Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Mixing Psychology and Writing

According to the Myers-Briggs personality test, I shouldn't be a writer.

Ever since I was a child, I've been good at school. I had high reading scores, taught other kids science; I even skipped a grade in math. Growing up, my dream jobs included veterinarian (then again, which kid hasn't wanted to be around animals all the time?), geologist, gemologist, and volcanologist. I thought that because my grades said I was good at science and math that meant I would be a successful scientist. And that was my plan all the way up until my junior year.

My mom ruins lots of things for me (and I'm better for it), and my career choice is not excluded. When I had to choose a major to pursue my junior year in high school, my mom pointed out that I didn't regularly pursue any of those subjects outside of academia. At first, I argued that it was because Michigan didn't have any volcanoes nearby. I never had the chance to involve myself in that science. But then she told me all the things I did do - choir, musicals, writing, and reading - and I was unhinged. She was right. I didn't even know myself.

A year later, I thought I had everything figured out. I was an English major. I might have been ignorant of this fact before, but now I saw clearly how much of an English major I was. I loved books. I loved words. I loved writing. I was solid; nothing could change my mind. Until my family therapist gave us homework.

It was simple. He wanted us to each fill out an online quiz to find out our Myers-Briggs Personality. I don't know how many of you are familiar with the psychology of personalities, but in the Myers-Briggs world, your personality is defined by four letters. Each letter represents a way in which the world impacts one and how one perceives the world and has two directions for a person to lean towards. Below, I have written the categories and letters possible:
Origin of Energy - Introvert (I) or Extrovert (E)
Information Processing - Sensing (S) or iNtuition (N)
Making Decisions - Thinking (T) or Feeling (F)
Structure - Perceiving (P) or Judging (J) 
After taking the quiz, my family was supposed to go to a separate website and read about the proclivities of our personality types. On this website, each personality was given a title. I am an INTJ. My sister and mother went before me, and as we read aloud each personality type, it became clearer to me how crazy correct this website was. I was beginning to get nervous about the INTJ, and it wasn't because of anything bad it might say. I already knew of plenty of things I disliked about myself. Rather, I was worried about things it might say that I didn't know about myself, things that were true but unknown until now. So it was only with a bit of irony that, when I clicked on the INTJ button, the title that popped up was "Scientist."

Somewhere in the back of my mind, a bell dinged. Personality - 1. Career choice - 0.

Out of nowhere, my career choice was ambushed. Not only did my childhood hate the idea of writing (I hated reading until 6th grade), but so did my personality! Apparently, I just was not cut out for this. My personality is pragmatic, analytical, and, if I don't become a scientist, I will ruin my "gift to society." I'm even better off being a military leader than writing beautiful stories.

I was very confused. Over the past months, an English major only seemed more and more perfect to me. I love art, whether it is music, pictures, or stories. I loved the strength and weakness and proximity that stories made me feel to the world and those around me. Stories enveloped my life. I had never realized it before, but almost all of my favorite things included stories - movies, musicals, manga/anime, and books. But no. My personality just didn't fit.

I refused to turn the other cheek. My heart had been attacked. So I retaliated. With Google.

Famous INTJ writers (as analyzed by psychologists):
Jane Austen
C.S. Lewis
Josephine Tey
+3 Journalists

You might think this list looks sad and small, but then I looked at all the other personality types, including the ones known to bust out writers, the list of writers are all about the same size. Noted, the lists aren't exhaustive, but you get an idea. Talents are spread all over each personality.

Since then, I have been determined to apply my personality's proclivities to writing. INTJ's are full of ideas; we are driven to express those ideas; we are insightful, and, for better or for worse, we have a nasty habit of wanting to control the world:

Just for fun, a list of authors and their diagnosed personalities:

Lord Alfred Tennyson (The Lady of Shalott)
Louisa May Alcott

Sir Walter Raleigh

Charles Dickens
Dr. Seuss
Mark Twain

Nathaniel Hawthorne
Piers Anthony

J.R.R. Tolkien
William Shakespeare
Laura Ingalls Wilder

Fun Psychology Links:
Myers-Briggs Personality Test
Personality Type Portraits
Famous Personalities
Andrea J. Wenger: Write with Personality


  1. I'm an INTP if I take it in swim season, and an ENTJ otherwise. Either way, it's unlikely I "should" be a writer. (I know. BIG change.)

  2. Haha, that's hilarious, Taryn! Have you actually taken the test at both times and gotten different results, or is it just something you've observed over the seasons?

    And I'm really glad that writers can come from so many personalities. Otherwise, it would be unfair that we couldn't write just because we were born wrong!

  3. I prefer the name for INJTs on the website where I took my test--The Mastermind. =) Here are two that I really liked, if you haven't seen them--

    They also sounded a bit negative about writing, but they didn't rule it out. We can have several areas of expertise, apparently. "Although they are highly capable leaders, Masterminds are not at all eager to take command, preferring to stay in the background until others demonstrate their inability to lead. Once they take charge, however, they are thoroughgoing pragmatists." That particular bit was ridiculously accurate--I never take charge unless I know I can do a much better job than the current leader. And I'm very good at arguing rationally and contingency planning. =)

    I think a shared personality type might contribute to why I adore C.S. Lewis and his work so much. We've also got Arnold Schwarzenegger and Mr. Darcy on our side. ^_^

  4. The Mastermind! Ha! That goes right along with the motivational poster for INTJ - voted best villain every year in a row.

    Reading posts like those always make me laugh. IT'S LIKE THEY KNOW ME. Ah!!! Along with the reluctant leadership, they are so right about strong will and disgust for inefficiency. I've often been told that I come off very intense because I seem so sure of everything. I also have been told that sometimes I just need to let things go - like inefficiency. It's not always the most important thing, especially when in balance with other people's emotions.

    It makes me laugh that psychologists have spent the time analyzing fictional characters for personality. But it gives my heart great joy, so I would never stop them :)

  5. Yes, I thought it fit the poster quite well. We also have Gandalf the Grey, mentor of the year, too? I think so. =)