Perfectionism is one of the major issues INFJ writers deal with on a daily basis. Perfectionism often blocks writers from finishing projects because they spend countless hours trying to make things perfect and never actually move ahead. It also blocks writers from ever starting anything because the moment they write that first sentence and see how flawed it is, they feel overwhelmed and lose all hope that they can continue.
Perfectionism is especially frequent in INFJ writers, and it doesn’t just extend to their writing life. Most INFJ personality types experience the crippling effects of perfectionism in their day-to-day lives, whether that’s in their jobs, their relationships, or with other personal issues. This is also why many INFJ personality types tend to gravitate toward personal growth and improvement. We are always trying to make ourselves better, because we can very clearly see where exactly we are lacking.
Why is perfectionism so strong and all-consuming for INFJ personality types, and INFJ writers in particular?
The answer is our dominant introverted intuition.
Every personality type within the MBTI system includes a “function stack,” which is made up of four conscious functions on the top and four unconscious functions on the bottom. Your top function (also known as the “dominant” function) is the function for which you have the most natural talent, consequently making it the one that is strongest within you, and so, not surprisingly, it’s the one you tend to use the most. For INFJ writers this function is introverted intuition.
Introverted intuition compares all experience with inner ideal possibilities. This means that INFJ personality types move through life having experiences, and then compare those experiences to what they imagine the ideal would be for that experience, inside their own mind. They base these ideals on the patterns they’ve observed in the world and the creative ideas they’ve generated to make those patterns better.
For example, INFJs in the workplace frequently come up with new and innovative ideas about how systems can be changed to become more efficient, more compassionate, and more exciting for everyone involved. As they work with the existing system, they see the flaws and how those flaws are affecting people. This is one of our great gifts. We can usually immediately and very clearly see what is not working with anything that involves relationships and people. Once we see what is not working, our brain then begins generating new possibilities for what would work if changes were made.
As writers, we do the same thing, and this is why writing the sloppy first draft can be so hard for INFJ writers. There is no way to write a sloppy first draft without it being messy, clumsy, flawed, and fragmented. That’s what sloppy first drafts are, and that’s what they have to be, in order to have the energy space they need to expand, play, and take form into something more tangible. But what happens is the INFJ writer sees the messiness and the flaws as they are writing those first sentences, and then freaks out and tries to go into improvement mode and make everything better.
While this might work well when we’re dealing with relationships and systems that have already been established and need only an overhaul, or major adjustments and minor tweaks, this does not at all work with something that is just coming into form. When we try to perfect something that is just coming into form, we instantly shrink the energy space it has to work with, because any kind of perfecting or sculpting or polishing comes with rigidity. The more “perfect” you make a form, the more rigid it is. This line needs to be exactly this measurement and so on. That kind of energy kills creativity because it’s just like throwing a blanket over a fire. It smothers it.
So that’s what’s really happening when INFJ writers freak out over the flaws in their first draft and start trying to edit as they write in order to make it “perfect” as they go. They’re smothering their own creativity.
This can be overcome, if the INFJ writer realizes what’s going on and makes a conscious effort to accept the necessary messiness of the first draft stage. However, they will then need to let go of something else too if they really want to move forward, and that’s their own expectations.
Because dominant introverted intuition is always presenting the INFJ with ideal possibilities of how things “could be,” and because this is the INFJ’s strongest function and the one they feel the most at home with, we tend to get very attached to these ideal possibilities. So attached, in fact, that we really don’t want to let them go and we will cling onto them even if they’re not actually realistic or not really in our best interest. This is what happens for many INFJs when they go through a constant cycle of being disappointed by other people and the world around them. It’s very difficult for us to let go of the ideal we’re upholding in our mind, and as long as we cling onto that ideal in the face of all contrary evidence, we are bound to be let down over and over by reality.
The most helpful strategy an INFJ writer can adopt is being willing to accept the chaos of the first draft without trying to change it in the moment, and at the same time, let go of any expectation that the story will measure up to what we see in our mind. It won’t. That’s already a given. Because that’s not how real stories work. Real stories don’t slide out of your mind onto the page looking sharp and vivid, and they don’t read as compelling, masterful works of art. That’s an ideal held in the mind. Real stories are awkward and cringe-worthy when they first come out, and they usually read like stiff-sounding book reports or clunky descriptions of confusing conversation with some vague action sprinkled in.
That’s what’s real. And that’s okay. Because that’s something you can work with. The worst sloppy first draft in the world is easier to work with than the best ideal story that never made it to the page and is still held in the writer’s mind. For INFJ writers who are serious about moving forward with their writing, it’s essential to know the difference.
Lauren Sapala is the author of The INFJ Writer, The INFJ Revolution, and the creator of Intuitive Writing, an online video course for INFJ and INFP writers who struggle with traditional writing methods. She also recently released Loving Meditations for Writers, a bundle of 10 meditations for only $20 that you can use for your regular writing practice. You can get a free copy of her book on creative marketing for writers by signing up for her newsletter HERE.