October 16th, 2019

More on Plotting, Pantsing & Personality Type

by Julie Glover

The last time I was here, I addressed introversion and extroversion and how they relate to whether we're more likely to plot our novel or write by the seat of our pants.

Given the great feedback on that post, I want to continue looking into how the personality traits identified by the Myers-Briggs Personality Indicator (MBTI) may impact our writing process.

What's the MBTI?

Just a quick reminder that the MBTI is a thoroughly researched and often used measure that describes personality on the continua of four dichotomies.

The result of the MBTI is a 4-letter code with a description of that personality type. For instance, an INFP (like me) is Introverted, iNtuitive, Feeling, and Perceiving. If you want to know your own code, I highly recommended taking the MBTI itself, as it's the best gauge.

However, you can find a rough version to provide your 4-letter personality type at Human Metrics.

Can the MBTI predict writing process?

The short answer is I don't know. While there are theories and plenty of articles suggesting a link, firm research on this question wasn't readily available. (Despite clicking through many pages of Google results.)

However, having studied and administered the MBTI, the most promising connection could be on the last continuum β€” judging versus perceiving.

Our common definition of judging and perceiving is not what the test's authors mean. Rather, Judging-Perceiving here describes the structure you use when dealing with the outer world. Essentially, do you prefer to get thing decided and done? Or do you like to leave things open-ended?

The Myers-Briggs Foundation lists this characteristics as identifying Judgers and Perceivers:

Judgers

Perceivers

  • I like to have things decided.
  • I appear to be task oriented.
  • I like to make lists of things to do.
  • I like to get my work done before playing.
  • I plan work to avoid rushing just before a deadline.
  • Sometimes I focus so much on the goal that I miss new information.
  • I like to stay open to respond to whatever happens.
  • I appear to be loose and casual. I like to keep plans to a minimum.
  • I like to approach work as play or mix work and play.
  • I work in bursts of energy.
  • I am stimulated by an approaching deadline.
  • Sometimes I stay open to new information so long I miss making decisions when they are needed.

Given those descriptions, one might easily surmise that Judgers would be more likely plotters and Perceivers would be more likely pantsers.

What do y'all think?

Again, through the wonder of social media, I posted a question on Facebook to find out if this theory had any support.

I didn't receive nearly as many responses this time, perhaps because I was late getting the question up. But I also suspect that, while many people know whether they're introverts or extraverts, fewer know their J-P designation. In total, I only had 18 responses to work withβ€”hardly a statistical sample.

At this point, the information is anecdotal, but it's still interesting in that there was an imbalance. Judgers tended to be plotters, while Perceivers tended to be pantsers.

My Survey Results

JudgerPerceiver
Plotter73
Pantser17

Obviously, more data is needed! I'd love to hear from y'all in the comments.

Does personality play into writing process?

As I've been looking at theories on personality type and writing process, most of it is conjecture. Which is little surprise, since not only are the four dichomoties of the Myers-Brigg Type Indicator on continua, but the whole plotter versus pantser question lies on a continuum as well.

Moreover, what do those terms even mean? Two people who do the exact same thing β€” for example, outline plot points then free-write each chapter β€” might differ, with one saying plotter and the other saying pantser. Where you fall on the continuum is largely self-defined. And that's not even addressing other monikers like plontser, plantser, quilter, puzzler, and more.

Even so, I believe personality is a factor. Though maybe the better indication is the whole 4-letter personality type. Perhaps it's ESFPs who are fairly certain pantsers while INTJs are likely plotters, with a lot of good guessing in between.

Since I'm super-curious, I'm hoping to launch an informal study soon to see what connection, if any, there really is between personality type and writing process. If a strong correlation exists, that data could be particularly helpful to writing rookies or experienced-but-frustrated writers who would benefit from changing their approach.

Meanwhile, are you a Judger or a Perceiver? Are you more of a plotter or a pantser? Do you think those are connected?

About Julie

A long time ago, Julie Glover administered the MBTI in her master's degree internship. While still a fan of personality type, she now writes cozy mysteries, supernatural suspense, and young adult fiction. Be sure to check out Muse Island series, which begins with Mark of the Gods.

While Julie is a perceiver/pantser, her co-writer is more judger/plotter. But they still work well together!

27 responses to “More on Plotting, Pantsing & Personality Type”

  1. Deborah Lacativa says:

    Do MB results change over time? Very much a pantser, my professionally administered test called me a hardcore ENTP.

    • Julie Glover says:

      Because it's a continuum, you can absolutely move along that line on one or more personality traits. That could put you on one side of a trait dichotomy when you were previously on the other. However, you're unlikely to jump from one end to another.

      (Unless you're in a cult or an abusive relationship, and there's a whole body of research on how only certain personality types are acceptable in those situations and thus people slowly adapt to them. That is, until they get out and recover. But I digress...)

      While raising children, I was definitely more Judging, just out of necessity. But my inherent preference is Perceiving. Hopefully, that info helps!

  2. Very interesting! I'm a diehard judging plotter.

  3. I'm a Judger for the most part (ISFJ according to the online tests I've done over the years), but several of those Perceiver traits fit as well. Which pretty much sums up how I write. I'm in the middle, not full a pantser or plotter anymore. I do some plotting ahead of time, but it's more of a guide to help me know where I need to go. But if I think too hard about it or write too much down, I get bored with the book quickly. Do I think they're connected? I think it's more your personality, who you are. People are complex beings. πŸ™‚

    • Julie Glover says:

      I believe plotting-pantsing and Judging-Perceiving are connected, but insufficient to predict writing process. But those other dichotomies could also play a role. And as you wonderfully point out, the strength of one's preference could also impact their choice. It's quite complex, which is perhaps why I like all this stuff! πŸ™‚

  4. crbwriter says:

    INTJ here, reporting a preference for plotting! But sometimes my characters inform me that the plot defies THEIR personality traits, and I have to pants my way through a scene and revise the plot.

  5. Eldred Bird says:

    I'm a total INTJ and a pantser, but the more I write and study the craft, the more plotting and planning starts to creep in. As I've become more aware of proper story structure and character development arcs, those things have started to influence my pantsing without my even being aware of it. As we progress as writers, I think it's inevitable that we will all end up somewhere in between the extreams, no matter where we start.

  6. pamelagibson says:

    I'm right down the middle on the Meyers-Briggs and that's reflected in my approach to writing. I am a pantser, but I start with clear concepts in mind. Do I go off in another directions sometimes? Sure. But I know what the beginning, middle, and end will be before I start.

  7. Carol Cronin says:

    ENTJ, definite pantser!

  8. Michelle c Dodson Ferrer says:

    I agree with Pamela Gibson. I'm products of both traits. I start with a written outine, but I write intuitively. Then, check it against the outline. Most often, the outline gets adjusted in its details, but overall direction usually stays the same.

    In my former professional life, I was careful with the Meyers-Briggs as it tends to drop people in tight slots. I found regularly that people had mixed traits and didn't perform mechanically consistent to the test. Ergo, I used it as a guideline. In writing, it seems useful to know your writing nature and help you work within it.

    • Julie Glover says:

      It's definitely good to be flexible with the results. For example, I've tested INTP a couple of times, but it's not quite as accurate as the INFP description. And even then, I don't follow all of that description, because my Feeling side isn't that strong. But given how complex personality is, the MBTI can be a useful tool. Not a determinant, but a tool.

  9. dholcomb1 says:

    I'm more of a judger and I'm more of a pantser.

    denise

  10. LauraDrake says:

    Just took it - ENFP - but they said the P and the J were almost =. I'm hard-core pantser - go figure. I was excited to see that one of the good careers for me was writing!

    Such a fascinating subject, Julie - thanks!

  11. Jenny Hansen says:

    It's interesting because my designation has changed over the years. I need to take it again and see whether or not things have changed yet again. When I was single, I was ESTP (The Promoter), which comes under Artisan. Then in 2012 I showed up as ENFJ (below) - the Idealist. I wonder if it's motherhood talking.

    Anyway, I'm a plotser. I pants, but with a plan.

    ENFJ (I know that's SUCH a big surprise to you...LOL) :
    moderately expressed extravert - 44
    moderately expressed intuitive personality - 38
    distinctively expressed feeling personality - 62
    slightly expressed judging personality - 1

    Careers: Counselor, Psychologist, Teacher, Doctor, Computer Programmer, Management and I'm the same type as Bill Clinton and Ronald Reagan. πŸ™‚

    • Eldred Bird says:

      Okay Jenny, after we talked tonight I figured I should take the test again and see if I've changed over the years like you did.

      Nope, still an INTJ...heavy on the I. Maybe you guys are right about kids changing you. Having had none, I'm still pretty much the same guy I was at twenty, just forty years older and a lot grayer.

      • Fae Rowen says:

        I'm with you, Eldred. Was, am, will be (probably forever) an INTJ. And I am a panster. Solid, no doubt. The idea of making an outline, a "W diagram, or any other plotting tool makes me not want to write the book. I have to admit I have most of the "big stuff" worked out in my head before I start, but there is no hard and fast "this happens here" or other "signage."

  12. Lynda Jo says:

    ENFP with a mid-line E/I. I want so much to use outlines, story-grids, plot points but I can only do it after I've written. Otherwise, feel as if I'm trying to stuff a square peg into a round hole. So, while I do plan a bit, the writing is mostly pantsing. I did Becca Symes' Write Better, Fast recently. Lots of incites. This is a fascinating study.

  13. Jeanne Kern says:

    Definitely a perceiver-pantser...wishing I were more of a plotter.

  14. Sam Steidel says:

    I recently listened to an interview with RR Martin, he had a new take on the Plot/Pant definition. He said writers are either Architects or Gardeners. He claimed to be a full on Gardener. Interview was on NPR.
    I tested INFP and (using my new term) am a green thumbed Gardener. Plant my seeds and see what grows. First sight of a list or outline does not happen until the after the first draft. Hard and fast rule. only then do the colored pens and cards come into play.

  15. Patricia Adsit says:

    ESTJ, lifelong (no changes since first MBTI in grad school in 1979) with very clear preference for ALL traits:-); however, I'm what is referred to as a "pressure-prompted J." Meaning: I absolutely need an imminently approaching deadline (NaNoWriMo, anyone?) to give me the rush of adreline to finish a project, which will be finished on deadline, with the proviso that 11:59 p.m. is STILL today! Plotter: must plot, must plan, must outline...in my thoughts as well as on paper...but still open to taking a new route when a character's personality style comes into play...similar to a reroute with GPS.

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