“It is possible to train both sides of the character to work in harmony, and the first step in that education is to consider that you must teach yourself not as though you were one person, but two.”
— Dorothea Brande
In her revolutionary book, Becoming a Writer, Dorothea Brande describes the two individuals living inside every writer: one with a childlike “innocence of eye” and the other that is more of a “workman” or a critic. I think of these two personas as the Artist and the Taskmaster.
For years, I let the Taskmaster dominate my writing life. I was up at 6:00 every morning pounding the keys. I flogged myself until I hit my word-count goals, and I did not allow myself even a breath to recharge between projects.
As one might expect, I got a lot done, but I began to suffer from burnout and a sort of creative panic about three years after my first book was published. It was not until I recognized that I was suffocating my sensitive artist side that my writing life really came alive.
Other writers I’ve worked with suffer from the opposite affliction: too much attention paid to the Artist and too little paid to the Taskmaster.
Are you in balance? You can find out now.
Go to a quiet place and take this quiz. Write down the letters corresponding to your answers without overthinking them. You will score your answers at the end.
1. Which best describes your relationships to your goals/intentions?
A. I rarely set goals/intentions.
B. I sometimes set goals (such as New Year’s resolutions) but they usually fly out the window within a few days.
C. I regularly set goals, but I rarely achieve them.
D. I regularly set goals. I usually succeed with short-term goals but have trouble achieving my long-term goals.
E. I regularly set short- and long-term goals and achieve them.
2. Which of the following best describes your meal habits?
A. I am usually multitasking when I eat — either sitting in front of the TV/computer/smartphone or helping my children eat their food.
B. I don’t multitask when I eat, but I rarely take the time to savor a meal. I am sometimes slightly rushed.
C. I sit down for a leisurely meal with no distractions at least once a day.
D. I sit down for two or three meals a day with no distractions.
3. Quick: List off three things you do by yourself just for fun that do not include reading, writing, or watching television. Now think about the last time you engaged in each of those activities. How did that go?
A. I had trouble thinking up activities — let alone the last time I just had fun!
B. I had a long list of activities. It was hard to choose just three. But many of them I have not done in quite a while.
C. I could not think of three activities, but the one or two I chose are activities I engage in regularly.
D. It was easy to make my list, and I do those things on a weekly or monthly basis.
4. How do you keep yourself organized (e.g., with calendars, planners, to-do lists)?
A. I have a refined system that works for me and includes some combination of digital and analog tools.
B. I have a system, but I could be more organized.
C. I do not have a system, and I sometimes feel disorganized.
D. What? People make up systems to keep themselves organized?
5. Which of the following best describes your travel habits?
A. I don’t remember my last vacation, or it’s been several years.
B. I feel lucky if I can take one weeklong vacation or a long weekend off to travel each year.
C. I usually take multiple trips per year — sometimes three-day weekends if I can get away.
D. I travel as much as my work schedule and budget will allow.
6. Which of the following best describes your food preferences?
A. I can cook simple dishes, and I eat those few things all the time. When I eat out, I like to keep it basic.
B. I eat pretty much the same things at home, but I enjoy trying new foods when I eat out.
C. I rarely eat out, but I am always trying new recipes at home.
D. I like to experiment with new recipes in the kitchen, and I love trying new restaurants to get fresh ideas.
7. How do you feel about your clothes? (If you do not have any strong feelings about clothes but DO have strong feelings about cars, substitute “car”/”cars” for “clothes.”)
A. I actively dislike my clothes. I do not like how they make me look/feel.
B. I don’t have any feelings about my clothes.
C. I often see clothes I like, but I lack either the money or the confidence to buy the clothes I want.
D. I love clothes. I feel like my clothes express my personal style and tell others a lot about me.
8. How much time/money do you allot for obsessions that some people might consider frivolous or eccentric (e.g., jazz flute, going to steam-punk conventions, collecting antique teacups)?
A. I don’t have any eccentric obsessions, and I would never waste my time/money on that stuff.
B. I don’t think I have any obsessions that would be considered eccentric, but I would allow time/money for them if I developed some.
C. I have eccentric obsessions, but I don’t allow time or money for them either because I don’t have time/money or because I feel it could be better spent.
D. I spend a lot of time or money practicing/collecting/searching for/soaking up my obsession.
9. Go into your bedroom or office and look around. Take note of the objects in the room and how they make you feel.
A. Everything in my room serves a purpose, but none of it is special. My room is an ad for Target or IKEA.
B. I have mostly utilitarian items around me, as well as a few mementos whose only purpose is to bring joy.
C. Most of the things around me are useful and spark joy when I see/touch them.
D. I am surrounded by sentimental/special things to the point that I feel I might need to downsize.
10. Which of the following might your friends say about you when it comes to making plans?
A. He/she will make plans a year in advance and stick to them.
B. He/she is too busy to make frequent plans, but when we do, ____ is always on time — usually early.
C. He/she is reluctant to make plans, but we often get together spontaneously.
D. You never really know what ____ will do. He/she frequently cancels plans at the last minute or does not show up to the party.
11. Describe your patterns when it comes to completing projects around the house (e.g., repainting cabinets, making curtains, fixing leaky faucets, reorganizing closets).
A. I often throw myself into projects and do not stop until they are finished.
B. I often procrastinate on the projects I want to complete, but I usually finish them and feel good once they are done.
C. I start projects enthusiastically, but they often go unfinished. I move from one thing to the other quickly.
D. I am usually reluctant to start projects, and my spouse often has to nag me to complete them.
12. Do you listen to music, podcasts, or audiobooks while driving?
A. If I listen to anything, it’s just what’s on the radio.
B. I listen to whatever my partner or children want to listen to.
C. I listen to the music/podcasts I choose — usually the same type of music or the same podcasts all the time.
D. I listen to a variety of music, podcasts, and radio shows when I drive.
13. What are your errands like?
A. I batch all my errands for maximum efficiency and stay on task to get as much done in as short a time as possible.
B. I run errands as needed. It’s not unusual for me to run out just for milk or just to go to the bank. I go do that, and then I come home.
C. I go out to run the errands I need, but sometimes I am sidetracked by a beautiful window display or a new coffee shop I’ve never tried before.
D. I go out to run the errands I need, but I nearly always get sidetracked and I plan special outings just to check out fun new places.
14. Are there ordinary aspects of your day that give you extraordinary pleasure, such as really delicious coffee or beautiful bed sheets?
A. No. I rarely experience an “ahhh” moment in the middle of a normal day.
B. Sometimes I experience these daily pleasures, but only when I slow down enough to notice.
C. Yes, I have that one thing I look forward to and savor every day.
D. Yes, I have multiple times throughout my day that give me a lot of pleasure.
How did you do? Are your Artist and Taskmaster personas in balance?
You can tally up your score and find out here.