What’s Your Writing Personality?

Your unique and inherent personality affects everything you do—including writing. Most of us are going to spend the rest of our lives learning how we tick and how best to apply our strengths and correct our weaknesses. This is just as true of writing as it is of familial relationships or workplace effectiveness.

The first step in learning how to maximize your personality’s pros and minimize its cons is to figure out your basic personality type. I’m a fan of the ancient “four temperaments” approach (popularized by Tim LaHaye, among others), in which human personalities are narrowed down into four basic categories: choleric, melancholic, sanguine, and phlegmatic. Today, we’re going to take a quick look at all four personalities to help you identify into which category you predominantly fall* and how to make the most of it as a writer.

I’ve asked three other writers to help out by describing their experiences with maximizing their personality’s potential in their
writing. I’ll sound off first:

The Choleric Writer: K.M. Weiland

Cholerics don’t do much of anything halfway. They thunder through life at top speed, which presents both their greatest strength and their greatest weakness. They’re determined, aggressive, and productive. They’re “good enough” people. Perfectionism doesn’t cripple them, but that can mean they don’t always complete jobs as well as they should. They can also be disorganized, impatient, and overbearing.

What strengths does being a choleric bring to your writing?

As a choleric, I have a good work ethic and the ability to focus and grit my way through difficult tasks. If I want to get something done, I get it done. I’m more organized than some cholerics, which helps me streamline my productivity. I’m good at breaking projects down to manageable chunks, chewing through them without letting perfectionism hold me back, and then moving on to the next thing.

What weaknesses does being a choleric inflict on your writing?

Moving at such a fast and furious pace all the time can sometimes lead to burnout. For better or worse, I usually just end up blowing right on through that as well. But I am learning to pace myself on certain projects to let my brain and body rest and regenerate. I actually have quite a few melancholic traits, which gives me an attention to detail that often makes up for my lack of perfectionism. But, even still, sometimes my “good enough” attitude can let projects slip out into the public before I’ve double-checked important aspects. Really, I find that the greatest pitfall of a choleric personality in a writer is the tendency to put productivity and deadlines before relationships. I have to work to keep my priorities straight.

The Melancholic Writer: London Crockett

(London is a YA fantasy author, living in Chicago.)

Melancholics are arguably the most talented of all the personalities. They often have a natural bent toward artistic expression, including writing. They’re detail-oriented, patient, and idealistic. But in spite of all their talent, they’re often prone to feelings of insecurity and self-doubt. Their perfectionism and mood swings can cause them to feel they never measure up, which can, in turn, keep them from completing projects.

What strengths does being a melancholic bring to your writing?

For non-fiction writing, a need for precision is a huge virtue. For example, I’m compelled to note that I can’t necessarily extract the melancholy nature from my personality at large. Art—whether fiction, non-fiction, or something else—is born from labor as much as inspiration. Being energized by artistic expression makes the labor rewarding, and patience allows me to stay dedicated to big projects for years. I don’t normally think of myself as detail-oriented (I care about idealistic abstracts more than details), but in practice, the pursuit of the ideal means that I sweat the details.

What weaknesses does being a melancholic inflict on your writing?

It took a long time to have a consistent faith in my writing. Even now that I have a persistent confidence, I struggle with getting stuck and avoiding writing. Managing the tendency to be derailed by doubt requires forcing yourself to write badly and skip over things that aren’t working. Remember that when writing “bird by bird” (per the wonderful Anne Lamott), you don’t have to craft each bird in order. If the chickadee isn’t taking flight, skip to the crow. One warning that is commonly given to sensitive perfectionists (melancholics) is to start small: walk around the block before you plan a marathon. However, I think that’s unrealistic for idealists. If you’re inclined to dream big, go for it, but build in rewards to ensure your patience carries you past your self-doubt.

The Sanguine Writer: Linda Yezak

(Linda is the author of the romantic comedy Give the Lady a Ride, an editor for Port Yonder Press, and *drumroll please* my longtime critique partner.)

Sanguines are the bubbly extroverts who bring life to any party. They’re fun and funny, sociable and charismatic. These folks know how to tell a good story—with all the dramatic flourishes. They’re often compassionate and emotional (in both the good and the bad senses of the word). However, they can also be unorganized and undependable, which can lead to difficulties in creating consistent writing schedules and finishing stories.

What strengths does being a sanguine bring to your writing?

Just like the definition says, I know how to tell a story, with all the dramatic flourishes. Rhythm and timing seem to come naturally to me. Knowing the pause beat before the punch line, knowing tone development, knowing when, on a dark and stormy night, to flash the light under my chin and yell boo! are all intuitive. Charisma often flares upon the page, and its immediacy draws readers in every time. My opening pages always promise a good time … which leads me to my weaknesses.

What weaknesses does being a sanguine inflict on your writing?

I really can start a novel with a bang, but unless someone’s constantly riding me, unless someone’s expecting to see that next chapter, I may take a year or two to finish my first draft. I’ll get the first two chapters written, then put it off. When it comes to my own work, I need to be pushed and, though I hate to admit it, I need strong, praise-filled encouragement to keep me going. I get discouraged very easily. I can take the criticism (after engaging in melodramatic episodes of self-pity), but I feed off praise like a vampire on a juicy vein. The “undependable” part of the definition applies only to my own work. For my clients and others, I have no problem whatsoever. But I’d hate for anyone to see how many incomplete projects I have—and not just writing!

The Phlegmatic Writer: Johne Cook

(Johne edits the speculative e-mag Ray Gun Revival and has contributed to the Space Battles anthology edited by Bryan Thomas Schmidt.)

Phlegmatics are the Steady Eddies. They’re not easily ruffled, which means they get to avoid many of the high and low mood swings the other personality types can be prone to. They’re dependable, thoughtful, and pragmatic. But they can also struggle to find motivation and energy to start—and then finish—projects.

What strengths does being a phlegmatic bring to your writing?

I am calm, friendly, easy-going, and balanced. I see the best in people and work well with difficult people—this works to my advantage working with editors and as an editor working with writers with delicate sensibilities. I adapt easily to changes, which helps me pick up new genres, applications, contact people, and technologies. I’m a pretty good listener. This helps me see sides of people others may not see and represent a person’s complexity in my writing. I have a talent for bringing people together in real life, and also in my writing. I like the energy and synergy of throwing apparently disparate people together, and I especially value stories where that happens. I am not usually the leader, but am a fierce follower. I am immune to what the cool kids are doing, but when I find something good or noble or undervalued, I am good right-hand man.

What weaknesses does being a phlegmatic inflict on your writing?

Despite my apparent friendly exterior, it can be difficult to really get inside my head and know my true person—I have subtle armor. As a result, my writing can also come across as genial but shallow. It takes effort to really dive deep and open my soul. I like it when everyone gets along and has a good time. Therefore, I wrestle with allowing my characters to feel pain and conflict. As a steady, even-keeled person, I have middling energy to begin with. When I am bounced with an idea or a turn of phrase, if I don’t capture that insight the moment I think about it, there’s a decent chance I’ll never do it at all. This means I’ve learned to have mechanisms to deal with that spur-of-the-moment epiphany; I use online tools like Evernote and Dropbox to capture ideas from anywhere. I can be indecisive, have a tendency to procrastinate, and can be difficult to motivate. If not careful, I tend to play it safe (when I
rouse myself to participate at all).  I wrestle with the fact that my goals may be lower than they ought to be.

So there you have it—a quick primer on basic writer personalities. Once you’ve identified your primary personality traits and figured out your strengths and weaknesses, you can move forward with a plan of action to help you take advantage of your good points and overcome your weaknesses—in life as well as writing!

*Most people manifest one personality type as their primary and another—possibly even two others—as secondary types. No one fits perfectly into the box of any one type.

Tell me your opinion: What do you feel are your personalitys strengths and weaknesses when it comes to writing?

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About K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland

K.M. Weiland is the award-winning and internationally-published author of the acclaimed writing guides Outlining Your Novel, Structuring Your Novel, and Creating Character Arcs. A native of western Nebraska, she writes historical and fantasy novels and mentors authors on her award-winning website Helping Writers Become Authors.

Comments

  1. Definitely the melancholic one.

  2. Well…Sanguine is me. Yes, I am the animated storyteller/prankster and joke teller. Enjoy seeing people laugh and leaving them with joy-filled hearts. I am undisciplined and do not want to write; but I do want to write. There are so many funny stories to tell…you see, I work in the retirement industry. I am the entertainer…the Activities Director! (Oh, do I have stories…) I just want someone to write my stories, my screenplay…the way my heart feels it. Sanguine’s need discipline but do not want it. “Did ya hear the one about…?”

  3. “prominently” — you mean “predominantly”?

    A promontory is prominent. Prominent citizens are predominantly, uh, prominent. And often dominant.

  4. Howdy!

    I have no idea which category I would fall into honestly. I can see myself in a couple different areas. Also I hate to put myself into categories, I’d rather have someone else tell me which one I’m in. That’s just me though. What do you think?

    Nice post.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      You strike me as possibly being Sanguine–but, of course, I don’t really know you well enough to say.

  5. I am phlegmatic and sanguine. I am revising my co-author mermaid book. How long did it take for you to get published?

  6. I’ve been looking for something to help me understand myself in the writing aspect of my life. I began really writing about 3 1/2 years ago. Since then, I’ve gotten better and better to a point where a college professor who teaches short stories and writing for a continuing ed program thought it was awesome that I’ve mostly taught myself. She thought I should submit my short story to a magazine, which I did.

    However, I have a husband, a part-time job (looking for full-time w/ benefits), two kids (9/7), laundry, a house to clean, dinner to make, etc, etc, etc. I barely have time. I’ve fought through it the last few years, but now, not so much. I have decided I’m done with writing, despite the fact that I love it still with a great passion. I don’t want to give it up, but I’m not sure how to make it work anymore. Perhaps I’m not supposed to write in this time in my life. I suppose I can keep doing writing prompts when I remember, but I find myself struggling each night to gather the energy to think, be inspired, and even think about writing. Instead, I’d rather watch a show on Netflix and play a game (I blame this on the phlegmatic side…lol). Inside I still scream “I want to write”.

    I’m definitely melancholic with a good dose of phlegmatic and maybe a tiny side of sanguine (love making people laugh by saying funny things–good sense of humor). It’s interesting the mix I am. However, the moodiness and depression (never used to get this) and “I’m not good” enough thoughts are tough to live through. I taught myself how to write better by scouring the web on different ways to do this or that. I want to continue doing that, but from what I’ve read, I really need to write and write and write. It’s like a vicious cycle with me.

    So, tonight I looked up “ideas to help a melancholy phlegmatic personality write better”, and your website popped up. I believe the more I understand about myself, the more I might be able to beat myself one day. Haha! Not beat myself as in hit or kick, but if I could learn a new way of thinking or a new form of planning, maybe, just maybe I can be more prepared and not overwhelmed. So, onward in the search. Thanks for sharing this! I’m bookmarking it as you never know if I’ll need it for character development (not any good at that either).

  7. Olayinka Elizabeth says

    Glad I come across this. I’m totally a blend of Phlegmatic-sanguine. I can be playful, energetic and all around the people I know but i’m an introvert as well. I do procrastinate and avoid trouble. In short your descriptions fit me perfectly for both but I’m more of a Phlegmatic than a Sanguine.

  8. Cool, another INTJ. I would say I have a melancholic core surrounded by a thick phlegmatic shell. If I could get away with writing a novel using info graphics and dot points I would have twenty books by now. However, deep inside, an insistent echo exhorts me to find the golden mean, the most harmonic, resonant score, the perfect formula, to craft a story worth telling.

    I was 17 or 18 when I decided I wanted to write. I’m 40 now. 2 decades of dreaming, planning, plotting and learning. I am either very prepared now, or a Jedi Master at procrastinating, ha ha!

  9. its book motivated behavior, (review different type of behavior in human )

  10. Who is the lady in image (thinking with pen )

  11. K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

    It’s a stock photo, so I don’t know.

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