Becoming a Writer

by Dorothea Brande

Creative writing - comprehensive handbook of its psychology and practical aspects, for all practicing and aspiring authors.

Published in 1934 and still the best book available on practical psychology of creative writing and all related aspects. The author was herself a successful fiction writer, journalist and also authored a self-help bestseller "Wake Up and Live!". This book is a must for every practicing or aspiring writer.

Table of Contents:

In Introduction
One - The Four Difficulties
The Difficulty of Writing at All
The “One-Book Author”
The Occasional Writer
The Uneven Writer
The Difficulties Not in Technical Equipment
Two - What Writers Are Like
Cultivating a Writer’s Temperament
False and Real Artists
The Two Sides of a Writer
“Dissociation” Not Always Psychopathic
Everyday Examples of Dual Personality
The Slough of Despond
Three - The Advantages of Duplicity
The Process of Story Formation
The “Born Writer”
Unconscious and Conscious
The Two Persons of the Writer
The Transparent Barrier
Keep Your Own Counsel
Your “Best Friend and Severest Critic”
The Right Recreation
Friends and Books
The Arrogant Intellect
The Two Selves Not at War
The First Exercise
Interlude On Taking Advice
Save Your Energy
Imagination Versus Will in Changing Habits
Displacing Old Habits
A Demonstration
The Right Frame of Mind
Five - Harnessing the Unconscious
Wordless Daydreams
Toward Effortless Writing
Double Your “Output”
Six - Writing on Schedule
Engaging to Write
A Debt of Honor
Extending the Exercise
Succeed or Stop Writing
Seven - The First Survey
Reading Your Work Critically
The Pitfalls of Imitation
Discovering Your Strength
A Footnote for Teachers
Eight - The Critic at Work on Himself
A Critical Dialogue
Be Specific in Suggestions
Correction After Criticism
The Conditions of Excellence
Dictating a Daily Regime
Nine - Reading as a Writer
Read Twice
Summary Judgment and Detailed Analysis
The Second Reading
Points of Importance
Ten - On Imitation
Imitating Technical Excellences
How to Spend Words
Counteracting Monotony
Pick Up Fresh Words
Eleven - Learning to See Again
The Blinders of Habit
Causes of Repetitiousness
Recapturing Innocence of Eye
A Stranger in the Streets
The Elusive Quality
The Rewards of Virtue
Twelve - The Source of Originality
The Elusive Quality
Originality Not Imitation
The “Surprise Ending”
Honesty the Source of Originality
Trust Yourself
“Your Anger and My Anger”
One Story Many Versions
Your Inalienable Uniqueness
A Questionnaire
Thirteen - The Writer’s Recreation
Busmen’s Holidays
Wordless Recreation
Find Your Own Stimulus
A Variety of Time-Fillers
Fourteen - The Practice Story
A Recapitulation
The Contagiousness of Style
Find Your Own Style
The Story in Embryo
The Preparatory Period
Writing Confidently
A Finished Experiment
Time for Detachment
The Critical Reading
Fifteen - The Great Discovery
The Five-Finger Exercises of Writing
The Root of Genius
Unconscious Not Subconscious
The Higher Imagination
Come to Terms with the Unconscious
The Artistic Coma and the Writer's Magic
Sixteen - The Third Person, Genius
The Writer Not Dual But Triple
The Mysterious Faculty
Releasing Genius
Rhythm Monotony Silence
A Floor to Scrub
Seventeen - The Writer’s Magic
X Is to Mind as Mind to Body
Hold Your Mind Still
Practice in Control
The Story Idea as the Object
The Magic in Operation
Inducing the “Artistic Coma”
In Conclusion - Some Prosaic Pointers
Have Two Typewriters
At the Typewriter write!
For Coffee Addicts
Coffee Versus Mate
Book and Magazine Buying

* * *

Here is what was written about the book in the fifties – perhaps you could use it somehow, it's long and rather involved but maybe it may serve as a filler or something (I already cut of the bits that seemed the least concrete)...

Ms. Brande points out — with the delightful wit we find every where in her book — that for the writer suffering from uncertainty and self-doubt, writing teachers and books about writing, not to mention symposia of famous authors, do to the young (or old) struggling writer just about the worst thing they could do: "In the opening lec¬ture, within the first few pages of his book, within a sentence or two of his authors’ symposium, he will be told rather shortly that ‘genius cannot be taught’; and there goes his hope glimmering. For whether he knows it or not, he is in search of the very thing that is denied him in that dismissive sentence." Ms. Brande's purpose in Becoming a Writer is to make available to the writer the very thing usually denied.

She is right that genius can be taught (once the secret emptiness of that phrase is understood) because in fact genius is as common as old shoes. Everybody has it, some more than others, perhaps; but that hardly matters, since no one can hope to use up more than a very small portion of his or her native gift.

Every nightmare (and even dogs have them) hints at the secret reserves of imaginative power in the human mind. What the stalled or not-yet-started writer needs is some magic for getting in touch with himself, some key. The writer needs to know what kinds of habits of thought and action impede progress, what unnoticed forces undermine confidence, and so on.

These problems are special for the writer, she points out. Writing teachers and how-to-write books are peculiarly pessimistic. “Books written for painters do not imply that the chances are that the reader can never be anything but a conceited dauber, nor do textbooks on engineering start out by warning the student that because he has been able to make a grasshopper out of two rubber bands and a matchstick he is not to think he is likely ever to be an honor to his chosen profession.” Ms. Brande knows and exposes the reasons for this mistaken pessimism in the field of writing.

For one thing, most successful writers (and writing teachers) are not conscious themselves of how they got past the root problems; and having learned by experience that they cannot help others past them (in fact not fully understanding that the problems are there to get past), they give warning in advance of their limitation, unfortunately laying the blame on the student and thereby incidentally intensifying the student's problems.

Ms. Brande's purpose, then, is to lay the ghosts — by specific advice and exercises lead the writer into close touch with his-her unconscious, help the writer to develop healthy habits (there are reasons most writers smoke too much and drink too much coffee, if not gin), and guide the writer to freedom from all forms of writer’s block. (Her approach, I might mention, is wonderfully forward looking: Though TM was unknown, I think, at the time she wrote, she gives ingenious and subtle exercises in meditation, even speaks of what we would call mantras.)

Her whole focus, and a very valuable focus indeed, is on the writer’s mind and heart. Except incidentally and in passing, she has nothing to say about writing technique. She would perhaps argue, if one could raise the question with her, that technique lies outside the specific concern of this book, which is the root problems; but here and there she betrays a real and, based on her own experience, apparently justified distrust of writing classes.

At one point she mentions the possibility that if the student did not suffer the psychological ailments she is out to eradicate, he would probably not be in a writing course at all. At various points she shows a touch of impatience with classes on “story form,” and she mentions that all of the creative- writing classes she herself attended were, like most books on writing, disappointing. She speaks of the tendency of workshop writers to go after one another’s stories "tooth and fang”; and she again and again urges (rightly) that true original¬ity can come only from within.

No one can write successfully without some measure of technical mastery and an ability to analyze truthfully and usefully the virtues and defects in his own work or the work of others. Those are the things one learns in a good creative- writing course. Ms. Brande's book brilliantly lays the foundation for such a course. Until the root problems have been confronted and dealt with, the student of creative writing is the victim of an unwitting mean trick.

And until the teacher has recognized his or her responsibility to deal with those root human problems, as well as with those problems more dear to our hearts, the teacher be¬longs not in the classroom but in somebody's army — preferably far away. I speak of such teachers, you will have noticed, with great scorn. One often takes that tone when one feels guilty. I mean to improve myself (pray for me), so that when Ms. Brande sees me trudging toward Heaven she will not use her influence and cunning wit and have the gate locked.


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Mar 31, 2013
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