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03 February 2016

Musings On Personality Type & Writing Style (ISWG)



Back when I worked in the HR team in corporate la-la land, one of the things I did was put people into boxes. Not literal boxes – that would be weird, even for me. And cruel – unless you put air holes in the boxes.

Instead, I helped people figure out what personality type best fit them using a variety of psychometric instruments, including the Myers-Briggs Personality Indicator (MBTI). One of the things I like about MBTI is that you can put yourself into a tidy little box based upon your personality type. Orderly grids appeal to me – probably a reflection of my own MBTI type (INTJ by the way).

MBTI draws on Carl Jung’s theory of psychological types and provides a way to understand your own personality type based upon four dichotomies:

  • Favorite World – Do you prefer to focus on the outer world (Extraversion) or your own inner world (Introversion)?
  • Information – Do you prefer to focus on the basic information you take in (Sensing) or do you prefer to interpret and add meaning (Intuition)?
  • Decisions – When making decisions, do you prefer to to first look at logic and consistency (Thinking) or first look at the people and special circumstances (Feeling)?
  • Structure – In dealing with the outside world, do you prefer to get things decided (Judging) or do you prefer to stay open to new options and information (Perceiving)?

Based upon your preference for each dichotomy, you can decide which personality type best fits you and climb into your own box, which is labeled with a handy-dandy four letter code. For example, I’m an INTJ – I prefer Introversion, Intuition, Thinking and Judging. {Note: The code for Intuition is the letter “N” as the letter “I” is used for Introversion.}



Lately, I’ve been happily sitting inside my box (complete with air holes) on the upper right hand corner of the grid, munching away on Oreo cookies and reflecting on the link between personality type and creativity, and more specifically how being an INTJ affects my writing style and finishing the draft mystery novel I’ve been working on. Here’s some of the things I’ve been thinking about – maybe some of them ring true for you too.

1 – I really can’t talk about it.

My husband will often ask me how the writing is going and want to chat through the characters, plotline etc. I’m really lucky to have someone who is so wonderfully supportive, but I just don’t have anything to share with him – yet. One of these days, I will. But not just now. I think this is due, in part, to the fact that I have a preference for introversion. I like to process things internally. I need to figure absolutely everything out in my head before I can talk about it. Until then, I’m not really able to articulate anything because things are still evolving.

I was one of those people that wasn’t really great at brainstorming exercises at work. You know the ones where everybody has to shout out their ideas, no matter how random or ill-formed. We were all supposed to feed off of each other, build on each others’ ideas to create something fabulous together. Yeah, that’s not really how I work. I’m much happier creating everything inside my head by myself. Then I’ll be happy to share.

2 – I don’t really want to hear what you think.

The downside of an introverted approach can be that once I’ve figured everything out, once my characters are fully developed and my plot is fully formed, then I have closure. I’m finished. I’m done. Things are neatly tied up with a pretty bow. I’ll happily present my ideas to you, watch you untie the bow, open the box and await your feedback. Provided your feedback consists of “Well done!” and “It’s perfect!”

That’s where my preference for Judging comes into play. I like closure. I like to have things decided and done with. Once I’ve figured everything out, then I can have a hard time opening myself up to new ideas and input on how to change things for the better. Intellectually, I know that all novels go through a gazillion rewrites and what you end up with can be markedly different then what you started out with. I also know that getting feedback from others will help immensely. But, I know this will also be a struggle for me because I don’t really like to change things once I’ve finished them.

3 – Do I really have to spell it out for you?

One of the strengths of INTJs can be their ability to weed out information and detail that isn’t useful. However, sometimes this can result in a narrative that’s too sparse. Writing that’s sparse can be wonderful – it’s crisp, to the point, keeps the action moving forward and allows the reader to fill in the detail with their own imagination. But, at times, it can leave the reader at a loss. There isn’t enough of the right kind of detail for the reader to engage fully with the story.

In rereading some of my earlier drafts, I’ve noted a tendency towards a bit too much sparseness, especially when it comes to describing where the action is happening. My novel takes place at a marina and involves some mysterious happenings on a sailboat. Readers that know a thing or two about sailing and boats probably don’t need too much detail to understand what’s taking place, but non-sailors will probably be clueless. So, that’s something I’m currently working on – providing enough detail to engage the reader, but without becoming tedious and distracting from the story line.

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Well, that’s probably enough reflection from inside my box. I’ve run out of Oreo cookies and the air is becoming a bit stagnant in here, so I’m going to get out, go for a walk around the marina and get some inspiration for my next writing session.

If you want to learn more about MBTI, check out the Myers & Briggs Foundation. If you’re interested in exploring your own preferences, you might want to check out one of the free questionnaires available on the internet, such as this one and this one. For a deeper understanding, you might want to use the official MBTI instrument administered by a qualified MBTI user who can help you understand and interpret your results.

Want to have some more fun with MBTI? Then check out this list of MBTI types of famous authors and this post about MBTI and character development (it also has a fun Star Wars MBTI type table if you’re so inclined).

Do you know what your MBTI type is? How does it affect your creative pursuits, everyday life and approach to work?

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35 comments:

  1. True story: when I was a teen my parents were involved in the initial testing of the MBTI personality types 'test'. We threw words like 'introvert' around at the dinner table. Consequently, I've used this language for years. Hey, maybe that's why I focused on Jungian Psychology as a grad student? Personally, as an Infp, I never get anything accomplished if it's a creative task, and I'm pretty bad at things like paperwork details, which I consider truly boring to a degree that would frighten every 'j' I know. I'm trying to develop my J function and my T function a bit more, but those darn 'feelings' keep getting in my way, all the special circumstances, all the PEOPLE involved, all the repercussions to decisions. So much easier just not to make one. And then there's the whole 'settle on one idea'. So hard, because once you've chosen a path, sometimes that's the end of it. And what fun is that?

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    1. Wow - that's so neat that your folks were part of testing the MBTI! I'm a pressure prompted J, so I can relate to some of what you say about not settling on one idea. But is stresses me out - I want closure even if I can't always make it happen right away.

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  2. Too much work to figure this out and if you don't know...I'm so very lazy. I don't work in the work world anymore so I don't need to be in a box. I do know the importance of knowing ones strengths and weaknesses when putting together a team. Really makes a difference.

    Have a fabulous day Ellen. ☺

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    1. Understanding personality types is really helpful when you have to work with others - completely agree. It can also be useful when it comes to relationships. I suspect Scott and I differ on a few of the dichotomies, although he won't let me put him in a box :-)

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  3. I think I'm on the INFJ side of things.

    Back when I was teaching, new students would go through a similar sort of test to help them and us better understand their learning styles.

    And funny story—one day at my day job, we actually did put people into actual boxes. It was just part of a prank, though.

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    1. That's so funny that you actually put people into boxes - love it!

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  4. I love to brainstorm. The more ideas the better. I always hear something that triggers an idea. But that's just me. Everybody has to find what works for them.

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    1. Brainstorming is actually a great process and can really help to get better outcomes. I just was never very good at blurting stuff out before I had fully formed ideas in my head.

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  5. I've got nothing to add other than to say I just spent the last hour reading blogs and taking tests when I was "supposed" to be working on getting organized for the A to Z Challenge. Bugger!

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    1. I'm constantly getting distracted with blogs, surfing the internet etc. Nowhere near ready for A to Z. Must put that on my list for today :-)

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  6. I tend to be a minimalist as well. Because of it, I must choose my words carefully. Each one does several jobs and when I do a read through I'm constantly highlighting a sentence and adding a note to expand a thought, or add more details. I know my weaknesses now and go with it.

    Anna from elements of emaginette

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    1. Highlighting is a great tip. I might try that and then I can go back later and expand on things. Thanks!

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  7. Once upon a time I worked with a consulting company and the entire company when through the formal Myers Briggs tests. I wish I remembered the the Letters I earned. The subject fascinates me. Somewhere in my dark recesses I remember the creative process is different for different personality traits. Some work from the details to grand idea. Others have the overall idea and drill down to the details. You certainly know better than me, but if the concept real, I'd be interested in your thoughts.

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    1. I think you're talking about the Sensing (S) vs. Intuition (N) dichotomy. Folks with a preference for Sensing start with facts and then built up to the big picture. Folks with a preference for Intuition start with the big picture and then look for the facts to support it. Pros/cons to both approaches. For example - Sensing folks might focus so much on factual stuff that they don't see new possibilities. Intuition folks might ignore/not pay attention to facts that don't fit their big picture notion.

      You might want to try one of the free tests to refresh yourself of what your type is. Although not the same as the full instrument you would have taken at work, it's a fun and quick way to get you thinking about type.

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  8. This post is fascinating, what a great source for character development. Thank you for sharing it!

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  9. What a great way to think of yourself and your characters. Jung would be happy. It pleased the old counselor in me to read this. I'm the mysterious stranger type, hiding behind his world-making. :-)

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    1. Jung had some great ideas and ways of thinking about the world. I've been fascinated lately by his thoughts on coincidence. Thanks for stopping by!

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  10. I took that test once...it's very time consuming! I knew an author who told us we should have every character we create take the test.

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    1. It's been interesting to think about my characters in terms of MBTI. My main character seems to have an opposite type from me, which I kind of find surprising. Wonder why and how I developed her that way.

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  11. I've never taken the test, but what you were describing sounds a lot like me too. Hmm, maybe I need to do it and find out...

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    1. You might want to try one of the free tests - it's kind of fun and interesting to think about your preferences :-)

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  12. Careful Megan, if you are put into a box you might have a hard time getting out. :) We move through different places on the chart throughout our lives. And possibly throughout the day, and certainly take different stances in different situations.

    We are all born into the prison built for us by our family-society-religon- etc. But we each hold the key to the door, and we serve as our own jail-keeper. (I'm just so into hyphenating today). Of course we don't see the prison which restains us, just as the fish doesn't see the water in which he swims. And of course we only see the prison of others in different societies. For instance I work with a lot of Indian people, and their religious dictates on food are in my opnion quite oppressive, Likewise I suppose my culture puts other oppressions on me that I don't see that other cultures do.

    What restraints/oppressions does your friends-family-society-culture put on you?

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  13. That is an interesting test. I like it because all of the options are neutral meaning that certain personality types won't be "better" than others, or that it implies that a person needs to change to reach a better category.
    I wonder which one I would be...

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    1. That's exactly right - there are no good or bad types. It's just about better understanding your preferences and those of others.

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  14. I need to take one of these free tests to learn more about myself as a writer and to learn about the characters I create.
    Very interesting!

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  15. Hmm, am I the only "E" in the comments? (ENXP, the "X" indicating that I scored approximate neutral on the F-T dimension). Totally explains why, for the A to Z challenge, I have three different possible themes, each one only partly planned out then I got bored and explored something else, and then ... oooh, shiny! And that last year I did the A-Z just spur of the moment, with no planning at all. Ellen, these musings about personality & writing are great!

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    1. An E - interesting! I've often wondered how many bloggers have a preference for introversion vs. extroversion.

      We should talk more about the F/T dimension at some point. It's an interesting one especially when it comes to gender. Women socialized to be more F and men more T (gross generalization, I know), which can play into it. The real MBTI instrument has sub-scales which can help you pin down a bit better what your preference is. I find it all fascinating :-)

      I suppose you don't want to know that I already have 5 posts for the A to Z challenge drafted already :-)

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  16. Although I relate to all of what you said, number 2 is especially spot on for me. I don't think I could have clarified my thoughts so clearly, but wow. Yeah. That's me!

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  17. Crap, if my wife actually wants to hear about my work, I'm happy to talk about it! Guess that's not me.
    Sorry I didn't make it by last week. I really do wish I had clones.

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    1. Thanks for popping by Alex. Clones would be a wonderful thing to have. I would assign them all of the projects that I don't want to do on our boat, while I spend my days reading and writing.

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  18. Like SV Cambria, I've just spent way too much time having fun with this when I should be doing other things. I took the full test on one of your links and, to comfort Jaye on Life Afloat, I'm also an E ! (although borderline). ENFJ. And now I'll spend hours more trying to figure out what that means. But I did find it immediately intriguing that my sailing preferences involve being in an area with lots of extrovert cultural, historical, culinary, linguistic variety (the Med) rather than the Caribbean, where I always assumed I would be bored after 3 weeks of mostly-introverted paradise. Thanks for a new time sink, Ellen !

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