Friday, June 22, 2012

How Does Your Birth Order Affect Your Writing?

What I'm Reading: "The First Born Advantage; Making Your Birth Order Work for You" by Dr. Kevin Leman
ISBN 978-0-8007-1911-1

An excerpt from the beginning of the book:

"Guess the Firstborn - I'll give you a pair of names, and you pick the firstborn in each pair.

  1. Jennifer Aniston or Courtney Cox Arquette
  2. Harrison Ford or Martin Short
  3. Ulysses S. Grant or Robert E. Lee
  4. Ellen DeGeneres or Oprah Winfrey
  5. Bill Cosby or Chevy Chase

If you guessed Aniston, Ford, Grant, Winfrey, and Cosby, you're right. (Ulysses S. Grant not only helped win the Civil War, but he was the only general ever to get his likeness on a fifty-dollar bill."

If you're a firstborn (as I am), you're an achiever. A goal-setter, and a "can-do" personality. A firstborn, according to Dr. Leman, are "...the ones continually striving to better themselves. The ones always looking for more ways for the company to be efficient and make a greater profit. The ones constantly analyzing and searching to make sense of things. They're the movers and shakers, the ones who end up as the top managers and CEO's."   Pg. 61

This would be my husband to a "T" - he's also a firstborn, married to a firstborn, so there's often been fireworks as we've struggled to work out who does what, when, and how. Still, we're coming up on our Silver Anniversary, so things have obviously worked out!

As a writer, what does this mean if you're a firstborn? Well, I recognized all my strengths and weaknesses in this book. Do any of these sound familiar?

  1. You're a natural leader. You were born to start things - for example, I helped get a Youth Crisis Shelter operational and it's still going strong 22 years later - and you love to be in charge.
  2. You're typically well-organized. If you're not, you're likely a "discouraged perfectionist" according to Dr. Leman and I'll talk about that in a minute.
  3. You're reliable - you'll move heaven and earth to get your edits done on time.
  4. You're conscientious.
  5. You're a natural list-maker - think about all those notebooks you've got on the go, how many are lists or partial lists of ideas, characters, research?
  6. You're a creature of habit. Can't put a sentence together till after your third cup of coffee? Need your purple pen and paper to get down the first draft? You're a firstborn!
  7. You're a pursuer of excellence - often to your own detriment. This comes together with being a perfectionist.

Ah, yes, we perfectionists! How I recognized myself here! That nasty Inner Critic who tells you everything you spent the past couple of months writing is utter crap? Re-writing the same novel 4 to 5 times without improving it, just spinning your wheels? Pull up a chair,grab some purple paper, and we can commisserate with each other over that Starbucks coffee!

Being a firstborn, a perfectionist, and a writer may mean paying attention to NOT saying "yes" the second an editor or your agent asks you to take on another project. Take a day or so to think it through. Is it realistic, given your other responsibilities? Can you really make the deadline or will you drive yourself and everyone else crazy trying to do too much?

If you're a "discouraged perfectionist" then you've grown up under a critical parent (one or both) who managed to teach you that nothing you ever did was good enough for them. They may have been jealous of your skills or competitive with you over university or work. Even parents who say they want to give their children everything they didn't have, can fall in to this trap. So, if nothing was ever good enough (in my family, my mother awarded each child with $1 for every A we got on our report cards. There was nothing given for even a B+), then you need to get out of that mind-set and teach yourself what realistic goals mean for you.

It also may mean that you're not the true expert on your writing or the direction your career is going in. You need advice from a range of people who can be pulled in to a support team. Writing friends? A critique group? Your editor or agent, or someone you met at a conference? They may all be able to see the "big picture" better then you can. Learn to give up some control and let others give you advice. You can take it or leave it, but just the act of listening and considering what others tell you can make you grow in a new direction.

Writing isn't just a solitary occupation anymore. Social media, networking, friends in any guise, all take up our time and are important. Why? Because without real relationships with real people, our writing is just for our own entertainment. We need other people to feed our imaginations, bolster our confidence, help us take that next step. We need friends to root for, and who will root for us. We need to treat our readers the right way to keep them coming back for that next book, novella, or article.

If you're a firstborn writer you may have already conquered the NYT Bestsellers List, received a RITA, a McCavity, or other award, or have over 10,000 friends on Twitter. This is all wonderful! You have new goals to set for yourself. Learning how your birth order as a firstborn has helped you in your career is an eye-opener. For the rest of us, keep using your strengths and make all the lists you need to get to where you want to be!

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