How DISC informs my ‘Creative’ writing process

Last year sometime I had occasion to undergo a DISC behaviour assessment during a professional development course. It’s one of many such psych tests commonly used by organisations to develop (and sometimes screen) employees. They’re fascinating things.

Anyway, I was thrilled to discover that according to the DISC assessment I am a ‘Creative’.

“Huzzah!” thought I. ‘Creative’ is just what any engineer-turned-writer wants to be considered. ‘Creative engineer’, I believe, is somewhere on my resume. And now some psych test is confirming what I always suspected…

Only it turns out that ‘Creative’ according to the DISC assessment does not actually mean what one might think it means…

The other definition of ‘Creative’

A fairly comprehensive description of the DISC ‘Creative’ behaviour or personality type can be found here. In a nutshell it sees high ‘Dominance’ (relating to control, power and assertiveness) go head-to-head with high ‘Compliance’ (relating to structure and organisation).

This means Creatives desire immediate results, yet have an equally strong desire for perfection.

This means Creatives think and act quickly, yet will explore all options before making a decision.

This means Creatives have a tendency to become too demanding of themselves, their biggest fear being the failure to accomplish goals.

Basically it’s a war between opposing behavioural forces.

The ‘Creative’ writer…

Despite my mild disappointment that it isn’t really an endorsement of my creative prowess, I must acknowledge that this DISC definition of the ‘Creative’ personality explains a lot about my — heh — creative writing process.

It explains why I find it hard to ‘blurt’ out the words while I’m writing, and instead have a natural inclination to consider carefully their deployment — then sometimes feel frustrated by my slow progress. (I have been working hard on turning this around while writing the messy first draft of my current WIP.)

It explains why I spend time figuring out what’s going to happen in the next few scenes before I write them — but don’t plan out the entire novel in detail, because that isn’t getting the book written. (I also personally think I would lose interest in writing the story if I knew everything that happened. Major turning points and a broad outline are necessary, however.)

It explains why I set ambitious word count goals, record my productivity, embrace structured challenges like NaNoWriMo — and beat myself up when I don’t succeed 100%.

It explains why I’m struggling a little with the end of my current WIP. I’m writing a lot of notes and figuring out all the possible ways it might pan out, yet remain hesitant to commit words to the page… Because what if I get it ‘wrong’?

Putting perfectionism in a straitjacket

This last is of course ridiculous. Because there’s already a lot wrong with the messy first draft, owing to the fact I have diligently being working to restrain my ‘perfectionist’ trait in favour of my ‘getting things done’ trait.

Moreover, if I get the ending wrong all I need to do is RE-WRITE it. That’s the power of being the author. It happens like we tell it to. And if we don’t like it, we change it.

All I want to do is finish the cursed thing (Dominance), but am simultaneously terrified that it won’t live up to my vision of what I want it to be (Compliance).

I can’t help but shake my head and smile somewhat wryly. What a head case!

It’s all part of the process

I think it’s interesting to reflect on all this for two key reasons. First, if one is aware of certain behavioural tendencies it’s possible to modify them where appropriate. On the other hand, understanding my preferred behaviour helps me accept my natural process on the occasions I’m not able to change it.

In any case, while I could wish I was more able to discard perfectionist tendencies during the messy first draft stage — and have in fact made great strides in this area — I still aspire to achieve my ‘grand vision’. To this end, I’m very excited about the revision phase.

In the end, there’s probably no going against type. I might as well embrace it.

But first I’ve got to sit down, resume writing, and finish that first draft — even if it turns out to be less than perfect.

***

Have you ever taken a psych test that effectively ‘explains’ why you act in certain ways? Did it identify behaviours you’d like to change? Please do share your thoughts on the subject.

 

17 comments

    1. From memory, on the DISC web sites I was looking at, ‘Perfectionist’ is high Compliance with low Dominance… In fact, although I can’t seem to find my scoring graph, I’m fairly certain my Compliance score must have been rather higher than Dominance — coz Perfectionism has a tendency to win out in my case!

      Remember, alas, that ‘creative’ doesn’t in this case mean what we might want it to mean. 😦

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      1. Looking over the description of the Perfectionist type, I’m not sure i agree with it. Some things sound like me, but other things don’t. I’m always looking for new ways to do things and new tools to use, so I wouldn’t say I “cling to past procedures.” I also think that When Stressed, “resorts to tact and diplomacy” is an interesting choice of words because “resorts” has a negative implication.

        But if, under Fears, by “hostile antagonist environment” they really mean “bees,” then they at least got that part right 😉

        Overall it was an interesting exercise when we did this at my old job, although I do wonder if it truly gave an accurate profile for each of us. Seems like it wouldn’t be sort all humans into only 15 boxes.

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        1. Yeah, it’s ridiculous to think all humans can be sorted into 15 or 16 boxes… I guess they’re just a guide to help understand certain behavioural tendencies. Still, I do think the ‘Creative’ type aligns fairly well with me.

          And, yeah, what’s with “resorting” to tact and diplomacy?

          I didn’t read the ‘Perfectionist’ desciption. No doubt it has as little to do with perfectionism as ‘Creative’ has to do with being creative.

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    1. Like I said, that’s what I’m trying to do at the moment. But it’s VERY hard for me. I don’t think you realise quite how hard… The mind of a DISC ‘Creative’ is constantly at war with itself.

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    1. Fran, you have my sympathies — but I confess it’s reassuring to know I’m not the only one who battles like this… It will be interesting to see if you too are a ‘Creative’. Hugs!

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  1. I’ve not heard of the DISC assessment before but probably should have given the field in which I work. It sounds similar to the Meyers-Briggs personality type assessment in some ways.

    The fact that you feel you’ve made great strides in letting go of some of your perfectionism is a huge thing. Perfectionism really gets the better of me in many areas of my life – especially my writing. It’s why it still takes me forever and a day to get a blog post written.

    What I’ve found through doing NaNo, though, is that unlike blog posts (that get seen by others as soon as you hit the publish button), my crappy first draft will only be seen by me and as you pointed out, I can change ANYTHING I WANT. That’s the mighty power of the writer.

    Trust that even if the words aren’t quite right or the sentence structure is flawed or a whole plot point isn’t working that you’ll revise it to be what you originally envisioned the story to be.

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    1. Hm, yes, I confess I did assume you would be the one to enlighten me! I think it is rather similar to Meyers-Briggs (my designation for that changes every time I take it!).

      I think I need to break down perfectionism on two separate levels:
      1) the word and sentence structure level — This is the level on which I have made great inroads! Thanks in great part to NaNoWriMo. As you say, nobody else EVER need see the uglies.
      2) the plot/story level — And this is where I am currently struggling. I simply can’t decide what should happen next and how and whether the stakes will be high enough and the despair great enough and the triumph satisfying enough. Argh! Because it’s the end, it’s BOTH crucial and easily rewritten. Mind. At. War.

      (And blog posts take FOREVER for me as well!)

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  2. I have never taken the test, but I can see that we share some of the same struggles.

    It’s a constant struggle with the inner editor to keep pushing on. I do believe that knowing is half the battle, so the power is yours to ~ not change it ~ but to recognize it and move forward. That’s pretty awesome 🙂

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    1. Thanks, Kim — I do think it helps to recognise that everyone is different and struggles with different aspects of the process. I do find the ‘Creative’ clash a fascinating one. 🙂

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  3. I got DiSC-ed a few jobs ago, and came out nearly equal on 3 of the four categories (think I was low on I). Those administering the profiling were a bit flummoxed and I was highly amused!

    It is interesting though fighting those conflicting urges. In talking to a lot of the writerly folk we know, I’ve noticed perfectionism is pretty common as both a challenge and an asset. I guess you have to have at least a bit of it in you to get through the editing phase on novels. If we didn’t want it to be ‘perfect’ we wouldn’t spend the time going back over it again and again.

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    1. I agree – although I certainly know several writers who keep on writing first drafts and never get around to revising (and hence submitting) any of them! This, they say, is because the thrill is in discovering “what happens” in the story, leaving little excitement for the revision phase.

      It’s a happy medium, I’m after. The urge to keep on writing first drafts (ie new stories) is important, obviously. As is the discipline (if required) to revise and “perfect” them.

      My challenge is remembering that it’s probably best to worry about “perfection” during revision and not before. 😉

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