“The highest truths through the humblest medium.”
“There are other advantages in considering yourself a two-in-one character. It should not be your sensitive, temperamental side which bears the burdens of your relations with the outside world of editors, teachers, or friends. Send your practical self out into the world to receive suggestions, criticisms, or rejections; by all means see to it that it is your prosaic self which reads rejection slips! Criticism and rejection are not personal insults, but your artistic component will not know that. It will quiver and wince and run to cover and you will have trouble luring it out again to observe and weave tales…”
Dorothea Brande, Becoming a Writer
Becoming a Writer is a short, classic handbook that’s won the praise of everyone from John Gardner to Hillary Mantel. Early in her no-nonsense guide to the writing life and creating “writer’s magic,” Dorothea has a radical but powerful suggestion. She advises aspiring writers to view themselves — at least initially — as a split personality: the “artistic, temperamental self” and the “critical, practical self.”
Dorothea notes many advantages to this strategy. One of them is captured in the quote above: the “practical self” is best equipped to deal with criticism and rejection. Another equally important benefit, according to Dorothea, is that if you rely solely on your “artistic self” to set the conditions of your writing habits and regimen, “you will find yourself living the life that will give you the least annoyance and greatest ease instead of a life that will continually feed and stimulate your talent.”
Why? Mainly because the “artistic temperament” is usually content to engage in “reverie and amuse itself in solitude” — and to depend on bursts of inspiration. As a result, if we let the sensitive side of our writing selves dictate the way we work, we’re likely to develop unreliable writing habits and end up with erratic output and disappointing results.
A better plan, says Dorothea, is “to study yourself objectively” until you find which of your “tendencies and habits” are productive — and which lead to inertia and lack of results. In a nutshell, we need to enlist our “critical, practical” self in setting up our work conditions and regimens; otherwise, we are likely to fritter away our time and energy. Mmmm…for one thing, this makes me think I need to tackle the clutter in my office — it’s making me feel agitated and off balance. Artistic self, practical self — bringing them into balance sounds like a productive endeavor. Something to ponder as we all write on.