As an INFJ, I live inside two worlds. There is the world outside of my body, made up of people and buildings and trees and things, and then there is the real world: the world inside my soul.
When I tell people this, I know that they think they understand what I’m talking about. I’m a dreamer, and an idealist. I’m that girl, who always has her head in the clouds. They would be right. I am those things. But when I say that, for me, the real world exists inside my soul, it goes way beyond that.
Because, as an INFJ, I am ALWAYS in the middle of piecing together a theory. It doesn’t matter if you met me when I was five years old, or now, when I’m almost 40. There has never been a time in my life when I have not been obsessively immersed in putting together a big, grand, epic, this-will-solve-everything theory inside my own soul.
At this moment in my life, for instance, my theory involves the stock market, yogis in India, the medical profession, and magicians. Reading over that list I can see how it looks like I picked the four most random things I could and threw them all together, but to me, there ARE connections. Glowing, sparkling, electric connections. And I will most probably devote the next two or three years of my life to finding those connections, translating it all into a theory, and then using that theory to write a book.
Inside my own private world, I am more than extremely excited about my burgeoning theory. It is THE THING that drives me right now. It is THE THING that I think about while showering, driving, eating, walking, and falling asleep. It is THE THING that hurries me to the library in order to read book after book after book for research.
However, I can’t really talk about it to anyone else.
And I definitely can’t show anyone the little I’ve written about it so far.
Because, the thing is, even though I’m a writer, I’m also an INFJ and something funny happens whenever I try to explain the things that I’m most excited about to other people. I don’t explain them well. I go off on long tangents and lose my listener or I get super amped up and intense and scare them off. I jump from idea to idea and even though I can see the glow-in-the-dark thread that connects them, others can’t yet.
My listener ends up confused or weirded out, and I end up deflated.
With my unfinished writing, it’s even worse. My sloppy first drafts tend to be very sloppy. I write in fragments and jump around everywhere with POV, voice, language, and timeline. I never know how anything is going to end or even what the middle will look like until I get there.
For years and years, I thought something was wrong with me as a writer. After all, everyone else in my creative writing classes had a plan for their story. Everyone else was able to answer questions about why they chose to write in first person, or what objectives they had mapped out for the protagonist. It seemed like I was the only one who was being driven on mercilessly by an image or a voice or a vision that only I could see, in that inner “real” world that I retreated to so often as my refuge.
Most INFJs have this experience at one time or another in their lives. There is an idea or a theory—a magic vision—that only we can see. And that we feel powerless to explain to anyone else. Because our visions become the driving force in our lives, they feel intensely important to us. But because we can almost never properly articulate them to someone else, we tend to feel very, very alone a lot of the time.
It is only through writing that we can connect the vision we see in our hearts to the concrete reality that lies outside of us.
But that writing takes time. In many cases, it takes years. Intuitive introverts tend to be slow writers, and perfectionists. So, if someone asks us what we’re working on or begs us to let them see just a chapter or two before it’s all the way finished it can be tempting to share it. However, more often than not, this outside party doesn’t understand the collection of fragments we’re working with and then tells us they’re confused, or it doesn’t resonate with them, or they don’t understand how it’s going to work as story.
It only takes one experience like this for an INFJ (or an INFP) to shut down completely and decide to never let anyone see their writing again.
I wish I could dive right into a neat little solution here for all the INFJs and INFPs out there struggling with this problem, but the truth is that there isn’t a quick and easy fix. We are strange creatures and most of the world isn’t going to “get” how we work anytime soon.
The best advice I can give you is to treat your writing like you would a vulnerable child who you love very much. Keep it close to you and only show it to those you feel absolutely safe with. Whenever you feel defeated or deflated, go back to the place that gives you the most energy: that magical private world inside your soul.
If you’re an INFJ or an INFP you can trust your theory. It will all come together.
The most important thing is that you trust the magic inside yourself.
Lauren Sapala is the author of Between the Shadow and Lo, an autobiographical novel based on her experiences as a raging alcoholic in her 20s. She is also the author of The INFJ Writer, a writing guide made specifically for sensitive intuitive writers. She currently lives in San Francisco.