Love Stories series from Bantam in the 1990s? I sent off for their guidelines (yes, "sent off"--there was no internet to speak of), read lots of their books, compared how the guidelines and books matched up, and incidentally became a die-hard Elizabeth Chandler fangirl in the process. I presented this paper at the national conference of the Rhetoric Society of America. I am not making this up.
Today I am happy to be a novelist and copyeditor rather than an English professor. I do not miss the public speaking one bit. But I do miss the research. I miss talking to people about their writing processes, which I find endlessly fascinating. And lately I've been thinking a lot about one question in particular: Does personality type have anything to do with a person's process of writing a novel?
There are lots of personality tests we could use for investigation--but so we're all on the same page, let's use my favorite, the enneagram. You can figure out which type you are by checking out this description on AOL, or this one on my personal blog, or if you're really interested, google it and you'll come up with some multiple choice tests you can take online (I can't vouch for other people's sites but I took this test and it did not make my computer explode).
I am a 5, all day long. I read. I research. I figure things out. I am nothing if not logical. I take great pleasure in looking things up for people. The very best conversation is one in which somebody reaches for the dictionary to prove a point. I am SuperCopyeditor.
There are lots of descriptions of types of writers we could use, too, but I think many of us are familiar with the pantser/plotter dichotomy. Pantsers write by the seat of their pants. They have no idea where they're going when they start writing a novel. I heard a pantser say recently that she hates writing a synopsis for her novel before she's through writing it, because she doesn't want to know how it ends until it gets there. If she plans the end ahead of time, she doesn't want to write the novel anymore because the thrill is gone. I do not understand these animals but that is what they claim.
A plotter, in contrast, plans and outlines and researches before ever putting finger to keyboard. They know exactly where they are going. They would be afraid to start writing without a detailed plan because they are terrified of writing themselves into a corner.
We're familiar with this dichotomy, but all dichotomies are false. You may not be one or the other, but you can place yourself somewhere in this framework, right?
I used to think I was a plotter. The more I have talked to people about their novels, though, the more I have realized that there is one very unusual thing about my process. I don't write in order. Most plotters do. Most pantsers do too. But I start with an idea, and I figure out what the most basic plot points of the novel will be: how it begins, what the problem is, what happens in the middle, what the climax is, how it gets resolved, how it ends. Somewhere during that stage, I start writing what will become page 142. Then page 350. Now I'm on a roll. I jot stuff down in the middle of work, in the carpool line. I step out of the shower to do this and get my notes all wet. This goes on for several weeks until I can't find anything anymore. Now we know I'm serious: it's calendar time! I make a calendar-shaped table and figure out what happens when and divide the action into chapters. I go through my manuscript, which has grown to perhaps 150 pages by now, and put everything in the proper chapters. And then I fill in the gaps.
What is that? A plantser? A potter?
You know what it's not? Logical.
And, being logical, at one point I realized that other people were writing their books in order (how odd!) and having a much easier time of selling books on proposal, which of course requires turning in the first 3 chapters, not page 142 and page 350 and a bunch of garbled notes and a calendar. So I tried to write a book in order.
I will never do THAT again.
I am really curious about what's going on here. The only thing I can think of is that I am writing on the macro and micro levels simultaneously, one is constantly influencing the other, and on a subconscious level that makes good sense to my brain.
But what am I doing writing YA romance novels in the first place? Shouldn't 5's stick to the ivory tower? If you look at the personality types in the AOL article, the 5 is listed as the writer, but I think they meant research writer or nonfiction writer. They list 4 as the fiction writer, which makes perfect sense to me. Yet off the top of my head I can name you novelists I know personally who fall into every one of the 9 personality types.
It also seems that the more logical 1, 5, 6, and 8 would be plotters, the more impulsive 2, 3, 4, and 7 would be pantsers, and the 9 would not be able to decide. From my very informal research, that is true exactly half the time = no correlation = random = no.
And many of these writers realize there's a disjunction. They will say, "I am not an organized person but my writing process is very organized," or "I am an excruciatingly organized person but my writing process is a mess." (me me me *raising hand and bouncing obnoxiously in my desk*)
Have I bored you? Sorry--we 5's have a tendency to do that to people. Just go on, 3's and 7's, nobody really expected you to stick around for the whole post anyway. But if you're intrigued, make a comment about your enneagram personality type and your writing process. Do you see any connection? How does your writing mind work and why?