April 13th, 2016

How your personality type wreaks havoc with your writing

(And 10 things you can do about it)

Kelly Simmons

KSimmons.CLOSEUP.LOW RESTime and again, through my writer’s mentoring nonprofit work and pitching ideas to writer’s conferences, I hear the same thing:  writers of all levels not only struggle with plot, structure, and craft – but with productivity issues.

Why?  Because what works for one writer, simply will not work for another.  In critique groups, we try not to take things personally. It’s your work, it’s not you. But you know what?   It IS YOU. And any problem you are having with your writing, and especially with your writing productivity, stems from who you are.  Or who you aren’t.

Here are my suggestions for upping productivity, based on personality type.

Are you a people pleaser?  Overcommitted?  Writing grants for a nonprofit instead of your novel?

1. You can save the world after you save your novel. Volunteer for YOURSELF FIRST. If you have trouble saying no to people, write up a gentle paragraph about why you can’t do whatever someone is asking you to do – and keep it on your computer –and copy/paste whenever you have to say no.

2. Give something up, and replace it with writing. Announce to the world – “I am not cooking dinner on Tuesday or Thursday.” Work out at the gym 3 x a week instead of 5.  Watch one less TV show, and write during that time instead.

3. Make use of miniature time pockets. Hire a babysitter for 2 hours and STAY HOME and write.  Go to a Laundromat and write for an hour while your stuff is drying.

Are you a perfectionist?  Do you procrastinate because the task seems too large, or you’re afraid you won’t measure up to your own standards?

4. Write a simpler novel. You heard me. Throw away that multi-generational beast with 100 characters and brainstorm something simpler. I’m not kidding.  I’m not wrong.

5. Make it impossible to go off-track. A) Write into the next scene, leave notes for what you are going to do next. Always.  B) Create writing prompts that have to do with your WIP or your characters and keep on your computer, so there’s always a task to complete.

6. Set up a reward structure.  Like potty training a child with M&Ms. Pay yourself for meeting your goals.  Think it doesn’t work? You must not be potty-trained.

7. Set goals that don’t focus on word counts. Word counts, page counts, and number values create weird, mathy pressure. Instead, use your words.  I will write until the timer goes off. I will write until the candle burns down.  I will write until the streetlights come on. 

Are you a type A overworker? Do you think you could get your novel finished if you only had a research assistant and a secretary?

See answers 2 and 4. 

If that doesn’t work –

8. Write at work. Yes, you heard me correctly.  How much of this you do is up to you, and what kind of job you have, but your company does not control your brain 100% of the time. If it did, how would you gossip?

If you have to sit in lots of boring meetings – daydream about your characters.  Learn a simple written code – so no one will know what you are jotting down on your yellow pad.

When it’s slow, or you’re on your lunch break, write a quick paragraph.  No one needs to know.  You know how to minimize your windows, right?  You know how to write in an email app, right?  Course you do.  Oh, don’t look at me like that.   The company doesn’t OWN YOUR DREAMS.

Are you sensitive, observant, and easily distracted?  

Yes, you could download Freedom to cut off your wifi, yes you could buy noise cancelling headphones, but YOU KNOW THAT.  Here are two suggestions that are FREE and just as helpful.

9.  Turn off all your notifications on your phone.  Let nothing ever beep or buzz to alert you to anything again.   And when you write — Put your phone in another room.   And leave it there until you’ve worked for an hour and earned a reward of looking at it. (see #6.)

10.  Clean up your act.  Simplify your workspace and office.  Throw things away.  Make your whole world look as if you have tons of room for your writing, and maybe, just maybe you will.

It’s not easy to write a novel.  It takes time and focus and dedication.  But how you free up the time, and find your focus, differs for everybody based on who they are.  Do you see yourself in these suggestions?  And what has worked for you?  I’d love to hear!

About Kelly

ONEMOREDAY.FINAL COVERKelly Simmons’ novels have been hailed as electrifying, complex and poignant, and aren’t those nice words? Her third novel, ONE MORE DAY, keeps being called riveting, so don’t buy it unless you want to stay up all night reading it. She’s a member of Women’s Fiction Writers Association, Tall Poppy Writers. and The Liars Club & Writers Coffeehouse, a group of published novelists dedicated to helping fledgling writers.


37 comments to How your personality type wreaks havoc with your writing

  • I think I’m all of those types of writers in one depending on the day, my teenager’s moods, and whether I got in a run. I needed a little nudge to be intentional about my writing time right about now. Thanks for the great ideas. The best one is to turn off the notifications on my phone, but I’m not sure I can make myself do it. (I might ask my husband to do it for me.) Book looks wonderful, too, must check that out.

  • Orly Konig-Lopez

    Great post, Kelly! I love the “volunteer for yourself first. Yes, yes, YES!!!!! Except I’d add, put a sock in the guilt when you do that. 🙂

    And now, I’m off to clean up my act a bit … clutter! Oy!

  • I SO enjoyed reading this and needed to hear it. Saying no is a tough thing to do because writing is an invisible career. People do not see the hours of alone time needed to produce an end result. They think me lucky to be home all day with heaps of free time. I was feeling a SHOULD about helping the teacher weed the school garden when mine sits untouched after a long winter. Your words have given me the courage to volunteer for myself and politely decline. Thank you.

  • tashaseegmiller

    Such a great post. I have been working hard lately to volunteer for myself first, and the results have been quite amazing.

  • Maggie Smith

    any advice for a writer who spends the first hour of each day reading writing blogs instead of writing? 🙂 Thanks for some great food for thought.

  • Great post! I fall into two of the classifications—sensitive and a people pleaser. Your suggestions made so much sense!

  • I feel like most of these types, but my most besetting problem is trying to over achieve. Sometimes I meet my impossible goals. Sometimes I don’t. I am getting better about beating myself up when I fail. Great blog. Thanks for writing it.

    • Oooh, that’s a rough one, that over-producing. For some, that could fall on the self-worth side, as you may not be taking good care of yourself when you’re cranking on huge goals. If you find yourself sidestepping healthy cooking, fresh air & exercise . . . if you find yourself skipping doctor appts, rescheduling pleasurable non-goal-oriented activities– your goals might need to be knocked down to size. But I know how hard it is, especially if you’re an optimist!

  • Fae Rowen

    Like Laura Drake says, “The book won’t write itself.” When I don’t sit down and write, my book doesn’t finish that chapter. Thanks for ways to be sure to write everyday. If we didn’t love writing, we wouldn’t have started on this path. Thanks for ways to keep us writing!

  • Great post! People Pleaser here – though I’ve gotten better with that over the years.

    The only thing that saves me, is the work ethic my mom instilled in me. I put in the work, and I refuse to fail.

    You’ve got to get SOMEWHERE at the end of that! Though often, not where I thought I’d be.

  • Maggie

    This is an excellent post. So honest and to the point. Thanks kelly.

  • I’m actually trying #2 for my WIP’s third draft. Instead of cooking every weeknight, I’m doing it only on Fridays (and weekends). On the other weeknights (except Wednesday, when I have a nighttime yoga class), it’s an hour of editing, then dinner – either salad, soup, sandwich, or leftovers. So far it’s worked out pretty well!

    Great post overall, btw. I’m definitely a people pleaser and am teaching myself to prioritize my writing and self-care a little more. So I can relate to #1 through #3.

    • That sounds like a good plan! I just told my friend I need to take my own advice — because I’m about to be on deadline again. My plan — replace 2 dinners & 2 hours of TV with evening writing.

  • We sooo appreciate you posting with us, Kelly! Our guest posts are like golden gifts to all of us here at WITS too. 🙂

    I am a people pleaser and a procrastinator, which means I’m with Orly – Make and appointment with myself? Yes, please!

  • Oh my, you really hit the nail on the head, Kelly! I’m the perfectionist terrified of large projects. I actually just learned the timer method and it’s working for me because word counts scare the begeezus out of me. : )

    • Yeah, word counts . . . the industry standard is not everybody’s jam. My new thing is “write till the streetlights come on” because I always want to stop around 4. Now I take a break, feed the dog, and try to get a few more hours in. Because a few more hours make a difference. Sometimes.

  • I piddle at writing during the evening hours. Once the ten o’clock news is over, the TV goes off after the weather, I turn off the TV and the words flow. Sometimes if I don’t feel so great they might dawdle. I think this is because I used to work in a convenience store 3-11 PM. I’d come home and write. I’m a night owl. I don’t have a “day job” so I sleep late and stay up late 🙂
    It seems like late at night everyone has gone to bed.. I live alone but no one usually is texting for a favor or checking on me. Games are my big distraction. The Kindle, the tablet, the phone, but even those fall away Not sure why. I’m just wired for late nights after working that way for so long. Hate early mornings.

  • julielrobinson

    I’m with C.K. on being a night owl—and I NEVER adjust to the change in time. In fact, it throws me off because I feel like I stay up too late and sleep too late, until I realized I wasn’t really getting my 8 hours—I just had a different body schedule.

    I liked what Julie (the other one) had to say. It really hit home. I’m going to write it down and post it near my computer for one of the ‘dark days’.

    As far as writing style goes, I used to be a people pleaser AND a perfectionist. I’ve learned to say no—at least more than i used to. One of the methods you suggest for being a Perfectionist is similar to what I do.: it never fails that after I turn off my computer at night, or when I’m doing something during the day and don’t have my computer available, inspiration strikes. So I’ve learned to stop what I’m doing, jot down what’s in my head, however briefly, and then put the notes in a pile on the side of my computer, so that when I sit down to write, I have a starting point. I type in my notes, and while I’m doing that, I tend to develop them further.

    • I love that you have a system of putting your notes in one place, so you know to look through them the next day! Too many Evernotes stay in the phone, too many notebooks stay in the purse, etc.

  • […] who have studied writer’s block and how to beat it, while Kelly Simmons discusses how your personality type wreaks havoc with your writing and 10 things you can do about it and Matt Thomas shares his adventures in […]

  • Definitely one for my weekly links list. Thanks for sharing, Kelly 🙂

  • Writing Grants for a non profit instead of writing….. how did you know!?! Great Post, thanks for the good advice.

  • AV

    Thank you! I’ve seen some of this advice before but never so clearly, succinctly and practically stated. This is going right in Evernote.

  • Lots of great advice applicable here for the poet trying to get his first book published too.

  • […] How your personality type wreaks havoc with your writing […]

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