INFJ: How I Write

Guest post by annesophie, INFJ

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As a budding novelist, I spend a lot of time thinking about my characters’ minds and how they work. It seems fitting that I also take the time to look at my own mind and ask myself, with regard to the cognitive functions, how it goes about creating stories. This is my take on how being an INFJ influences my writing.

Being an INFJ, I find that my preferred method of communication (for my sake and for everyone else’s) is of the written sort. Give me a pencil, paper, and some time and I can organize my thoughts in an eloquent fashion, and even perhaps at a rapid pace. Ask me to speak in front of more than two people and…well, results may vary.

Mix this with a preference for fictional friends over most real ones and you get a socially uncomfortable over-thinker with a penchant for creating fiction.

I am by no means a brilliant author. Not yet, anyway.

A Specification: I am by no means a brilliant novelist. I’m working on it. I write short stories as well, but novel writing…that’s where my heart really is.

Here’s how my cognitive function stack as an INFJ looks in the novel-writing process.

INFJ: Ni-Fe-Ti-Se

Character Building

There is hardly an aspect of writing that I enjoy more than creating characters.Because Ni is my dominant function, I find myself interested largely in symbolism (blame Oscar Wilde for my fascination with morally questionable characters) and long term character development. Sometimes, this turns me into an obsessive, nit-picky writer so intent on genuine character growth that by the time I reach the end of the story, I realize my characters are nowhere near to having changed. Thankfully though, that isn’t usually the case. I normally have an idea of where I want a given character to end up and what themes I’d like him to portray, though it’s all fairly flexible. Having too rigid a plan rarely works in my favor; for me, too many preplanned details make for a tethered, far from lively character. I rely on my Fe to bring humanitarian appeal, developing them to be relatable (or at least understandable) to each other and the reader; I take notice of and empathize with others through reading of facial expression, and this tends to come across in my writing. My Ti, when it decides to show up (coffee helps), is useful in checking for character consistency. In the event that my Se decides to surprise me with spontaneous character behavior, trusty Ni usually manages to subconsciously take said behavior and successfully channel it into the long term plan.

Plot Developing

When it comes to creating plot lines, my Ni definitely likes to take the helm. Themes. All of the themes. All of them. There is an underlying philosophy discussion for every novel I have written or planned, whether I want there to be one or not. At one point, I made plans for a children’s story involving a cat, and suddenly existentialism and morality (Paradox? It depends, I guess. You decide.) were involved. Perhaps children’s fiction is not in my future. Fe again likes to provide the humanitarian appeal. Fairly strong stuff tends to crop up in my plots —mental breakdowns, casual mentions of murder, and oops, suddenly my characters are in Hell and Dante is patting me on the back (please?). I guess you could say I want an emotional reaction. My Ti is ever the continuity checker, responsible for putting all the elements of my story together, for looking at the entire thing and making sure that each piece of the puzzle is indeed a piece of that particular puzzle and not something like a Scrabble letter. Similarly to how it works in the realm of character building, my Se is the function that likes to shake things up and momentarily pry the story’s trajectory out of my Ni’s death grip. Ni eventually finds its footing and we go along on our merry way once more.

As a writer in general, there are plenty of places my cognitive functions come into play. To briefly list a few:

Ni has a pretty clear idea of where I’ve got to be as a writer in the next ten years, and it also has a linear plan for getting me there. Of course, with this comes the potential to be inflexible, but I’d like to think my Ni usually manifests itself as grit and perseverance instead.

Fe is aware of my audience. I keep talking about humanitarian appeal; included is the concern for not wanting to offend anyone with any of my themes or characters. This is where a little bit of Ti comes in handy.

Ti (and Ni as well) understands that, although I certainly do not want to be offensive, when I’ve got a theme I believe is important, stepping on a few toes to get it across is not a bad thing. Of course, my Ti also likes to make writing first drafts difficult by being concerned about making the wording perfect the first time around.

Se makes it difficult to work with any distractions. Coffee shops are a no-go for me. The most sensory distraction I can handle is some quiet background jazz (I can’t even listen to classical! I play violin and am familiar with a vast amount of classical music, so I get diverted trying to listen to it too intently). I suppose this could be considered a downside, but I don’t mind. It just means I have to make an effort to find someplace quiet every day.

There you have it! There are upsides and downsides to being a writer (the most concerning of the downsides possibly being that I may end up living the life of a poor, starving artist — cardboard box included) and a whole lot of nuance to the craft, and this is how it shakes out for this INFJ.

13 thoughts on “INFJ: How I Write

  1. My cousin is an Infj, and it’s as though you are representing her. It’s interesting.
    I am an Infp, and I also related to you in the way your mind works, such as not being able to listen to classical music, but keeping it on jazz.
    I think a café would be too loud and busy for my taste.

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  2. I think I am a bit of an anonymity here. I haven’t figured out which function does what, either that or I have the odd ability to switch between modes of thinking. I’m IN_J/ IN_P. I too have the problem with making a story go a lot deeper than intended. I started off with a children’s book and then ended up with some very decidedly more mature themes and some kind of universal message. Random props aren’t so random. Things have symbolic meaning. I like the possibility of having some obvious symbols and others not so obvious. I kind of hope I can have some things up for reader speculation, just like some games, their plots and areas people can make their own theories, etc. As I see my series, I like the idea of having multiple books, but starting at different points. That way the reader’s experience of seeing the plot and their understanding will change depending on what order they choose to read. That said, this is a long haul project and it takes me a lot of pauses and breaks in between. I don’t know how long it will take, but I see an idea in mind, a goal to achieve.

    Character building: Not unlike the OP blog. I see the characters and their unique traits. At some point I cross check them and do research to make sure I got their personalities correct. I draw pictures of them to get a physical mental visual of them and then generate a movie in my head.
    I have the ability to get into their minds. So much to the point I can imagine reasons for them acting out of character ( a few of my characters are switchers too) But unlike me, I can see why they had to switch their mode of thinking (An ENFJ has to put on a facade of an TJ/TP) to get through a rather brutal life of military training and fight in a war. Take him out of that context and give him time to adjust, then he slowly reveals his his true self and acts more true to type. A fun exercise I do is take the test imagining myself as the character and hearing their thought stream going as they checks off each question when taking a personality test.

    If I am stuck in a rut I amy go back to some of my own memories to try to remember various details that can be useful. Si. This is to try to bring back some emotion. Si along with Se are my weakest functions.
    The characters may suggest surprises: I weight them out and visualize a few alternatives branching from there, then pick the the one that seems the most interesting.

    Writing atmosphere:
    Rough draft writing/ handwriting: I’ll write it anywhere if I got it flowing. I can write rough drafts on the bus if I am focused.
    Computer draft: I go into a more focused Ni, Ti mode and can’t tolerate distractions much at all.

    From there I’ll either branch off to:

    Ne/Fi/Ti/Te: Brainstorm all kinds of world building elements. and follow those ideas. Come up with a religion for the culture. I don’t want it based off any particular one. It has to have some meaning.
    Pick the ideas that best suit the idea I want to convey: Ti, helps continue the process and expand all kind.

    Outlining: I jot out loose notes, but most of the outline is in my mind as an abstract mental visual string of symbols. That’s also how I plan my day. Color boxes in my head for the time of appointments and key plot points in my story. I try to figure if I have enough time to flesh out an idea for the given moment. If not, then I imagine it in my head and pause the “tape” or loop it in my mind until I can write it down.

    First pass: I usually focus on the character dialogue. That is what comes the strongest.
    2nd pass: add more setting details. Visualize the scenery. Brainstorm.
    Future passes: go through and start fine tuning stuff, change stuff up/ kill darlings.

    I have a grand plan of what I want for the series, what key points the characters must reach, but how they reach them is a bit more flexible.

    Visually: I go through phases of actively writing to just sitting still meditating, brainstorming, visualizing and letting the movie play in my mind to figure out if I want to write it. Future mental drafts, I can return to that moment in time and either replay it, or play a different version and see where it goes.

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  3. What a great post! Being an INFJ writer myself, I related so hard to everything you said. Like you, I am extremely focused on believable character growth, and I’m a major sucker for symbolism and big emotional reactions. The character is probably the most important part of the story for me. You can have entire plots and subplots revolve around the character’s emotional needs and personal growth. Without it, the story falls into a flat narration of events. Thankful to have Ni/Fe to help achieve this! (Disclaimer: Not that other functions can’t do this as well but I do find Ni and Fe quite useful.)

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  4. This is absolutely true. Being an INFJ and writing out our feelings is like accomplishing passion with filling the pages with our feelings in a very pure and in a form which gives others contentment.

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  5. I love this whole article. I just do.
    I am an INFJ that makes comics/manga and when writting a story my process has so many simularities with this article. Of course, novels and comics are two different things and I really admire people who can write, mainly because I can’t put in the right words the thing I have on my mind. That’s why I draw it. Expressions, landscapes, everything. It comes more naturally to me to draw a draft of 10-page comic than write a prototype of the same story in 2 pages. But I guess that’s my Se working with my Ni in the Se’s waters (pictures). I just wanted to share this. Annesophie, thank tou for this great article and I hope you become the great writer you aspire to become!!

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  6. This is very relatable for me, as an INFJ writer . . . especially the planning part. I always have to plan my stories out–not down to every minute detail, necessarily, but I need to have a firm outline of what the beginning, middle, and end will look like, BEFORE I start writing. I’m always in awe of those writers who say they just start with a vague idea and see where it takes them–how do you do that, exactly? Life’s mysteries.

    I also tend to turn over story ideas in my head for months–even years–before I actually start working on them. It helps me to solidify them and to figure out exactly what themes, what tone, what aesthetic, etc. I’m going for.

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  7. Thank you, thank you for this post. As an INFJ, I felt like I had written this myself at some half-forgotten point in time. Too bad the link leads to a dead blog.

    May I ask – how does this compare to your process and style of writing as an INTJ? Also, what kind of stories do you like to write?

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  8. This is amazing because I was LITERALLY thinking just this morning how my functions work to allow me as an ENTJ to write. It’s been on my mind because if NaNoWriMo. I took a crack at my own cognitive function analysis but am just barely getting to understand how cofnovore functions work beyond using prototypes to make sense of them. It’s somewhat lacking in specific examples and detail, but I’d love to know if other ENTJs see their process as this.

    Te: I know where things will end and what the stops will be along the way. If that plan doesn’t work out (which is so unlike unjust just in case) I have back up plans for how to get my characters where I need them to be. It will end exactly how I want it and happen exactly how I wanted it to. I decide what the end will be and then make it so. I create what I need in order for that outcome to happen. It’s all about the outcome.

    Ni: When I’m stuck if I walk away and take a break or nap suddenly the plot answer becomes clear to me and I know exactly what to do to get the story where I need it to be. Sometimes I’m completely surprised by the off the wall ideas I come up with out of the blue that work really well and pull several different threads together. It’s really hard for me to explain them to others though, and usually I need them to see it in writing and fitting into the story to see that t works. It’s best if I’m not even thinking of it and am doing something entirely unrelated.

    Se: I didn’t have to work hard to learn to write. I just started doing it one day. But I only bother to do things if I do them well. Otherwise I would get bored and move on. I find my ability to write is the reward I need to keep going. It’s this part of myself that makes me enjoy the journey along the way even though my Te is so singularly focused on the end goal.

    Fi: My way is the right way. Any other way of doing things, if it’s not my way, is flawed and misinformed. It’s hard for me to receive feedback about doing something a different way or taking my story in a different direction. I have to push myself to see value in it. However, I think my Te helps me overcome this only because I want to make sure that the feedback isn’t something I need to help me get to the end I am aiming for (however I don’t really need that feedback because I already know exactly what needs to happen the I get there).

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    • ENTJ here too. I’ve recently decided to give screenwriting for TV/Film a shot. A lot of this rings true to me, although I guess I would attribute some of these to different functions in the stack. Like any MBTI function in any pursuit, these functions have sides that both help and hurt the process.

      Te: A lot of my understanding of writing comes from watching movies/TV and trying to understand and deconstruct why/how they work (or don’t!), and applying it to my own screenplays. There are also a lot of rules and conventions to screenwriting that I generally try to adhere to, because I think they make for better writing. Reconciling them all can be tricky, like solving a puzzle. Because my writing is based so much on what’s come before, many of the concepts I tackle aren’t wholly new or inventive. I would imagine NF writers have a much easier time coming up with things that feel completely new. BUT my writing tends to be well-structured and cohesive, which is probably just as important. Even when I try to make things straightforward, I end up adding layers upon layers of complexity – sometimes so much that it can be hard to follow. My early drafts tend to be a little cold and clinical, I usually have to go back in later drafts to add emotion. When I go back to edit, I can be pretty ruthless in killing my babies. If there’s a scene or sequence that isn’t working, I don’t have a problem ripping it out and putting something completely new there.

      Ni: Before I put pen to paper, I usually know why I’m writing and what I’m trying to say. I usually can’t even start outlining the script unless I have a pretty good idea of how it ends. In the case of TV, I have to figure out how the entire SERIES would end too. I usually have to know exactly where a given scene is going or what I’m trying to do before I can write it. Sometimes I even need to imagine how the scene would be shot (even though that’s more a director’s job than a writer’s) before I start writing. Once I figure out a scene in my head though, it comes pouring out pretty easily. I also am deeply interested in the theory that underpins storytelling and try to incorporate that in my writing as well. I agree with the original post about themes – if there isn’t a fundamental theme dealing with the human experience, why bother? Ni can be paralyzing at times, because I can imagine the pitfalls of a scene or can foresee what’s wrong with it as I’m writing. Sometimes, it’s better to just plow through it and go back to revise later, but Ni can hinder that.

      Se: As I mentioned in Ni, I will often try to envision how a scene is shot before it is written. For inspiration, I’ll also go back and re-watch things and try to really take a look at what makes a scene work and why. I’ll often miss little details the first time I watch something, I think partly due to Se being a tertiary function. My scene work can often be straightforward and not have the twist and turns of good writing. An SJ writer friend of mine has given me some really good tips on little details to bring these scenes to life more. I try not to be too rigid, and allow myself the freedom within scenes to improvise a little bit, and sometimes the things I come up with on the spot surprise even me. Not all of them are good surprises, but writing is an iterative process! Se can get me in trouble because sitting at a computer for hours at a time can get tedious, and I’ll often distract myself with something else when I know I should be writing.

      Fi: As I mentioned before, the emotional aspects of writing are more difficult for me. When I go back and do character passes, I tend to ask myself “what would I do in X character’s situation?” It can get me in trouble because as a result, every character can start to sound the same if I’m not vigilant. MBTI is actually a very useful tool in this regard, because I don’t intuit emotional states very easily and it gives me some guidelines on how to differentiate characters. Similar to Meghan, sometimes I might take criticism personally and be stubborn at first. But, I’ll force myself put any notes through the Te prism, and override my Fi and adjust if necessary.

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      • This is a nice breakdown that I can relate to very well. Especially the part where my characters can all end up sounding the same. Your entire Te section nailed it for me.

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    • Dudes/gals how do you do this all i want to know it all too teach me although you can just take the horse the the lake but not make it drink.

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  9. As an INFJ writer, I definitely relate to this. I once wrote a children’s story for science class demonstrating scientific laws and it ended up making fun of the rigidity of human thinking. Whoops.

    Great post, annesophie!

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