Writing and Personality: Finding Your Voice, Your Style, Your Way

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'We cannot separate the writer from the writing. Nor should we try. Both our writing process and our writing products need to carry our unique signature, a bit of our personality.' - From Writing and PersonalityHow you write - what works for you and what makes sense to you - depends on who you are, your personality, your preferences, your style of thinking and feeling. If you're extraverted and grounded in your senses, your natural writing style will be far different from the person who tends to be introverted and intuitive. Not only that, how you learn to write will be different as well. Here's a book that taps into the natural strengths of your personality and helps you use those strengths in your writing. Whether you're a student, businessperson, or professional writer, this book will help you: engage your natural writing voice; adapt to styles that are less natural; overcome writer's block; and find the right words for communicating effectively, whatever your assignment.

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1. Your Beginnings as a Writer

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We cannot separate the writer from the writing. Nor should we try. Both our writing process and our writing products need to carry our unique signature, a bit of our personality. In our earliest development as writers, however, many of us treated writing as something quite separate from who we were as growing individuals. The exercises in this first chapter will help you to establish what your beginnings as a writer were like. This will be the. starting point for your discovery of natural ways to go about writing that work for you.

We’d like you to take a moment now to think about your first attempts at writing and to write about your earliest memory as a writer. But we would like for you to write in a special way. We want you to write for about ten or fifteen minutes in one continuous word. What we mean by “one continuous word” is that once you begin to write, you should not lift your pen at the end of a word, but continue writing. For example, you might write:

Do not lift your pen from the page except to move on to the next line. This will help you to get in touch with the physical act of writing—die feel of a pen in your hand and the extended feel of that pen rubbing across paper.

 

2. Your Present as a Writer

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Before we begin to make some suggestions about how your writing process can become more effective, we would like for you to examine what your writing is like right now. What follows is a series of questions about your writing process. Read these questions over and determine your answers to them.

1. Do you like to write at all?

2. What kinds of writing do you prefer?

3. What kinds of subjects do you find it difficult to write about?

4. What do you do before you begin to write?

5. Do you use an outline?

6. How long do you think about a topic before you begin to write?

7. How do you organize your ideas or data?

8. What kind of difficulties do you tend to get into?

9. What kind of writer’s blocks do you experience?

10. What kind of environment do you prefer to write in? For example, do you like to write at a desk, or would you prefer to write while lying in bed?

11. What kind of writing rituals do you follow? Do you have to sharpen pencils before you begin? listen to music? take a bath? or wear a certain kind of clothing?

 

3. Your Preferred Way of Writing

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Think over your years of writing instruction. What are the two or three things that you remember most from your writing teachers?

It is sad that many of us remember very little from all those years of writing instruction, all the hours that we spent in English classes listening to someone try to describe the correct way to go about writing. But there is one bit of instruction that most people remember, occasionally with appreciation, frequently with dismay: the lecture on outlining. Compare your memories of outlining with the various responses that follow:

•  3oy, was It painful Having to listen to the teacher talk about roman numerate and Arabic numbers, capital letters and lowercase letters, Indenting, and watching margins was bad enough. But then having to follow these complicated Instructions and actually Integrate this procedure Into my writing process just made things worse.

•  Actually, some of It was pretty helpful. Through outlining, I learned to make things clear. My thoughts got organized when I outlined them. Then I felt more confident about writing.

 

4. Getting Started: Extraversion and Introversion

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Getting started is often the most difficult part of writing. This is especially true when we take other people’s advice about how to go about writing rather than trusting our own natural way. To illustrate, we’d like to give you a flavor for different ways people focus their energy and attention when beginning to write.

Wherever you happen to be as you begin reading this chapter, we’d like you to make some adjustments to the environment around you. Try the two different exercises for getting started that follow. If you find that you are not very satisfied with the changes we suggest in the first exercise, then skip to the second one and try those recommendations instead.

Before starting the exercises, have available an audiocassette tape recorder. While reading the exercise, walk with this book in your hand into a room where other people are present. Tell them you’d like to talk about the best way for you to get started writing. You’re also seeking their reaction, in part to help you clarify your ideas.

 

5. Knowing What to Say: Sensing and Intuition

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In order to discover how Sensing and Intuition affect your writing, we want you to write a short paragraph on a common topic that people usually find easy to write about. No one except you will have to see this paragraph. Simply put on paper some ideas without worrying about how they’re coming across. Only a few sentences, or no more than a half page, will do.

In whatever way comes most naturally to you, write a short paragraph on the following topic: “A Spring Day.”

You may have felt twinges of anxiety during the writing that reminded you of required assignments in some English composition class. Or you may have had fun with the exercise. Either way, your paragraph can help you see how Sensing and Intuition are used differently to contribute to the process of knowing or finding out what you have to say while writing.

Please note that in this chapter we will not focus so much on what you say while writing as on how you go about discovering or knowing what you want to say. What you say is a part of the finished product. Knowing or finding out what you will say is a part of your writing process.

 

6. Deciding How to Say It: Thinking and Feeling

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As in the last chapter, we would like you once again to write a short paragraph. You will again compare your paragraphs (and the processes used to arrive at those products) to those written by different types of people.

We have a new topic for you to write about this time. As before, write for no more than half a page, in whatever way comes most naturally to you, on the following subject: “A Christmas Tree.”

Whatever you have written can be useful to show how you best make decisions about writing, especially about how to say what you want to say. Thinking (T) and Feeling (F) are two different ways we approach decision making in order to arrive at conclusions and make judgments. Thinking is more objective, while Feeling is more personal. Just as we have both hands at our disposal, we all use both Thinking and Feeling every day But one comes more easily to us and gives us a sound foundation from which to use the other. In this chapter, we will emphasize how Thinking types and Feeling types go about making decisions on the emphasis and tone of their writing, the one type favoring an emotional distance (T), and the other type favoring personalization (F).

 

7. Getting It Done: Judging and Perceiving

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Suppose that you had an assignment to write a short autobiography on how you came to write in your natural way. Let’s assume that a completed draft of your autobiography should be finished in ten days. Now think about how you would go about completing the project— getting it done.

Below you will find the words of two writers describing their very different methods of managing time and resources over the next ten days. Read the two options and ask yourself which one is most like the way you work best. You probably have operated both ways at different times. What you need to decide here is which way works best for you.

Getting It Done: Option One

Since I know that the writing project should be finished in ten days, I will start planning out a schedule today. First, I will spend some time thinking about the project. Can it be broken down into sections: research, thinking about the topic, first draft, revisions, final typing, and so on? if it can, then I will decide when I want to complete each section. Preferably, I will set aside a specific period of time each day to work on the task. I may even want to make daily goals, like writing one page each day. That way I know that I am staying on task and making enough progress to complete the assignment on time.

 

8. Four Sensing Thinking Approaches to Writing

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The four types of writers described in this chapter all share common preferences for Sensing (S) and Thinking (T). These writers tend to take a no-nonsense approach to life. They find out about the world through the verifiable processes of direct observation and the five senses (S), and they arrive at a carefully constructed conclusion that can be explained with logic and evidence (T). Isabel Myers, in her classic book on psychological type, Gifts Differing, described these individuals as “practical and matter-of-fact types.”

ST writers often view their writing as a process of information dissemination. When they write, they first present the facts—what they have seen, heard, touched, counted, measured, or weighed—and they bring an impersonal analysis to bear on their concluding arguments. At their best, they can be succinct and to the point, ready with further information if needed. At their worst, they may neglect the subtle complexities of human communication, including ways to get their readers interested in what they have written. STs often exercise their preferences in fields such as business, management, accounting, production, the law, and engineering.

 

9. Four Sensing Feeling Approaches to Writing

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The four types of writers described in this chapter all share common preferences for Sensing (S) and Feeling (F). These individuals find out about the real world through directly observing it with the use of their five senses (S). They tend to make decisions based on what they care about, which invariably includes what others around them need and how those people feel about the outcome (F). As a result, Isabel Myers called these people the “sympathetic and friendly types.”

SF writers see their writing as a means of connecting with other people and helping them feel better about their circumstances. They present the information they have about a situation that is most important to the people involved. In so doing, they may neglect to present a conceptual overview of their topic, that is, the big picture, or a logical analysis of the possible conclusions. But at their best, SF writers are good at determining what their reader wants to read about and at providing a story that explains what they have to say. They are naturally drawn toward caregiving activities, leading them into the health professions, teaching, religious and community service, and office work where people are involved.

 

10. Four Intuitive Feeling Approaches to Writing

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The four types of writers described in this chapter all share common preferences for Intuition (N) and Feeling (F). Isabel Myers described them as the “enthusiastic and insightful types.” They gather their perceptions by way of imagination (N) and decide what is most important about them via their personal value system (F). They see writing as a means of communicating the possibilities that humans have before them.

NF types bring a natural warmth to their activities and are deeply committed to what they do, including what they write and how they express it. They like to plumb the depths of previously unexplored territory, including human complexities, and usually have a gift for calling attention to subtleties in people’s motivations that others might overlook. As writers, they may forget to provide a logical rationale or concrete examples to support their convictions. But at their best, they can be persuasive and inspiring in their written or spoken communication. As a result, they frequently find scope for their abilities in human service fields such as counseling, teaching, or the ministry, as well as in the arts, communications and journalism, and the behavioral sciences.

 

11. Four Intuitive Thinking Approaches to Writing

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The four types of writers described in this chapter all share common preferences for Intuition (N) and Thinking (T). Isabel Myers referred to them as the “logical and ingenious types.” They gather perceptions through their imagination (N) and evaluate their ideas with logic and analysis (T). They approach writing as a means of articulating an original angle on their topic. NT types are generally willing to challenge authority or criticize points of view that they deem to have been weakly justified. In this regard, they value competence in themselves and others.

NTs often have an ironic sense of humor and a skeptical perspective, especially in response to ideas that are popular or faddish. As independent-minded as any of the types, they come up with new theories to explain complex ideas. In the process, they sometimes neglect to sensitize the reader to background information on or human examples of their concepts. At their best, however, they can present a brilliant analysis of the way a system works (or needs to work). They are often engaged in pioneering work, whether in technical, scientific, theoretical, or executive arenas, or in research, physical sciences, the law, or computer science.

 

12. Your Natural Style and Its Consequences

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The idea that individuals have a kind of natural style of communicating, a way that seems related to their personality type, is not new. Over two thousand years ago, Aristotle described how the speaker’s personality enters the speech and how that “character” in the text affects the listener’s willingness to believe or doubt the speaker. Today, writing specialists often encourage people to find their “voice” as they write. This metaphor suggests that the author, when he or she is writing well, breathes life into the text.

In this chapter, we will refer to this distinctive character or voice that enters your text as your natural style. Jung’s type theory can help you recognize how your personality is connected to the strengths of your style.

In order to explore your natural style or voice, we would like you now to write a page or two about a specific set of observations you will make. Take a notebook with you to a local park or other outdoor place, find a comfortable place to sit for ten or fifteen minutes, and take notes on what you observe. Then write a narrative describing what you noticed.

 

13. Drafting and Revising

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A knowledge of your personality type can suggest ways that you might best draft an essay and then revise it. First, however, we need to say something about drafting and revising. Because drafting an essay is usually the most difficult part of writing, we feel that it is important that as you are struggling to get your ideas onto paper, you write in whatever process comes most naturally. This means writing in a way that fits your personality type and draws on the strengths of your preferences.

Once you have finished a rough draft, once you have some basic ideas down on paper, you can begin to revise. Too often, writers view revision as a mechanical process of following some rather general rules—cut excess words, add some examples, check the spelling. Instead, we would like for you to think of revision literally as revisioning, or seeing again what you have already written. A revision might entail an entirely new approach—a new organizational strategy, reworking the style, or changing the central point of what you want to say. We would also like for you to think of revision as the time that you think about adapting what you have written for the specific audience that will be reading it.

 

14. Growing as a Writer

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We never stop developing as writers. Even relatively experienced writers must recognize their natural starting point and then bring balance to their writing. Each of the preferred parts of our personality has both pitfalls and strengths. In this chapter, we will show how individuals of different type preferences tend to grow as writers.

The table on the following page summarizes some of the writing strengths and limitations of Extraverts and Introverts, which are discussed below.

Extraverts write best when they begin with their outer lived experience. They thus would rather talk and act than observe or record events on paper. And they should, as much as possible. That is why we recommended in earlier chapters that Extraverts talk into a tape recorder, invite a partner to bounce ideas around with them, or take breaks from too much quiet sit-alone activity. Computer word processing may work well for them when they interact with the screen, as if the computer is another person responding to their thoughts.

 

15. Getting Past Anxiety and Writer’s Blocks

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In this chapter, we will suggest how knowledge of your personality type can help you overcome writing anxiety or writer’s blocks. Writing. anxiety is a general stress—or distress—reaction to writing that leads to an avoidance of writing in general or to some specific type of writing. Regardless of ability, anyone who has had generally bad experiences with writing in the past can develop writing anxiety. Many people, however, do not. These people have had generally good experiences with writing, have a positive self-concept as a writer, and enjoy the challenge of tackling a new writing project.

Yet even those people who have generally good writing experiences sometimes find themselves staring at a blank sheet of paper or an empty computer screen. This is what is called writer’s block.

To experience a writer’s block means that on a specific writing project, our ability to make decisions about how to proceed has broken down—we simply do not know how to get started, what to write next, or which word to choose.

 

16. Writing for Different Audiences

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Most of us can remember how frustrating it was to try to figure out what different teachers wanted. We may have earned As and Bs in our English class one semester, but found ourselves writing C or D papers for a different teacher in the next. Each teacher seemed to want something different. But exactly what they wanted was often a mystery.

Unfortunately, the problem does not go away when we enter the world of work. Instead of trying to figure out what the teacher wants, we now struggle to figure out what the boss wants, what the customer wants, or what the client wants. We know that people have different tastes in writing, but determining which person prefers which style often seems to be a crapshoot.

In this chapter, we will suggest how your knowledge of personality types can bring a little reason and order to this process. We will first discuss how the personality type of our reader can tell us how formal or informal our writing should be. Then we will discuss four types of audiences: ST, SF, NT, and NF. These patterns are the same ones we have highlighted in previous chapters: combinations of our preference for either Sensing (S) or Intuition (N) with our preference for either Thinking (T) or Feeling (F). When reading this chapter, remember that it is always best to write your rough drafts in your own way, in the process and style that is best suited to your personality type. Once you have a rough draft, you then will be in a better position to think about how you should revise your style to suit the tastes of your audience.

 

17. Collaboration: Writing With Friends and Enemies

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Susan and Maria, both composition teachers at a major university, had offices across the hall from each other. When they collaborated on writing projects, each would sit at her desk in her own office, but with the doors open, to actually write together—and we mean together. They talked out a text that Maria punched into her word processor. Susan might talk out the first few sentences of a paragraph, and then Maria would finish it. Or, Maria might begin talking about a vague thought and Susan would rephrase it until, between them, they had produced a clear, fully developed idea that could be added to their emerging text.

For some people, this is how the creative process works best. A group of people sit around together and talk out their ideas. In the beginning, most of the ideas are fairly hairbrained, but sooner or later something happens. It seems like the energy of hearing each other talk about bad ideas eventually generates some good ones.

This group approach to brainstorming and writing works quite well for most Extraverts. They need to hear their own ideas and sense how these ideas affect others to do their best work. When they are forced to work in isolation, Extraverts may feel sluggish and have trouble getting a handle on their thoughts.

 

Appendix

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