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The Psychology Behind Writing: Tap into Your Natural Personality to Assist Your Academic Writing Process (Part 1)

Hello fellow TAA members, lovely to meet you and thank you for reading this inaugural post of “The Psychology Behind Writing.” Over the next 12 monthly offerings, we’ll get into some of the psychological processes that support our academic writing as well as the ones that derail our writing. And, we will definitely explore strategies for amplifying the positive and mitigating the negative. 

Active Writers vs. Reflective Writers

Let’s start this series by looking at our natural personality preferences and how these influence writing processes as well as the preferred approach of our chosen discipline. We’ll use the tried-and-true Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) as our personality framework and starting point.

As many of you might know, the MBTI is structured with 4 personality scales, each with two “opposite” preferences that rest on a continuum of intensity for that personality scale. The key to remember here is that we all have all 8 preferences available to us (4 scales x 2 preferences), but we tend to have a natural preference for inhabiting one side over the other. One side tends to come more instinctively, we don’t have to think about it as hard, we can be on auto-pilot, we are more practiced with it, and we probably don’t have much anxiety around using it.

For example, it’s very similar to the ways our left- and right-hand function. For the majority of us, we naturally prefer one hand over the other and we have much more practice using our dominant hand. However, that doesn’t mean we do not use our non-dominant hand to complete tasks or to help our dominant hand complete tasks. We just prefer one over the other and can make do with our non-dominant hand if our dominant hand is not available.
Keep this example in mind as we engage with the first of the 4 personality scales.

MBTI Personality Scale 1: Extraversion and Introversion

Contrary to pop culture’s use of the terms, extraversion and introversion are not about your ability to socialize with others, it’s about where you direct and receive your intrinsic energy from…your preferred energy source. When you need to recharge your batteries, do you like to plug into the environment around you—being around others or in a stimulating space like a coffee shop or bar—which is an extraversion preference; or do you like to plug into the environment within you—alone or “me” time, staying home or visiting a relaxing space—which is an introversion preference?

When it comes to writing, folks who prefer extraversion tend to be more active in their writing whereas folks who prefer introversion tend to be more reflective:

Questions to Ask Yourself

  1. If left to your own devices, which is your preferred approach to writing? Not how you have been trained or molded into as a writer, but your natural approach? If you find that you are 50/50, for the purposes of this exercise, chose one to be 51% and the other will be 49%.
  2. Does your discipline tend to value active writing from experience/experiments or reflective writing from ideas/reflection?
  3. Do the answers to these two questions match up? If yes, there is alignment in your natural approach to writing and the expectations and conventions allowed for in your discipline. Yes!

If the answers do not align, a writing challenge may be present, and not to worry.

Writing Challenge Tip

On the first draft, trust *your* natural writing style. Leveraging your natural approach to writing will give you momentum and build confidence. It is like writing with your dominant hand. If you can naturally get a draft out with your ideas, then you can go back and revise or refashion it with the conventions that your discipline requires that might not come as naturally to you. Just like you didn’t choose whether you were going to be left or right-handed (although I know some left-handed folks have been forced to conform to a right-handed world), we also did not choose our natural approach to writing. Start with what comes naturally.

Next Month’s Topic: Tap into Your Natural Personality to Assist Your Academic Writing Process – Realistic Writers vs. Imaginative Writers

Reference: MBTI Tasks of a College Student. Center for the Application of Psychological Type. Gainesville, FL.

Michelle Rivera-Clonch, PhD. is a scholar-practitioner psychologist who also co-founded Writing in Depth: An Academic Writing Retreat at Hope Springs Institute in 2011. In June 2023, she presented at the TAA Virtual Conference and subsequently was invited to contribute to the Association’s blog; to which she excitedly agreed. Her book A Depth Psychological Study of the Peace Symbol: Jung, Politics and Culture was published this summer by Routledge.


Read the second post in this series, The Psychology Behind Writing: Tap into Your Natural Personality to Assist Your Academic Writing Process, and the third post, The Psychology Behind Writing: Tap into Your Natural Personality to Assist Your Academic Writing Process.