Assess Your Writing Temperament and Be More Productive

Lucia Zimmitti

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You've probably reflected on your overall temperament and how it impacts your relationships. For instance, you have some idea about what kind of friend you are, what kind of parent or sibling or spouse or significant other. But have you ever thought about what kind of writer you are? Finding out can shed new light on your relationship with writing.

Because writers are individuals (and highly creative and enigmatic individuals, I might add), it's not a simple matter of settling on one category and fitting yourself into it. Instead, you may share traits with several of the most common writing personalities.

Honestly assessing your writing temperament and holding an awareness of it as you work can help you avoid time-wasting habits and ultimately be more productive. And since so much of writing is putting yourself on the page (regardless of your genre or subject), if you have a clearer picture of your writing self, your finished product will reap the benefits.

(Note: to avoid s/he overload, I've decided to alternate pronouns from article to article. In no way do I mean to imply that certain genders are more likely to exhibit certain tendencies at the writing desk. )

Here's the complete list of common writing temperaments:

1) Sir Starts-a-lot

2) The Perfectionist

3) Fool for a Deadline

4) The Island (includes (a) The Over-confident Island and (b) The Fearful Island)

5) The Tofu Artist (a. k. a. The Feedback-Dependent Writer)

(I'll devote a separate article to each temperament. )

1) Sir Starts-a-lot

Someone with this writing temperament is always starting a new project. Sir Starts-a-lot recognizes enormous potential in his latest project, and he is genuinely invested in seeing this idea through to completion. At least that's what he thinks when the idea is still new and fresh. The next time you bump into him at your favorite wireless hotspot, you're amped up on café lattes (how many, you don't know, since you lost count at fourteen) and he's amped up on a brand-spanking new idea. That's right. The aforementioned Big Project (The One) has been shoved aside to make room for a “Really, Really Great Idea. "

But he seems so happy, in harmony with his muse. His enthusiasm is so overt and contagious that it makes you rush back to your seat, ready to dig in. (You regret that, in your haste, you sloshed scalding coffee on a lady knitting in a club chair. )

Sir Starts-a-lot shares similarities with an infatuation junkie, someone who craves the beginning of relationships with all that heady euphoria and seemingly endless, shining hope. True, we all love that phase, but the infatuation junkie discards the whole relationship when the all-is-fun stage inevitably passes. Once Sir Starts-a-lot gets to the really tough part of the book/story/article (i. e. , the middle), he's lured away by the siren song of a new idea.

No matter how an idea shimmers in the early stages, it usually starts looking dull and wooden when we spend enough time with it. Those normal middle-of-the-book doldrums don't mean the idea isn't worthwhile. But to the writer who starts and starts but doesn't finish, those blah vibes signal a need to exit fast.

The BENEFIT of this temperament: If this is your overall tendency, you probably have a good time at your desk. Let's face it: new ideas are exciting. They are brimming with possibility, and you haven't committed to them yet, so you still feel free. And you just know that this idea will be The One to get you to the finish line. You're constantly buoyed by the steady wave of creative ideas. It's like permanently existing in the best part of romantic relationships, where both parties are putting their best feet forward and you don't need to make accommodations for annoying habits or complicated in-laws.

The COST of this temperament: Ah, writing does not get published on ideas alone, so if you see yourself in Starts-a-lot, the major cost is that you don't finish anything.

The fun you have in tossing around fresh ideas that hit you in the shower, on the highway, or in the dentist's chair is offset by the frustration you feel in never having a finished product, something you can send out and someday see in print (other than your own ink jet. )


Don't give in to new ideas.

That doesn't mean ignore new ideas. It just means not to devote your precious writing time to those new ideas. . . just yet. Keep a small tape recorder or notebook with you wherever you go so you can record those ideas, forget about them for now, and keep them for future use. They will be there when you're ready for them, after you've completed the piece you've already started.

Be accountable to someone.

It's too easy to tell yourself: Big deal, no one will know if I don't finish this; no one will care. Make someone care about what you're working on. Enlist the help of a friend or relative or writing coach. Tell them you really need to finish this piece and that your pattern has been to abandon works-in-progress when the excitement starts to wane. Ask them to give you a first-draft deadline, and ask them to seriously enforce it.

Make the old new.

Think about that seductive sense of novelty that you find so appealing in new projects. Now channel that into the writing you've already begun. Infuse your work-in-progress with new life so that some aspect of it feels new. Think of a new approach, create another character, try out a different point of view. . . something that makes the work feel new again to you, without abandoning it altogether.

Coming soon: Writing temperament Number 2, The Perfectionist.

To discover other ways to make your writing habit more efficient, satisfying and fun, visit and sign up for “Write Through It, " the FREE monthly newsletter that offers practical writing advice and anecdotal wisdom.

Lucia Zimmitti, a writing coach and independent editor, is a member of the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators and the Editorial Freelancers Association. Her fiction and poetry have been published in various national literary journals, and she has taught writing at the high school and college levels.


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