One of my writer friends sent me a video yesterday that made me drop everything and think about INFJ writers, creativity, and problem-solving for the rest of the day. The video was a TEDx talk from a woman named Jane Kise who is an expert in Jungian type and works with kids who are having trouble learning math. She used real-life examples of different kinds of kids (introverted sensors, extraverted intuitives, introverted intuitives, etc.) solving math problems to show how the different types use different areas of the brain when trying to find the answer to something.
I was engrossed by the entire video, but most especially the part about introverted intuitives and how we learn and figure things out because I couldn’t help but see the connection between how an INFJ child might go about solving a math problem and how an INFJ writer might go about creating a story.
The first thing Kise said that deeply resonated with me is that researchers found that, unlike all the other types, introverted intuitives did not ask for feedback, guidance, or permission while trying to solve problems. While most of the sensing types asked if they could use certain materials provided for them, and extraverted intuitives assumed permission but also said out loud what they intended to do, the introverted intuitives just went ahead and silently used what they needed to without seeking any outside feedback.
This made me think of an INFJ deep in the process of writing the first draft of their novel. I’ve noticed that, for most other types, it can be helpful to share a sampling of chapters with a critique group as they are still in the process of writing the first draft. It’s like they can proceed more confidently if they’ve gotten confirmation that others think they’re on the right track. But for INFJ writers, this can be disastrous. When we get outside feedback before we’re fully finished with the first draft, it can completely disrupt our process. The feedback doesn’t feel reassuring to us. If anything, it just throws a hefty dose of self-doubt into the mix.
In my opinion, it’s not that we INFJs have anything against asking permission. It’s more that it distracts us and breaks us out of our creative zone with the work. Before we got the outside feedback, we never questioned if we were on the right track. We were too engaged with following our own intuition. So, when we “ask permission” too soon by giving our work to a critique group or analyzing it from an editing perspective before we’re ready, it can shut down our creative inspiration.
The second thing Kise talked about that gave me an ah-ha! moment was how the brain functions for introverted intuitives when problem solving. For the INFJ, our brains enter a flow state when doing novel tasks. That means we need new, challenging stuff to be thrown at us in order to become fully engaged. When we do something over and over again, we get bored, and we actually get worse at it, not better. This reminded me of all those INFJ clients I’ve had who have completely mapped out their novel in outline form, written scene breakdowns, character lists, and plot points on notecards, and then suddenly, for no reason at all it feels like, they totally lose interest in the story and cannot push themselves to write the book, no matter how passionately they felt about it before.
Knowing what I know now about how the INFJ brain functions, I would say that this is because they feel like they already wrote the book. With the outline and the notecards and the character lists, they’re just doing the same thing over and over and getting worse at it, not better. For an INFJ writer to truly shine, they need to use an intuitive writing process as much as possible (in other words, pantsing) to keep the task fresh and new and—at times—terrifyingly uncertain and challenging.
The third thing Kise touched on that I thought was so interesting was how introverted intuitives look to others, from the outside, when they’re trying to find the answer to something. When problem-solving, the brain of an INFJ goes “blank,” meaning we let everything else fall away and we stop pushing for the answer. An INFJ child solving a math problem most often just stares at the piece of paper for a while, doing nothing. Or, looking like they’re doing nothing. Then, suddenly, the answer “pops” for them and they write it down. Kise said when other teachers have observed this process they’re dumbfounded because they don’t understand how the child could possibly have figured it out without using the objects and materials provided for them, scratching and scribbling things out on the paper, etc.
But that’s how introverted intuitives do it. We sit and we stare and we let our minds go blank and then the answer just…pops.
Kise also mentioned that there must be two elements firmly in place for this answer-popping thing to happen—there can’t be too much external stimulation and the introverted intuitive has to already have all the background information they need.
Sounds to me like an INFJ writer who’s already spent the last year saturating themselves with their latest passionate research interest sitting in a quiet room staring at a piece of paper and waiting for their characters to talk to them.
So, if you’re an INFJ writer and you’ve always struggled with outlining, plotting, planning, and staying on schedule with writing your novel, it might be helpful to research your type a bit more to see if you can apply different learning strategies to the way you write. And if you’re interested in seeing the fascinating video I’ve been discussing in its entirety, you can find it here:
Lauren Sapala is the author of Firefly Magic: Heart Powered Marketing for Highly Sensitive Writers, a guide to help any HSP, INFJ, INFP, or introvert writer move past resistance to selling and marketing their work. She is also the author of The INFJ Writer, a writing guide made specifically for sensitive intuitive writers.