by Julie Glover
This coming weekend, I'll be in Midland, Texas for the Permian Basin Writers Workshop Event where I get to present on choosing the right writing process for you.
In preparation, I've been reading up on writing process and personality and came across an interesting paper published by the National Council of Teachers in English (2009). The authors developed recommendations for writing instruction based on personality type as revealed in the Myers-Briggs Personality Indicator (MBTI).
Having long been a fan of personality type, I was curious to see what they suggested. And now I'm sharing with you!
What's the MBTI?
The MBTI has been researched, reviewed, and administered many, many times and found to be a helpful measure. (No, it's not perfect, and you can find plenty of articles that say that, but overall it's earned respect in the psychological community.) You can find a rough version that will provide your four-letter personality type at Human Metrics.
One of the personality spectrums studied in the MBTI is extraversion versus introversion. Some people think of this as being outgoing versus being shy, but that's not what they mean. Rather, extraverts (yes, with an a not o) are energized by interactions with others; that is, they thrive off being around other people. Introverts don't dislike people, but they aren't energized by interactions with others; that is, they get drained being around other people.
Since this is a spectrum, there can be a big difference between a slight introvert and an extreme introvert or a slight extravert and an extreme extravert, but we fall on one side of the other.
An easy way to think of it is this: After an enjoyable day with friends, are you more amped up or do you feel worn out?
What does this have to do with writing process?
The authors of the paper, "Personality and Individual Writing Processes," were a professor at Georgia State University and a staff psychologist at the University of Illinois at Chicago. They observed 215 students in various settings and compiled recommendations based on their experience. One in particular caught my eye:
As predicted by theory, the extraverts with whom we have worked write with little planning, though they often feel guilty about not writing from outlines. They sometimes describe their writing process as "quick and dirty" or the "easy way." ... Extraverts often find freewriting a good method for developing ideas, for they think better when writing quickly, impulsively, and uncritically.
By contrast, they noted that:
[Introverts'] basic writing process often follows the prewriting-writing-rewriting pattern. They generally want most of their ideas clarified before writing.... They tend to find writing much easier when much of the essay if written mentally before they put pen to paper.
In other words, the authors suggest that extraverts are natural pansters (write by the seat of their pants) and introverts are natural plotters.
But I'm definitely an introvert, and the one time I plotted a novel all the way out, I couldn't write the prose. I kept getting blocked, because in my mind, the story had been told and I had nothing left to discover.
What do y'all think?
I wondered how many people agreed with the authors' theory and how many were like me, challenging their conclusions with their process. So with the magic of social media, I posted this question on Facebook:
I ended up with 87 replies! What did I find?
Writers tend to be introverts.
Introverts were 66% of my sample with extraverts making up 34%. That's not surprising, given that writing is a solitary activity. You have to be comfortable working alone with your primary social contact being the characters in your head and on the page.
Writers dislike binary choices.
Oh, the number of people who didn't want to choose plotter or pantser! Mind you, these are not perfect labels. They exist on a spectrum too.
You can be a thorough plotter with a color-coded system of index cards and character analyses, a just-show-me-the-blank-page pantser who knows no more than setup or character before you begin, or you can be anywhere in between.
This is why you'll hear lots of other options given: plantser, plontser, quilter, puzzler, outliner. But this wasn't an open-ended question, so I made people pick. (Oh, the horror! ~grin~)
Introverts can be pantsers or plotters.
Good news! We introverts went about halfsies on whether we plot or pants our way through. At least it was good news to me, since it means I'm not alone, nor am I doing it wrong. (Not that I'd change the process that works for me if the results had been entirely different.)
Quite often, introverts answered with some form of "I outline a little, then start writing." That is, many know turning points, foresee the climax or ending, or have a good sense of scenes they'll include, but they don't map out the whole novel.
Then again, there were plenty of strict plotters, whose novel outlines resemble evidence boards. If you know one of those, give them office supply gift cards for their birthday. (Just a tip.)
Extraverts are largely pantsers.
You extraverts who plot are not common. Rather, by a 4-to-1 margin, extraverts pantsed more than plotted.
One interesting response came from an extravert who "was a technical and legal writer, so structure was drummed into me." So it could be that some extraverts plot because that's what they were trained to do. I'm not saying it doesn't work for them—it does for this writer—but that could be how their preference developed.
My Survey Results
Should you plot or pants your novel?
For introverts, I suggest you try both ways, try all the ways. Though maybe try it out on a short story before you waste an entire two weeks on a plot you'll never turn into a novel or pants your way through an entire book that turns out to be a heap of chaos.
Meanwhile, if you're an extravert who pantses her novel and someone tries to tell you that's not the way to do it, they may not have a clue what it's like to be you. Your personality type may well be best suited to grabbing the pen and paper or the laptop and just getting started.
But all in all, the writing process you should choose based on your personality type is...drumroll, please...the one that gets books written.
Seriously, go look up the writing processes of multipublished, bestselling authors and you'll see both plotters and pantsers out there.
As my Gen-Z sons would say, my best advice here is YOU DO YOU.
Are you an introvert or an extravert? Are you more of a plotter or a pantser? Have you tried the other way, and how did it go?
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 her co-written Muse Island series, which begins with Mark of the Gods.
And in case you're wondering, Julie's more pantser and her co-writer is more plotter. But ta-da! Finished books.