Sensing Writers: Down to the Details

Writers who prefer sensation focus on concrete data. They start with the detail, then pan out until they can see the big picture. But too much focus on discrete data can prevent them from perceiving the connections between ideas. How can sensing writers make sure they include conceptual as well as factual information?

In a previous post, I wrote about the importance of following your natural tendencies when writing a first draft. Then, during the editing process, you can go back and fill in the elements you missed.

Natural tendencies of sensing writers

Sensing writers immerse themselves in the five senses. They see the world as it is. Relying on facts, they enjoy storing knowledge about their observations and including this information in their writing.

When sensing writers begin a writing project, they want clear instructions. They need details to develop a sense of direction. Often, they’ll use other projects that have gone well as a template.

Sensing writers organize their content around concrete elements. They’re more interested in action than in ideas. They focus on practical applications and find it easier to write based on personal experience. They tend to move in a linear way from start to finish.

As they mature, sensing writers learn through experience to brainstorm and conceptualize. They become more imaginative and original. However, they trust imagination most when it has boundaries—for instance, a writing structure to follow.

Filling the gaps

If you’re a sensing writer, be sure to get detailed instructions at the beginning of a project. If you don’t understand what’s expected of you, talk to your editor or project sponsor. Ask a peer for help.

Use other projects as a model, but also consider new approaches. While sensing types learn best through repetition, sometimes the benefits of innovation are worth the learning curve of trying new things. Be open to improvement.

Compose a rough first draft to give yourself something concrete to work with—but avoid polishing too soon. When presenting facts, look for connections between them. Transition clearly from one topic to another. Relate details to the big picture to give a sense of context.

For instance, in technical writing, tell the reader why to perform a procedure. Instead of Press the red button to launch the missile, write To launch the missile, press the red button.

To overcome writer’s block, break the rules. Writing is an art, not a mechanical procedure. Don’t be constrained by preconceived ideas. Try something new and see what happens.

Introverted Writers: Thinking It Over

The quiet aspects of writing are well-suited to writers who prefer introversion. Introverts gain energy when working alone, and lose energy when interacting with others. But too much alone time can cause writers to lose sight of their audience. How can introverts ensure that their writing communicates their ideas effectively to others?

In an earlier post, I wrote about the importance of following your natural tendencies when writing a first draft. Then, during the editing process, you can go back and fill in the elements you missed.

Natural tendencies of introverts

Introverts prefer to work independently. They need quiet to get focused, but once absorbed in their work, they’re not easily distracted.

When writing the first draft, introverts seek solitude to contemplate their ideas. They conduct research through reading, and reflect on how new information applies to their existing knowledge.

While drafting, introverts tend to jot down ideas. If they craft an outline, it may be in their head. They take frequent breaks during the writing process to reflect on the material and consider next steps.

After they’ve finished the first draft, introverts may find it helpful to get feedback from a trusted friend or colleague. When discussing their ideas with others, introverts tend to listen quietly. They pause to formulate an answer before speaking.

As they mature, introverts feel more connected to outer world. They want to share the experiences and wisdom they’ve accumulated. As a result, their writing becomes more personal and vivid.

Filling the gaps

Introverts naturally tend to solve problems on their own. To round out your work, ask questions of experts. Also, instead of trying to compose perfect drafts, use trial and error. This helps you tease out ideas and approaches you would never come up with otherwise. Remember, no one else needs to see your first draft.

Every hour or so, step away from the computer. To get a fresh perspective, go for a walk. Reflect on the topic without the pressure of a blank screen.

Seek feedback from others. Check that you’re moving in the right direction. Make sure the information in your head made it onto the page. When working on something new, get help. Brainstorm with one or two people who know more about the topic or the format than you.

If blocked, try free writing. This helps you overcome the obstacles that your conscious mind puts in your way so you can free your creativity.


Write from the Start by Ann B. Loomis
Writing and Personality by John K. DiTiberio and George H. Jensen
What Type Am I? by Renee Baron

Related posts:

Extraverted Writers: Talking It Out
Sensing Writers: Down to the Details
Intuitive Writers: What a Concept! 
Thinking Writers: Logical Conclusions

Feeling Writers: People Who Need People
Judging Writers: Getting It Done
Perceiving Writers: Pushing the Limits

Extraverted Writers: Talking It Out

Writing is generally considered a solitary pursuit. But extraverted writers lose energy when working alone, and gain energy when interacting with others. So what can extraverts do to adapt their writing process to their personality?

In an earlier post, I wrote about the importance of following your natural tendencies when writing a first draft. Then, while editing, you can go back and fill in the elements you missed.

Natural tendencies of extraverts

Extraverts like to jump in and write using a process of trial and error. They often develop their ideas by bouncing them off other people. It can be helpful to record these discussions, since extraverts may move quickly from one idea to the next. They tend to understand better if they hear ideas spoken aloud.

The first draft of an extravert tends to be conversational in tone. They may find it easier to write in an active environment. The noise of other people energizes them. However, they require quiet for the final draft because they’re easily distracted. During these quiet periods of writing, they may need to take frequent breaks to connect with others. Seeking external stimulation helps restore their energy.

As they mature, extraverts become more contemplative. Their tone becomes less conversational and more insightful.

Filling the gaps

Talking about a subject gives you a broad perspective. You’ll need to narrow your piece into workable chunks, and cut information that may be interesting but not closely tied to your subject.

Reflect on the topic to generate new ideas. Consider what you may have missed during brainstorming. Conduct research if necessary.

During revision, seek quiet to avoid distractions. If you feel like the walls are closing in, listen to music. Even banging on the keyboard can help. Take breaks and talk to others to renew your energy and tease out ideas. Adapt your tone to the needs of the audience or the requirements of the publication.

If you’re feeling blocked, put the work aside. Let it percolate in your unconscious mind for a while. Sometimes, talking to other people can make you lose sight of your own goals and vision. Honor your natural extraversion, but draw on the tendencies of its opposite to take your work to the next level.


Write from the Start by Ann B. Loomis
Writing and Personality by John K. DiTiberio and George H. Jensen
What Type Am I? by Renee Baron

Related posts:

Introverted Writers: Thinking It Over
Sensing Writers: Down to the Details
Intuitive Writers: What a Concept!
Thinking Writers: Logical Conclusions
Feeling Writers: People Who Need People
Judging Writers: Getting It Done
Perceiving Writers: Pushing the Limits

Playing to Your Strengths

In school, most of us were taught to write according to the rules. Problem is, when it comes to writing, there are no rules. Or more specifically, for every writing rule you hear, there’s an equally valid rule that says just the opposite.

To follow the writing techniques you learned in grade school (or even college) might be a terrible idea for you. For instance, there are more extraverts in the U.S. population, but more introverts among writing instructors. If you’re an extravert, the natural writing process of introverts may not work well for you at all.

So forget everything you’ve been taught. During the first draft, let your creativity flow. Write according to your natural style. Don’t think about the final product—your first draft is just the clay you sculpt your masterpiece from. First get it written, then get it right.

The “right” techniques are the ones that work well for you, even if they don’t work at all for your coworker or critique partner. Chances are, you’ll be most comfortable and productive if you draft according to the preferences of your personality type. Then, during revision, use your nonpreferred functions to fill in what you missed. In my upcoming posts, I’ll outline the natural tendencies of writers according to their preferences as measured by the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI).

Note: If you don’t know your personality type, I recommend the free Jung Typology Test from Humanmetrics, although I’m told it has a slight tendency to skew toward Judging (J) over Perceiving (P). For a more thorough and accurate assessment, you can take the MBTI through a certified practitioner.

Related posts:

Extraverted Writers: Talking It Out
Introverted Writers: Thinking It Over

What to Tweet

Twitter is an ideal tool for technical communicators like me. We like to write, we like technology, and we like to share information about how to do things better. Many of us are introverts, and so enjoy building networks through written communication. We can stay in daily contact with people we may see once a year in real life. These people become our friends and supporters, though they’re scattered around the globe.

Creative writers, I’ve observed, often find Twitter a less natural fit.  Some do quite well, reaching out and sharing relevant information with a wide network. Others connect primarily with people they already know and tweet primarily about what’s going on in their life. And if that’s their goal, then that’s fine.

But if you want to use Twitter as a marketing tool to build your fan base and your network of supporters, you have to do more. Twitter is about adding value for your followers. How do you do that? Figure out what your followers want, and offer them solutions to problems.

Branding Yourself

Before deciding what to tweet, it helps to have a clear concept of your brand. For instance, my interests include gardening, scuba diving, and travel to exotic islands, but those things aren’t part of my brand. So I don’t (usually) tweet about them. My brand focuses on communication: technical writing, creative writing, and public speaking. My unique value proposition is viewing those activities through the lens of personality type. So those are the things I tweet and blog about. Those are the things my followers expect to see from me.

Adding Value

In social media, the unwritten rule is that no more than 20% of your communications will be aimed at self-promotion. The other 80% will focus on other activities that are of interest to your followers. These activities might include some of the following:

  • Articles on the Internet that your audience might find informative
  • Books you enjoyed reading
  • Publications by members of your network that might be of interest to your followers
  • Local networking events
  • Conferences relating to your area of expertise
  • Tweets by members of your network that bear retweeting
  • Pithy observations or quotations
  • Breaking news

Remember, though, that tweeting is to some degree a conversation. If someone retweets you or promotes your activities, then thank them. And if someone follows you, follow them back if you think they’re communicating worthwhile information. Read their tweets and look for something you can retweet, to show them your appreciation. Think about how you can contribute to the Twitter community.

Also, be sure to consider the signal to noise ratio. Twitter is not the place to rant about getting stuck in a traffic jam, unless you’re warning your followers to take an alternate route. It’s not the place to rave about a terrific meal, unless you tell your followers the name and location of the restaurant. If you’re tweeting about your life, be sure to give your followers a reason to care.

What Not to Tweet

Here are my two favorite examples of what not to tweet, both by self-professed social media marketers.

1. “All men are idiots, and I married their king.”

Why this is bad: Rhetorically, this tweet has a certain wit to it. Unfortunately, the author has now insulted half of her prospective clients, and alienated women who do not consider their husbands, fathers, brothers, sons, or male associates to be idiots. Moreover, if this author married the king of idiots, doesn’t that make her their queen? I wouldn’t take advice on social media from the queen of idiots.

What she could have tweeted instead: “We all make mistakes. Learn from them and move on.”

Why this is better: A platitude? Yes. But it may be something that one of her tweeps needed to hear that day. Instead of blaming her (ex?) husband for whatever negativity she’s experiencing in her life, she’d be sending a positive message into the world.

2. “Why is everyone watching the Whitney [Houston] funeral?? People die everyday.”

Why this is bad: It’s not hyperbole to say that Whitney Houston was the greatest vocalist of her generation. But even if she’d been a flash-in-the-pan pop diva, it’s insensitive and insulting to trivialize someone’s grief.

What he could have tweeted instead: “Many of my tweeps are watching the Whitney funeral today. My condolences to her family, friends, and fans.”

Why this is better: Twitter isn’t about you. It’s about community, and how you can contribute in a positive way. This requires empathy. If you have nothing positive to say, then say nothing.

That doesn’t mean you can never be critical. You can denounce ignorance and repression without offending too many people. But always consider your brand. Are politics or religion part of your brand? If not, either say nothing, or approach the subject obliquely. For instance, to oppose excessive taxation, post a quote from Abraham Lincoln on personal responsibility. To support gay marriage, post a quote from Martin Luther King on civil rights.

Doing Twitter well isn’t hard, but it does require a strategy. Know the message you want to send. Then, follow the Golden Rule of Twitter: tweet unto others as you’d have others tweet unto you.

Finding Your Voice in Fiction

Copywriters blog about it. Literary agents yearn for it. Budding writers may know they need it, but they may be unsure how to get it (or even what it is). In a sense, voice is your platform. It’s the reason that you alone could write this story—that no one else could write it the way you did.

Many things contribute to an author’s voice. Word choice and sentence structure are part of it. But voice is also much deeper. It’s your world view, your values, your passion. In short, it’s your personality.

The websites of literary agents make it clear that they’re looking for a unique and compelling voice. If your manuscript sounds like every other submission in your genre, then no matter how well written it is, the agent will likely pass. Your personality must shine through.

Here are some of the components of voice:

Your values

David Keirsey grouped the 16 Myers-Briggs types into 4 temperaments, and identified the values unique to each. For example, the Idealists (NFs) and Guardians (SJs) value cooperation, while Rationals (NTs) and Artisans (SPs) value autonomy. But while the cooperative efforts of Guardians focus on preserving traditions and social institutions, Idealists seek to build stronger communities through personal growth. And while Artisans want autonomy so they can take advantage of immediate opportunities, Rationals focus on building systems and long-term strategies.

Think about some of your favorite novels, and consider how the voice might reflect one or more of these values. For example, I might argue that in The Help by Kathryn Stockett, Aibileen expresses Guardian values, Minny expresses Artisan values, and Miss Skeeter expresses Rational values. Yet the novel itself expresses Idealist values. The voices of the three point-of-view characters come together to give the novel a voice that’s different from the sum of its parts.

Your experiences

I’m a Pennsylvanian who’s made a home in North Carolina. I know how disorienting it is to leave your support system behind, and start a new life in a strange place with customs you don’t understand. My experience with this sense of alienation plays a role in my fiction.

But note that your experiences aren’t limited to things you’ve personally lived through. We’ve all been listening to stories—through books, TV, movies, and conversation—since we were born. The people you know also have a unique set of experiences that they can share with you. The old caveat, write what you know, is backwards. It should be know what you write. Research. Interview people. Travel if you have to. Draw on your past, but continue to build your store of knowledge.

Your interests

If you love jazz, set a couple of scenes in a jazz club. Include dialogue that could only be spoken by a jazz connoisseur. If you garden, include descriptions of trees and flowers that demonstrate your specific knowledge. These kinds of details add depth and authenticity to a scene.

Your interests may also affect the theme of your work. As a writer of women’s fiction, I’m fascinated by the effects of human evolution on behavior, particularly in the differences between men and women. In most primate societies, to avoid inbreeding, females stay in the troupe they were born into; males, on the other hand, are forced out when they reach sexual maturity, and must make their way in the world. Modern human females largely define themselves in terms of their relationships, whereas males define themselves in terms of identity. My fiction explores the conflicts that naturally occur as a result: for instance, the woman is trying to preserve the relationship but her partner is trying to preserve his identity. Or, conversely, a woman’s search for identity creates problems in her relationships.

Voice is one of those things that’s hard to define, but you know it when you see it. The best way to ensure that your voice shines through is to be authentic, to write from your core self, and to be fearless. If you’re not willing to take chances in your fiction, to expose the deepest parts of yourself, you won’t touch the reader’s heart. It’s that emotional connection to the characters that keeps readers engaged. A story without voice is a story that won’t sell. So don’t hold back. Write for all you’re worth.

Can You Make a Living As a Novelist?

A reader asked whether I thought it was possible to make a living as a novelist in the current environment. We’re seeing deep changes in the publishing industry. That can be scary, because change creates uncertainty. But I believe that this is the most exciting time ever to be a novelist. We have more publishing options, more delivery options, and more ways of connecting to potential readers. That doesn’t mean it’s easy to make a living as a novelist. In fact, it may be more difficult now, because readers are more demanding and sophisticated. So what can you do to increase your odds?

1. Write a stellar book.

Whether you choose traditional or self-publishing, your manuscript must have no major flaws. Major flaws include:

  • Numerous grammar and spelling errors
  • An opening that doesn’t hook the reader
  • No distinct voice
  • A plot that doesn’t move
  • Characters that readers can’t identify with quickly enough
  • Wooden dialogue
  • Overblown descriptions
  • Events that seem to happen at random without a connection to the main character’s journey
  • A contrived ending

The gatekeepers in traditional publishing will keep you out if your debut novel has these flaws. But if you go with self-publishing, you can publish your manuscript anyway. The problem is, no one will buy it. You won’t get the word of mouth endorsements you need in order for the novel to succeed. And anyone who does read the book will avoid your future ones.

2. Write another stellar book.

Very few people can make enough money to retire on from their first novel. It’s likely that it will take 3 or 4 novels before you build a fan base. You must be in it for the long haul. Ideally, you should follow up your first book with your second in six months to a year. Readers who love your book, and are panting for more, will give up on you if you keep them waiting too long. Bob Mayer recommends that you don’t self-publish until you’ve got three books ready to go. Only then will your promotion pay off in sales.

3. Don’t put more time into promotion than you do into writing.

These days, even fiction writers need a platform before most acquiring editors will consider them. If they Google your name and don’t find you, that’s bad. You should be on Facebook and Twitter, maybe LinkedIn and Google+. It also helps to have a blog with a decent number of hits. But none of that matters if you’re not focusing on your manuscript first, making it the best it can be. Read books in your genre, study the craft, and write every day.

4. Eliminate non-essentials from your life

Writing a novel is a full-time job. If you’ve got another full-time job to pay the bills, then you need to eliminate things from your life that don’t contribute to your writing practice. That doesn’t mean giving up your social life. If you and your spouse enjoy throwing a Super Bowl party every year, don’t let your writing get in the way of that. But if the only reason you watch the big game is to see the commercials, then maybe your Super Bowl Sunday would be better spent in front of a keyboard than in front of a TV.

5. Get feedback on your work (from someone who’s qualified to give it)

Chances are pretty good that your mom will love your novel. After all, she loved those crayon drawings you did when you were three. Were those crayon drawings masterpieces because your mom loved them? No. The same is true for your manuscript.

Join a critiquing group, either local or online. Participate in events offered by writing organizations, and seek out fellow writers you can trust to serve as beta readers. Keep in mind that the first few times someone critiques your creative writing, it will be excruciating. But in time, it gets easier. You start looking forward to the feedback because you know it will make your work stronger.

6. Want it more than you’ve ever wanted anything

Chances are, writing your first salable novel will be a long-term commitment. It requires you to pour in your emotions, to be more honest than you’ve ever been. It means giving up your leisure time. These sacrifices are hard, so ask yourself: can you go to your grave satisfied if you never become a published author? If the answer is yes, then you may not have the drive and the passion it takes to see this thing through.

Success in publishing is about 30% talent. The rest is timing, perseverance, and luck. A lot is out of your control. But if you want it enough, you work hard enough, and you keep at it for as long as it takes, you may just have a chance.