Thursday, February 5, 2015

Being an INFP writer

We all struggle with different parts of the writing process. As we write more and more, different tendencies within us stop us in our tracks. Sometimes, it feels like we are trying to move a mountain outside, when the real problem is the way we are relating to our work.

We have to deepen our understanding of the different needs that live inside us.

We have to approach these needs holistically, instead of trying to ram through a perceived block.

I have written before about clarifying my writing process here and here.

One more aspect of my struggle became clear to me as I read this article by Dr. A.J.Drenth that talks about  INFPs' (and INTPs') quest for convergence and certainty. For those of you who are not familiar with personality types and MBTI, this link might be helpful.

Essentially, what the article says is that there is an innate drive in all of us to reconcile our natural way of being in the world with the most undeveloped aspects of our personality. For an INFP like me, this means trying to reconcile my natural preference for engaging with the world (through the lens of my feelings) with a more objective world-view.

I can see this happening inside of me, this struggle to arrive at a concrete conclusion. But what this article says, and what can be so helpful for INFP writers, is that trying too hard to arrive at a final conclusion or identity might be premature for us. One of our natural preferences as INFPs is looking at the outside world and noticing infinite possibilities and patterns. This means that if we try to force a final conclusion, that conclusion is often brittle and changeable.

We are too aware of the infinite possibilities to arrive at the kind of surety that we sometimes see and envy in the people around us. By trying to force a conclusion, we are trying to act like these other people, people who are nothing like us.

One reason why we do this, of course, is because of the deep need inside us to integrate different aspects of our personality. But we stumble when we bypass the process required, and also bypass our natural openness in order to quickly resolve this tension that we feel inside. 

Another reason could be that we have faced uncertainties in our live that have left us scared and wanting to cling to some permanent answer. Our minds are trying to fast-track to an illusive place of certainty and stability.

It could just also be that we discount our natural preferences because they have some down-sides. We envy people who have firm opinions about how the world is because our own nature sees too many possibilities that can leave us feeling paralyzed. We could be going from one option to the other without really following through. 

So, we start feeling that the answer is to act like people who have strong judgments. But trying to do this too fast, too soon means that we fail to use our own strengths. We can only arrive at a stable opinion once we have experimented, asked questions, and meandered this way and that. This process asks us to take our time.

How does this understanding - that our natural strength lies in possibility, in asking questions - help us as INFP writers?

One way it can benefit us is that it makes us realize that we might have been wrongly assumed that the world needs us to provide conclusions in our writing. Because we believed this, we might have been trying to force answers. But what the world really needs from our writing is the willingness to go down the rabbit-hole, to be the explorer of nooks and crannies. We can provide the vision that expands and fortifies conclusions.

This is what Dr A.J. Drenth has to says about INFPs struggling with their own natures: "But these assumptions are merely projections of their own subjectivity. The truth is that the world needs them to ask probing questions, to poke holes in existing theories, and to provide creative or explorative “food for thought.”"

This is a common human problem. We all discount what comes to us most naturally, and try to move to the opposite extreme. INFPs who are spontaneously creative and bursting with ideas wish they could focus on only one idea like INJ personality types and build it into something towering over the course of a lifetime. On the other hand, INTJs and INFJs face their own struggle where they think that the world needs them to make art or combust into spontaneous self-expression, instead of providing the deep analysis that is their strength.

As an INFP who absolutely loves INFJ writers and philosophers, it's hard for me to understand how they could be blind to their own strengths. And yet, I discount the strengths of my own style - the pictures tumbling out of my head, the endless ideas I want to engage with.  

But just the awareness that our drive to integrate different parts of ourselves comes from somewhere deep inside can help us be more compassionate with our struggles. We start understanding what this tension is all about. We start channeling our strengths, instead of getting our foot caught up in the knots in our psyche. We can acknowledge that there is a push and a pull inside us, and that it can only really be resolved when we act authentically and struggle with the challenges that our gifts bring us.  

If you are an INFP writer, honor your creativity and value your style. Be who you are, and stay with the questions instead of forcing the answers. The world needs your unique expression, it needs you to keep asking so that the answers can crystallize in their own time.