One of the most painful struggles that writers with toxic procrastination and crippling perfectionism describe to me is the overwhelming anxiety they feel every time they sit down to write, or when they even think about writing. Much of the time they also feel severe anxiety when they think about all the time they’re spending NOT writing. This anxiety manifests as a vague nervous dread, but it can also show up as a specific sinking in the stomach or a panicky feeling in the chest and throat, like you might start crying at any moment.
Writers who struggle with these issues feel this way when they’re not writing, but they also feel this way—and sometimes even more so—when they are writing. It feels like an absolute no-win situation, because the thing that you want to do so badly and you feel so passionate about, seems to cause you even more pain whenever you actually try to do it.
Most writers who suffer from toxic procrastination and crippling perfectionism never discover the reason behind all of this. We just assume we’re failed writers and there is no solution. But there is, in fact, a very good reason for why we feel the way we do:
Comparison syndrome is an issue that hits writers harder than most, and it sneaks up on you when you’re least expecting it. It’s that feeling of discovering something about another author that instantly makes you envious, while at the same time sending you into a shame spiral.
Maybe the other author is younger than you, and has had more success. Maybe they just published their fifth book in a series, while you’re still struggling to get even halfway through the first draft of your first novel. It might be as simple as seeing how many followers they have on social media, while you don’t yet have a working website. Whatever kind of success they’re having, you see it, and it makes you feel awful. It makes you feel small, and insignificant, and kind of stupid.
That’s comparison syndrome, and if you are a writer who suffers from toxic procrastination and/or crippling perfectionism, then you most likely feel it on a regular basis.
I frequently hear from writers who are trying out some new system of organization. Sometimes it’s a simple bullet journal or an old-fashioned planner, and sometimes it’s a much more complicated affair, like learning organizational guru David Allen’s system for productivity. Whatever it is, I always cringe when the writer who is struggling tells me this. Because I know they’re not on the path to recovery. In fact, they’ve made the problem even worse.
Don’t get me wrong, planners and systems can work—for people with normal levels of procrastination and perfectionism. But the struggling writers who work with me don’t have normal levels of either. They have toxic procrastination, and crippling perfectionism, and they’ve usually been struggling with both for years.
Mixing writing with editing is an easy mistake for newbie writers to make, because many mainstream writing methods actually do encourage writers to edit as they write. So, a lot of writers who haven’t yet found their own unique rhythm as an artist follow this advice. And it does work for some. I personally know writers who can’t write any other way. However, if you are an intuitive writer—if you are an INFJ or INFP personality type, highly sensitive, or an empath—the chances are high that editing as you write is going to spell disaster for you.
What does editing as you write look like? Well, it might be that you write the first chapter or two of the novel that’s been swimming around in your head for a year, and then you immediately give those first couple of chapters to your friends for feedback. Or, it might be that you’re halfway through writing your book and then you join a critique group and you give them samples and sections to critique. It could be that you write only the very first sentence of your work, and then you immediately go back and begin crossing out words and rewriting it.
Whatever it looks like for you, the idea is basically the same. You write something and then you evaluate and judge it, and usually doubt it and then change it. If you’re an intuitive writer, you almost always feel worse after the process and much less like writing anything new at all. If anything, you probably feel like you want to crawl into a deep, dark hole.
Although INFJ and INFP writers are both intuitive, and also emotionally sensitive and highly creative, they tend to approach the creative process of writing differently. Both types experience high sensitivity to any sort of criticism—whether it’s constructive or not—and both also often write slowly. Both INFJ and INFP writers also do the best if they allow themselves to use their intuition to feel their way through the story, instead of their thinking skills to rationally decide on how things should be done.
But it’s there that the similarities end. Because even though INFJ and INFP writers both experience the most healing and strength in their writing process when they give themselves permission to use their intuition to channel their creativity, there are core differences between the two types and their separate writing processes that can’t be ignored.