How Personality Tests Can Make You A Better Writer

by Leanne Sowul
published in Community

Hi, I’m Leanne: an INFJ, Open Introvert/Extrovert, Acts of Service, Upholder, Lark, Marathoner, Finisher, and a 2/6/8 on the Enneagram scale. I’m a personality test junkie: I love taking quizzes and reading books that teach me about myself. In today’s post, I’m going to tell you why these personality frameworks can help you know yourself better and improve your writing life, habits, relationships, and self-care.

Why should I take a test to tell me about myself?

As a public-school teacher, I’m the last person on Earth who’d recommend a test as a definitive demonstration of knowledge or creative thinking. But personality tests aren’t used to prove yourself. They’re used to learn something about yourself. Every personality framework gives you more information about how you tick. The Myers-Briggs type indicator (MBTI) helps you understand how you make decisions. The Enneagram gives information about how you relate to others. The Five Love Languages test can improve communication in relationships, and the Four Tendencies helps you form better and stronger habits.

In one small but useful example, learning that I’m a natural under-buyer while my husband is an over-buyer helped me understand why we’re always disagreeing over our shopping list. Knowing that we’re coming from different ingrained viewpoints has diffused the argument. Now I understand that my role is to keep us on budget, while his is to ensure that we never run out of toothpaste. Similarly, taking the Five Love Languages test helped us to understand how best to show each other affection. It has had positive effects on our marriage and our relationships to our children.

When a quiz uncovered that I was a Lark (something I already suspected), I did some research into being a morning person. I realized that, like most Larks, I don’t have strong willpower or creative powers late at night. So I now allow myself to stop the clock at least ninety minutes before bed, no matter what, so I can properly recharge for the next morning’s deep work. This small adjustment has done wonders for my daily energy.

None of the above lessons changed anything about my personality. But they did help me define issues I was having with my work schedule and relationships, and give me permission to draw a line in the right place. I may wish I was the type of person who can work late into the night, but I’m just not. Better to adapt to my ingrained personality than to try and change to fit some ideal. It’s the ultimate in honoring your reality.

How can personality tests help me with my writing?

We all become better writers by refining our working process. Much of personality testing reveals the conditions under which we work best. The Four Tendencies test taught me that I’m an Upholder, which means I respond well to both inner and outer expectations. but I also experience “tightening,” which means that I have an innate desire to allow my habits to strengthen over time. I often over-schedule myself and end up burning out. Learning that I’m prone to tightening has helped me watch for the signs, and be careful when I create new habits.

Personality tests can especially help your writing life if you enjoy writing memoir or other creative nonfiction. You can use pieces of personality discovery to inform your stories. Or, if you’re a fiction writer, you can use these tests to assign traits to your characters. In the early stages, all of my characters receive at least an MBTI and one of the Four Tendencies.

Which personality tests do you recommend?

The following four tests are a great place to start. Please know that the background and construct of each test is more complex than I’ve indicated here; I’m only giving a brief overview. For more about how each test works and why it was created, review the information in the connected website.

The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator

This is probably the most famous of all personality tests. Based on Jungian philosophy, it assigns four categories over the spectrum of Introversion-Extraversion, Sensing-Intuition, Thinking-Feeling, and Judging-Perceiving. The test has been criticized for being too rigid, but I’ve found it to be a great jumping-off point for other, more open-ended tests. (I’m an INFJ, which is known to be rare: only 2-3% of the general population are that type, though INFJs tend to be creative, so it’s probably higher among the DIY MFA readership!)

The Enneagram

This comprises 9 different types, which can be assigned in decreasing levels of dominance. Sometimes the combinations seem to contradict each other. One of my highest score profiles includes the phrase “aggressive leader,” but another includes “caring, helpful person.” You can see these contradictions as being vague, or you can use them as evidence of your complex personality.

The Big Five

This was created by a team of psychologists and is thought to have high accuracy. It scores you in the categories of Openness to Experience, Conscientiousness, Extraversion, Agreeableness, and Neuroticism. Each category contains a spectrum of personality descriptors. (Unlike the other tests recommended here, I have not found a completely free version online. You can get a complete profile through Psychology Today for $6.95. I thought it was worth the cost, but if you’re not sold, skip this one.)

The Four Tendencies

This is the newest of these frameworks and was created by writer Gretchen Rubin, who extols the power of knowing yourself better in order to refine your good habits and make your life happier. Each Tendency reveals how you respond to outer and inner expectations, and Gretchen’s book Better Than Before (as well as her podcast Happier and her blog) gives great advice on how to use your Tendency to your advantage in creating happy, healthy habits. You can be an Upholder, Obliger, Questioner or Rebel. (Appropriately, Questioners are the least likely to take this test in the first place!) 

Special Event!

Have these or other personality tests helped you know yourself better? Has this knowledge improved your life in any way, big or small? We at DIY MFA want to hear about it! Join me (@sowulwords), the DIY MFA team, and fellow Word Nerds for a Twitter chat on Wednesday, August 9th at 8PM ET. Use #DIYMFA to share your personality type, and discuss how knowing ourselves better affects our writing lives.

Leanne Sowul is a writer and teacher from the Hudson Valley region of New York. She’s the curator of the website Words From The Sowul and authors the “Be Well, Write Well” column for DIY MFA. She writes historical/literary fiction and memoir; her work is represented by Suzie Townsend at New Leaf Literary Agency. Connect with her at leannesowul(at)gmail(dot)com, or on Twitter @sowulwords.

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