Wednesday, January 23, 2013

How your personality type affects your writing

Image by Mr Lightman,

Before we got married, my hubby and I did a relationship course written by Gary Smalley, in which we learned about the four different personality types. A lot has been written about the four basic temperaments, but of all the explanations I’ve heard, Smalley’s is the clearest.

He compares the four personality types to animals: the lion, otter, golden retriever and beaver.

The lion is a natural leader: bold, confident and assertive.

The otter is the socialite: playful and optimistic.

The golden retriever is a loyal companion: calm and gentle-natured.

The beaver is the details-person: organized and analytical.

For us as a young couple, this knowledge was an eye-opener, and something we’ve carried with us for over a decade of marriage. I learned that I’m a golden retriever/ beaver, while my husband is a lion/ otter. What do they say about how opposites attract? J

Each personality type has its particular set of strengths and weaknesses, and knowing these has helped us better understand and appreciate each other, instead of rubbing each other up the wrong way.

Lately I’ve been thinking about how else my personality type influences my behaviour – in particular my writing.

It’s become obvious to me that each temperament has strengths that will benefit our writing, and weaknesses that will make our journey more difficult.

Each person usually has one or two dominant temperaments. Reading over what I’ve just shared, you may instantly recognise yourself in some of these descriptors. If, however, you’re still unsure of where you fit, you can take a quick personality test here (you’ll need to scroll to the bottom of the page). We’ll wait until you get back. 

Got it figured out? Good. That’s the first step. Knowledge is power. If you’re better aware of your writing strengths and weaknesses, and understand that they flow from the core of who you are as a person, you’ll be able to stop fighting them and start working with them.

That means maximizing your strengths and developing strategies  - in line with how you think, what makes you tick - to compensate for, or overcome, your weaknesses. Remember, no one personality type is “better” than another. They’re just different.

Let’s take a look at how this works for each personality type.

Image by John Barker,


Writing strengths:
Lions are confident and determined. They love a good challenge, are goal-oriented, and have a “just do it” mentality. While a dozen other writers are still nervously plotting, talking about writing, writing about writing, and doing everything BUT write, Lions have already finished their first book and are onto the second.

Writing weaknesses:
Lions have an arrogant streak, which means they can be unwilling to accept feedback. Their boredom with details can be a hindrance when it comes to painstaking work such as research or line editing.

Self-help strategies:
  • Focus, in your quiet times with God, on developing humility. Even the Lion of Judah, the greatest leader this world has ever known, served others by washing their feet.

  • When you receive critique, instead of becoming angry or dismissing the criticism, give yourself an exercise. Tell yourself, “She’s probably wrong in what she’s said, but I’ll just humor her a little. I’ll back up my original version, then try implementing the suggestion, just as a theoretical exercise. If it stinks, I haven’t lost anything. If it turns out great, well, there ya go.” Approaching critique with such a mindset can help a Lion to embrace change without fighting against their own personality type.

  • Those pesky details: Lions are great problem-solvers and incredible leaders. Why not harness these traits to enlist the help of others? Ted Dekker pays college students to research his books for him. Many published authors corral support from others when it comes to tasks of administration and marketing. If your Great Aunt Mildred was an English teacher for fifty years, and would love nothing better than to pore over your manuscript weeding out punctuation errors – turn her loose with a blood-red pen. Show your appreciation in a way that truly honors your helpers. Then do what Lions do best, and turn your attention to the next project.
Image by Bernie Condon,


Writing strengths:
Otters have the ability to splash words onto the page with a carefree zest that many stodgier writers envy. They have vim and flair. They take joy in their craft. Otters also make the best social networkers. They have no trouble building a tribe of fans, because they love people, and people in turn are naturally drawn to them.

Writing weaknesses:
When the task becomes hard, otters quickly lose momentum. Their computer files are littered with the corpses of unfinished manuscripts that started strong and then fizzled. Otters can be disorganized, and have no patience for “boring” but essential tasks such as editing. If it ain’t fun, it don’t get done.

Self-help strategies:
  • Keep it fun. Set goals that have rewards attached. Social rewards work well for otters. For example, fifteen minutes play on Facebook after writing for an hour. A Skype chat with your writing buddies once you reach chapter ten. A chick flick and coffee with a friend for pushing through that sagging middle. A girls’ weekend away once you finish editing your MS.

  • Harness peer power to keep you motivated. Ever heard of #1k1hr? Next time you sit down for an hour-long writing stint, jump on Twitter first and announce your plans to the world. Use the hashtag #1k1hr, and you’ll soon rally a group of eager writers who can cheer you on and celebrate with you when you reach your 1000 word milestone.

  • Give editing a social, interactive element by joining forces with a critique partner or group.

  • Beware of distraction. Social networking is your strength, but spending hours on Facebook each day won’t get that manuscript written. If you’re all play and no work, consider using an app to limit the time you spend on social media sites.


Writing strengths:
The writing world is full of beavers. Highly creative, organised and meticulous, beavers like to have every detail mapped out before they begin writing: each twist and turn of the plot, the intricate backstory of their MC going back two generations, and the height/ eye colour/ favorite ice-cream flavor of each supporting character.  Beavers thrive on research. They set high standards for themselves, and consistently produce quality work.

Writing weaknesses:
Beavers may become so bogged down in their systems and plotting that they struggle to begin. Beavers are perfectionists, and highly self-critical. For a writer, this can be crippling. A beaver can become paralysed by an empty computer screen, a harsh critique, or a sense that their book is not where it should be. Writer’s block is a common malady for the beaver, who often takes an all-or-nothing attitude – if they can’t make it perfect, they can’t bring themselves to try. Beavers may produce very slowly, because they cannot help but edit ruthlessly as they write. When it comes time to submit, a beaver may fret and worry over perfecting every final detail of a manuscript, and struggle to ever hit send.

Self-help strategies:
  • Don’t forget to play. When you feel yourself floundering beneath self-criticism or getting bogged down in details, find ways to recapture the joy of writing. If you usually hole up at home to write, shake up your routine by taking your laptop to a crowded café and doing some people-watching.

  • Try taking frequent short breaks in which you do something else creative to engage the right side of your brain – painting, scrapbooking, pottery, playing music. 

  • Sometimes the best thing a beaver can do is to step away from their project for a time to regain some perspective. Immerse yourself in reading for pleasure alone. Do something that inspires you, like wandering through an antique bookstore or taking a fun research trip. But don’t let yourself stay in limbo. Give yourself a deadline, and get back into it.

  • Loosen up before a big session with the technique of free writing – perfect for shutting down that picky, left-brained internal editor beavers struggle with so much.

  • Don’t isolate yourself. Engage in community with other writers.

Golden Retriever

Writing strengths:
Relaxed and easy to work with, the Golden Retriever is every editor’s dream. A Golden Retriever is calm, dependable, and doesn’t stress out under deadline.

Writing weaknesses:
Laziness can be a real problem for the laid-back temperament of a Golden Retriever, who may lack motivation to initiate tasks or carry them through to completion. The Golden Retriever can also be very stubborn, and dislikes change in any form – both of which are bad news when large-scale edits are required.

Self-help strategies:
  • Get an accountability partner who will be tough about holding you to your goals. Golden Retrievers are people-pleasers and dislike confrontation, so if the accountability is genuine, they’ll rise to the challenge.

  • Appeal to your easy-going nature by making it easy to write. Rather than setting a lofty word-count goal, which all sounds like far too much work – especially when your favorite show is on TV – give yourself a goal of 500 words, and try to hit it twice a day.

  • Because you struggle with change, approach edits as an open experiment. Save the whole document with the file name “Original” and the title, and make a new copy entitled “Experiment.” In this new document, take any suggestions you’ve been given and simply give them a go. If you need to reassure yourself that nothing has really changed, click back on over to your original document, still safe and sound and untouched right where you left it. In this way, you’ll give yourself the freedom to play, knowing that any changes you make don’t have to be permanent. Chances are, you’ll find once you’ve actually made the changes that you like it better that way anyway.

So, that’s it from me – the four personality types as they pertain to the writer’s life.

I’m interested to hear your take on this. What is your dominant personality type, or types? Do you have any tips to add that have helped you in your writing journey?

Karen Schravemade lives in the land of Oz and likes to confuse her American friends by using weird Australian figures of speech. When she's not chasing after two small boys or cuddling her baby girl, she spends her spare minutes daydreaming about the intricate lives of characters who don't actually exist. Find her on her website and Twitter.


Brittany Westerberg said...

Knowing your personality and its strengths and weaknesses can only help you down the road. We took a similar test at my workplace to find out our personalities as a group and figure out the best ways to work with each other. I was a combination of two of them, with very little of a third. I'm guessing everyone will be a little bit a combination, though.

Wendy Paine Miller said...

Love this, Karen!

~ Wendy

Mary Vee Storyteller said...

What a great post! You gave many of us the medicine we needed, a reality check and a way to work with our strengths/weaknesses.

I am a lion and a beaver. A wannabe otter but not successful.

I so enjoyed this today. Thanks for the tips, Karen.

Julia M. Reffner said...

Wow, Golden Retriever is SO me. This is FANTASTIC information and so fun to figure out. Great post idea, Karen!

Beth K. Vogt said...

What a creative -- and applicable -- to evaluate myself as a writer!

Anonymous said...

This is great, Karen. I have certain traits of most of them, but persoality-wise, I'm definitely a beaver first and then a golden retriever. :) I like your suggestions for strengthening my "weaknesses."

Angela said...

I love this post, very good suggestions.

Thanks Karen!

Angie Dicken said...

Great post, Karen! I am part otter, part Golden Retriever! Hmmm...very interesting as I sit here and read blogs and scan facebook when I told myself I'd write today!! UGH!

Karen @ a house full of sunshine said...

Brittany, very true! We all have traits from each sphere. Occasionally you find a person who is nearly completely balanced in all four areas. Most often, though, one or two traits will dominate.

Karen @ a house full of sunshine said...

Thanks for commenting, Wendy!

Mary, as another wannabe-otter, I totally get that! Otters have all the fun! :-) But lions get to lead. Yay for lions!

Julia, I could have guessed that you'd be a Golden Retriever! Cos you're such a sweetheart! :-)

Karen @ a house full of sunshine said...

Beth, so glad you found this helpful!

Jeanne, we're twins! :-)

Angela, thanks so much for stopping by.

Karen @ a house full of sunshine said...

Angie, what a great personality combination. You're the fun one that everyone gets on with. But YES - procrastination and play - the bane of the Otter/ Golden Retriever! (As a fellow GR, I totally get that!)

Pepper said...

This was phenomenal!
SO HELPful true.

I think I'm an otter-retriever ;-)

Lindsay Harrel said...

I knew I was a beaver, but never applied it to my writing personality. Fascinating!! :P

Saumya said...

This is such an interesting way of looking at different writing styles! I find myself going between the lion and beaver a lot. Thanks so much for sharing!

Karen @ a house full of sunshine said...

Oh yes, Pepper, I figured you had a good dose of otter in you! And golden retriever - that makes total sense! Easy to see why everyone loves you. :-) Now you'll just have to share your secrets of self-discipline, because it's a huge accomplishment for someone with your personality type to have written so many books! I'm in awe.

Karen @ a house full of sunshine said...

Lindsay, hurray for beavers! It is an eye opener to look at our writing habits this way, isn't it!

Karen @ a house full of sunshine said...

Saumya, lion/ beaver is a great personality combo for achieving goals efficiently! Thanks for stopping by and taking the time to comment.

Pepper said...

er...Karen, I think there's something up there about my weakness being a plethora of unfinished manuscripts on my computer.

(raising my hand)

The rare moments of discipline where the novel is finished is all about GOD overcoming my personality :-)

Amy Leigh Simpson said...

Loved this, Karen! Very creative and enlightening!

Elisabeth Pettifor said...

As another Beaver-Retriever, I HAVE to use the free writing method. It does work. But I have difficulties with having an awesome idea after I've already written that part of the story. Is it alright to implement them?
If you can find the time to write,I find that getting up early works well for me, although I'm not a morning person.

Julia M. Reffner said...

Fun, I came back. For some reason I missed the test and was taking it from your descriptors. My guess on Golden Retriever was right, but I'm within one point of Beaver. Fun :) And I gave the test to hubby, he's a Beaver/Lion.

Karen @ a house full of sunshine said...

Lol, Pepper! (I still think you're Wonderwoman.) And your personality is awesome!! :-)

Karen @ a house full of sunshine said...

Thanks, Amy! :-) Did you work out your personality type? Curious!

Karen @ a house full of sunshine said...

Alexandra, I understand! It's hard to feel the freedom to play with new ideas once you've completed something, because we are very resistant to change. I've had to learn ways to take the pressure off myself when it comes to editing, as described in this post.

And yes, mornings have traditionally worked very well for me also, even though I wouldn't describe myself as a morning person either. I think it's something about finding a system that works for us - routine is a big thing for a beaver.

Karen @ a house full of sunshine said...

Julia, yay, you're back! We ARE twins!! :-)

Such a great idea to do this with your hubby as well. It's been a massive help to us in our relationship. Explains SOOOOOO many things! :-)

Karen @ a house full of sunshine said...

Btw, the beaver in me found it hard to deal with the fact that blogger wouldn't let me upload my last two photos. Sorry for the lack of pics, everyone.

Susan Anne Mason said...

This is so interesting! I'm a retriever/beaver and my husband is an lion/otter! So funny!

Amy Leigh Simpson said...

Karen, I think I'm a strange mix of each of these... except maybe the beaver. :)

M. Saint-Germain said...

Hi Karen,
I love this post. It made me laugh as I found myself in several of these--the good and the bad. Maybe I better not tell you which ones.
Could I share this at my blog for our readers, too?
Here's the link:
Random Writing Rants
I would link it back to you and share your bio. It would be like a guest post without doing any more work.
What do you think?

Vinkunwildflowerqueen said...

I am a combination of Beaver/Golden Retriever, but DEFINITELY my Beaver side is much more dominant.

I found this both useful and fascinating.

I do loathe writer's block, and often it is because so much of what I go to type feels horrible. I usually find that walking or having a shower helps. Or going back and reading the whole thing the beginning sometimes works too- and if not, it is a good way to procrastinate, LOL.

Plus, you always find a million typos and such you missed the first 10 times you read it.

Karen @ a house full of sunshine said...

Michelle, I'm so sorry I missed seeing your comment. I'd be honoured if you chose to share this with your readers.

Practical Dreamer said...


I took the DISC test last week for my day job (cartographer) and have spent most of today trying to undersand what it means to my next career - writing. I am a classic otter-lion, the pursuader prototype that they consider perfect for outside sales. Your description of brilliantly begun unfinished manuscripts resonates.
I take two key lessons from your post. First, in my case, writing can't be a solitary pursuit. I'm starting a class at the local university tomorrow. Second the lion needs a team. I'm looking for a local editor now and perhaps another student to act as illustrator.