Writing, Intuition, Personality Type

I’m beginning to understand how personality type affects the writing life.

First, motivation. Some write to convey a sensation, or to evoke emotion, or to create a work of literary art. I get the urge to write following a flash of insight.

Which makes sense. We each have a dominant psychological function and, being most confident with it, are more inclined to share its products with the world. Extroverted intuition is my dominant function; writing is a powerful way to share.

Yet despite my abundance of motivation writing often frustrates me. For example, most of my attempts to say something simple turn into projects that seem overblown. All I set out to do is to convey an insight. Even two or three sentences might do. Like this:

I see now that psychological type greatly affects why we write, how we write, and why we succeed in writing or fail.

But that never looks substantial enough. So I write more.

The mistake I often make at this point is to try to explain how the insight came to me. A bad idea since intuition is “a process of unconscious perception.” But off I go anyway, recounting the chain of reasoning that led to my conclusion when in actuality I have nothing to recount.

Since thinking is my second strongest function, this little detail doesn’t stop me and instead of realizing what I am doing, I go to work laboriously fabricating a sequence of thoughts that could have led to the same conclusion — thoughts which I am convinced did lead to my conclusion — but which never before actually occurred to me.

Some minutes (or hours) later I will get a nagging suspicion that I have somehow strayed.

Of course all that thinking and chaining together of thoughts could serve a better purpose. It could be used, for instance, not to tell the impossible story of my insight’s origin but to verify the insight.

Such verifications, however, offend my intuitive powers. After all, it is intuition’s job to perceive relations between things that “could not be transmitted by the other functions or only in a very roundabout way.” So whenever my thinking function goes to work double-checking my intuition, a voice in my head starts grumbling that we are needlessly reinventing the wheel that intuition has already delivered. A demotivating thought indeed.

One solution may be to write in a way that uses thinking, not to verify an intuition, but to ferret out its implications or to convince others of its validity, since, unless they consider me an authority or are themselves on the verge of the same insight, my raw, naked, intuition will do little to convince them.

I could just play the authority card and say: here is my valuable insight. No background. No substantiation. Take it or leave it. But that usually comes off prophetic or preachy, and people tend to only put up with that sort of writing after the author has died; when the prophet has stopped tarnishing their proclamations with their common, inglorious, humanity.

Being a contemporary author seems to require offering more than sheer insight. Stories are good — people love stories. And clear thinking — people respect a thought that develops coherently from one paragraph to the next. Descriptions too — some people have a low tolerance for abstraction and prefer to hang their senses on sturdy descriptive hooks. Evoking emotion is another popular one.

All this is bad news for me because all those writing devices rely on my inferior psychological functions. The function of feeling, for instance, comes in way behind my powers of intuition and thinking as a distant third. As for sensation I am, supposedly, not just worse at it but even somewhat averse to it as the senses “draw attention to the physical surface, to the very things round and beyond which intuition tries to peer.”

In other words, coming up with stories, descriptions, characters, feelings, and imagery, wears me out.

So it is that intuition, while heaping motivation upon me with its insightfulness, does little to help me persevere through the writing process. It snaps at my thinking powers for being redundant. It begs me to avoid the tangle of descriptions and emotions that it so adeptly side-steps. Intuition takes the shortest cuts. Writing, especially for others, means going a much longer way.

Which puts me at a crossroads in my writing life. Either develop a writing style that captures my insights with minimal need for the other functions, or work to strengthen my inferior functions so I can employ them with less fatigue. The former could make writing easy and enjoyable. The latter could open my thoughts to a wider audience: all those sensors, thinkers, and feelers out there.

All quotes are from Jung.