What writer archetype are you? Not the kind of writer. Not the genre, fiction or nonfiction, poet or PR flak classification. But your tribe of fellow writers who think and do the same thing you do, even if it’s for a different company, publication, or industry.
Carl Jung originally used the term archetype to refer to a collective pattern of thought present in every individual — self, shadow, animus, anima, and persona. And we have seen other archetypes in different books, plays, and movies throughout the centuries — great mother, wise old man, trickster, hero, child, devil, and so on.
Writers can be collected into different archetypes as well. Different collective patterns of thought that help us define who we are. We may not know it, or put words to the ideas and motivations, but these collective patterns of thought are what drive us into the form of our work.
I started thinking about writer archetypes this week, and tried to come up with my own classifications. Based on my own extensive research (i.e. I did three different Google searches), I can’t find anything else like it. (Which is odd, because writers love to talk about this kind of thing.)
So here are the eight Writer Archetypes I’ve come up with. Which one are you?
- Informer: These are the journalists and the news writers. They tell us the who, what, where, when, why, and how of the world. If you read it in a newspaper or watched it on the news, you’re hearing from an Informer. Sports writers and entertainment reporters are also Informers.
- Analyst: What does the news mean? What can we infer from the latest political polls? What does the Arab Spring mean for the rest of the world? The political pundits, the economists, the financial gurus are all Analysts. The Informer gave you the latest Dow report, but it’s the Analyst who goes on CNBC and tells you why it’s good or bad. A news story will tell the latest job numbers, but the economist tells you whether that means the economy is up or down.
- Educator: Writers who convey knowledge to help others learn. It’s more than just being an Informer, because the readers presumably already know how something works. Whether it’s a text book, a technical manual, or even just a series of blog posts that show you how to take advantage of Google AuthorRank, the writer who writes to intentionally teach is an Educator. A lot of bloggers and marketing book authors live in this space, choosing to build their personal brand and expertise by teaching instead of selling directly.
- Chronicler: The Chronicler is the observer of the human condition. You find a lot of newspaper columnists here. They’re not quite news, but they don’t fit anywhere else. Matthew Tulley of the Indianapolis Star is one, as was Studs Terkel and his 45 year radio program. Historians are usually found among the Chronicler ranks, as are a few novelists and many creative nonfiction writers.
- Advocate: The rabble rouser with a pen. They not only observe the human condition, but they speak for those who have no voice, in order to effect change. The Advocate brings awareness to a cause in order to get people to care about it and even take action. The Bilerico Project is an Advocate for the LGBT community. You can even learn to be an activist writer at Bowling Green State University.
- Persuader: One step beyond the Advocate, the Persuader works to get people to take action on something, but not necessarily a social cause. Political speechwriters are Persuaders, people in ministry are Persuaders, as is anyone who wants their reader to change their mind about a belief, opinion, or value. Public relations people work here, but marketers do not. That’s because a marketer is actually a. . .
- Merchant: The Merchant is a Persuader who gets people to spend money. You could call this a subset of Persuader, but this is the only writing archetype where the primary focus is to get people to spend money. The other writers may hope to get money for what they do, but it’s not their sole purpose. In addition to marketers, advertisers, grant writers, content marketers, and even sales copywriters are Merchants.
- Entertainer: Fiction, poetry, stage plays, screenplays. Anything you would read, watch, or hear for entertainment or escapist reasons lives here. You read a novel, watch a play or a TV show, or listen to a radio play that was written by the Entertainer. Many Entertainers can easily put one foot in the other archetypes — the Chronicler novelist, the Educator radio theater playwright, the Advocate stage playwright.
As I thought about these archetypes, I envisioned them on a wheel. Each one is a modified version of the one that came before it. The Analyst builds on the work of the Informer, while the Educator teaches you to understand what the Analyst meant. The Chronicler educates people about life in another place, and the Advocate wants you to know how important it is. And so on.
But, this is not a natural evolution of writing. You don’t start out as an Informer, and move around the clock as time goes by, moving from one state to the other. You can make the jump from archetype to archetype within a career, a year, or even switching gears and topics in a single day.
There are plenty of journalists who became novelists, or Educators who take the plunge into the marketing world, especially as marketing becomes more educational in nature. And, of course, there are plenty of people who stay in the same archetype their entire lives.
This is still a rough idea, and one I’m hoping to develop further. If you have any changes, ideas, or recommendations, I’d love to hear them. Leave a comment and let me know what you think.