Monday, October 19, 2009

Writer Personality

I always look forward to receiving my electronic copy of The Willamette Writer, the monthly newsletter of Willamette Writers. We have some very talented and knowledgeable writers and editors in the region, so I always learn something from each newsletter.

In the November 2009 issue, President Cynthia Whitcomb discusses the writer personality. Not only did I enjoy her viewpoint, but I was greatly relieved to learn that I'm not an anomaly.

Cynthia begins by relating her experiences serving on panels at writing conferences when someone in the audience asks the professionals, "When do you write?" Like Cynthia, I repeatedly hear answers such as "every day without fail," or "three to four hours daily." I've even heard and read the response, "eight hours a day, seven days a week." (Need I note that invariably this response comes from a man, undoubtedly married. Otherwise he would have starved long ago in his rancid, unwashed clothing.)

Cynthia, however, admits that she doesn't have discipline and doesn't write every day. Sometimes she doesn't even write every week! This from a successful screenwriter and playwright.

Cynthia notes that she has observed that writers come in a variety of personality types. She adapted the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator for her own assessment of writer types.

Cynthia's criteria include: Introvert/Extrovert, Disciplined/Undisciplined, Perfectionists/BestIsGoodEnough, Focused/Scattered, and Organized/Messy.

Myers-Briggs uses an Introvert/Extrovert criteria, but describes it as the individual's preferred method of recharging. Are you energized by a party or exhausted? Do you feel renewed after some time alone or do you go batty in isolation?

By the M-B definition, I am an Introvert. I have on more than one occasion spoken before a large group of people without much fuss, but to recharge my batteries I need alone time.

Otherwise, I'm pretty similar to Cynthia: introverted undisciplined non-perfectionist scattered messy writer.

I am Not Disciplined -- I do not have a fixed hour and amount of time spent writing each day. This is often due to scheduling issues. Although retired, I am the household chauffeur so on the days I don't go to the barn I am driving to appointments and helping run errands. So writing still comes at the end of the day, and sometimes not at all when I'm knackered. However, I have noticed over the years that I have a method of letting my writing projects sit untouched while mulling over the next scene or section. It's my "back burner" or "percolating" writing method. Once I know what comes next, though, I can become focused and absorbed in my writing.

I'm definitely a Non-Perfectionist. This approach, I think, evolved from my work years. Correspondence had to go out in a timely manner in the best shape possible, and when the project deadline arrived no more changes could be made. Plus, I observed my father with his paintings and must have understood that at some point the artist must stop applying oils to canvas.

I am most definitely Scattered. I do not seem to lack for story ideas. The problem is to not let the newest idea sidetrack me as inspiration and possibilities burst forth. It's very much like Toy Story; the new toy is much more exciting than the tried and true older toy. But flitting to another project can, at times, be part of my "back burner" process so that I return refreshed to the older story.

Messy. Most definitely messy. In fact, this was just a topic of conversation on my Facebook page. Only sick minds have clean, orderly desks. ;-) At home or work, my desk has always been at the bottom of piles of paper and other fascinating stuff.

Cynthia sums up her article with encouraging words: "Whatever personality type you turn out to be I promise you there have been great and famous writers with your exact combination of traits."

That's a relief!

She goes on to say: "Stop criticizing yourself for being the way you are and just be the way you are and work the way you work."

This goes for more than just writing.

Finally: "Figure out who you are and how you work, and then BE YOU. And work YOUR way. And let yourself have a little happiness and satisfaction along the way."

A fun assessment of creative personality types and good advice no matter what your pursuit.

Thanks, Cynthia!

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