Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Superpower or kryptonite? Our writing personalities at work

“What kind of writer are you?” was the question author/instructor Cindy Dees asked at this weekend’s writing workshop sponsored by the Writers Guild of Texas.

Cindy Dees
So, she put us to the test. Specifically, the visual type personality testing software from the Smarter About People site. This is similar to the software used to test the fitness for occupation of professional athletes, lawyers, and doctors. Based on 15 different temperament tests, it sorts users – including now, writers -- into Jungian psychological types.

And unlike the football teams used to determine whether their professional players are better suited to become quarterbacks than line backs – test which can cost thousands of dollars -- the writing version is free. And fun. Plus, it comes with a cute, color-coded chart of our writing strengths and weaknesses. Or as Dees prefers to say, our superpowers and our kryptonites. 

She considers this knowledge so useful, she spent an hour of the workshop coaching her audience of writers on how to use their charts. 

I worried, and maybe you will too, whether the test might reveal somebody who has no business writing anything more complex than a grocery list. Never fear. There’s no thing as a “bad” writer profile, Dees assured us. It all depends on how we use what we’ve got.

To demonstrate my lack of fear, I’m putting my own chart online here: 

Now for an explanation about the organization of the chart, and translation of its terms into those used by writers.

Read from left to right, it deals with abilities in the areas of research (labeled as now on the chart), defining (termed stabilize, which includes such activities as genre and market research), world building/character development (stabilize on the chart), plotting (connect on the chart), drafting (execute on the chart), editing/revision (analyze on the chart), characterization (consideration on the chart), and theme (value on the chart). The relative size of the boxes indicates a writer’s comfort with each of these abilities. 

Boxes that extend above the horizontal line indicate “extrovert” qualities. Those below the line are “introvert” qualities. 

The chart can be divided in half vertically. The four left-hand boxes: now/research, stabilize/define, invent/world building, and connect/plotting represent the planning/plotting functions of writing – the way in which writers gather and formulate ideas for a story. 

The boxes to the right half of the chart represent the ways in which writers put their ideas on the page and finalize them. (Dees prefers to transpose the blue and red boxes on the right side, so that characterization and theme occur before the actual drafting and revision of a story.) These right-hand boxes would then read: consideration/characterization, value/theme, execute/draft, and analyze/revise.  

I was surprised not to have a larger box for my research function, not surprised at all to have such a large revise/editing box. (My critique partners won’t be surprised by the size of that part of my personality either!)

Dees shared her chart with the audience. No surprise for a woman with nearly fifty books to her credit, her “drafting” function box is huge. But there can be pitfalls even having a super-sized, “superpower” of a characteristic.

Writers with huge drafting muscles can be guilty of writing too fast and thereby skimping on important story details, failing to deliver fully-developed characters, skipping editing, and just plain burning out.

If we’re only gifted with tiny drafting boxes – i.e., drafting is our kryptonite -- we may find ourselves procrastinating, failing to meet deadlines, becoming resentful, or – worst! – hating to write.

Did you notice that skimping on the development of fully-rounded, emotionally satisfying characters can be among the pitfalls of the fast and furious drafting superpower? Then you won’t be surprised to learn that Dees’ box for “characterization” is relatively small. Still, she manages to come up with the dozens of fleshed-out characters her writing specialty of romantic suspense requires.

How does she do it? By being aware of her innate preferences and working to overcome them, which is why the second half of her workshop dealt with character building in fiction, a treatment I’ll save for the second of my posts on her workshop.

For now, I’ll provide the 100-mile an hour summary of the pros and cons of each psych characteristic: 

Research – if it’s your superpower, you may be in danger of disappearing into the rabbit hole of the internet. If research is your kryptonite, you may find yourself glossing over too many details. 

Define – if this is your superpower, you may kid yourself that spending too much time worrying about marketing. If it’s your kryptonite, you may find yourself inventing genres that have no marketability! 

World building – when this is your superpower, you may find too many stories crowd your head, distracting you from the work at hand. The kryptonite? You can get bored with your writing – and readers can get bored with you! 

Plotting – as a superpower, this may lead you into a labyrinth of sticky notes, outlines, and writing software. If it’s your weakness, the pace of your story may slow to a crawl. 

Characterization – as a superpower, this may cause you to become too invested in your characters to allow them to suffer. Not to mention – die! Characterization kryptonite can equal unengaging characters, which lead to unengaged readers.   

Theme – if it’s your superpower, you may find yourself hitting your readers with sledgehammers of meaning. If it’s your kryptonite, you may struggle to find your book’s ending. 

Edit – To strong, it can cause you to over-edit your beginnings and under-edit your endings. Too weak, and your work just gets sloppy.  

Those are far from the only strengths and weaknesses for each trait. For those hungry for more details, check out the Writers Guild site to catch its next round of workshops! And don’t forget to test your superpowers/kryptonites.


  1. Another workshop I wanted to attend and couldn't because of a conflict. Thanks, Melissa for sharing this information. This is fascinating and scary at the same time.

  2. It was kind of scary, Ann. Did you attend the Writers in the Field program this past weekend? I wanted to go, but those darn conflicts. . .