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The Psychology of Writing, Skill #1

What's your OQ: Are you an Innie or an Outie?

I have developed a quick self-assessment for writers that’s meant to assist with improving our “OQ,” i.e., our observational intelligence. It’s based on guidelines from a genius of observation.

In 1877, a young Arthur Conan Doyle clerked for Dr. Joseph Bell at the University of Edinburgh. Bell, a teaching surgeon, had a unique style of practicing medicine that he called “The Method.”

It was a disciplined approach to deducing subtle details about patients from mere observation. Without asking a single question, Bell could state numerous facts about virtual strangers that matched Conan Doyle’s intake notes.

Of course, the Method was more than it seemed. Bell first educated himself in many areas to turn his observations into highly informed interpretations. Conan Doyle was sufficiently impressed to put Bell’s ability into his famous fictional character, Sherlock Holmes.

The ability to observe one’s surroundings, including the people in it, and to understand what the details show, is observational intelligence. We each have an OQ, but the truth is that people oriented in an interior direction have to work harder at it than people with an external orientation. They can easily miss a lot.

I tell writers that knowing this about ourselves, especially if we’re what I call “Innies,” is important information. If we want to decorate our scenes and develop how our characters appear to others, we need to observe comprehensively. To some, this comes naturally; others must actively initiate outward attention.

I’ve turned this idea into a more formal assessment device, based on my experience with the types I list below. The point is to learn if you’re externally oriented (an Outie) or internally oriented (an Innie). Both types have advantages and disadvantages for writing. However, since your OQ score correlates with an ability to notice details of your environment, Outies get out of the starting gate first. (Yes, I’m mixing my metaphors.) Still, Innies can catch up.

So, on to the test. Go ahead. See what you get.

You have 3 options for each item: 0 = not true of me, 1 = sometimes or sort of true, 2 = that’s me!

I am:

____1. alert to the environment around me.

____2. aware of my preferences for furnishing a room.

____3. good at following directions to specific places.

____4. generally not curious about the contents of a sealed envelope.

____5. only basically skilled at assessing another person’s moods.

____6. quite perceptive about subtle changes in a room or property.

____7. only vaguely attuned to how I feel.

____8. attentive to the significance of items in someone’s else home.

____9. aware of where the exits are in any room I enter.

____10. easily distracted during a long project.

____11. observant of the color of the walls when I enter an unfamiliar room.

____12. confident of arriving at unfamiliar destinations.

____13. able to draw quick inferences from appearances.

____14. unable to quickly adopt another’s perspective.

____15. attuned to scene details in a novel.

____16. able to quickly estimate the number of people in a room.

____17. uninterested in keeping a dream journal.

____18. alert to what people are wearing.

____19. aware of my thoughts most often when I’m stuck.

____20. alert to subtle sounds around me, even when working on a project.

Add up your score and compare it to the chart below:

30-40: You’re an Outie, so you naturally notice and remember things around you, and have only average interest in your inner life

20-29: You’re a mix of interests, with some natural attunment to your environment, so you can improve your OQ quickly with active reminders to yourself to pay attention.

10-19: You tend toward an interior life, but you do pay attention to detail. You show more interest in atmophere than sensory detail, and would probably benefit more from exercises than reminders.

Below 10: You’re an Innie. You’re internally attuned, and for writing about appearances and settings, you need more balance.

Try this with your friends. You’ll learn a lot about the differences in how various people process their worlds. You’ll also learn about yourself as a writer. And you might benefit from exercises meant to strengthen your observational awareness.

My score was low, in case you're wondering. I have long been aware that I must exert effort to pay attention to external details. It never comes naturally for me and I get lost wherever I go. Outies just don't understand.

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