I’m usually skeptical about any kind of theory that involves evaluating your “personality.” However, while working as a mentor at a writing retreat this fall, I was introduced to a system which totally changed the way I face my challenges as a writer.
The Enneagram of Personality, or simply the Enneagram, is a typology of nine interconnected personality types. Thought to be developed by a 4th century Christian Mystic, the Enneagram was made popular in the fifties by Oscar Ichazo, a Bolivian who mapped out the basis for its contemporary teachings.
The Enneagram is currently used in business settings to improve workplace dynamics, and in Spiritual environments to attain personal empowerment. And while the Enneagram has been used by writers for a long time in developing characters for their stories, it’s even more useful when applied to you, the totally neurotic writer!
Now obviously, we are all complicated beings, and one “test” can’t reveal all of our magical snowflake diversity. But what the Enneagram allowed me to do, was to identify my undermining behaviors and lean into ones that have lead me toward greater writing productivity and happiness (integration.)
Joshua Levin is an Enneagram Coach, and has spelled it all out for us here. Thanks Josh!
Before we start, here’s the link to the brief free test (just scroll down to the bottom of the page.) Take it, then read on…
1: THE REFORMER. (This is me—yay and oy!) We Reformers tend to be perfectionistic, nitpicky and ideological. We are likely to over-edit and self-criticize, and keep ourselves from moving forward. We fear being messy and writing something that’s “wrong,” and thus block ourselves and become paralyzed. We need to move toward type seven and having more fun. Where everything is “high stakes” and critical at one, as we move toward seven, we relax and lighten up. What can we do that makes writing fun? Can we listen to crazy music? Indulge in coffee drinks that involve whipped cream? Can we allow ourselves write messy pages?
2: THE HELPER. Helpers tend to focus on others, are caretakers, and often are unclear about their own needs. They may write from a place of caretaking, devoid of their own passions and interests. They think about what other people would want to read instead of what they want to write. It’s hard for them to prioritize their own experience while writing. Helpers need to create a physical space and structure for writing that works for them. They need to claim and protect their writing, instead of being focused on other people. Helpers need to move toward four, to self-oriented creativity.
3: THE ACHIEVER. Achievers try to impress and get approval. “Once I finish this book or script, I’m going to be a monster success!” Achievers need to remind themselves to break things down, one step at a time. They need to ask themselves, “What’s the right next step” instead of, “What’s the whole game plan that’s going to make me famous and successful?” Achievers also believe they have to do everything themselves. Threes need to move toward six, where they can ask for help and support and be vulnerable. If you’re a three, ask how you can validate yourself, so it doesn’t matter what others think about your writing.
4: THE INDIVIDUALIST. Individualists are super creative and awesome. They also tend to be moody and impulsive. Fours often have an inconsistent work flow because their feelings are so dominating and fluctuating. If you’re a four, you will benefit from a consistent structure and commitment to your writing even if you don’t feel like it. Acknowledge what’s going well for you. Writers who are fours need to move toward one. Instead of being consumed by your own emotional experiences, try to connect with a higher ideal, something out there in the world. Ask how you can write something that will help others.
5: THE INVESTIGATOR. For fives, writing is a great match! It’s solitary and intellectual, which they love. But sometimes fives over-think things. Believing they need to be better than they already are, they do way too much research and try to be full-on experts before they are ready to write. Hey fives, guess what? You have something important to say RIGHT NOW! Start writing before you’re “ready.” Be bold and confident. Try moving toward eight, where you embrace decisiveness.
6: THE LOYALIST. (Oooh. I have a very strong streak of this.) Sixes have lots of anxious, future-oriented thoughts. What if this? What if that? They envision EVERYTHING that could go wrong. They have a very strong editing voice and try to do quality control before it’s time. If you’re a six, try to stay present and relaxed. Don’t think about the future, just the pages in front of you right now. Take breaks from your writing where you intentionally unwind—deep slow breathing, noticing your physical surroundings, yoga. Get in touch with your body. Move toward nine, which is relaxed, spacious, optimistic and in the present moment. Enjoy the writing process right now and try not to worry about the future.
7: THE ENTHUSIAST. Hey seven—you’re the life of the party! But when it comes to writing, you can also be scattered, restless, and pleasure-seeking. “Dang, I know I need to write, but all 13 episodes of HOUSE OF CARDS are waiting for me.” Create a structure for yourself that supports getting the writing done. Find a trusted writer friend who can give you feedback so you can move forward with picking an idea rather than staying permanently in vision mode. Head toward five, which means focusing and completing your pages. Identify the behaviors that you fall into when you get off track so that you can stop yourself. How can you make writing fun? Write in a place you enjoy, listen to music that makes you happy. Indulge in a pastry as you crank out your pages. Take lots of breaks.
8: THE CHALLENGER. Challengers get things done. If you’re a Challenger, you’re killing it most of the time, but you could benefit from a teeny tiny bit of self-doubt. Pause to get reflection and feedback from others, don’t always assume you’re right. To integrate, Challengers need to go to two– find a way of writing and engaging that is more “listening” oriented rather than domineering. Try using your writing skills in service of others. What do you truly care about? What matters to you? How can you use your writing to serve?
9: THE PEACEMAKER. We love you, Peacemakers. You’re optimistic and can see the story you’re writing from all the characters’ points of view. But because of this, you can also drift away into spaceyness. You have to watch out for too much “enjoying the beauty around you” to get your writing done. (I’m going to mention HOUSE OF CARDS here again.) You need to find writing buddies who can hold you socially accountable to get your pages done. Make yourself a writing schedule and stick to it! Get a trusted friend to kick your ass toward three, where you accomplish things. But be sure you also have a lot of downtime to luxuriate and relax.
For me, reading my Reformer description was like, “Oh hell yeah.” But once I tried moving toward seven and enjoying things more, allowing myself to make mistakes and be messy, I felt a new kind of freedom in my work. Every word didn’t have to be perfect, and just by understanding this, I was able to tap into my craziness a bit more, and trust my voice.
By the way, there’s a typo in this blog post. It was agonizing for me to leave it in, but here’s proof I’m leaning into my seven.
Take action! Which type/s are you? What can you do to move toward a more healthy, integrated writing life?
By the way, if you think this system is cool and helpful and want to go deeper, contact Josh. He’s amazing!