Our personalities inform everything we experience. They influence how we perceive information and how we interact with our surroundings. Since the origination of type theory in Carl Jung’s 1921 Psychological Types, psychologists have been building on various type and trait theories to help us understand our emotions, motivations, and behaviors as groups and as individuals. It should be no surprise that your personality type affects your approach to the writing process. Here are a few basics to help you learn about your own personality and how to leverage it when writing.
What Are Personality Types?
In the western world, the most popular personality type model—the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI)—was developed by Isabel Briggs Myers and Katharine Briggs, and is based on Jung’s work. The MBTI is a questionnaire that identifies psychological preferences in individuals. It’s based on assumptions of introversion and extraversion (I or E, respectively) as fundamental personality orientations, which are then combined with psychological functions—perceiving and judging. The perceiving functions are sensing (S) and intuition (N), and the judging functions are thinking (T) and feeling (F). Finally, the MBTI identifies whether a person’s perceiving or judging functions (P or J, respectively) are more dominant. We’ll talk more about each of these breakdowns later on in the article. After completing the MBTI, you get a four-letter personality type that roughly outlines the way you view and interact with the world. Here are four of the sixteen possible personality types:
If you don’t already know your MBTI type, you can fill out a free questionnaire here, but you may be able to self-identify with this basic outline.
Let’s dive into each aspect of Myers-Briggs types and what it can mean for your writing.
Introversion and Extraversion
Do you prefer to focus on the outer world or on your own inner world?
These two fundamental orientations help us to explain which world—inner or outer—makes us feel most comfortable. Identifying an introvert or an extravert can be tricky though. Although we often think of them as opposite qualities, introversion and extraversion actually represent a spectrum. One key determiner for orientation is based on how you “recharge.” Usually, a more introverted person will prefer to reduce stimulation and recharge in private. In contrast, extraverts tend to prefer relaxing in the company of others and seeking out additional stimulation. When it comes to writing, the distinction between introvert and extravert can make a big difference.
Writing as an Introvert
Introverts are more likely to maintain focus and spur productivity by investing in planning and organization and working in isolation. Group brainstorms are a challenge. For many introverts, working in quiet solitude can let loose their creativity. So, don’t feel bad if you need to get away from the open office layout to write your email campaign—you’re not a party pooper! Find the space that makes you feel best.
There are some limitations of this orientation, however. For example, it can be beneficial for writers to share their work with others, especially in groups. Unfortunately, this sort of collaboration may not come naturally for many introverts. If you’re an introvert, try to push yourself to share your writing with friends, family, co-workers, or even a trusted writing group.
Take the quiz to find out if you write like an introvert!
Writing as an Extravert
Extraversion (spelled “extra-” rather than “extro-” by the MBTI) is the idealized orientation in western society. Outgoing, active, and outspoken tendencies are favored, which can make getting things done as an extravert a little smoother. Writing well as an extravert might involve drafting outlines with friends, discussing your plot ideas with others, or hunkering down to write in an active, open space that triggers ideas and boosts creativity.
Like introversion, extraversion has unique drawbacks during the writing process. While brainstorming, drafting, and getting feedback may come easily, extraverts may find that they have trouble in the planning stage of writing and tend to struggle in the more reflective and isolated portions of the work—revision, editing, and sometimes even drafting. If you’re an extravert, be sure to invest a little more energy in these elements to round out your writing. Block out a little extra time to get all your great ideas in order, and after you’ve gotten feedback on your writing from peers, take a moment to reflect before dashing back to your draft.
Sensing and Intuition
Do you prefer to focus on the basic information you take in or do you prefer to interpret and add meaning?
Sensing and intuition help us understand how we perceive information from our world. Personalities that lean toward sensing see (and hear, feel, smell, and taste) the world for what it is, often in surprising detail. These individuals will likely comment on or take note of observational facts like the pleasant hue of a new sweater or the aroma wafting from the kitchen. They are also more likely to pay attention to the state of their surroundings and express preferences about them—“Can we sit near the window, in the sunlight?”
In contrast to the sensing personalities, intuitive personalities lean toward interpretations and subtext rather than concrete observation. Intuitive types have a knack for “seeing beyond” what is actually happening and “reading” situations. These individuals are likely to notice if something feels off, even if they can’t tell you concretely what. They are skilled at pinpointing a person’s motives or humor with little interaction.
Writing With a Sensing Personality
If you have a sensing personality, the state of your writing environment will likely contribute significantly to your productivity. Comfy spaces with good lighting, pleasant ambient noise, and a comfortable seat usually help sensing types feel at ease. Throughout the writing process, due to their concrete perception style, sensing types may have difficulty diving deeper into the why of a person, place, or thing. That is, they can likely paint a pretty picture, but may have trouble making those details relevant to the characters or plot.
Writing With an Intuitive Personality
The intuitives’ ability (and desire) to discover and understand the why of a situation or person can help them develop compelling characters, stories, and conversion copy; however, this ability can become divorced from reality and be too abstract if not paired with enough concrete details. As for the writing process, intuitive types are less picky about their surroundings, but are likely to be more sensitive if something negative occurs. For this reason, intuitives may be particularly headstrong about whom they work with in brainstorming or editing.
Thinking and Feeling
When making decisions, do you prefer to first look at logic and consistency or first look at the people and special circumstances?
The thinking and feeling aspect of your personality determines how you approach decision-making and judgment. For thinking types, choices are based on facts and logic. In contrast, the feeling types tend to make decisions subjectively after weighing others’ points-of-view. Thinking types can often come across as too task-oriented or indifferent, while feeling types can seem too indirect or emotional.
Writing With a Thinking Personality
People with a dominant thinking trait are most comfortable writing about what they know, see, measure, or do. Their love of logic and rules also helps them when they need to create or follow processes. Writers with this leading function will usually follow all the steps in the writing process to T, which may help their writing. However, their penchant for consistency may make it difficult to adapt when collaborating with others (different processes or approaches). These writers can struggle with tapping into feelings with their writing. If you are a thinking type, when working with others, try framing changes to your process as just new stages in the process—even if they seem illogical. Also, if you are worried about your writing seeming too dry or formal, find a respected friend who tends to lean toward the feeling trait to help review your writing.
Writing With a Feeling Personality
If you lead with the feeling trait, you’re likely very people-oriented, aware of how others are feeling, and in-tune with your heart. These tendencies can help you reach your audience as a writer, particularly if you are working in business, customer service, or PR. Feeling types usually prefer less structure and process in their work than their thinking counterparts do. This can mean feeling writers are able to adapt and indulge as needed to suit their writing. Unfortunately, it can also mean that parts of the writing process are overlooked. Feeling types should pay extra attention to their style and potential audience. In some settings, an overly personal approach can backfire.
Judging and Perceiving
In dealing with the outside world, do you prefer to get things decided or do you prefer to stay open to new information and options?
Judging and perceiving are structures that we use to deal with the world around us. This letter in the MBTI tells us which of the subcategories of traits is most dominant in a personality. Judging types (thinking and feeling) tend to rely on decision-making and imposing control and organization on their world. In contrast, perceiving types (sensing and intuition) prefer to stay open to new information and understand or fit to their surroundings rather than impose structure on it.
Writing With a Judging Structure
If you structure your interaction with the world through judgment, you most likely enjoy decisiveness and action. This particular outlook has great advantages in writing because you are able to decide and move ahead without much pain or stress about the choice. In fact, some judging types are so choice-prone that they aren’t even aware of all the choices they do make. The downside of this approach is that in a haste to categorize and move on, the nuances of certain options or even entire alternatives are overlooked. If this sounds familiar, experiment with leaving things open-ended in your writing. For example, if you are pretty sure that you want to write only at your home desk, try finding some other options that might work. Or, if you are basically sold on the next plot development of your story, push yourself to try outlining other alternatives or—Heavens to Betsy!—don’t decide for a while and work on some other aspect of your story instead.
Writing With a Perceiving Structure
If you tend to remain uncommitted about a person, place, or thing because you want to wait for more details, you may structure your world through perception. As a writer, this worldview will allow you to explore many options for plot development, sales copy, or company-wide emails. Unfortunately, in your quest for more detail, clarification, or information, you may spend too much time and energy on relatively simple decisions. For example, if you asked a few friends to look over your draft but only a couple have gotten back to you, don’t drag your feet waiting for that last bit of feedback to decide what you want to do with your draft. Just try to move forward.
Personality is complex and far from the only influencing factor in how we perceive and interact with our world. It is, however, a powerful component of our connection with that world. When it comes to writing, personality type can affect not only what you write but also how you write it, who you involve, and where you choose to do all this. As such, your personality deserves a bit of effort and work to understand and accommodate.
What is your personality type? How do you think it influences your strengths and weaknesses as a writer?
Learn more about personalities and how they can influence your communication beyond writing at the Myers-Briggs Foundation Website and 16Personalities.com.