So I know everyone and their myna bird is talking about the Enneagram personality test lately, and if you haven’t heard of it or done the test, you’ve probably at least heard someone say something obnoxious while you were speaking like “mm, that’s such a 1 thing to say”, or “it’s interesting because you’re a 5, so..”, or even “just because you’re a 7 doesn’t mean you can drink all the leftover prosecco yourself”, etc.
A couple weeks ago, I did finally succumb to letting two of my best friends give me the test, and I stretched out on their flower-patterned couch with a dog named Albert on my lap and steeled myself to face my deepest shames in front of two people who I hoped would still like me after. It was a genuine psychology sesh, and though I went into it totally thinking I knew which one I was (the best one, obviously), I was one of those people who was actually completely surprised at their personality number (7), and by the end I was basically dissecting my entire life story and every choice I’ve ever made among the rose-garden of said flowery couch. Let me tell you, it was not fun realizing (as most 7s do who finally learn what the consequences are of trying to create a 24/7 party of their entire lives) that I’m basically a big baby who, if not constantly entertained by interesting conversation, stimulating media, or planning fabulous getaways, is grumpy/sullen/reckless and basically running terrified of feeling any sort of negative feeling at all times. These negative feelings include pain, sadness, frustration, anger, or even and probably most frequently, boredom. Trust me, you want to be bffs with a 7- we’re a good time. But you don’t want to be our partners when it’s time to actually buckle down and do real-life-normal-people things like clean the bathroom, do taxes, or commit to anything beyond the next half hour. Unless of course you’ve managed to turn these things into some sort of fun game, in which case, bravo and also see section above re: how to entertain a big baby.
Okay, I promise you this post is still about writing and not another sermon about how the Enneagram will change your life yada yada (IT WILL- DOOO IT). Here’s the connection: one fascinating tidbit the Enneagram teaches is how each personality type, though they might display similar actions, is actually motivated by different reasons or fears behind those actions. For example: the action of procrastinating. We all do it, but our reasons behind doing it are different depending on our personality. This has helped me understand why, when I’m trying to answer one of the biggest questions I get from my writing students which is HOW DO I ACTUALLY DISCIPLINE MYSELF TO SIT DOWN AND WRITE FOR PETE’S SAKE, I can’t actually give them all the same answer; it doesn't work. Until you really know WHY you procrastinate, you won’t be able to break the habit when it comes down to actually making time to write.
The thing with writing is that most of us WANT to do it (at least I’m assuming this is true because this is a blog about writing and if you’re reading it and you detest writing I’d question why you don’t go find a great blog about something that will make you happy, such as kittens). We do. We think it will be healthy for us, calming, therapeutic even. We think we have a story that really truly does need to be told. We think we might even enjoy telling it. So WHY is it that we don’t do what we want to do?? Paul in the Bible had the same problem: "For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out" Romans 7:18. So, like, this is serious biblical shizzah, you guys. Why do we procrastinate the goodness of telling our stories? What stops us from writing when we really truly want to do it?
Let me tell you what I learned about why I, a 7 (the “enthusiast” as we’re generously named), have trouble actually sitting down to write every single day, despite the fact that it is my career, despite the fact that I love it, despite the fact that I am sometimes even pretty good at it. You see, 7s are typically running from feeling any pain at all, as I mentioned above, and we prefer to do only the most exciting things in front of us at all times. So that means even if I finally get a coffee and trek up to my office and start the heater and put on Sigur Ros and sit down to write, if literally ANYONE texts me to ask if I’m free (I can only guess that it’s because I’m a writer that everyone assumes I must generally be free at all times) for coffee or a walk or a root canal, I’m like HEEEEELLLLL YAAAAAAASSSS and I’m gone. And I’m realizing that it’s not because I don’t like writing, or because I’m lazy or because I’m not meant to be writing, but it’s because writing is HARD, especially the part where you actually have to start, and my tiny #7 pea brain can’t handle things that aren’t immediately super fun, and so my initial response is to, well, procrastinate.
Enneagram often talks about your inner voice, and while some numbers have an inner voice that can be a pretty cruel critic (so I’m told by my #1 perfectionist friends), MY inner voice (as one of those 1s pointed out) is basically Karen from Will & Grace- at pretty much any time I actually try to get any work done, Karen pops up and is like “oh honey, why do you care so much? Have a cocktail! It’s not like anyone cares what you’re writing anyway, it’s basically happy hour!”. As you can imagine, Karen is a super fun voice to listen to. Sometimes I wish I had the cruel inner critic voice of 1s, because at least SOMEONE in my head would be pushing me to get work done. But no. I’m stuck with Karen. And she hates writing because to do it right is kind of hard. And Karen don’t do hard.
But let’s talk about those 1s for a second. 1s, the perfectionists, also procrastinate, but their motivation is different. Because 1s are holding themselves to such a high standard all the time, they’ll procrastinate doing something that they aren’t 100% sure they will be able to do perfectly. And honestly, who can ever be sure that what they are going to write is going to come out perfectly? Like.. no one. Except maybe Karen after about five Manhattans. She feels confident she could out-write Margaret Atwood at that point. But you see- if you are a 9 and you desperately want to write, but you find yourself afraid of or avoiding it, I can’t just tell you the same thing I tell myself, which is: "don’t worry, Karen, this is only going to be hard for like ten minutes" (at which point she says “that’s what she said”), "and then it’s going to be the funnest thing you’ve ever done in your life!" That motivation/inner voice pep talk won’t work on a 1, because 1s are like “FUN? Who said anything about fun? I want this to be perfect! I want this to be ready for Can-Lit the moment it flows onto the page! I’m not here for FUN”, and then I imagine you spitting at my feet or something.
What I’m getting at is that for those of us who want to write, and dream about it, and itch to do it, but can’t seem to get started, there is no blanket solution to getting over this problem. It might actually take a bit of work to get to know yourself, and your true inner motivations, and understand what fear is stopping you from telling your story. If you’re a 2, it might be because you fear it’s selfish to write because it’s not directly helping anyone. If you’re a 3, you might be afraid of what other people will think of you if you write, if they’ll think you’re good enough or if it’s stupid. You might be really afraid of what your mom will think if she reads it, and tell yourself you’ll wait to write when she’s dearly departed. You 4s might procrastinate writing because you’re afraid people will find out you’re not as interesting as you want them to believe, or you’re afraid YOU’LL find out you don’t have something interesting to say after all. 5s are probably afraid it’s a waste of time, 6s won’t start at all unless someone else tells them they have to, 7s (see above re: voice of Karen, cocktails, etc), 8s are probably afraid to start writing because they might have to be vulnerable, and 9s are worried about rocking the boat too much if they try writing the truth of their lives. MORAL OF THE STORY: we are ALL afraid of writing! And we ALL procrastinate doing it, it’s just that our motivations, our fears that get in the way, are different, and can’t be solved with one general piece of advice. I encourage you, then, to take some time to find out who you are, to examine the fears that are holding you back from writing, from telling your story or writing the dreams you’ve had in your mind for ages. I’m not saying it will make it easier to stop procrastinating, but hopefully you’ll come to understand why you do it, and perhaps even learn some tools to overcome it (aka plying Karen with ENOUGH cocktails that she slurs her words so badly you can’t understand all the fun things she’s telling you to do instead of writing).
I apologize for being an Enneagram preacher, and if you have no idea what I’m talking about and you kind of want to, you can check out a cool resource HERE, or I strongly recommend the book Road Back To You by Ian Morgan Cron & Suzanne Stabile. It’s the original test I did on my friends’ therapy couch that had me both laughing at the accuracy of pinpointing my personality and also cringing in humiliation at having my inner demons outed. But as they say, ‘know thyself and the truth shall set you free’, or something like that. I’d look up the actual quote for you but I’m a 7 and that doesn’t seem very fun right now- there’s prosecco with my name on it downstairs and after writing this post I’ve EARNED it, PALS! #7 OUT.
PS. If you want to try writing, come back to writing, or continue writing with inspiration and community (and beat those fears that are telling you to procrastinate writing until next month/year/lifetime) a new Find Your Voice * Tell Your Story workshop is running this spring, and I would LOVE LOVE LOVE to have you! Space is limited, and registration is open, so check out more HERE and sign up soon!