Thursday, October 7, 2010

Who are these Strange Creatures?

Who are these strange creatures called writers? Is there one type of person that becomes a writer? Perhaps a screening test so we can weed them out early?

Michael J Straczynski in The Complete Book of Scriptwriting said that writers were born not made. I suspect there may be a strong element of truth in this, but having said that, I think that writers are also made. It's the one profession that can not really be taught, but has to be developed over long years in the saddle.

No doubt this is one arena where the 10,000 hour rule definitely applies. That's the old chestnut that says that to get to the top in any field you need to spend at least 10,000 hours at that profession/craft/sport.

Which reminds me of the old joke: A neurosurgeon and a writer meet at a party. On introducing herself as a writer the neurosurgeon is delighted. He takes a sip of his cocktail and says, 'You know I always wanted to take up writing in my retirement.' The writers nods appreciatively then leans closer, 'You know, that's an incredible co-incidence. I though I might take up neurosurgery in my retirement.'

OK. Enough diversions. Having met quite a few writers now, I would have to say that imagination and creative drive are two traits that they have in common, particularly the imagination part for the speculative fiction writers. But really, that's where the similarity seems to end. At the various workshops, conventions and writer's events that I have attended I have met writers from all walks of life, running the full gamut of personalities. There are the more retiring ones, and maybe they dominate - I'm not sure - but you get all types from rough and ready bruisers to cerebral arty types, irrepressible extroverts to incurable mushrooms. Given the fact that no two writers seem to approach their work in the same way, it should probably come as no surprise.

I have no particular views on the Myers Briggs personality test, it was just the first one I thought of. I did a quick Google on Myers Briggs types and careers, and predictably the result was a little inconclusive. Four quite contrasting types were listed - INTP, ENFJ, INFP, ENFP based on a survey of graduates as likely 'writers'. Actually my quick Google only brought up confusing conclusions (Tolkien was supposed to be an INFP).

How about you? Do you think that writers tend to be of a similar personality type? Are the observed differences just window dressing over the same wounded souls, or are we all truly coming from a different place?


Chris L said...

Hi Chris,

I gave a lecture to a class of graduating geologists two weeks ago about life as an explorationist.

To be honest, the industry is incredibly volatile and finding ore deposits is impossibly hard and often requires a generous dash of luck (or everyone would be doing it right?)

Strikes me there are significant similarities with writing and getting published. Guess I'm a glutton for punishment.

Perhaps we are linked by secret masochistic desires.

MataPam said...

Chris L, think of all that geology as years of intensive training in World Building. ;) Interesting that in this small group, you are the third Geologist that I know of.

Chris M, I never have quite gotten the wounded soul thing. Is it a requirement to writing or other Art? I can see it as necessary for Literature, although I suspect it's more of an effect of reading too much of it . . .

I think writing is one way of expressing creativity. It could just as well come out as verbal storytelling, art of all sorts, cutting edge science and engineering, ::cough, cough:: seismic interpretation and reports to management.

Chris McMahon said...

Hi, Chris L. I have often thougt of publishing as a bit like hunting in the forest, or fishing. But I think prospecting in a vast wilderness is an even better analogy. The little nuggets are leads for new markets - none of which are lying out in plain sight.

No easy wins, that's for sure.

Chris McMahon said...

Hi, Matapam. I like that - wounding your soul because you read lit:)

I find getting that same creative flow out of engineering reports a little bit of a stretch, but maybe that's because its a different sort of creativity. More a way of deliberate thinking rather than expression.

Maybe all the geologists should start a rock band? Get it? What's that - never heard that one before? I'll start running now:)

MataPam said...

I was thinking engineering in terms for designing new machines, bridges, buildings and so forth. Mad inventor, rather than mad scientist.

Selling drilling prospects to management can take a reasonable amount of creativity, so long as one keeps one's eye on the basic goal - finding oil or gas.

Not unlike convincing a publisher, once one has tracked him down and trapped him where he has to listen to your proposal.

Unfortunately a Rock Band would be on shaky grounds, probably wollastinite unless Kate has her sister's singing ability. Granite, the effort could Ilmenite some dorment talents. I suppose we could dress up in fancy Cherts and work up a play. But I'm not sure I have the Apatite for it.

Umm, yes, Chris, heard them all. A list of minerals is an invitation to pun.

Chris L said...


I am currently working on something about world-building from a geologist's perspective. A lot maps in fantasy novels just don't make any sense at all.

Great minds and all that...

Chris L said...

Oh dear,

Mineral puns. After my lecture the entire department put on their fancy duds and shuffled off for the 2010 geology dinner.

I had the dubious honour of judging the annual song competition. First through third years, plus PhDs and staff come up with a song about geology, put to a well-known bit of music.

Winner: I Licked a Rock and I Liked It (Katie Perry).

Sarah A. Hoyt said...

I once took a personality and aptitude test for free -- long story. They wanted to calibrate it, so they sent it to a bunch of professions, including translators. Anyway, they told me whatever I did not to try any artistic pursuits, but to stick with the hard sciences and experimental physics or something. Eh.
Maybe that's what's wrong.

MataPam said...

Some knowledge of geology is so useful. Add a bit of astonomy and you can invent entire planetary systems that make sense.

And draw maps with believeable water courses.

Which, unfortunately, is not a general requirement to drawing a map of a fantasy world.

Chris L said...


Without wanting to hijack the discussion too much, I agree - water is a huge problem with fantasy maps.

I tend to imagine that, even in fantasy worlds, water runs downhill rather than up.

MataPam said...

Sarah - that just shows that they have trouble measuring creativity, whether they want to admit it or not.

Rowena Cory Daniells said...


Winner: I Licked a Rock and I Liked It (Katie Perry).

Oh dear ....

Rowena Cory Daniells said...

Chris L said:

I am currently working on something about world-building from a geologist's perspective. A lot maps in fantasy novels just don't make any sense at all.

Now you're making me really nervous. I just put my KRK maps up on my blog.

Chris L said...


I love your maps! Those calderas really look like they form part of a volcanic island arc. What did you model them on? Santorini?

I just hope you haven't mentioned granite in your description of the rocks. Please let it be basalt. Please, please...

Chris McMahon said...

Hi, Sarah. I always knew you were moonlighting as a particle Physicist!

Chris McMahon said...

Hi, Rowena. As long as it has a note in the margins saying 'Here be Dragons' you're fine:)

Artistry seemed to be valued more than accuracy for some ancient maps - in this case I suspect people knew the distances already and just wanted a nifty visual mnemonic with nice coloured highlights. Oh - and Dragons:)

Kate said...

Dragons are essential. And maps. And Kraptonite (also those lovely fresh draconic schist deposits...)

Um, yes? I can do the geological puns too. Usually very bad ones.

Personality wise, I'm borderline. Seriously - on the Myers Briggs, depending on my mood, time of month, astrological phenomena and possibly the couplings of mythical deities, I have no statistical difference with three of the four types. (I score 100% Introvert). I've hit every possible combination except the ones starting with E.

I think the big commonality is the drive to create. Whether we succeed or not, that drive stays there and expresses itself in all sorts of interesting ways. Including some very odd bug reports. (Which, alas, are no longer going to be possible - CURSE YOU PCI-DSS COMPLIANCE!)

David Barron said...

They say I'm INTJ and I'm inclined to believe it. But when it comes to Writing, I think any personality type can sit down and become a Creative if they're, well, willing to sit down and write and sell what they write (or know the reason why not until they do). If you will, each Creative takes a different path based on his personality, but they all use the same tools.

Chris McMahon said...

Hi, Kate. When I first did the Myers Briggs I was borderline on the E/I spectrum, but each time I do another one I seems to be getting a stronger I.

Not quite sure what I started with puns:)

Chris McMahon said...

Hi, David. Sitting down in that chair is definitely the trick.

Do you work in the sciences? Not that I think you can take too strictly, but I seem to remember INTJ being the classic scientist type. I test as an INFJ, but I think when I am in engineering 'mode' I operate as an INTJ.

Rowena Cory Daniells said...

Chris L,

I have a medieval type society. They aren't going to talk about basalt or granite.

I do have caves with limestone (although I don't call it that) dripping through and I looked into this and limestone could occur where there had been and still is ongoing volcanic activity.

MataPam said...


Actually I suspect that lot of rock names are quite old. Basalt may be Cro-magnon for "hard black rock" and Granite "Pink with black specks" for all I know.

Limestone would be the original rock that the volcano is erupting through.

Dave Freer said...

There isn't a category OLIF (obsessive,lunatic, idiotic, fool)- which has to be mine ;-). Seriously, while writers may share some traits, it's hrd to personality group them. for example there are the handful - very successful, often very public who DID have it come easy. Wrote one manuscript, had it accepted soon and easily, and were paid large amounts, whereafter their publisher saw to it that they recovered their money. The books acquired vary from bad to good, but did well for the author. Almost inevitably these writers lack the defining trait of the rest. They're not obsessive battlers, who just keep trying - and yet they're often used as 'that's what we are' examples. Likewise writers are often characterised as typically introvert. Well. No. Many are of course, but no one could call Jay Lake introverted. You may or may not like him - but he's a successful writer - and working the crowd is a large part of why, IMO. And yet I've met a few successful writers who are almost pathologically reclusive and shy (I won't name them because they'd hate that).

Nor are all writers liberal arts graduates or city dwellers, or any other one of the typical 'labels'.

I'd say the two stereotypes that hold reasonably good are that they write, most of them (and no, not all 'writers' do.) and far too many are insomniacs.