Writing Type: Introvert/Extrovert

In my next several posts, I want to talk about how personality type affects the way we write, revise–and even offer critique to other writers. Today, I’m going to focus on the introversion/extroversion distinction. (I’ll be relying on the Myers Briggs four personality types: introvert/extrovert, sensing/intuitive, thinking/feeling, judging/perceiving. If you’re not familiar with what “type” you are, take this quick test: http://www.humanmetrics.com/cgi-win/jtypes2.asp)

Most of you are no doubt familiar with personality tests. We take them for our own entertainment–and, as Helen suggested on Friday, we can use them to understand our characters better.

We can also use them to understand how we work as writers.

In the Myers Briggs personality test, the first key distinction is that of introvert/extrovert. This distinction rests primarily in the way you energize and motivate yourself. Introverts are largely energized by being alone and they are often internally motivated. Extroverts draw energy off of being around other people, and are often motivated by external factors. The idea that introverts are shy is a common misperception: some are, some aren’t. (If you’re interested in a fascinating, in-depth study of introversion, check out Susan Cain’s book Quiet or her TED talk on the power of introverts).

So, how does this affect writing style?

If you’re an extrovert, you’re likely to:

  • Learn best through discussion and trial-and-error; you generate ideas best through talking about them
  • Write with little planning (outlines are easier to write *after* the first draft has been written)
  • Need breaks for outside stimulation; may write well in a noisy, vibrant environment
  • Find clarity the further you get into a paper. You discover what you’re saying as you write.
  • Value oral feedback on your writing, particularly about the work being lively, vital, showing initiative

What this means for revision:

  • Because first drafts tend to be wide-ranging and may be unfocused, extroverts often need to take a step back when they revise. It may be useful to post-outline a paper to see where the focus on revision needs to be.
  • Typical freewriting strategies may be more useful for extroverts after they’ve written a draft, as it helps them reflect on what they’ve written.

What this means if you’re giving feedback to an extrovert

  • They may find it more useful to talk through their ideas than to read written feedback.
  •  They may need to slow down after a first draft and take time for reflection.

If you’re an introvert you’re likely to:

  • Need quiet for concentration–you probably write alone.
  • Writing tends to conform to a typical “school” process (brainstorm, outline, write)
  • Take breaks while writing to gauge the direction or progress of your paper
  • Appreciate praise on the thoughtfulness of the work
  • Find it difficult to ask for feedback.

What this means for revision:

  • Some introverts don’t need a lot of revision because they write multiple drafts in their head before committing to paper.
  • Sometimes introverts need to scale back on the planning process and just start writing.

What this means if you’re giving feedback to an introvert:

  • Encourage spontaneity and discovery
  • Give them time to process and absorb feedback (introverts like to think things through before committing to a course of action).

Remember, though, that guidelines about personality type are approximate–they’re not absolute rules. Some introverts may write more like extroverts, and vice versa. There’s no right or wrong way to write, but I find that being aware of your own proclivities can help you recognize your strengths and weaknesses as a writer. 
Knowing about how personality type affects writing can also help you give feedback, not least because it can help you recognize that some aspects of writing are a matter of preference. When I first started tutoring writing as an undergraduate, I assumed (as a staunch introvert) that prewriting exercises would work as well for everyone as they did for me–and I struggled with extrovert students who just wanted to talk about their ideas instead of finish their outline. 
Next time (11/28), I’ll be talking about the intuitive/sensing divide and how that plays out in your writing. In the meantime, in the immortal words of They Might Be Giants, “be what you’re like, be like yourself”–and write like it too!
What have you discovered about your own personality type and how that reflects in your writing? Are you more introverted or extroverted?
Sources:
Bayne, Rowan.  The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator.  London: Chapman & Hall, 1995
Jensen, George H. and John K. DiTiberio. Personality and the Teaching of Composition.  Norwood, NJ: Ablex, 1989
Thompson, Thomas C.  “Personality Preferences, Tutoring Styles, and Implications for Tutor Training,” Writing CenterJournal 14 (Spring 1994): 136-149

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