Ham, cheese, and personality styles


A while back I came across this rather scary book about writing a novel, I can’t remember what it was called or who wrote it (I blocked that out), but it’s probably lying there in wait, deep in my unconscious, ready to compete with the other nightmare that tortures me every so often – the one where I have an exam that I forgot all about – the scary novel writing book was filled with very detailed instructions about how to develop the plot, outline the book in 200 pages or more, with a chapter by chapter, scene by scene guide.

Reading the introduction, I started having heart palpitations, and all these fears came to the surface such as: “Have I given enough thought to symbolism? “ or “Do I know my characters properly?” my fears abounded … Could I really say with 100% authority that they would subsist on ham and cheese sandwiches? Were there any characters who were vegetarian and I was unwittingly forcing them to betray their ham aversion? The fear… the sloughs of despond.


Somehow I talked myself off the ledge by just deciding that I would just get on with it and worry about all of that later. I told myself that writing a novel was more of an art than a science and got down to it. But to be honest it is both. There is real merit in planning, but there’s also merit in just doing the thing as you go.

I think ultimately, it’s a question of personality more than anything else. I really don’t think that there is a right or wrong way to write a novel. Stephen King doesn’t believe in outlines, whereas Ken Follet swears by them, and both are incredibly talented writers.

Find your winning style

Life coach Martha Beck (I know I know, but I love her and she’s so wise), says that success is a matter of finding and adapting your approach to your personality. She calls it a winning style.

According to Beck, and Kathy Kolbe, a specialist on the instinctive patterns that shape human action, your instincts can help you to win.

According to Kolbe, there are three parts to the mind: the cognitive (thinking), affective (emotions), and conative (doing). Research has placed a lot of emphasis on what drives our thinking and feelings, but not about what drives the way we do things.

The conative side of the mind is precognitive – it’s a gut reaction based on instinct. “In a crisis, it’s the way we act before we’ve had a chance to think,” Kolbe explains. We’re all different and not everyone has the same conative style, and when we cannot do things the way we are naturally compelled to do, it can create stress and affect our ability to do our best.”

Your instinctive way of doing things

Kolbe says that there a four different ways that people approach problem-solving based on observation.

  • Fact finder: Gathers information, asks questions, does plenty of research before beginning. For instance, Martha Beck’s daughter read a 1000 word manual on web design in a month. The day after she finished the book she created a fully functioning website.
  • Follow through: Arranges and follows systems in which to operate. For example, will buy a book on how to do something and follow the chapters methodically and be unlikely to jump a lesson until they feel they have mastered the previous one.
  • Quick start: After getting some basic information, they jump straight in. For example, if they decide they want to make a cake, they’ll download a recipe off the internet, read what ingredients they need, go get the ingredients, come back and start, figuring they’ll read the method as they go.
  • Implementer: Generally works with objects more than words, draws a diagram, or creates a model before starting.

Ensure that you play to your strengths

Beck advises playing to your strengths. “Once you know your instinctive style, brainstorm ways to make it work for you, not against you. For starters, choose fields of endeavour where you feel comfortable and competent. If you love systematic structure, don’t become a freelancer. If you are crazy about physical models, don’t force yourself to crunch financial statistics for a living. To really boost your sense of self-efficacy, think of ways you could modify your usual tasks to suit your personal style.”

For me, for instance, I’m 100% a ‘quick start’ person. I gather a few facts, do some preliminary research, and jump in. It’s always been my way. It’s not always a complete success, I’ll admit, and sometimes I end up taking a longer route because I’ve got to back track and learn as I go, but it does work for me. And I think instinctively I realised this, when I put the (to me) scary novel writing tomb down, and just went for it, as I have been doing, with a little bit of research here and there to keep me on track as I go.

One such lesson is to have a sort of mini outline a few chapters in advance – that way I’m keeping the story moving forward. It’s really just a paragraph but it serves as a goal post for the next steps in the novel. I have an overall plot (mostly in my mind) as I write, but these mini outlines help to get me there, without being something that I overly commit to, as I firmly believe in letting the story unfold without too much force.

Beck concludes that we often fail when we try to be someone we are not. The secret to success is to work with our personalities not against them. What’s your view? I’d love to hear what works for you!

Images via Pinterest

They were chosen because I have a bulldog named Fudge, who is the light of my life (apart from my wonderful hubby, of course), and has the most expressive face in the world. Also, admittedly, if I were an animal I’m quite sure I would be a bulldog. (I tend to love sleeping, slouching, and food almost as much, grin).



2 Comments Leave a comment

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