The Myers-Briggs is one of the oldest and most reputable personality tests around. It is based on Carl Jung’s notion (which he actually got from his lover Toni Wolff) that we approach the world in different ways. Some of us are extroverted, meaning we get energized by social contact, and some of us are introverted, meaning we refuel by time alone. Some of us are sensing types, meaning that we rely primarily on our five senses to experience the world around us, and some of us are intuitive types who go on gut hunches. Finally, he said, some of us rely more on our feelings when making a decision — on what has value for us — and some of us rely more on thinking, on logical reasoning.
That’s as far as Jung got. Later, the mother-daughter team of Katharine Cook Briggs and Isabel Briggs Myers added another pair: perceiving vs. judging. Perceiving types don’t edit the world; they see and are open to everything, and it all seems good to them. Judging types, on the other hand, are very good at filtering out things according to their own internal search criteria, and casting aside anything that’s irrelevant to the point.
My other job is as an editor. I’m good at it because I’m a judging type. I can see at a glance what needs to go. When I work with a perceiving-type writer, this causes a lot of wailing, because they can’t see that the thing they love so much is an irrelevant tangent that not only doesn’t contribute to what they are trying to say, it actually may distract or confuse the reader.
After seeing The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, I’m now convinced of something I have suspected for a long time: Peter Jackson is a “perceiving” type. He can’t just stop with the source material; he keeps having more ideas and adding them all in. And because he is not just the writer and the director, but sits in on the editing as well, he keeps it all, because he loves it all. He can’t see when he goes too far.
He’s not alone. George Lucas and Steven Spielberg are guilty of the same excess. I do not remember now which of the Star Wars prequels featured seventeen scenes of different spaceships taking off and flying away through an obviously CGI landscape, or flying in through an obviously CGI landscape and landing. I may have missed a few as I found these by skipping to the next scene throughout the movie; there may have been take-offs and landings that weren’t at the start of a scene. I’m not talking a 10-second take-off or landing; each one took at least a minute. So 17 minutes in the movie of spaceships landing or taking off. We know George looooves spaceships. But does that love help the film? Unh-uh.
Steven King and Annie Dillard are two excellent writers who tell wannabe writers that you have to edit out the thing you love the most from your writing. It’s too personal to you and will either bore your readers or put them off. I can’t read most fanfiction — or, sadly, a lot of stuff being published these days — because the authors not only don’t know this rule, but in fact emphasize the thing they love to the exclusion of anything else (like plot or characterization).
When I first started writing my own stuff, I sometimes got in the grip of an emotion so strong that I couldn’t stop writing for 18 hours at a time. I thought this was the muse and I needed to let it happen. But as I become more conversant with how the unconscious works, I realized that it wasn’t the muse; instead, I was in the grip of a complex — a strong emotion with meaningful ties to my past — and was letting it rule me. It felt really good, apart from the fact that I didn’t eat or sleep. But when it was over and I read what I had written, it was pretty much crap. It was all emotion and wishful fantasy, nothing I’d ever show anyone else.
Eventually I learned that the muse works very differently. I learned how to invite it by creating a regular writing routine which includes limits on how long I write at a time. When the muse strikes, I don’t feel seized by strong emotion. Instead, I find myself writing something that I didn’t know was in me, something true and wise that — and here’s the key — speaks to others too.
I’m a judging type, so I can usually tell when I’ve gone off the rails. But not always, so I hire an editor to look at my stuff. I think all writers, including scriptwriters, profit from seeking an outside opinion. If they are perceiving types, they absolutely need an editor to whom they give the power to slash away at the work and trim out the excess. But I fear it’s too late for some of these big-name directors, and we all lose by it.