Wake up and Live! (by Dorothea Brande)

Last year I read an excellent book about writing by Dorothea Brande. I had not previously heard of her, although I saw her work recommended in several places. I was surprised to find that she wrote early in the 20th century; while a tad old-fashioned in places, and inevitably outdated as far as technology is concerned, much of her advice was excellent, as suited to contemporary writers as to those of the past.

So when I realised that she had written another book, I put it on my wishlist. ‘Wake up and live!’ has been re-published recently, and I was delighted to receive it for Christmas. I started to read it soon afterwards, and found that one chapter at a time was plenty.

As with the author’s other book, it’s a little formal by today’s standards. It’s also a little irritating at the beginning, in that she writes about having discovered a ‘formula for success’, but doesn’t give details until much later in the book. However by the time I reached the place where the ‘formula’ is revealed, it was no surprise, as the book had worked up to that point. ‘Act as if you cannot fail’, is the ‘secret’ - one which, had I not read the earlier part of the book, would have seemed trite.

The earlier chapters of the book, however, look at the way that most of us subconsciously look for failure. Procrastination is a way of putting off what we don’t want to do; much of the time, the author tells us, this is because we think our task is either going to be painful in some way, or because we expect to fail. I wasn’t sure about this when I read it, and still think it’s a bit simplistic; but it’s certainly true sometimes.

Case studies are given including someone who had the ‘will to fail’ and changed, and someone who was convinced that the only times he could succeed in anything was if it was a last resort: if he was down to his last pennies, with no way of making money, only then would he set to work to write material that was accepted for publication. The importance of self-discipline is stressed, along with a realistic attitude of success.

‘Failure’ does not just include writing rejections; it can include failing relationships, or the inability to finish (or even get started on) a piece of work. I don’t suppose everyone would find the recommendations or suggestions helpful, as we’re all different. The author rather assumes that all procrastinators are alike, and of course there was no Internet when she was writing, so one modern source of endless distraction and procrastination was not considered. Nor did she take into account the problem of chronic illness, either physical or mental, which dogs so many people and makes them unable to be productive in the sense she encourages.

The final chapter has a selection of widely varying ‘exercises’ designed to help readers develop more self-discipline in certain areas, or to overcome faults. I’m not planning to do as she suggests (to write them down and pull one randomly out of a drawer once a month), but the principle seems sound. To conquer an ongoing bad habit or distraction, one either has to find a way to avoid it completely, or to go overboard in indulging it so that it becomes a chore rather than a desirable pastime.

Overall, I thought this an excellent little book, one I’d recommend to anyone feeling ‘stuck’. It’s intended primarily for writers, but could be of interest to anyone feeling bogged down in procrastination, if there is no physical or other cause for it.

Review copyright 2018 Sue's Book Reviews

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