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Becoming a Writer

December 27, 2012
Becoming A Writer

Becoming A Writer

Becoming A Writer, by Dorothea Brande, is for all aspiring writers, authors who think they have lost the spark  after their first book and authors who tend to take long intermissions during their writing! It does not teach how to write fiction or the techniques of story writing. Instead it tells us how to condition ourselves on the way to writing fiction. The author dismisses the notion that one has to be genius  to be an author. She believes that every person has a spark within that can be tapped to make him/her the ‘genius’. Towards this end, in chapter after chapter she analyses what we mean by genius and narrows it down in to specific traits. She then gives us a step by step procedure that will lead us to the writer within us. She gives exercises to test and mold ourselves into the stuff that authors are made of.

Among the first things, she strongly recommends that we inculcate a practice of writing in longhand as soon as we get up in the morning. This has to be done strictly before we color the mind with news from the newspaper or any other sources of information; do not even talk. We are to write whatever comes to our mind. These pages may later, when we have followed through the exercises and are ready to write, give us an idea for the story we want to write.  This is then to be followed by doubling our writing output, writing at a fixed time during the day and then by writing at different times through the day. She believes that what we have written in these pages is the material that is genuinely ours and therefore will guard us from imitating our favorite authors. These pages in fact can give us clues as to the writing vocation that naturally suits us.

…the pupil who sets down the night’s dream in Morning Pages or the recasts the day before into ideal form has a chance of become a short story writer.
…A subtler analysis of characters, a consideration of motives, acute self -examination, the contrasting of different characters faced by the same dilemma most often indicate the novelist
A kind of musing introspection or of speculation only sketched in is found in the essay writer‘s notebook….

As i read through the book the image of Dorothea (the author) in my mind took the form of the strict but well intentioned school teacher. She gives stern, potentially discouraging warnings for those who do not follow the exercises recommended by her. For instance:

 If you fail repeatedly at this exercise, give up writing. Your resistance is actually greater than your desire to write, and you may as well find some other outlet for your energy early as late.

She does of course take the effort to point out the ways in which the mind may trick us into failing our resolution to write. She also shows how to trick the mind into sticking to the resolutions. For coffee addicts she suggest not to waste time in the morning but have the coffee ready at night in  a flask. so one will not have to postpone work for the stimulant. This book has many more helpful suggestions to train ourselves into becoming a writer. A very useful book and concise too-173 pages.

I got to know of this book from the ‘suggested reading’ of Julia Cameron’s book The Artists Way. Julia comments that its the best book on writing. Those who aware of the Artist’s Way and its popularity will know that Morning Pages (writing in the morning) is the major suggestion by Julia Cameron. Becoming a Writer predates Artists Way by decades-it was first published in 1938-so it is likely that Julia got the idea of Morning Pages from Dorothea. However, while Dorothea is talking only for the writer, Julia has extended it to encompass all artists.

I must mention here that though i picked up this book with great enthusiasm, I dragged myself through the first few chapters hoping to get hooked but in vain. So I skipped to the chapter that would interest me the most-all chapters have catchy titles-and it saved the book. I read the chapter ‘reading as a writer’. I eventually read and re-read the book. Now, I like the book more and think it is worth the effort. I think I struggled through the reading partly because the first few chapters made sense only after I got an idea as to what the book is about. And partly because of the excessively long sentences that Dorothea uses to convey her point. For instance, she has this to say as to who the book is meant for:

So I am going to write this book for those who are fully in earnest,trusting to their intelligence and their good sense to see to it that they learn the elements of sentence and paragraph structure, that they already see that when they have chosen to write they have assumed an obligation to their reader to write as well as they are able, that they will have taken (and are still taking) every opportunity to study the masters of English prose writing, and that they have set up and exigent standard for themselves which they work without intermission to attain.

Here is another jumbo sentence about the usefulness of writing in the morning:

You will discover that now you have a tendency to cast the day’s experience into words,to foresee the use that you will make of an anecdote or episode that has come your way, to transform the rough material of life into fictional shape, more consistently that you did when writing was a sporadic, capricious occupation which broke out from time to time unaccountably , or was undertaken only when you felt that you had a story firmly within your own grasp.

But the long sentences not withstanding this is a useful book, a manual on becoming a writer.
I found, by chance, that this book is available free for download on this website. It is a more recent edition than the one i read. However, I am not sure of the website’s legality. Enjoy!


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