How do I explain this feeling
I like to lose myself in dreams because sometimes dreams seem more ordered than waking life. My waking mind is a mess of ideas. It is a war-torn city and a flourishing garden where things simultaneously grow and other things die in an instant. I want to capture it all but I can’t. Sometimes all I get are senses and feelings of things, impressions, like watching a spliced film. But the reel moves and I have to walk away and leave things behind.
We INFPs can seem a lonely, strange bunch at times. Referred to by psychologist, David Keirsey, as Idealistic Healers, we spend a lot of time in our minds trying to make sense of the world and righting its perceived wrongs. So much so that we often end up lost in a dreamworld. If you talk to us and we’re not listening it’s not because we’re not interested, we just got pulled away momentarily into another world. (Although ironically, we make very good listeners!) We are daydreamers of possibilities, seekers of meaning and patterns, we unconsciously idealise things sometimes to a point of unrealistic expectations. And then beat ourselves up when we fail to meet them. But we are mostly concerned with harmony and self-awareness at a universal level. And I think that often reflects in our writing.
I got a feeling
Our dominant function is Introverted Feeling (Fi). We decide our moral direction from decisions arrived at through feelings rather than logical facts. We constantly ask ourselves ‘how do I feel about this?’ If we don’t feel something is interesting or meaningful, we quickly become dispirited. But all of this is internalised and is often difficult to express. On the outside we may seem completely calm, but inside we often have a storm raging. This is why it’s easier to express ourselves through writing than to talk about it in company. Sometimes things cannot be ‘explained’ only ‘felt’.
Desperately seeking meaning
But what I think is most interesting, when it comes to story writing for an INFP, is how we see and interact with the external world. Our Extraverted Intuition (Ne) is an imagination machine. Rather than spending time understanding the world through our direct senses we instinctively look for patterns and meanings buried in it. We cannot help reading between the lines and see things as huge maps of dots and stars waiting to be connected, or as a huge unravelled tapestry waiting to be stitched together—if only we can find the way. Because of this, we tend to see the world in terms of abstract metaphors and symbols, which we try to fashion stories from so we may make sense of them.
We like to lose ourselves in the realm of possibilities—in another world underlying everyday reality—sometimes to the sacrifice of what is in front of us. Paths fork, entwine and double-back and we want to explore them and all their strangeness and wonder. Writing stories allows us to tread these paths. We look for symbols. For instance, looking at a car, an INFP may see more than a mode of transport. He may see the wheels as a metaphor for the cyclical nature of time or the vehicle as a symbol of isolation within a crowd. He is not really concerned with the details, rather he prefers to focus on the bigger picture. He will wonder about strangers’ faces in a crowd, about what a smile or frown between two lovers may signify, who they are and their lives and hopes, and how they live.
Because we spend so much time dreaming and trying to find meaning (perhaps where there doesn’t need to be any), we often don’t make very good conversationalists. Sometimes we miss parts of the conversation. And we’re hopeless at small talk. We find ourselves desiring to redirect the topic onto something deeper and more philosophical, sometimes talking in poetic terms, only to be met with strange looks. This is another reason why most INFPs prefer to write.
The past is always present
The INFP’s tertiary function is Introverted Sensing (Si). What we receive through the senses is internalised and stored for later use (something I saw months ago at a bus stop may unconsciously appear in a story). We compare a sensation against something similar we’ve sensed in the past. This may raise certain feelings about it and we decide on the worth of something based on how we may have felt about it before. Many INFPs may seem obsessed with the past, but this is not because we are unhealthily locked there, but because we draw on it as a means of deriving our values, and therefore how we move on through the present moment.
Don’t think about it
Lastly (and this ties in with my post of thinking too much during the creative process), our inferior function is Extraverted Thinking (Te). Thinking a problem through logically is not an INFP’s strong point, we prefer to feel and work intuitively. When I become stressed and I try to think about a solution, I get myself in a complete mess. I get confused, I am a mess of thoughts and words I cannot make sense of. I no longer have access to my means of arriving at decisions and values.
We are prospecting types, this means we prefer freedom over rules, we like options open, and have no problems jumping from ideas to ideas. This is also why INPFs don’t create very well if the process becomes too structured and rigid, why if we are asked to think about the story and details too much we may begin to get upset with it and lose interest. And also why it’s sometimes difficult to complete things.
But I do believe we need a healthy balance. We can’t just engage in being whimsically whisked off to magical lands without, sooner or later, some logic to make sense of it—it’s just that thinking has no place in the initial creative process for us.
INFPs and writing
It’s often said that INFPs make ideal writers, famous ones include: William Shakespeare, Franz Kafka, Albert Camus, Virginia Woolf, George Orwell, Aldous Huxley, Edgar Allan Poe, John Keats, and Antoine de Saint-Exupery.
INFP characters tend to be loners and dreamers who seek meaning and love—often passionately. We have a unique way of looking at the world in abstract terms. Our quest for patterns and meanings, and our deep-rooted sense of harmony are invaluable ways of expression that we should embrace. We feel for the disconsolate and the underdogs and fight their cause. We are acutely atuned to a sense of loss and seek ways to heal it. We are not bound by the confines of reality (many INFPs are drawn to fantasy and science-fiction). And our sense of the wider picture is always expanding the more we learn. We just need to ensure we play to our strengths, imagination, and individuality and not try to ‘think’ things through too much. And also not to idealise and seek perfection so much we fail before we begin.
We need to ensure we keep feeling inspired. Staring at a blank page and trying to think how to proceed is probably the worst thing an INFP writer can do. Here are some of the things I like to do to keep up the momentum and tap into the creativity.
First of all keep a notebook. I use an app, but also keep a paper notebook with me which I am trying to use more. Anytime you get any thoughts or ideas, perhaps a voice of character, an image, a line of dialogue, a place, write them down.
Freewriting is ideal for the INFP because it taps into the subconscious where all those patterns and abstract symbols flourish. Use a prompt or just sit and write for five or ten minutes without thinking. Don’t worry if sometimes it appears to be nonsense. See it as a pathfinding exercise, as a way of reaching that subconscious breeding ground of rich ideas and surprises.
Natalie Goldberg in her book, Wild Mind: Living the Writer’s Life offers some helpful exercises. Start with ‘I remember’ or ‘I know’. Write for ten minutes. Each time you get stuck write that phrase again and see where it leads you. Take a break and then write ‘I don’t remember’ or ‘I don’t know’. This more focused method usually produces more personal, and sometimes painful, writing than an ‘unguided’ freewrite.
I also use clustering or mind-mapping. If you have an idea, perhaps a theme you want to explore put in the middle of the page and write down your connections as your mind arrives at them. Sometimes I have trouble keeping up with my mind. But this is a wonderful way for an INFP to get those dots down on paper which we can later try to connect up.
Listen to music
INFPs are often drawn to the creative arts like music, movies and books that appeal to our imaginative and intuitive sides. Sometimes I play a piece of music that inspires me. Sit and listen to it until it takes me somewhere. I see a story unravelling in my mind freely like a movie. I follow the images. After the song finishes I write down my impressions quickly.
Our heads often feel like a noisy room with all the stimuli we receive, our feelings about it, and our constant need to seek out patterns even in the most mundane of items. This overload of information can lead to us to work things out by engaging our inferior Extraverted Thinking. We get stressed and no longer have access to our other functions. Meditating can be useful for silencing the mind. It helps us reach a level of equilibrium below conscious thought, somewhere quiet and dark where we can create more comfortably.
Write early in the morning
We can also tap into that subconscious state by writing while we’re still feeling sleepy. Write for a few minutes after you wake up. Don’t reach for the coffee. Just sit and write. Whereas the waking mind seeks to impose rules and judgements, you will find ideas and words flow easier while you’re still in a quasi-dream state. Writing like this can seem like swimming in a calm lake, whereas writing ‘consciously’ is like staring at the ice after the lake has frozen.