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  • Writer's pictureJudy

Aug. 29, 2021: The Four Tendencies for Writers

I recently revisited a book I read a while ago by Gretchen Rubin- Better Than Before. Like many lifestyle and motivational books, it held some great reminders, included some obvious information, and had some nuggets of new ideas.

In the book, she hypothesized that when we work toward our goals and move through life, we deal with both outer expectations and inner ones, and it is how we approach these that can greatly impact our success. And, she says, we all tend to fall mainly into one of four categories:

The Upholder- someone who works to meet both outer and inner expectations.

The Questioner- someone who works to meet inner expectations, but resists outer expectations.

The Obliger- who meets outer expectations, but resists inner expectations.

The Rebel- who resists both inner and outer expectations.

As we transition from summer mode back into work mode, I think of myself and so many of my writer friends, and how these tendencies may translate into our writing life.

As writers, it is true that most of our tasks can be categorized into either inner or outer expectations.

The inner expectations are the ones we have for ourselves. Our non-negotiable goals or tasks that we feel we need to complete each day/week. Finish drafting a chapter. Outline a new story. Do some background research. Write. Write. Write.

Outer expectations are the ones that come with deadlines outside of us. Those that come from our agent, our publisher, our editor, or the bookstore. These are all essential partners in our work as writers, but the requests they make and the deadlines they set, are very much outer expectations.

Is there a benefit to taking the time to think about where we fall within these “four tendencies” categories? Absolutely! Because once we know what our natural tendency is, we are able to harness it and make it work for us. We can anticipate and handle any of the drawbacks that come with each tendency.

The Upholder

Their biggest challenge is finding a balance between their working life and their personal life. Because they are driven to meet both inner and outer professional expectations, their family will often get shortchanged. They will always make time to write and they will always meet the deadlines of their publishers. But in order to do that, their personal life often takes a back seat to the demands of their writing life. Don’t let this happen. Once aware of this pitfall, those Upholders can make sure that their work/life balance is not forgotten amid these inner and outer expectations. Awareness is power.

The Questioner

These writers love the process of writing, and can be prolific producers of great content, but they have a hard time dealing with all of the “other stuff” that goes along with being a published author. Submission deadlines, social media, marketing events. These writers would love nothing better than to be left alone to write and let someone else handle all of the other details and deadlines. If possible, it would be ideal if these Questioners could delegate these outer expectation tasks. Hire an assistant. Contract with a service. It will be an investment well worth the cost.

The Obliger

These writers will always come through when someone else needs something from them. The editor who needs the rewrite. The bookstore that needs the author bio. But the personal writing goals and tasks they set for themselves, are the first to get pushed down the priority list when something else comes up. To combat this, these writers need to harness the power of others. Turn inner expectations into outer ones by letting a trusted friend or mentor or coach know of your goal and hold you accountable. When they know that someone else is now expecting them to get that chapter drafted today, Obligers will be more likely to do it.

The Rebel

These writers are usually the most creative and artistic of us all! They yearn to be left alone to do their writing when and how they want. If the urge strikes them great. If not, they will wait for inspiration to strike. They do not get stressed about writer’s block as other authors might, as they know that the story will be written when it is ready to appear. They do not understand the importance of exterior deadlines, and they want to protect their art from arbitrary and forced inner goals. For them, their work is a living breathing thing and must be nurtured and allowed to grow at its own pace. The good news is that these writers are usually very content with being a Rebel. They do not feel the pressure to conform to the demands and expectations of others the way the other tendencies might. It is others who need to become aware of their tendency, and adjust expectations accordingly.

While there are positives and negatives with each of the tendencies, the reality is that if we are aware of our natural inclinations, we can harness that knowledge to better meet our own individual goals and dreams. After all, knowledge is always powerful!

For more, see Gretchen Ruben’s book, The Four Tendencies.

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