Does Writing Suit Your Personality?


Writing has always suited my personality.  One of my earliest memories is of folding pieces of paper together to make a book. When I was ten I was 30 pages into a novel before I tore it up in discouragement because I didn’t know what I wanted to say. As a teenager my favorite thing to do when I got home from school was to write plays.
Today I can sit down at my computer and, with only a few breaks in between, get up eight, nine, or ten hours later with little awareness of how much time has passed, feeling excited and utterly rejuvenated.  The next morning I can’t wait to get back to my computer.  When I was working on the manuscript for my next book I ran this marathon three or four days a week for almost three years with only a couple of months off in the summer.  For two of those three years, I had zero input about my writing from any living person. It was just me, my Self, and my computer.
Obviously, this way of life is not for everyone.  Our friend Howard enthralls all who know him with fascinating stories about his very unusual and interesting life.  People are always telling him he should write a book and I think he finds this idea attractive;  but not enough to actually do it.
Carl Jung’s theory about personality types helps explain why one person can be very well-suited to writing while another is not. He found that two basic attitudes affect the focus of our attention. Extraverts are primarily oriented toward the outer world of people and objects; introverts toward the inner world of concepts and ideas. Jung saw these attitudes as mutually complementary and believed both were necessary for maintaining a balanced personal and social life.
In an article about the Myers-Briggs Personality Type Indicator, Wikipedia cites these major differences between the two types: 1) Extraverts are action oriented, while introverts are thought oriented; 2) Extraverts seek breadth of knowledge and influence, while introverts seek depth of knowledge and influence; 3) Extraverts often prefer more frequent interaction, while introverts prefer more substantial interaction; and 4) Extraverts recharge and get their energy from spending time with people, while introverts recharge and get their energy from spending time alone.
Of course there are lots of extraverted writers and plenty of introverts with no interest whatsoever in writing. Moreover, both types struggle to complete writing projects because of myriad other issues such as education, financial limitations, attention deficits, self-confidence, self-discipline, and time restrictions related to work and relationships. But understanding our basic attitude toward life greatly enhances our chances for success with writing or any endeavor.
I’m a strong introvert and my story-telling friend is a strong extravert.  As Dr. Judith Rich says about her extraversion, “We E’s live outside the cave and struggle to find our way in, while the I’s live inside the cave and struggle to find their way out.” The bottom line? Cave-dwelling doesn’t suit my friend’s personality and writing just isn’t his passion.
If you’re wondering what to do with the rest of your life, you might want to reflect on these questions: When you were a child, what did you choose to do in your spare time? Are you an extravert or an introvert? What kind of work best suits your personality?

Join 5,851 other subscribers


0 Responses

  1. this was very thought-provoking! i guess i don’t really know which type i am because i shift from being extravert and introvert if i think about my own behavior, but what i can say is that i’m just real lazy. i get into the cave when i feel unsafe, but i go out of the cave when i start to feel lonely. i guess that makes me bipolar huh? anyways thanks for posting a very good article!

    1. I’m glad you liked it. In fact, all of us shift from one to the other depending on the situation, although most of us have a preference. I can be an extravert in social situations, but it usually takes an effort and drains me of energy; then I need alone time to recharge. Extraverts tend to be the opposite. I love your comment that you get into the cave when you feel unsafe and go out when you start to feel lonely. I do the exact same thing. That doesn’t make you bipolar; it makes you human! Thank you for your honest and thoughtful comments.

  2. Thank you for your thought-provoking meditation on the writer’s life. It’s interesting to me that my writing has blossomed in the way that it has these last 6 months. I have written over 200 blog posts of about 4-500 words each, a book, 12 short stories, a basket full of poems, scores of comments on blogs like yours, and many letters. This is an unprecedented outpouring. I used to write for about a week a year ever since I was around 10 years old—but it always short-circuited and stopped. What I did write I never shared with anyone until I was in my teens. Now I want the world to read what I write. Somehow my introverted tendencies have woven with some latent extroverted ones. And this is really very miraculous considering the abuse and betrayal I suffered as a child. Now there is a deep desire to share—simply share. Sure I love the feedback, but the desire goes deeper than that. Somehow the pain has transformed into a desire to share with the hopes of inspiring and touching lives; of sparking flames of discontent; of rousing someone awake; of offering a blessing of comfort. And while I also draw and play music, writing is really my first love. There is something magical about splashing words across the page (if writing the old fashioned way—pen on paper) (I still do that a lot). It’s like stringing rows of black lights or garlands of curly ebony flowers. There’s also a strange charm in tacking them onto the ether of a computer screen and being able to manipulate them with such ease. I often wonder how the words feel about being erased, moved, bolded, underlined, and changed from font to font in the blink of an eye. For me that last sentence says it all. Writers (at least this writer) think like that. I didn’t plan to write about the feelings of the words themselves, but there it is. For me the writing life is about translating awareness, the body, the imagination, the soul, and the senses into words, making each phrase, each letter, a treasure box to be opened and explored. For me writing has become a therapeutic alchemy of transforming pain into stories that heal. For there is great power in the word—whether it’s written on the flowing pages of the breath or spilled across a page of print. People are willing to “keep” their word at the expense of their freedom, or even when they know it’s wrong. People are willing to “keep” their promises and defend them to the death—such is the power of words. Many creation legends have the god or goddess speaking or singing the world into creation on waves of words. I am blessed and humbled that the muse, in the form of you Jean, in the form of painful memories, in the form of ferns and the roots of trees, in the forms of children, and countless other unexpected ways and means, has come to live in my soul. She wants expression—she wants the world to know her work. And I pray to do well by her, and that we will dance together forever, deep into the sunset.

    1. Dear Joseph,
      I have no doubt you and I are both meant to be writers. Apart from other possible psychological similarities, we both love words, treasure this form of self-expression, and find it therapeutic. I believe this time of creative outpouring you are experiencing is a gift and a reward for all the brave and difficult inner work you’ve done for the past three years. An increase in consciousness is always accompanied by an increase in creativity.
      My best,

  3. I think this may be where we met, Jeanie, discussing type. I think you wrote a post about traveling from your FL home to your NC home, where in each place you explore different facets of your “type.” I remember saying that I too find times when I like to sit in a pub with friends, rapt in grand conversation and then, the next day, I need to sit in a room, curtains drawn blind, writing for hours.
    Aren’t we both INFPs> Although my P and J were, I think, exactly the same.
    Yes, writing and psychiatry seem to be what we gravitate toward, Jeanie. You certainly have. I’ve gravitated to writing. As for psychiatry and psychology, the only difference between us I’m the one lying on the couch.

    1. Hi Charlie,
      I think you’re right about type being the topic of our first conversation. (Actually, I’m an INFJ.) The inner-directed focus of our personalities (introverted, intuitive, feeling) just naturally attracts our interest to psychology and writing. But I have to differ with you about the difference between us: As a practicing non-psychologist I am my only client, so I’m right there on the couch too!

  4. I really connected to this essay. I’m an ENFP in the Myer’s Briggs “test”. Can get things done, but it’s hard er for me that for some.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Recent Posts