The NJ Writer

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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.

19 Replies to “The NJ Writer”

  1. This hit the nail on the head! Being a writer has been a dream of mine since the 4th grade, when I discovered poetry. I never feel like anything is “perfect enough” to show anyone else, or that the people close to me will misinterpret it or be offended by it. Those things really hold me back from doing anything other than journaling or blogging.

    1. I’m really sorry to hear that. I hope you can find a trusted group of friends and fellow writers to share your work with, who will build you up and give you the confidence to let it out into the real world! 🙂

  2. Hey, really great post! 🙂 I’m an INFJ writer too and definitely agree with everything. I just came accross your blog and it seems really interesting. I have to check it out better when I have time.

      1. Wehee, we should because we seem to have a lot in common! I study theology and aim to become a (lutheran) priest while pursuing the dream of being a writer of course. 🙂 I also write speculative religious-philosophy inspired stories (as well as quite traditional fantasy). Haha, and guess what: I have a work in progress about two persons who inspired Sherlock and Watson. xD I got really interested in your books, especially the Claudia one, and I want to buy it as soon as I can! 🙂 (Just have to figure out if Amazon works for where I live (Finland) since I’ve never bought anything from there before…. ^^’) Oh, and by the way, I’m StoneMoon in PerC. :))

        1. That’s really cool! I’d like the chance to read some of your work sometime. 🙂

          Does Amazon have ties in Finland? That’s an interesting thought! Hope you get a chance to read Claudia — and enjoy it!

          1. Hope so too! I think some people I know have ordered something from Amazon so I’ll figure it out. ^__^ I write in finnish so I don’t know if there’s ever gonna be at least a full novel of mine in english! <: D

          2. Oh, thanks, that’s nice to hear since I always doubt my english. 😀 (It is a finnish stereotype to be overly insecure about using a foreing language though. xD) Yep, it’s my second, started learning it when I was nine. I’m not comfortable enough with it to write anything “serious” though… Even if my grammar was 100% correct I would still lack the width of vocabulary I have in finnish so I always feel my creativity is supressed when I write in english. xD It’s hard enough to find the perfect word in finnish sometimes and in english I don’t have the knowledge about nuances to the same level at all. <: D

          3. Haha, I already made one mistake though (at least)! xD languages are written without capitals in Finnish so I did that out of habit. x)

  3. hey–what’s this? I leave the internet for a few days and you write one of your most amazing posts yet? 😉

    But yeah–I found myself nodding and agreeing with just about everything on this list. Especially the cheap emotional ploys. I can cry buckets over some favorite sad movies and books–but when it’s obvious a character was pretty much invented just to get killed off and wring a few tears from the audience–ugh don’t get me started.

    The perfectionism is actually something I feel a lot of NFJs struggle with–but I feel like it’s rarely addressed. Maybe because on the surface we don’t seem like we would be perfectionist types? (I feel like “perfectionist” brings to mind an impeccably coiffed figure in designer clothes with a spotless home, gourmet meals on the table, and maybe an overachieving career, and several Phds…etc;.)

    Caring too much what others think.

    Despite the highly emotional nature of NFJs–I sometimes wonder if this is so much a case of a slightly chidlish fear of people saying “mean” things about our stories–or the fear that people disagreeing vehemently with one aspect of what we say will lead them to disregard everything we have to say. Throwing the baby out with the bathwater. They were disgruntled by idea X, so why should they even keep on reading long enough to discover Y or Z? And I have indeed known people who will express objections at the “magic” in C.S. Lewis or Tolkien, and ignore the epic battle of good and evil that plays out in their stories. C’mon, we’ve all known of Christian Review sites that will complain of a “disrespectful” moment, and ignore what was an otherwise masterful film.

    Taking criticism–I’ve seen NFJs who say they handle any criticism really badly–and others who say they’ve reached a point where they don’t care anymore.

    Oh and I loved the nature photos in this post–what photoshoot is it from? Weirdly, I often feel like animals are closer to God. Not in the sense that they have a more intelligent understanding of Him. But in the sense that they more closely act in the way that He would like them to, following their quite literally, “god-given” instincts.

    1. Writers that use cheap emotional tactics to try and disguise their terrible plots earn my scorn. This is why Julian Fellowes and I “broke up” a couple years back. I could forgive him some soapiness but not to the levels he’s taken Downton Abbey of late. Using a rape as a convenient plot devise to drive yet another wedge between Anna and Bates in their never-ending angst-ridden storyline was the final straw. But… inventing a character merely to kill them off is also a pet peeve. Hence, why I refuse to read or watch anything by Nicholas Sparks.

      We are probably the most perfectionist-driven type. I know it’s always been that way with me. I am much too hard on myself. I want whatever I truly care about to be perfect… a luncheon I’m throwing, a book I’m writing, a website I’m designing. I live in endless dread that it’s not good enough.

      I’ve never been afraid of people disagreeing with what I say so much as critiquing my writing or storytelling style. I suppose because if I lack confidence in all else, I am at least confident in the message I am sharing. If someone doesn’t like my books or their themes, they don’t have to read them! But, I’ve known people who devalue Christy and refuse to learn from it due to that chapter in which Miss Alice describes being seduced. It’s tame, but the mere implication of it, for them, taints the entire collective experience – and I find that sad. Certainly, make note of it, but don’t let it bias you against the whole thing!

      Criticism… I don’t take it well. I tend to get mad. I think I bypass being truly hurt and head straight to defensive and angry, which… probably isn’t good.

      This photoshoot — Keira Knightley on Safari, for Vogue Italia. Probably my favorite Vogue photoshoot. I love it. 🙂

  4. I’m not an INFJ, but I’m an INTJ, so I can relate to so many things about this post! I also can’t stand cheap emotionality–INTJs resent emotional manipulation. If a writer can make me feel, I appreciate that, but I want it to mean something. I don’t want it to be “just for the sake of it”. I also struggle with perfectionism. I want everything to be perfect the first time, but I have to accept that this isn’t always possible, or better.

    Where I differ is your point about taking criticism too hard. I have almost the opposite problem. Many INTJs, myself included, tend to let criticism just roll off. This is either because we think our way is the only way, or because we’re already pounding the same criticism into ourselves and don’t need external affirmation of it. Also, while George R. R. Martin’s many characters and plotlines get excessive, I rather enjoy the challenge of keeping track of it all. Then again, I’ve stopped trying to emotionally invest in many of the characters.

    Excellent post!

    1. I suspect all intuitives dislike cheap emotionality, because we can see right through it! I enjoy meaningful plot arcs that engage my emotions but resent writers who use a loss or tragic event merely to prompt a reaction from the audience. (This is largely why I have ceased to appreciate Julian Fellowes, who now relies on cheap emotional tactics to keep his audience rather than true depth in his stories.)

      We might be better off if we could trade some rationality for sensitivity in the criticism department, but I’m not sure how one goes about that! 😉

      My primary concern with George R.R. Martin is that I suspect he may die before finishing the series, and I will have invested countless hours in a series without any kind of resolution. I would have liked a book series with more but thinner books in it, each one centered around a particular character, but building toward an inevitable conclusion. (A book about Ned, a book about Margaery, a book about Dany, etc.) I find it hard to stay invested when the entire plot seems to move at a snail’s pace!

      1. I like the idea of having more books, each focusing on a different character. It won’t happen for aSoIaF, but it would be a cool idea for another fantasy series of this type. I share your concern about GRRM dying before the series ends, especially since it can take a few years between book releases. While I’d love to know how it ends before he dies, and I’d be disappointed if I never found out, I still wouldn’t consider my reading time wasted. I enjoyed the series as is, even if it never got finished. Of course, GRRM has apparently told the show’s directors his plans for the ending, in case this happens.

        1. Of course, GRRM has apparently told the show’s directors his plans for the ending, in case this happens.

          … anyone feel like a road trip? Bring the duct tape.

  5. Out. Get out of my brain. You are not allowed to describe me like that without knowing me or reading my books. *glares*

    Not really. It’s really quite amazing to find someone whose brain works in such similar ways to mine.

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