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Saturday, September 4, 2010

Personality Types - Writing Class Series Bonus Lesson

I’ve enjoyed this writing class series so much, that I think I’ll do a few bonus lessons based on extra discussions we had during the live class.

One of my favorite things we ended up talking about in detail was a personality indicator used by psychologists called the Meyers Briggs assessment. I love this test for a number of reasons. In general, personality tests help us better understand ourselves and our unusual little quirks. They also help us to understand that each of our brains are wired in an individual way through genetics and upbringing. They assist us in understanding others who have vastly different personalities than our own. As writers, these tests help us to write consistent characters with distinct personalities and clear motivations.

I prefer the Myers Briggs test because it breaks down to sixteen different personality types and is more targeted and specific than any other test I have found. Another reason I prefer it, is because it is well known and you can find a number of excellent websites and books that talk in detail about these personality types. You can easily look up what a person with an ENTJ personality would choose as a job, or how they deal with relationships. This is particularly helpful to writers creating characters.

My new contemporary novel is a sisterhood type of book with three main female characters. These three women needed to have enough in common to be drawn to one another, yet still have distinct personalities. So I chose a Myers Briggs type for each of them and used that to help with their characterizations.When I wanted to know what would be a good career for one of my girls, I could easily look it up online. When I wanted to know what type of man would be a good match for them or how they would respond to stress, I could look it up. Pretty cool, huh.

The Myers Briggs assesses four aspects of human characteristics. Keep in mind that everyone has all of these traits, and it's good to be balanced, but that we all lean more heavily towards one or the other.

Introvert vs. Extrovert – This has to do with how you are energized. It is not about how shy or social you are. An extrovert is energized by the outward world of people and things. An introvert is energized by their inner world. An extrovert is always up for a party and comes home excited and full of energy. An introvert may enjoy the party, may even be the life of the party while there, but will be exhausted by the end and need to go home and regroup. Extroverts need to process things with others. Introverts need to process things alone. Extroverts quickly grow lonely and have a stronger need for others. Introverts are content with their own company.

Sensory vs. INtuitive – This has to do with what you pay attention to. Sensors focus on the five senses and on facts. Intuits focus on what might be called a sixth sense. Sensors are very aware of their surroundings whereas intuits might drift off into their own head. Sensors tend to seem more grounded in realism than intuits. Sensors deal with basic information and intuits tend to take in information, but interpret and add their own meaning to it.

Thinkers vs. Feelers – This has to do with how you make decisions. A thinker takes into consideration logic and reason only. A feeler takes into consideration people and their emotions. Feelers incorporate values and subjective judgments into their decisions. If you change how a thinker thinks about a subject, their feelings will naturally follow. If you change how a feeler feels about a subject, their thoughts will naturally follow. I have found you can best tell your preference in this category by asking yourself, “If logic and feeling are in opposition to each other, which would I regret not following?”

Judgmental vs. Perceptual – This has to do with how you live and work. A judger prefers to be planned and organized. A perceiver prefers to be spontaneous and flexible. Judges are strict on themselves about keeping commitments and following rules. Perceivers view commitments as something they will probably do and view rules as suggested guidelines. Judgers tend to be on time and be early for deadlines. Perceivers tend to be late and procrastinate. Judgers like to know where they are going and how to get there. Perceivers like to go with the flow and respond to where life might take them.

By choosing the four letters, you find the personality of your character. For example, I am an INFJ (which is both the rarest personality type in normal people and the most common personality type in novelists by the way). You can go online and find career advice, relationship advice, strengths and weaknesses, etc…for this personality type by looking up these four letters. Different books and websites have varying views, so I recommend you look at several. This website as a good place to start. It is full of exhaustive information. Be sure to scroll over the little icons for the links and also to look at the bottom of each page for sublinks.

If you would like to take the Myers Briggs test for free, here is a good version

We also discussed how these personality types affect you as a writer. Let's start with a very natural writer type, mine, the INFJ.

If you are an "E" for extrovert rather than an "I" for introvert, you may find that you write better as part of a team. You may need to go somewhere around people like a cafe or bookstore in order to write. And you will certainly need to join writers groups and be a part of a community. You would probably enjoy writing that involves meeting and interviewing people. Most writers are introverts, since it is primarily a solitarty activity. But introverts, be careful not to become a recluse. Writers need the emotional support of other writers.

If you are an "S" for sensor rather than an "N" for intuit and you want to be a writer then I'm not sure what to tell you. It's not that an "S" can't write, it's just that they usually don't view writing as a practical enough pursuit. If you desire to write, then you must be fairly balanced between the "S" and the "N." I would also guess that you are an introvert, because something must be drawing you to the inner world of writing. You will probably view writing as a craft. I'm guessing that reporting or fictional mysteries would appeal to you because of the sensory aspects. You may find that you enjoy writing teaching manuals or how-to type material because of its practical application. And you might make an excellent editor because of your attention to detail. Intuits will likely have good instincts for writing and also good instincts. They will enjoy the imaginary aspect of writing.

The "T" for thinker can also be a good writer, but they will probably focus more on facts and research than the "F" who might like to be more creative. The "T" might enjoy writing nonfiction or fiction that requires extensive research, and they will probably rely more heavily on formulas and structure in their writing because those aspects focus more on logic. If you are a feeler, don't get so creative that you forget to keep your facts straight.

Finally, if you are a "P" for pereciver rather than a "J" for judger, then you can still be an excellent writer, you just might not ever finish a book. If you do, you will need a publisher who is lenient on deadlines. You will probably be a "seat of the pants" writer, rather than a plotter. But, remember that it's important to examine your "organic" plot structure and make sure it's strong after you've finished your book. By the way, if you are a judger, be careful not to become too focused on the rules or too locked into your plot. This is probably an area that the judgers can learn a lesson from the perceivers. Just don't slack off on meeting those deadlines :)


  1. I had a few laughs at this but also had to go and check and make sure on the personality type. I took the test on a few different sites and I showed up ENFJ on them all. As an ENFJ I am definitely one that has to be around others to enjoy my writing. I have found that sitting in a library really works for me.I can feed off of the energy of others in the room and I am forced to sit still and be quiet. Anyways, I find that my character is also an ENFJ.

  2. Yeah, I think you were there when we did this in the class. I would agree that you are ENFJ.

  3. ISTJ.

    Leave me alone.
    give me the facts.
    let me get this done
    Trust me, I know what I'm doing.

    Plotter, rule-follower, leader, but I'm generally thoughtful of other people's feelings. Really.
    Though sometimes, people, you just have to suck it up and move on. :)

    I should put my h/h through this test.

  4. Okay, I took the test here and came out ISTJ, so no change since I took it many years ago.

    The evaluations are pretty good.

    I liked how you used these categories in relation to our writing. Interesting!

  5. Intersting Deb. You should certainly be an out of the box writer. I've definitely seen that practical "S" side coming out in the topics you choose to write about. I wonder if the "S" personality would enjoy writing mysteries because of all the sensory oriented clues. If so, no wonder I haven't read them since Encycolpedia Brown. I'm about 80-90% intuitive.

  6. By the way, I learned all of this when I was an Interpersonal Communications Major in undergrad. We had to read an entire book on the subject and spent at least a week on it in class. The psychology and education students had to learn about it also.

  7. Still thinking about the "S" as writer phenomena. I know a number of sensors who enjoy writing. Both the Introvert and the Inuit spend plenty of time in the inner world. So I'm thinking that an IS combo might still enjoy writing. They certainly seem to enjoy reading.

    What I'm wondering is if an ES combo would ever write. That would keep them almost completely focused on the external world. I have one ES child and he finds both reading and writing a complete waste of time. Anyone out there an ES writer? Anyone know any? Like maybe a war correspondent or an investigative journalist?

  8. To answer your question.I believe that my youngest brother is an ES writer.He enjoys writing only when He wants to and reading in the same context.

  9. Hmm, interesting. I'll have to give this some more thought. I still have a hard time picturing an ES wanting to spend enough time in their inner world to write a whole book, although I bet they'd make a great addition to a writing team because they take notice of so many details.