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The Enneagram For Writers: Characters and Careers: Part I

January 8, 2021
7 min read time

Over the last few years, the Enneagram has begun to eclipse the Meyer’s Briggs as a popular, go-to personality test. While some debate the accuracy of such tests, much like the Meyer’s Briggs, the Enneagram can be a helpful tool for writers.

This article will take a look at two uses of the Enneagram for writers — offering a brief overview of how its nine personality types can be mined for character development, as well as providing advice on how to break bad writing and career habits associated with each one of the types.

So to back up for one moment, what exactly IS the Enneagram?

It’s a personality assessment that explores the dominant needs, fears, motivations, patterns, defense mechanisms, and blind spots of nine personality types, making it a great tool for self-reflection, a unique resource for fleshing out characters, and a helpful insight into spotting your weak spots when it comes to your own writing process.

When you’re ready for a deep dive into the Enneagram, I recommend checking out The Complete Enneagram by Beatrice Chestnut and The Enneagram Institute website. You can even take a free Enneagram test HERE. But for a quick introduction, let’s begin with a snapshot of the nine main types and see what kind of writing advice would best be suited for each.

*OF NOTE: While there are many positive traits for each Enneagram type, the following breakdowns will primarily focus on the driving motivations, flaws, and fears of each type.

TYPE 1
THE REFORMER

  • MOTIVATION: The need to be right
  • AFRAID OF: Being condemned or seen as defective

“Type Ones typically believe that their object of attention is imperfect and that they must try to improve it, whether they are focused on themselves, their loved ones, or society at large.” (BC 398) They are “conscientious and ethical, with a strong sense of right and wrong. …[A]lways striving to improve things, but afraid of making a mistake. Well-organized, orderly, and fastidious, they try to maintain high standards, but can slip into being critical and perfectionistic.”

Fictional Ones


Diane Chambers
Cheers

Jonah Simms
Superstore

Rupert Giles
Buffy the Vampire Slayer

Advice for an Enneagram One:

Since Ones are invested in doing things the “right” way, it’s likely they have a detailed process of checklists and outlines before they go to draft on a script. If you’re a One looking to get out of your comfort zone, try going…straight to draft. Just once. I know it feels like anarchy, but this exercise isn’t about writing the perfect script. It’s about trying something new and pushing your boundaries so you can discover new facets of your writing ability that would have otherwise gone undiscovered. Set a timer, type FADE IN, and see what happens!

TYPE 2
THE HELPER

  • MOTIVATION: The need to be loved and valued
  • AFRAID OF: Being unwanted or unworthy of love

“Twos are empathetic, sincere, and warm-hearted. They are friendly, generous, and self-sacrificing, but can also be sentimental, flattering, and people-pleasing. They are well-meaning and driven to be close to others, but can slip into doing things for others in order to be needed.”

Fictional Twos


Peeta Mellark
The Hunger Games

Samwise Gamgee
The Lord of the Rings

Max Goodwin
New Amsterdam

Advice for an Enneagram Two:

Being a helper at heart, for better or worse, can often mean Twos put other writers’ projects ahead of their own. If you happen to be a Two and are looking for something you can do to improve your own writing process, intentional carve out time in your schedule where you can be selfish about your writing. It may feel dramatic to ask your family or roommates not to interrupt you for a period of time, but all writers need to figure out how to prioritize and have boundaries around their writing, and it’s okay if you take the time to figure out how to do so!

TYPE 3
THE ACHIEVER

  • MOTIVATION: The need to be productive and to succeed
  • AFRAID OF: Being worthless, failing

“Ambitious, competent, and energetic, [Threes] can also be status-conscious and highly driven for advancement. They are diplomatic and poised, but can also be overly concerned with their image and what others think of them. They typically have problems with workaholism and competitiveness.”

Fictional Threes


Kendall Roy
Succession

Gaston
Beauty and the Beast

Don Draper
Mad Men

Advice for an Enneagram Three:

Threes focus on goals and creating an image of success. They also often find their identity in their work, so out of all the Enneagram types, they’re likely killing it in the networking department. While that’s a great strength, if you happen to be a Three and want to overcome some of bad habits that Threes have, consider the following.

Get your mind off of writing as WORK for one hot second. Depending on your comfort or ability, take a week or month off of writing, networking, or any commerce related activities and simply take IN inspiration. Take an online Master Class, scroll down Wikipedia rabbit holes, pick up a hobby, read books and watch shows that have no connection to research for any future projects. And while you’re at it, set up a Zoom or FaceTime coffee with a contact or friend, and do not talk about writing or business while you chat! When you do finally go back to outlining, networking, and writing, you’ll have a lot more life experience to bring to the page and your interactions with others.

TYPE 4
THE INDIVIDUALIST

  • MOTIVATION: A desire to be unique and to have purpose
  • AFRAID OF: Having no identity or personal significance

Fours “are emotionally honest, creative, and personal, but can also be moody and self-conscious. … They often see themselves as uniquely talented, possessing special, one-of-a-kind gifts, but also as uniquely disadvantaged or flawed. More than any other type, Fours are acutely aware of and focused on their personal differences and deficiencies.”

Fictional Fours


Jeff Pickles
Kidding

Jimmy McGill
Better Call Saul

Britta Perry
Community

Advice for an Enneagram Four:

Fours have a keen eye for noticing what’s missing, and trend toward an idealized thinking of what COULD be. As such, they’re fantastic at daydreaming and coming up with hundreds of stories to tell. But they can struggle with the transition from dreaming about an idea to putting it down on paper.

In something I refer to as Schrodinger’s Idea, as long as the idea stays in their head it can stay perfect. Putting pen to paper begins the process of noticing all the flaws in the idea, second guessing yourself as a writer, and possibly dropping the idea in favor of more perfect imagined ones.

So it’s important for Fours to remember that the messy pen-to-paper part is the heart of this process. One way to help Fours just get it down on the page is to sign up for one of Zero Draft Thirty’s  month-long writing challenges. You can also join or create a writer’s group that will hold one another accountable to hitting deadlines. Or if you really need your arm twisted, sign up for a class, writing coach, or creative mentor to help you tackle the psychological blocks that prevent you from focusing and getting it down on the page. In short, make a plan, stay accountable to it, and if you can’t do that, find someone who can help!

*We’ll dig into Types Five through Nine in Part Two of this article, but in the meantime, don’t shy away from trying the exercises for any of the above types, even if it’s not your own Enneagram type!

**Bolded quotes are from the Enneagram Institute website (enneagraminstitute.com), and nonbolded quotes are from Beatrice Chestnut’s book The Complete Enneagram with corresponding page numbers.

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