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"I can't write" and why that's a weird statement

Wednesday February 6, 2019

Above: Some of my shorthand journaling and diagramming

I hear this every once in a while from coaching clients when I mention that I keep a journal. A couple points:

It’s relatable.

I couldn’t either! I still have my first-ever journal. It contains a few lines of writing followed by about 150 empty pages.

It’s not un-learnable

You read that right. If you’re open to the idea of becoming the type of person who gets a lot out of writing, you can absolutely learn your way through it. And I really recommend it.

Tips for INTJs

  • Give yourself time to learn. I’d recommend at least ten years. If you can be patient with yourself that long, and spend some time reflecting on your writing practice periodically, I promise you’ll make some huge breakthroughs.
  • Start with terse information. Rate your day.
  • Re-read your notes occasionally. Some people cringe to do this—I did that too. But it will teach you to write things that will help you later.
  • Use bullet points and lists. They are easier for INTJs, in general.
  • If you’re feeling really open-minded and ready for some exploration: Have conversations. One of my favorite journal entries was my first imaginary conversation with Data. I made what I thought were some good points, and he listened, thought about them, added some nuance, and calmly shot down every point while inviting me to integrate my strengths into the problem-solving sphere in question. If you can make yourself open to this kind of experience (and a lot of INTJs can do this, but haven’t), it’s worth whatever risk you foresee.
  • Look at writing as a problem-solving tool. Test it out—I have noticed that it accelerates my problem-solving capability.
  • Evaluate what’s working for you and do more of that kind of writing.
  • Use your powerful intuition to guess at what kind of writing might work better and try that, too.
  • If you write a lot of emails, review some of your longer emails. What kind of writing was that that you were doing? Was it explaining? Maybe you’re a natural tutorial-writer. Was it criticism? Maybe you’re a natural critic. These are all good starting points.
  • Be careful about trying to learn from other personality types. Usually people know some emotional/feeler friend who keeps a deeply-personal journal and writes everything in their heart right on the paper in bright blue ink, and they think, “WOW there’s no way I’d ever do that.”
  • As an introvert, security is important to you, right? You imagine someone reading your stuff and critiquing you, or making fun of you, or whatever. So address that directly. I learned to write in shorthand (see photo above)—good luck reading it. You can use stand-in names for things. I have found that I can even write something and then immediately burn it / delete it and still get a lot of benefit from the practice!

In summary

“I can’t write” is often a very misleading statement, because what it usually really means is, “until this point I haven’t figured out a way to write with which I’m really comfortable. For that reason I’m probably not super open to continuing down that path.”

Introverts are known to be really enamored with their own past experiences, and as a group we can be too reserved about re-exploring things that we haven’t been able to do in the past. I believe this is one area where a lot of introverts make a tragic mistake by limiting their personal development.

So: If you “can’t write”—I challenge you to take another look at the subject. Find your own method and benefit.

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