‘Phoebe’ v. ‘Monica’

I’m a big fan of the “Friends” show, even though it went off the air years ago.  I noticed after watching it for for awhile that each character represented a very specific human characteristic.  The most obvious were the characters of Monica and Phoebe, polar opposites in personality.  Monica had a big heart, but was controlling to the point of obsessive/compulsive.  I felt the character was well-drawn on screen, as she was definitely over the top, larger than life.

Phoebe, on the other hand, exemplified the free-spirited, quirky, and fancy-free person that Monica had always hoped to be.  Why?  Because Phoebe truly “knows” she’s right.  She just ‘is.’

In the writing workshops that I conduct, I have further noticed that many writers and aspiring writers tend to fall into one or the other character: controlling or care-free.  Monica (Type A or Left-brain) or Phoebe (Type B or Right-brain).

There are those who exhibit pieces of both characters.  These are the writers who go on to become the most successful, for they’re able to merge the better parts of themselves into a functional whole while not losing their individuality.  Being able to identify your inner writer is a giant step toward bringing yourself into greater focus.  Even though I use these extremes, oftentimes it’s a useful tool to determine an individual’s work style, which helps to create an atmosphere conducive to individual style.

This is not to say that people who exhibit specific traits more of one type than another aren’t equally successful.  My goal with this is to help each person determine what writing style would work best for them, whether a neat desk in their home office or a park bench downtown would inspire them more.  To strip it down to it’s basest terms: there is no right or wrong way.  But being able to identify what works best for you helps you figure out how best to approach your writing projects.

If you’re not sure where on the scale your personality falls, here’s a quick and easy test to determine. Please note that this is not a psychological determination that you will live your life by, but rather a way to see where your strengths lie.  For example, I scored a 58 when I took it.  Here’s what my score says about my personality:

You seem to be in the middle between the Type A and Type B personality. In this case, the middle ground is good. Your attitude to life is more of the “smell the roses” kind and you know how and when to relax. Nonetheless, you realize that picking up a challenge and competing a little bit for your place in the sun can add some spice to your life. The equilibrium is important, so don’t let your hostile, aggressive, and competitive alter ego take over too often. Generally, you are easy to be around, and people tend to feel relaxed and comfortable in your presence. Yours is a very healthy attitude towards life.

In terms of writing style, this bodes well, for I’m equally able to access the quirky, free-spirited side of my personality when I’m in creative mode, yet able to draw on the business-like persona when the situation calls for it.  But it only bodes well because I’ve identified these characteristics, which allows me to intrinsically know what particular kind of work I’ll be doing on a given day, creative or organizational.  It’s neither right nor wrong, it just “is.”  I’ve taught myself how to recognize which character is dominant at a particular moment.  When I’m feeling “Monica,” I work on editing and restructuring the foundation of my writing project.  But when “Phoebe” is visiting, I open up on the creative writing, striving to make full use of her presence.  I plan for both, for it’s not until I sit down in front of my computer that I can identify who’s driving.  I’m equally happy with either.  It’s all aimed at the same result: completing a project and making it as salable and marketable as possible. Both Monica and Phoebe help accomplish this.

What happens if you fall more on one end of the scale or the other?

This is valuable information to have.

If you’re more a “Monica” type, there are ways you can work with that aspect of your personality in your writing.  As you’re more likely highly organized and detail-oriented, you’ll want to aim for writing that lends itself to such traits.  Mysteries, thrillers, hard science fiction, and some forms of fantasy come to mind.  Friend and best-selling fantasy author Carol Berg was an engineer at a well-known company at one time.  Her fantasies are richly written, creative through details and in what she chooses to include and what she doesn’t.  I wouldn’t call them at all quirky, but still, they’re inventive and engaging from first page to last.  Through lengthy conversations I’ve held with her, I know that, if she were to be asked, she would identify with “Monica” much more than “Phoebe.”  One has the sense of a formidably organized thought process in her writing.  She labors over the minutest details, with excellent results.  There’s a reason her novels sell well.  But she has aspects of a playful nature that show through, as well.  Perhaps a bit of Phoebe lurking there after all.

But what if you’re more of a “Phoebe” type writer?

The “Phoebe”‘s of the world have given us amazingly creative works as well.  If you haven’t yet seen The Imaginarium of Doctor Pernassus, I urge you to experience it. Writer/Director Terry Gilliam would most certainly identify with Phoebe as his muse.  Quirky and astoundingly imaginative, it’s a feast for your soul in its rich story, colors…everything.  Like a playground for your inner child.  And that’s what Phoebe truly represents: the inner child in all of us.  Free from restricting boundaries.  But Gilliam surrounds himself with Monicas who help him to make his films marketable to a more general audience.  Not everyone “gets” his work…but if you have even a smidgen of Phoebe within you, you approach such creativity gape-mouthed in wonder and awe.

So if your writing leans more toward the whimsical and quirky, call on your “Monica” friends to help guide you through to completion.  Or teach yourself some useful and creative ways to ‘trick’ Phoebe into acting a bit more like Monica.

You can learn to balance the two, it just takes time and patience.

While typing this, “Phoebe” wrote a poem:

Poem for the Left and Right Brain

Left brain takes a shower

The right chooses soap that smells of summer

The left sews a tear in your shirt

The right chooses thread the color of wild parrots

The left cooks the meals, washes dishes

The right bides its time, waiting for recess

The left eats, the right makes a sculpture

With mashed potato castles and green bean cannons

The left pays the bills, makes the money

The right doodles in the margins

The left judges, the left condemns

The right sets free the child within

The left writes the letters while the right

Chooses words like “buttery” and “chrysalis”

And when the left can’t sleep, worrying about he-said-she-said

Right is dreaming, riding a cloud porpoise through the sky

Oh right brain, you’re so free

Do you ever think of responsibility, debt, work?

It’s the left that drives the car, runs for office, feeds the dogs

It’s the right that keeps the left from losing its way

The left brain waits


Holding the right’s hand as it pulls eagerly toward the ice cream truck

Indulging the child, a first-time dad.

© 2010 – Christian Marcus Lyons

9 thoughts on “‘Phoebe’ v. ‘Monica’

  1. Awesome post, Christian. As you likely predicted, I lean in the Type B. My score was 38. This explains why it took one year to write an epic (which I eventually cut in half), and two years to edit it (two years on just the one half). Seems I never have enough self-motivation (Monica) to tackle the editing.

    This post is good timing with New Years when we all resolve to better ourselves (and our writing). I can now invite Monica over for some clean up while Phoebe is locked in the closet.

    • LMAO! Poor whimsical Phoebe, locked in the closet AGAIN! But see, Tricia, I see you taking the necessary steps to overcome that challenge by inviting those with more Monica-skills into your world to assist you in your success! Good for you!

  2. You are absolutely right that I identify myself more as Monica, though I yearn to be more Phoebe-like. Interestingly, on this particular test, I come out with a 50. Is that non-committal or what? I don’t feel all that balanced!


  3. Now that you mention it…yes, the new book comes out Tuesday. I’ll be reading at Readers Cove in Ft Collins on the 12th (6:30pm) and Tattered Cover (Colfax) on the 13th (7:30).

    Now back to our regularly sponsored blogger:-)


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