Personality and writing

Do you write primarily for yourself, or for your readers? The answer may depend on your personality type. Of the many different personality classifications which have been proposed, almost all recognise the introvert-extravert dimension.

Introverts tend to write for personal fulfilment and satisfaction. They choose the subjects which interest them, rather than those which might appeal to the market. They are reserved and solitary by nature and, in extreme cases, may have little or no desire to have their writing published or read by other people.

Extraverts, in contrast, continually seek contact with the outside world and relationships with their readers are of prime importance. They want to broadcast their message, to be noticed and liked, or achieve good sales in a specified market. They love doing media presentations.

This is of course an oversimplification, because personality traits exist on a continuum. Introverts and extraverts are not distinct categories; most people display elements of both at different times and in different situations. Some tend towards one or other end of the spectrum, others lie in the middle (ambiversion).  And this combination is probably what works best in relation to developing a writing carer, as my own experience may illustrate.

Like most writers I naturally tend towards introversion, but have learned to develop my extravert side. As a child my favourite pastime was writing stories just for my own amusement. My first published book was written much later on, while I was studying for a postgraduate exam in medicine, and I started it as a way of understanding and memorising the material from my lecture notes. But then I showed the manuscript to a couple of colleagues, who suggested submitting it for publication, and it was accepted second time round. I had no idea that it would become established as a textbook for medical students and psychiatric trainees and, in commercial terms, prove more successful than anything I have written since.

My next few books were about psycho-oncology and, though again I began writing them mainly for my own interest and education, I was very mindful of their potential impact on others because they dealt with some sensitive issues and would be read by some patients and relatives, as well as by staff.  Authors only ever hear feedback from a small minority of their readers, but I had favourable responses and reviews (except from one oncologist vehemently opposed to complementary therapies) and I hope these books have helped with the prevention and management of the distress often associated with cancer, and highlighted the fact that there can be something positive in the experience of this and other illnesses.

Since I retired from academic and clinical medicine, and started writing self-help books for general readers, I have aimed to develop this theme of seeking the silver lining in sickness and adversity. When I was asked by an interviewer for three key words I chose ‘balance’, ‘positivity’ and ‘self-responsibility’.

I am now going back to what I most enjoyed doing as a child – writing fiction – and my new novella is almost finished. Although I do intend to publish it, I am not expecting high sales because I have ignored the golden rules of targeting a market niche and staying within a defined genre. It’s a mixture of mystery and romance with a paranormal flavour and I wrote it because I wanted to, in response to one of those vague inspirations which come from an unknown source.

So long as you write what you wish to write,
That is all that matters …

Virginia Woolf

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