As writers and content marketers, most of us fit more than one writer archetype.
Not the kind of writer. I don’t mean classifying writers by fiction or nonfiction, business or technical, poet or PR flak, or even a specific genre. Rather, I’m referring to your tribe of fellow writers who do the same style of work 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.
We have seen other archetypes in different books, plays, and movies throughout the centuries. Here are a few examples.
- Hero: Luke Skywalker, Rey Skywalker, Diana Prince (Wonder Woman), Harry Potter.
- Wise old man: Often the mentor in the Hero’s Journey. Obi-Wan Kenobi, Dumbledore, Patches O’Houlihan.
- Great mother: Cinderella’s fairy godmother, Queen Hippolyta, Minerva McGonagall.
- Trickster: Deadpool, Loki, Bugs Bunny, Zaphod Beeblebrox.
- Child: Peter Pan, Calvin from Calvin and Hobbes, Forrest Gump.
- Devil: Voldemort, Darth Vader, Cinderella’s stepmother
And on and on. Basically, if you recognize these archetypes, then you know what an archetype is.
Writers can be collected into different archetypes as well. Different collective patterns of thought help us define who we are. We may not know it or put words to the ideas and motivations, but these collective patterns are what drive our work. You could almost say they’re the ultimate purpose that we’re feeling.
I’ve been thinking about writer archetypes and came up with my own classifications. Based on my own extensive research — 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.)
The Eight Writer Archetypes
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. Sportswriters and entertainment reporters are also Informers.
- Analyst: What does the news mean? What can we infer from the latest political polls? What will the U.S. pandemic relief package do to the economic recovery? 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. Sports columnists are often Analysts.
- Educator: Writers who convey knowledge to help others learn. It’s more than just being an Informer because their readers presumably already know how something works. Whether it’s a textbook, a technical manual, or even just a series of blog posts that teach you about trading cryptocurrency, the writer who writes to intentionally teach is an Educator. Many bloggers and business 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-tellers (Informers), but they don’t fit anywhere else. Scott Maxwell of the Orlando Sentinel 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 observe the human condition, but they speak for those who have no voice to effect change. The Advocate brings awareness to a cause to get people to care about it and be informed. The Bilerico Project is an Advocate for the LGBT community, Our Human Family advocates for racial equality. (Disclosure: I write a monthly column for OHF and serve on their board.) 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 function. Advertisers, grant writers, content marketers, and sales copywriters are Merchants.
- Entertainer: Writers of fiction, poetry, stage plays, screenplays. Anything you would read, watch, or hear for entertainment or escapism lives here. You read a novel, watch a play or a TV show, or listen to a radio play 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, but if they can only wear one hat, it’s the Entertainer’s.
As I imagined and developed these archetypes, I envisioned them on a wheel. Each writer archetype is a modified version of the one that came before it, and it sometimes dips into the next archetype. 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 that place is. And so on.
The Writer Archetypes are NOT a Process. And You’re Not Limited to Just One.
But, this is not a natural process of writing. You don’t start out as an Informer and move around the clock as time goes by, progressing from one role to the next. You can make the jump from archetype to archetype within a career, a year, or a single day.
There are plenty of journalists (Informer) who became novelists (Entertainer), or Educators who take the plunge into the marketing world (Merchant), especially as content marketing becomes more educational in nature. And, of course, there are plenty of people who stay in the same archetype their entire lives.
And in some cases, you may even be working under two or even three archetypes at the same time: For example, someone in content marketing could be an Analyst-Merchant. People who write (and teach) about social justice issues are Educator-Advocates. And I’m sure there are more than a few Entertainer-Chroniclers out there.
I’m still fleshing out this idea and trying to develop it further. If you have any thoughts, ideas, or recommendations, let me hear about them. Leave a comment and let me know what you think.
(This post was originally written on March 14, 2013, and it has been edited, revised, and updated.)