Writing and the Creative Life: The Creative Personality

Creative Personality as comprised of 10 dichotomies. How many do you have?

In order to handle everything I do in my life, I’ve had to develop a love affair with my calendar. Actually it’s more of a love-hate relationship, but ultimately a blessing as I can’t imagine how I could ever handle my writing, teaching, blogging, interviews and all the rest without laying out in great detail what I have to do on a daily, weekly, monthly, and quarterly basis… and then just freaking doing it.

However, almost every day, I give in to my ‘gut’. Not my appetite for food (although I do that as well), but rather an instinct to just follow my inner muse. Whether it means pushing aside my responsibilities to read a book… or free write… or go into mondo click-through mode on the Internet to see where my cursor takes me… or as I did today decide to peruse the nearly 27,000 posts I have written for this blog.

Knowing it was time to do a Writing and the Creative Life post, I typed “creativity” in the search box, hit enter, and waited to see what happened.

27 pages of posts. 20 posts per page. Someone with higher math skills than me will figure out how many posts that adds up to.

There among the posts, an unpublished draft featuring this Psychology Today article: “The Creative Personality,” written by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. He wrote:

I have devoted 30 years of research to how creative people live and work, to make more understandable the mysterious process by which they come up with new ideas and new things. Creative individuals are remarkable for their ability to adapt to almost any situation and to make do with whatever is at hand to reach their goals. If I had to express in one word what makes their personalities different from others, it’s complexity. They show tendencies of thought and action that in most people are segregated. They contain contradictory extremes; instead of being an “individual,” each of them is a “multitude.”

That resonated with me right off the bat because ever since I was a youth, I have felt myself to be a radical dualist, the embodiment of contradictory personality dynamics. So it was with great interest I read the article in which Csikszentmihalyi detailed 10 of these dichotomies. Here they are:

Creative people have a great deal of physical energy, but they’re also often quiet and at rest.

Creative people tend to be smart yet naive at the same time.

Creative people combine playfulness and discipline, or responsibility and irresponsibility.

Creative people alternate between imagination and fantasy, and a rooted sense of reality.

Creative people tend to be both extroverted and introverted.

Creative people are humble and proud at the same time.

Creative people, to an extent, escape rigid gender role stereotyping.

Creative people are both rebellious and conservative.

Most creative people are very passionate about their work, yet they can be extremely objective about it as well.

Creative people’s openness and sensitivity often exposes them to suffering and pain, yet also to a great deal of enjoyment.

Don’t know about you, but I feel pretty much summed up.

The fact that a creative type might have these seemingly contradictory dynamics at work in his/her psyche, what does that mean? I’m sure there are a lot of possible answers, but one which leaped into my mind was this:

The dualities within a creative personality generate vitality.

Push. Pull. Friction. Dynamism. Compulsion. Action. Reaction. There’s not a combination of elements in that list that suggests anything remotely near stasis, rather it’s all about motion, engagement, tension…


Even when a creative is seemingly at rest, there is something going on, stewing over a story, pondering an idea, processing experiences and emotions.

As Csikszentmihalyi notes in his article:

Of all human activities, creativity comes closest to providing the fulfillment we all hope to get in our lives. Call it full-blast living.

Full-blast living. I like the sound of that.

So now when people ask me, “Scott, do you ever get any sleep,” I can just point them to this list of ten dualities.

All those seeming contradictory dynamics? Just feeding my vitality. Virtual caffeine.

Creativity as full-blast living.

How about you? If you check out that list above, which ones best describe you? Does creativity translate into vitality?

For the rest of the article, go here.

Writing and the Creative Life is a weekly series in which we explore creativity from the practical to the psychological, the latest in brain science to a spiritual take on the subject. Hopefully the more we understand about our creative self, the better we will become as writers. If you have any good reading material in this vein, please post in comments. If you have a particular observation you think readers will benefit from and you would like to explore in a guest post, email me.

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For more of the Writing and the Creative Life series, go here.

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