An INFJ Writer: the cons

So, last time I looked into the pros of being an INFJ writer, how various aspects of the INFJ personality can contribute to the writing process. Well, this time I’m going to dig around in the more challenging aspects of the INFJ personality and ponder how these aspects affect my writing, both negatively and positively.

1) Sensitive

Yes, yes, I know. Being sensitive is usually seen as a positive trait but there’s sensitive and then there’s INFJ sensitive. We have all the feels all the time and are highly sensitive to the world. Whereas most people’s brains filter out a lot of sensory input, INFJs suck it all in and then overthink everything to the nth degree. We are constantly brewing about the world. It causes us a lot of trouble. Expect a very strong reaction if you criticise an INFJ, not because they don’t receive criticism but because they over-receive it. Even the slightest, most well meant comment can have a huge impact on us and haunt us not just for days but for years. So being an author is not only an ideal job for an INFJ but also a pretty dangerous one. By putting our work out there we are opening ourselves up to unlimited criticism that can do some serious damage to our sensitive minds. I know it took me years to come to terms with exposing myself to potential emotional landmines and I think I will always live in fear of them. A thick skin does not reside in the armoury of an INFJ.

That being said, there is a positive side to this extreme sensitivity. It allows us to perceive the world to a greater depth than many others. We see and understand things that perhaps others miss: nuances in expression, subtle body language, hidden intentions betrayed in the slightest movement or comment. We read people like books. You can’t lie to an INFJ. You can’t deceive us. We know exactly who you are. And this all gets translated into writing: into the characters we shape, into the world we create, into the stories we narrate. I like to write genuinely, perceptively, sensitively. When you read my books, you are reading me and my interpretations and translations. It may be fiction, it may be fantasy, but it’s always real.

2) Extremely private

Yikes. Yeah, a lot of good people have been left perplexed at how little of myself I will reveal to them. It takes years, and I mean years, for me to trust anyone enough to disclose what lies beyond the iron wall of my life. And, to be honest, I’ve no idea why. I’m just an intensely private person. I simply don’t want other people, even those I consider to be my friends, knowing everything about me. Perhaps I don’t want to give them ammunition to judge and criticise me but then if you are my friend, then you are not the kind of person to do that because I filter out the deceivers and negative forces. It’s weird. I don’t understand it.

But, this was a huge influence for my main character, Sky. She also has an iron wall around her mind that repels anyone who tries to get in without an invitation. Unlike me, Sky constructed her wall in response to extreme emotional trauma but it’s absolutely written from the heart; it is part of the infrastructure of my mind. I’m horribly familiar with mental protection, so Sky and I very much see eye to eye.

3) Perfectionistic

Mmmm. This is the one that everyone gives in their job interview when they’ve been asked to identify a weakness. It’s a weakness that, handily, will prove very beneficial to the company. Ha! But if anyone out there is a perfectionist you will know just how frustrating everything you do in life can be. This is because perfection can only be achieved within a frame of imperfection. You are striving for an unobtainable ideal which means everything you do is just not good enough. I, personally, have been plagued by this phrase my entire life: not good enough. I am forever falling short of my expectations, which means I don’t respect my achievements all that much and give overwhelming precedence in my mind to my failures. They are far more important to me. On top of this, I am never satisfied. I run under the constant impression that there’s a better option out there, which means I am always looking to an unfulfilled future rather than recognising the merits of the present. So, you can imagine how healthy my thinking patterns are. I am a weapon of self destruction.

This has a huge impact on my writing as I am always striving for a better way: a better way to express something, a better way to present a character, a better way to develop a scene. Does this make my writing perfect? Well, writing perfection can only be achieved within the imperfect frame of your writing ability and this is different for everybody. So the answer is yes and no. It’s about writing the best you can, doing something to the best of your ability. That’s how we can all achieve perfection within the frame of our own imperfection. Welcome to the human race.

4) Always need to have a cause

Gah! Yes, this is why chores and mundane tasks can push me to within an inch of my sanity. If I’m not doing something to change the world then there’s no point in doing anything! Okay, that’s probably taking it to the extreme. I have been known to push the vacuum around and even go food shopping but such activities are not in any way fulfilling to me. Their mundanity drains me and makes me restless, unless, of course, they are contributing to a greater cause. INFJs are like knights errant, constantly wandering the Earth in search of chivalric adventure. Whatever we believe in, whatever we are passionate about, we pursue it to the nth degree.

This definitely shows itself in my writing and forms one of the solid bases for my love of stories. Stories are where we INFJs can live out causes that may take much longer or be impossible to do so in real life. They give us short term relief for our long term frustrations. Making my own story is therefore very satisfying and contributes towards my greater cause of becoming an author. More than that, I am hyper focused on the cause of my story. It’s something I’m very passionate about and I hope that passion leaks through to the reader. Not in a preachy way, which I strive to avoid, but in a more subtle way as the reader lives the story from beginning to end.

5) Can burn out easily

All this sensitivity, protection of privacy, lack of patience, passion and dissatisfaction can very easily lead to the depletion of mental energy. Constantly striving for an ideal means we are often frustrated by the real and you may know just how exhausting that can be. Sometimes I need to retreat from the world for long periods of time. If I could I would be a total recluse but that’s not always practical!

This recovery time, however, is when I do my best writing. It’s when I’m dwelling over the world and within myself and can lead to new insights and better understanding. I’m fortunate enough to have people around me who understand the burning out process and my need for lengthy periods of introversion. It’s not you it’s me, kind of thing. I don’t enjoy burning out but I have learnt to make the best of it and doing something creative and productive can help to restore me again.

So there you have it! Now you know what it’s like to be an INFJ writer. It can be tough; the world can be very overwhelming and frustrating but I think that helps us to write with sensitivity and insight. At least, that’s what I hope I’ve done! But if I haven’t, please criticise carefully 🙂

An INFJ Writer: the pros

About a year ago I was going through a bad patch with myself. It wasn’t the first time I’ve fallen out with myself; I am often frustrated with my own mind, the way it works and the way it’s very proficient at obstructing my contentment. I just find life very overwhelming and the amount of information I receive too great to process. It was at this point that a good friend of mine sent me a link to a personality test based on the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator. And suddenly it all made sense! I came out as INFJ, “the Advocate”, and it fits my personality exactly, the pros and the cons. INFJs want to help others to help themselves, getting to the heart of issues, and are very determined in their altruistic quests. Think Jon Snow, Aragorn and Aramis.

I’m 98% introverted, which I would say is very accurate as I struggle with all social interaction. It’s not that I’m antisocial, it’s just that socialising tires me out, especially smalltalk. Talk to me about the deeper meanings of life and I’ll natter on for hours quite happily but ask me what I do for a living and all my internal organs groan, chief of all my brain.

Being an INFJ is all well and good, and I’m glad that it’s a very rare personality type because it can make life very uphill at times, but on top of that I’m also a Highly Sensitive Person (HSP). This means that I process and react to external stimuli to a greater extent than the average person. The consequence of this is that I need to spend a lot of time in a controlled environment, such as my home and particularly my geek den, in order to recharge my emotional batteries.

This makes me sound like a proper dysfunctional and socially handicapped individual, right? Not quite true. I have friends, a few very close people who I trust and confide in, I have a partner of ten years and I do go out and engage with the world. I just have to recharge in my den in between interactions. But that’s okay: some people are dolphins, some people are bears, but it takes many species to make an ecosystem.

So, what kind of writer does all this make? For now, I’ll talk about the pros of being an INFJ writer.

1) Creative

Well, this is a big plus for a writer, right? INFJs are super compassionate and highly imaginative which makes both for adept problem solving and also engaging storytelling. Being compassionate means that I am always sympathising, if not empathising, with my characters and their choices. I make that sound like I, as the author, am not making their decisions for them but really I’m not. I don’t write prescriptively with tight constraints on each scene but instead let the characters guide the flow of the story, putting myself in their position and imagining what they might say or do. It can actually make storytelling quite easy by letting the characters guide me.

2) Insightful

Since I was first aware of myself I have always had a spooky ability to suss people out from the moment I meet them. I can tell instantly whether a person is genuine and trustworthy or if I should be on my guard. It makes me a salesperson’s nightmare customer! INFJs are great at seeing the connections between people and events, which is quite handy when putting together a story. It means I can look both at the bigger picture and the relevance of the scene I’m currently working on. There are many levels of meaning in The Tenants of Earth and parallels to historical events. Are the poachers just poachers or do they represent something more? It’s up to your interpretation!

3) Inspiring and convincing

If nothing else, I hope I am this in my writing. INFJs are fluid and inspiring in their writing and appeal to the idealist in their audience and I would say this is what I hope to achieve. I am not an idealist myself, I know too much about the world to be that, but I think in stories it is much safer for us to indulge our inner idealist. To see the world as we’d like to see it: fraught with challenges that our protagonist eventually overcomes to find a greater meaning to their existence.

4) Decisive

Okay, if you talk to anyone I know they will tell you I am anything but decisive. But that’s not because I don’t know what I want, it’s becuase I am afraid of offending or upsetting someone in the process of achieving my goal. So really it’s diplomatic indecision not real internal ambivalence. In what I believe and what I want I am utterly convicted, which means I know the ending of the story long before I determine the beginning. I am goal-oriented in my writing. I think this helps to cut out the waffling and the meandering, which is particularly useful in writing YA fiction. There’s a momentum in INFJ writing because we are driven to see an idea through to the end.

5) Determined and passionate

Which leads nicely into this little pro. I write about what I’m passionate about because what’s the point in doing otherwise? In The Tenants of Earth you’ll notice some key themes such as conservation, equality, unconditional friendship and inner turmoil. These are all subjects I am very passionate about and I cannot help but be convicted in my writing about them. That’s not to say the books are preachy. In fact I’ve worked hard to keep my own voice to a minimum but my characters carry my passions with them as they navigate my story.

6) Altruistic

Which again leads nicely into this last pro. I write not to advance myself but to advance an idea that I think is important. The Tenants of Earth addresses a lot of current issues that are making the world a poorer place. We are losing our environment, our heritage and our connection to nature and we are growing to fear diversity which, in my opinion, is what makes us strong. It’s what puts the wealth into our species – the real wealth, not the material kind. One of my favourite things is to walk amongst old trees and feel distant from the hustle and overwhelming pressure of the modern world. For me as an HSP, being among nature is where I find solace because I don’t feel overwhelmed there. I feel connected and like I understand my surroundings. It’s why I get along with animals much better than humans. And I hope that even just a little of this idea seeps through to my readers because it’s so important that we keep and treasure our green spaces. Not just for my sake but for all of us who could do with rediscovering our connection to the earth and the relevance of our lives.

That’s all for now. Next time I’ll be looking at the cons of being an INFJ writer. Eek!

If you want to take the personality test (and I highly recommend you do as it enabled me to come to terms with myself), you can find it at: www.16personalities.com

You can read more about INFJs here: www.16personalities.com/infj-personality