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After posting an article on the strengths and weaknesses of the NP writer, several friends commented that there isn’t any such information out there for NJ writers. Indeed, looking around the internet turns up very little information on INFJs and writing. So, here are my thoughts.

NFJ writers excel at coming up with unusual approaches and ideas others haven’t fully explored, having grand plot arcs that directly impact the emotions of their readers and characters, and on finishing their projects. Where the NP can get sidetracked by a new idea or concept, the NFJ has a singular focus that zeroes in on one task until its completion. Why? Because we are driven to make our vision a reality, so that we can move on to the next idea! As Js, we do not like things to be open-ended. We want a beginning, a middle, and an end… and if we are creating those things, we enjoy that moment of completion as a personal triumph.

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Our pet peeves:

These are the things that bother us most in other people’s writing (although often, we may not know what is actually aggravating us at the time) and that we should strive to avoid in our own work.

Cheap emotionality. Our emotions are so intense that we don’t like other writers abusing them without a good reason. Stories written with the only intention of making the reader cry (the entire story is constructed toward an emotional ending intended to hit us hard) irritate us, because we see it as cheap emotional manipulation. (I do not mind a sad story for its own sake — I happen to love The Painted Veil, because it’s all about redemption and forgiveness — but don’t write books just to build a love story and then kill one person off. That’s just mean.)

Superficial stories. Our desire for depth in every area of our life makes us disdainful of shallow, inconsistent, or superficial writing. The characters must have weight, there must be a true plot that hits the right emotional strides, and it must have a purpose other than to simply entertain. We want to think, not just read. But we also tend to dislike books that throw in every hard-hitting issue in an attempt to be self-important or “relevant” to culture. Dealing with one issue is meaningful; dealing with them all is superficially skimming the edges of depth without committing to dealing with the grim realities of those evils. Skimming the surface of a tough issue just to introduce emotional drama to your plot is insulting to the issue itself, and those who have suffered through it.

Incoherent plot lines and too many characters. We would much rather read a shorter novel, well told, that pays attention to developing its main characters, than a long, meandering book that frequently wanders off its central focus and asks us to emotionally invest in a multitude of characters. (Don’t even get me started on George R.R. Martin…)

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Our strengths:

These are the areas in which we naturally excel, that require very little polishing as we mature as writers.

Symbolic writing. Our intense drive for truly understanding human nature means we want to shed light on some aspect of humanity or explore some great moral dilemma. Without even realizing it, our characters may be a metaphor for some deeper issue or philosophy. (Think Narnia… on the surface, a fairy tale, but underneath a profound exploration of faith in which certain characters are symbolic of an aspect of humanity or a scriptural teaching rather than intended to be taken literally.)

Challenging convention for the truth. Our use of Ti, which is an analytical function able to note inconsistencies and contradictions in things, means that we have a very unique way of viewing the world; we can see through its illusions and root out its uncomfortable truths. We want to confront them and bring them to light, to make people reconsider their opinions. We like to take common tropes and show them as false, because we have this insatiable need to look at all the motivations behind the trope to see its validity. This, inevitably, winds up influencing our writing. (Is love an impulse or a choice?)

Deep emotional arcs. Stories of darkness and betrayal, of unexpected revelations and loss, appeal to us because they allow our characters to explore their feelings. We want our readers to experience emotion as well. We don’t want to shamelessly exploit their emotions, or deal in superficial themes, but we do want to tug on their heartstrings. We don’t want any character’s death to be meaningless, so we employ it sparingly and always to support a greater purpose. Our tendency toward deep spirituality means we give each death (or life) significance, and take our role as the “God” of our stories very seriously.

The end. Our drive to finish what we start means that our books will end, in a matter that we feel is satisfactory both to us and hopefully to our audience. NFJs will never leave plot threads hanging or questions unanswered… unless we intend to, in which case, there is always another book. We want closure in our stories as well as in aspects of our lives. We are uncomfortable with open endings or unresolved issues. And, we want the entire plot to flow smoothly and feel connected. We are good at that.

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Our weaknesses:

These areas can bog us down, prevent us from completing our stories, and need extra attention if we want to grow out of them.

Perfectionism. We are incredibly hard on ourselves and hold ourselves to a high standard. This tends to make us overly critical of our own work, to the point where we doubt its validity and whether or not it is well written; where others see its virtues, we see only its flaws. This can make us so obsessed with writing it perfectly the first time that we delay ever finishing it. The solution is to write a first draft, do a second draft, do minor editing – and then let it go.

Self-doubt. So much of our life is reflecting others’ emotions that we don’t always believe in our ability to write emotional arcs; our stories might make us cry, and we hope they make others cry as well, but our perfectionism and insecurity makes us doubtful of our abilities. I have been told, many times, that I am a great writer. Yet, when I look back over the piece of literature receiving the praise, I see nothing particularly extraordinary about it. I am critical of it. I tend to suspect people are just being polite. (This drives non-NFJs nuts. Here they are being genuine and giving us the affirmation we so desperately crave, and we don’t believe them.)

Caring too much what others think. Sometimes we will change our initial vision to please the people in our life whose opinion we value the most, compromising our idea. Or, we’ll decide that the moral issue we want to explore is too uncomfortable or controversial for others. We will question the good taste of our love scenes, the social implications of the ideas we want to convey, and whether or not we are representing historical characters appropriately (we don’t want their ghosts haunting us, or their descendants writing us angry letters). The solution is not to share your plot with anyone until it’s finished. Decide that book is finished, and don’t do revision on it unless someone raises a truly valid point. Even then, consider whether you truly believe they are right or just want to please them. (I once had someone criticize a story I wrote; I pressed them on it until I found out it wasn’t the writing that bothered them, and there was nothing wrong with my story — it just didn’t match their theology. I didn’t change that story, because it did match mine. If someone criticizes you, find out the real reason behind their objection before you rush in to change it.)

Taking criticism too hard. I won’t lie. Having anyone criticize my writing hurts. It sends me into a tailspin of self doubt. Why? Because by the point my audience has read it, I’ve already been over it a dozen times. I’ve covered all my bases and fixed everything I could discern was wrong with it. I questioned everything about it, tweaked it, and feel semi-confident about it. It has passed my standard of perfection and to think that someone else doesn’t like it means that I failed. I agonize over my writing decisions before, during, and after I write them, and anyone who touches on those points of indecision further my self-assurance that I’m not good at this. The solution? In a nutshell? Don’t read reviews. At all. Good or bad, you won’t believe them anyway. Listen to yourself and your test-reader, and do what you feel is right.

Too much visualization. Subconsciously, due to our Se, we are highly visual people who love to immerse others and ourselves in our imaginary environment. This can lead to excessive descriptions that bog down our narrative and make our books longer than they need to be. (Much as I love the idea of running my fingers across watered silk, and listening to the songbird tweet through the open window where gauzy lace curtains are fluttering in the wind… I don’t want to read it; I want to use my own imagination while reading. Let your readers do the same. Share what is important; withhold what sensory details aren’t.)

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Areas we can become strong in:

These qualities are natural to us if we can develop our Ni and Fe to the point where we’re comfortable being honest about ourselves.

Narrowing a novel’s focus. Our process of taking in a lot of information, looking at things from multiple perspectives, and then choosing a course of action means that we can keep a novel on track and remove any excess plots or characters that don’t benefit the main arc. (Write down your idea for that character and put it in a jar, so later you can give them their own book.)

Developing our own style. We are natural mimics who tend to write in the style of our favorite authors; but the more we do that and play around with writing in different ways, the more we will develop independent skills so as to give our books a unique voice. It is important not to repress our natural instincts when writing, and to let that voice develop into an area of writing about what is truly important to us. Our style reflects our genuine self.

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Final thoughts:

My writing has changed significantly over the years; I am now less concerned with visual writing and more concerned with straightforward but emotionally deep plots. I have learned to give secondary characters their own books, so as to keep my novels a manageable length and not distract my reader from the main theme and its characters. My largest book, which I wrote at 16, tallies in at 360,000 words. Looking at it now, I can see three books in it, centered around three different characters, with one connecting character that makes appearances in all three. Three separate and coherent novels, possibly four. And… that’s exciting. Your earlier, bloated projects are not a waste! You can take them and make something even better from them! You can take a character you love that you were not mature enough to handle when you invented him, and give him a better version of events.

Why these pictures? Because they inspire me. They connect my love of nature and animals with beauty. They symbolize my connection to life. I like them.