briggs types.They don’t all seem to fit perfectly, but they are sort of a fun way to look at it. You can check them out here. I happen to be a wolf, and now I try to write like one. What does that mean?
Clearly there is no right personality for an author, we come in all flavors. However, if you know you are an introvert like me, you can save time by not forcing yourself to make oodles of friends online, engaging in lots of chat about your writing. You know you always hated group projects in school, so you don’t need to turn your novel into one now. The effort to do so will just drain you.
However, if those exchanges fill you with energy, like my extroverted counterpart the dog, then you are a extrovert and would do well to benefit from this free flow of helpful ideas. Just consider getting your author friends to help you set and keep daily or weekly writing goals, lest the socializing fill your free time.
Are you a planner, or someone who prefers to take things as they come? I’m a solid planner here, so I don’t fight my need to work out exactly how I am going to write my books. As a start my fifth novel I have a pretty good idea of how fast I write and how long I want my book to be, and I literally put both word and chapter goals in my calendar to cover the six months or so during which the first draft will happen.
I once had a “wing it” style friend, more meerkat than wolf, tell me he could plan like that if he wanted to, but it would seem to him like working with a dull headache. How funny, I thought. To me it feels like working with a soft warm blanket around me. I do, however, wrestle with the unexpected. I fight my frustrations at life’s little emergencies while he struggles to make sure that his book moves along while he happily takes life as it comes. Both ways yield a novel in the end.
If you are someone who strongly favors their hunches as much as I do, you won’t want to chart out your plot that carefully. For all my planning about when and how much I am going to write, I use the loosest of outlines, with only a few key characters and a basic story line sketched out before I start. I trust my intuition to handle the rest, and it seems to do so just fine. Before I finish a book I know that several characters and plot developments will surprise me, and some of these surprises will become my favorite parts of the book.
Another author I know, more deer than wolf, defines every single occurrence in his stories in a detailed outline. He knows exactly what is going to happen before he starts writing the book. To me he seems highly suspicious of his intuition, but to him he is taking the time to give his story his very best effort. His plots are as imaginative and interesting as any I’ve encountered, reminding me that there is no right way to be creative, only the way that works best for you.
The final Myers Briggs criteria has to do with whether your mind or your heart steers your actions. Before I began to write full length books, I guessed that the feelers had an advantage. I was surprised to discover how much thought goes into a complex plot, and into ultimately producing a book. I fall near the middle here, only slightly more led by my heart, only slightly more wolf than octopus. In this arena I think that any author needs to find others to compliment their own tendencies. I rely on three highly analytic beta readers (including my officially-an-octopus daughter) to ferret out the plot holes that are most likely to show up in my most emotional scenes.
I happen to be a wolf, and now I try to write like one. You? You need to write like the honeybee, or lion or otter that you truly are.
(For more thoughts on being an INFJ, visit my y1 blog here.)