The Process

How Psychology Helped Me Be a Better Writer

Even though I decided not to go to grad school and pursue being a clinical psychologist, I haven’t given up on what psychology has taught me. I spent the last four years sitting in various psychology classes learning from the different fields and throughout each class, I couldn’t help but think how these different facets would be great if I put them to use in a book. I was even inspired to write a book while I was trying to copying down diagnostic criteria for my abnormal psych class. When I was sitting there trying to get everything down before my professor switched slides, that’s the moment I realized that I had to get serious about writing. Because instead of worrying about the looming test, I was thinking about the character I could create knowing these diagnostic facts.

The personality psychology class I took my junior year made me think about characters in a new way. In previous writing classes that I’ve had, the focus on creating characters was filling out a profile. Simple facts like name, date of birth, family members like parents, siblings, cousins, etc. and their relationship with them, hometown. As well as focus on physical characteristics such as eye color, hair color, body shape, skin color. And then, of course, where they fit into the story and how they react to the situation(s) and other characters happening around them.

Of course, personality psych was mostly different measures of personality and how good they are at revealing personality traits and characteristics (The Myers-Brigg test, btw, isn’t great). But besides those various tests, there was one section of the class that stood out to me was when we talked about if there are ways personality can be determined without taking a test. Can you tell what a person is like based on the music they listen to, the way their room looks, what items they have in their car? Scientifically, no, it’s not a good, consistent measure of personality. But does it tell you something about their personality? Of course.

I had similar experiences with social psychology. Both of these classes made me think of ways I could incorporate the information into a character. Social psych was about how we relate to people, how we choose people to be around, how groups and societies work. It also discussed topics such as romantic and non-romantic attachment and attraction. These are themes that I work with a lot in my books so it was interesting to see the scientific measures of romance and attraction (spoiler alert: opposites attract isn’t typically the best for a romantic relationship but they make really good conflict in books).

Like I said before, abnormal psychology inspired a book idea that’s currently still in the development phase but I’m excited to start working on. The class opened my eyes to more disorders than just depression, anxiety, and eating disorders that are often seen in young adult novels. It also taught me about how these disorders are actually diagnosed and how they can often be misrepresented in the media (fun fact: split personality disorder isn’t what it’s called, it’s dissociative identity disorder and it’s often not portrayed correctly in media). The combination of a background in abnormal psychology and a passion for writing made me want to incorporate these into my characters but to portray them as accurately as I can without the feeling like they’re being sensationalized.

Sometimes people look at me weird when I tell them that I’m trying to get a book published because they expect me to further my degree in psychology. Maybe I will one day. They often think that the two can’t go hand in hand, that I have to abandon one for the other. I don’t think that’s true. Psychology, I believe, has made me a better writer because I have an understanding of people and the human mind and some of the ways it thinks and behaviors and functions. And that can be used in my writing. I think it gives me a little bit of an advantage.

This post is a start of a series in which I talk about how psychology has helped and influenced my writing.

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One thought on “How Psychology Helped Me Be a Better Writer

  1. I’m majoring in psychology and couldn’t agree more with you. You can learn so much about someone by applying the different psychological teachings. I took Forensic Psychology and one of my favorite lectures was the criminal profiling and interrogation techniques. How by analyzing someone’s posture during an interview they knew straight away who was guilty. Criminal profiling uses behavioral characteristics common in a particular sample of people to find the suspect. Great read!

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