Writing has always suited my personality. One of my earliest memories is of folding pieces of paper together to make a book. When I was ten I was 30 pages into a novel before I tore it up in discouragement because I didn’t know what I wanted to say. As a teenager my favorite thing to do when I got home from school was to write plays.
Today I can sit down at my computer and, with only a few breaks in between, get up eight, nine, or ten hours later with little awareness of how much time has passed, feeling excited and utterly rejuvenated. The next morning I can’t wait to get back to my computer. When I was working on the manuscript for my next book I ran this marathon three or four days a week for almost three years with only a couple of months off in the summer. For two of those three years, I had zero input about my writing from any living person. It was just me, my Self, and my computer.
Obviously, this way of life is not for everyone. Our friend Howard enthralls all who know him with fascinating stories about his very unusual and interesting life. People are always telling him he should write a book and I think he finds this idea attractive; but not enough to actually do it.
Carl Jung’s theory about personality types helps explain why one person can be very well-suited to writing while another is not. He found that two basic attitudes affect the focus of our attention. Extraverts are primarily oriented toward the outer world of people and objects; introverts toward the inner world of concepts and ideas. Jung saw these attitudes as mutually complementary and believed both were necessary for maintaining a balanced personal and social life.
In an article about the Myers-Briggs Personality Type Indicator, Wikipedia cites these major differences between the two types: 1) Extraverts are action oriented, while introverts are thought oriented; 2) Extraverts seek breadth of knowledge and influence, while introverts seek depth of knowledge and influence; 3) Extraverts often prefer more frequent interaction, while introverts prefer more substantial interaction; and 4) Extraverts recharge and get their energy from spending time with people, while introverts recharge and get their energy from spending time alone.
Of course there are lots of extraverted writers and plenty of introverts with no interest whatsoever in writing. Moreover, both types struggle to complete writing projects because of myriad other issues such as education, financial limitations, attention deficits, self-confidence, self-discipline, and time restrictions related to work and relationships. But understanding our basic attitude toward life greatly enhances our chances for success with writing or any endeavor.
I’m a strong introvert and my story-telling friend is a strong extravert. As Dr. Judith Rich says about her extraversion, “We E’s live outside the cave and struggle to find our way in, while the I’s live inside the cave and struggle to find their way out.” The bottom line? Cave-dwelling doesn’t suit my friend’s personality and writing just isn’t his passion.
If you’re wondering what to do with the rest of your life, you might want to reflect on these questions: When you were a child, what did you choose to do in your spare time? Are you an extravert or an introvert? What kind of work best suits your personality?