Wednesday, August 27, 2014

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?

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.
Image by puttsk,


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.
Image by Photokanok,

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?


Don't forget to enter for our huge giveaway at our Facebook Party, Saturday, August 30! For the big giveaway, we are giving away The Writer's Alley New Design Launch Basket containing the following:

  • $20 Amazon gift card
  • Here to Stay by Melissa Tagg (paperback book)
  • Sandwich, with a Side of Romance by Krista Phillips (paperback book)
  • A Side of Faith by Krista Phillips (paperback book)
  • Duchess by Susan May Warren (autographed paperback book)
  • Ghirardelli Dark Chocolate Salted Caramel Squares
  • A Writer's Conference Jamberry PediPack 

Throughout the day of our Facebook party August 30, we will be giving away the following:
  • A Side of Faith by Krista Phillips (ebook)
  • A Home At Trail's End by Melody Carlson (paperback book)
  • $10 Amazon gift card
  • Captured by Love by Jody Hedlund (paperback book)
  • The Writer's Toolbox
  • Showdown by Ted Dekker (paperback book)
  • Love's Reckoning by Laura Frantz (paperback book)
  • Vanished by Irene Hannon (paperback book)
You can enter for a chance to win HERE. Just scroll to the end of the post and enter through our Rafflecopter giveaway widget!

Have a great day!

Karen Schravemade lives in Australia, where she mothers by day and transforms into a fearless blogger by night. Her popular creative home-making blog, A house full of sunshine, reaches over 50,000 readers a month. She's a Genesis finalist for women's fiction and is represented by Rachel Kent of Books & Such. Find her on TwitterGoogle+, and Pinterest.


Carrie Ann said...

I truly enjoyed this post! I'm a Golden Retriever with a little of Beaver mixed in. I prefer an open schedule and dislike being put to a stop watch. I've never did well with word count; instead I tell myself on such day I will write doesn't what or how much/little, but just write something. I'm generally more productive/creative when I'm relaxed :)

Emily Ann Putzke said...

This is so neat! I think I'm a mixture of otter and beaver....

Ashley Clark said...

Karen, this is an amazing post, so full of insight and helpful advice! I can see a little of myself in all of these things, except for the beaver, because organization is something I do for necessity, NOT because I enjoy it. :D

Anonymous said...

love this post! great information! I'm a combination [aren't we all???] of otter and golden retriever - rather a dangerous combo for reaching goals!! :O LOL
~ Robin E. Mason
robinsnest212.wordpress. com
(won't accept my blog ID for some reason and must post anonymously)