How your personality can shape your writing habits

“We won’t make ourselves more creative and productive by copying other people’s habits, even the habits of geniuses; we must know our own nature, and what habits serve us best.” (Gretchen Rubin)

Stephen King writes 2000 words a day, come rain or shine. Even on Christmas Day and his birthday, he’s at his desk and doesn’t leave until 2000 words are written.

Victor Hugo had a slightly different approach. He stripped naked and had his clothes locked away, so he wouldn’t leave the house until he’d written his book.

Two different authors, two wildly different sets of writing habits. Whilst sometimes quirky or downright bizarre, the most successful writers thrive on good habits.

But should you strive to have the same writing habits as your author heroes? Should you, like Victor Hugo, sit with your bits out in order to get words on the page?

Thankfully, no.

Understanding ourselves

In her book, The Four Tendencies, habits and happiness expert, Gretchen Rubin examines how our distinct personalities affect how well we form and maintain habits. Some find it easier than others.

If you know your personality ‘type’, this can help you create writing habits that are meaningful to you, and not just some generic mumbo jumbo.

By looking at The Four Tendencies, you’re not only able to see how you respond to ‘rules’ but also how your tendency helps you form the ‘write’ habits.

The Four Tendencies

Here’s a brief outline of each of The Four Tendencies. As you read through them, ask yourself whether this is the tendency that best describes you. At the end, there’s a link to take Gretchen’s quiz and find out for certain.

Tendency 1: Upholders

An upholder responds to inner and outer expectations. You’re just as able to motivate yourself as you are able to be motivated by external factors, e.g. deadlines. You avoid making mistakes and letting people down – including yourself.

Upholders as writers

Upholders can be motivated by setting word count targets or by writing at the same time every day. Habits or rules are set in stone for Upholders and you’ll complete your writing each and every day without fail.

Gretchen talks about her friend in college who only missed five sessions at the gym in two years. She’s an Upholder. See what I mean? Stephen King seems to fit nicely into this category too.

The positive and negative aspects of Upholders

Upholders are self-starters, so good writing habits come more ‘naturally’ to you and boy, do you stick to them. You don’t need external accountability so that book will get written even without an editor breathing down your neck. You love rules… often looking for rules beyond rules.

However, Upholders can be rigid and constrained by rules. You can feel overwhelmed if there aren’t any in place and won’t know what to do. You’re relentless in the pursuit of your goals and in the habits you form, making it jolly hard to live with you!

Tendency 2: Questioners

Questioners follow expectations if they make sense to them. You’ll ask lots of questions and if you deem the expectation or habit worth it, you’ll do it. If not, you won’t. Questioners are always asking…you guessed it…questions. You want to know why you should try a habit. You want all the information before you establish a new rule or writing habit in your life.

Questioners as writers

Writers ask lots of questions, particularly journalists. When writing nonfiction, you want to know about the problem your reader is trying to solve or the transformation they’re seeking.

Developing new writing habits can be difficult for Questioners because you might not see why such a habit is beneficial. You need to be convinced. You need to be persuaded it’s useful to you.

The positive and negative aspects of Questioners

One positive side of being a Questioner is that you’re intellectually engaged – always seeking answers and always asking ‘why?’ Always hoping to pass that knowledge on to the reader.

However, in order to create a new habit, Questioners want perfect information. Wanting to know all the details before making your decision to build a new writing habit, you can become exhausted by your constant need for answers.

Tendency 3: Rebels

Ah, the rebel. Habits are difficult for you to form, my friend, as you resist inner and outer expectations. You’re more motivated by the present and the desires within it.

You want to do what you want to do. End of. You start the day by saying, ‘What do I WANT to do today?’ rather than ‘What do I NEED to do today?’

Rebels resist all control, even self-control and that is why it can be difficult for Rebels to form and maintain good writing habits. They want the freedom to do what they please, when they please.

Rebels as writers

As a Rebel, you may get up and ask yourself if you feel like writing today. If you don’t, you won’t. If someone advises you to write 1000 words a day in order to get your book finished, you’ll ignore the advice or deliberately write 1001, just to prove you can.

Rebel writers often break the rules within their writing, they definitely don’t want to be constrained with any talk of an ‘outline’ or following a particular structure.

The positive and negative aspects of Rebels

Rebels are great at ‘thinking outside the box’ and this can help enormously with creativity. Rebels can see things from different and new perspectives, and you’re often interesting to work with. You can also be motivated by an element of competition or by the mantra of ‘I’ll show you…’

However, Rebels can be hard to work with, particularly from an editing/publisher’s perspective, as you simply won’t do what you’re told! If a deadline is set, you may be inclined to deliver it a day later. It’s hard for Rebels to form habits and stick to them, as you don’t want to feel ‘tied down’.

Tendency 4: Obligers

By far the most common tendency, Obligers thrive on outer expectations but find it hard to stick to inner ones. Obligers are often referred to as ‘people pleasers’ because you put the needs and wants of others before yourself.

It can be hard for Obligers to maintain habits. You’re often great at forming them, but find it difficult to sustain them. You know it’s important to have habits in place, but you often fail to keep them going once the initial period of excitement wanes.

Obligers as writers

The great thing about Obligers is your response to deadlines set by other people. You also work well with coaches, as there’s an element of accountability and expectation. It’s important for Obligers to have this sense of accountability in order to keep your writing habits from falling by the wayside.

An accountability partner works well for Obligers, but so does keeping a track of daily word counts, putting them somewhere visible so that other people can see your progress. Monitoring is a good thing for Obligers.

The positive and negative aspects of Obligers

Obligers are a reliable bunch and so if a deadline is looming, you’ll get your writing done and sent off as requested. Sharing your progress with others means an Obliger forms meaningful habits and sticks with them – just as long as you keep monitoring them.

But Obligers can often feel frustrated. You often ask yourself why you can do things for others, but not for yourself. You want to form good writing habits but struggle to keep them. As you are often ‘people pleasers’, you are more susceptible to burnout.

Which tendency are you?

Now that you’ve read a basic outline of The Four Tendencies, which one do you think best describes you?

If you’re still not sure, here’s Gretchen explaining them all in further detail.

Once you have a greater understanding of your personality and tendency, developing writing habits becomes more of a personal experience, rather than an attempt to emulate the habits of others.

After all, who wants their nips out when they’re writing?

Take the quiz

If you want to take Gretchen’s quiz and find out your tendency, click HERE.

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