“We won’t make ourselves more creative and productive by copying other people’s habits, even the habits of geniuses; we must know our own nature, and what habits serve us best.”
Stephen King, Anthony Trollope and Charles Dickens.
Three great authors, three very different sets of writing habits.
From creating a daily quota of words to write to establishing the perfect environment to write in, authors have developed the necessary writing habits to ensure their books get written. Some of them are quirky and others completely bizarre, but the most successful writers thrive on good habits.
But should we all strive to have the same habits as our writing heroes? Should we, like Victor Hugo, have our clothes locked away to stop the urge to go outside and avoid the writing that needs to be done?
Is it even essential to have habits in place at all?
Recently, I read a book by habits and happiness expert, Gretchen Rubin. The Four Tendencies examines how our distinct personalities can affect how well we form and maintain habits. Some of us find it easier than others!
If we can figure out our personality ‘type’ this can help us to create the writing habits that are meaningful to us, and not just some generic mumbo jumbo.
But how do we know what our writing personality is? Well, luckily for us, Gretchen provides the answers. By looking at the Four Tendencies, we’re not only able to see how we respond to ‘rules’ but also how we can use that tendency to help us form the ‘write’ habits (sorry!).
The Four Tendencies
Here is a brief outline of each of the Four Tendencies. As you read through them, ask yourself whether this is the tendency that best describes you. At the end, I’ll give you a link to take Gretchen’s test and find out for certain.
Tendency 1: The Upholder
An upholder responds to inner and outer rules. They are just as able to motivate themselves as they are able to be motivated by external factors, e.g. deadlines. They avoid making mistakes and letting people down – including themselves.
Upholders as Writers
If an Upholder is a writer, they can be motivated by setting word count targets for themselves or by writing at the same time every day. These habits or rules are set in stone for Upholders and they will complete their writing each and every day without fail.
Gretchen talks about her friend in college who only missed 5 sessions at the gym in 2 years. She was an Upholder. See what I mean?
The Positive and Negative Aspects of Upholders
Upholders are self-starters so good writing habits come more ‘naturally’ to them and boy do they stick to them. They don’t need external accountability so that book will get written even without an editor breathing down their necks. They love rules… often looking for rules beyond rules.
However, Upholders can be rigid and constrained by their rules. They can feel overwhelmed if there aren’t any in place and won’t know what to do. They are relentless in the pursuit of their goals and in the habits they form. This can make it jolly hard to live with one!
Tendency 2: The Questioner
Questioners follow rules if they make sense to them. They will ask lots of questions and if they deem the rule or habit worth it, they’ll do it. If not, they won’t. Questioners are always asking…you guessed it…questions. They want to know why they should try a habit. They want all the information before they establish a new rule or writing habit in their lives.
Questioners as Writers
As writers, we ask lots of questions, particularly journalists. When writing fiction, we want to know why our characters do the things they do and what might happen if they don’t.
Developing new writing habits can be difficult for Questioners because they might not see why such a habit is beneficial. They need to be convinced. They need to be persuaded it’s useful to them.
The Positive and Negative Aspects of Questioners
One positive side of being a Questioner is that you’re intellectually engaged – always seeking the answers and always asking ‘why?’.
However, in order to create a new habit, Questioners want perfect information. They want to know all the details before making their decision to build a new habit into their writing lives. They can become exhausted by their constant need for answers.
Tendency 3: Rebels
Ah, the rebel. Habits are difficult for you to form, my friend, as you resist inner and outer rules. You are more motivated by the present and the desires within it.
You want to do what you want to do. End of. You start the day by saying, ‘What do I WANT to do today?’ rather than ‘What do I NEED to do today?’
Rebels resist all control, even self-control and that is why it can be difficult for Rebels to form and maintain good writing habits. They want the freedom to do what they please when they please.
Rebels as Writers
As a Rebel, you may get up and ask yourself if you feel like writing today. If you don’t, you won’t. If someone advises you to write 1000 words a day in order to get your novel finished, you’ll ignore the advice or deliberately write 1001, just to prove you can.
Rebel writers often break the rules within their writing, they definitely don’t want to be constrained with any talk of an ‘outline’ or following a particular structure.
The Positive and Negative Aspects of Rebels
Rebels are great at ‘thinking outside the box’ and this can help enormously with creativity. Rebels can see things from different and new perspectives and they’re often interesting to work with. They can also be motivated by an element of competition or by the mantra of ‘I’ll show you…’
However, Rebels can be hard to work with, particularly from an editing/publisher’s perspective, as they simply won’t do what they’re told! If a deadline is set, they may be inclined to deliver it a day later. It’s hard for Rebels to form habits and stick to them as they don’t want to feel ‘tied down’.
Tendency 4: Obligers
By far the most common tendency, Obligers thrive on outer rules but find it hard to stick to inner rules. Obligers are often referred to as ‘people pleasers’ because they put the needs and wants of others before themselves.
It can be hard for Obligers to maintain habits. They’re often great at forming them, but find it difficult to sustain them. They know that it’s important to have habits in place, but they often fail to keep them going once the initial period of excitement wanes.
Obligers as Writers
The great thing about Obligers is that they respond well to deadlines set by other people and also work well with coaches, as they are given rules to work by from an external source. It’s important for Obligers to have a sense of accountability in order to keep their writing habits from falling by the wayside.
An accountability partner works well for Obligers, but so does keeping a track of daily word counts, putting them somewhere visible so that other people can see their progress. Monitoring is a good thing for Obligers.
The Positive and Negative Aspects of Obligers
Obligers are a reliable bunch and so if a deadline is looming, they’ll get their writing done and sent off as requested. Sharing their progress with others means an Obliger forms meaningful habits and sticks with them – just as long as they keep monitoring them.
But Obligers can often feel frustrated. They often ask themselves why they can do things for others, but not for themselves. They want to form good writing habits but struggle to keep them. As they are often ‘people pleasers’ they are more susceptible to ‘burnout’.
Which Tendency Are You?
Now that you’ve read a basic outline of the Four Tendencies, which one do you think best describes you?
If you’re still not sure, here’s Gretchen explaining them all in further detail.
Once you have a greater understanding of your personality and tendency, developing writing habits becomes more of a personal experience, rather than an attempt to emulate the habits of others.
Take the Test
If you want to take Gretchen’s test and find out your tendency, click here. My result wasn’t quite what I was expecting!
I was pretty certain that I was an Upholder, but it turns out that I’m an Obliger. I think I do have some aspects of ‘Upholderishness’ but I’m certainly a people-pleaser and that’s something I need to work on. If, like me, you’re an Obliger, here are some habits that work well for me.
I’d love to know what you are and whether it’s helped you understand your writing habits.