Review of BECOMING A WRITER by DOROTHEA BRANDE
This book on writing was published in 1934, but is still remarkably relevant today. It’s slim, but packed with concise and valuable insight, which I find preferable to longer, rambling books.
Most books about writing either focus on: business, craft, or philosophy. BECOMING A WRITER does a little of both the latter two. It addresses the emotional difficulties of writing while also providing some specific exercises. I love when writing books include, well, homework. I find it much more helpful than vague musings on what makes a good book.
Some of my favorite actionable suggestions include walks, self-imposed time-outs, and scheduled writing times. Walks are hardly a new concept for creative professionals, but Brande encourages that while on this walk notice everything. I emphasize that, because it’s easy to read and dismiss without truly considering. Take in the colors. The subtle differences in shade. Assess any man-made structures. Do you know what every part of that structure accomplishes? What each piece is called? Are there people around you? Can you see anything especially interesting about their appearance or body language? As for the time-outs, that’s my word choice. Brande acknowledges that sometimes when we sit down to write, we don’t feel “ready” and it’s easy to procrastinate with others tasks. So instead of allowing oneself to be sidetracked, she suggests that if you aren’t going to write, then go and stand in the corner until you’re ready to write. Odds are it won’t be that long. She also encourages scheduled writing times as a way of training oneself to write on cue rather than becoming too persnickety about the ideal environment for some elusive muse. As she puts it, if you tell yourself you will write every day for ten minutes at 4pm and you find yourself in the middle of a social event at 4pm, promptly get up and leave mid-conversation and perhaps go scrawl for ten minutes on a napkin in the bathroom. While certainly not ideal, difficult experiences like this increase the likelihood that you will plan around your scheduled writing session next time. Treat it like a contract. You said you would write for ten minutes at 4pm. If this is your job, then that is a job expectation. Don’t be an unreliable employee to yourself.
As for the more writing philosophy side of things, I made note of several memorable quotes, not the least of which being: “There is no situation which is trite in itself; there are only dull, unimaginative, or uncommunicative authors.” I cannot agree more.
Don’t write this book off for being old. The content here is relevant for writers today as it was in 1934.