Becoming a Writer (by Dorothea Brande)

I don’t know where I first heard of this book. I knew nothing about Dorothea Brande; indeed, the title might have put me off, had I noticed it in a shop, as it sounds like something for beginners. However, I came across recommendations for this in other writing books, so when I spotted it inexpensively at the AwesomeBooks site, I ordered it and it arrived in December.

The cover on my edition of ‘Becoming a Writer’ looks old-fashioned, and the style is too; hardly surprising, as I discovered to my astonishment that it was first published in 1934. It has remained in print, in many different editions, for over eighty years. Partly this is because, as the author stresses, it’s not about the details of writing. It’s not about different genres, nor about writing styles, or proof-reading, or marketing.

Instead, this is a book about inspiration, and motivation, and finding ways to bypass the brain’s natural procrastinating tendencies. It’s not about biology, though; nor is it judgemental in any way. The author acknowledges that she, too, tended to put things off, and fill her life with non-essentials and busy-ness, avoiding, continually, the things she wanted, deep down, to do most. Those who are not natural procrastinators would probably find this hard to understand.

After an introduction, Dorothea Brande launches straight into her programme that encourages anyone who wants to write, or who feels they could be a writer but keep getting stuck. She gives no writing prompts or suggestions. Instead, she starts with something I’d read before: to spend time each morning hand-writing. She puts no time limit or minimum amount on this, just to start the day with the discipline of writing something - anything will do.

The next exercise is to set a specific time each day for writing, just for fifteen minutes, planned in advance. One therefore starts to look forward to that time, to treat it as a vitally important appointment, rather than something slotted into the day when there’s time or motivation. Indeed, the main point of the book is that we need to harness the will to write, to be disciplined in our use of time, and to work through the blocks and distractions that inevitably appear.

None of this is in fact new. I’ve read other books that make similar suggestions, but never in such a straightforward way. Admittedly the prose is long-winded in places, and the references to a typewriter are reminders that this is a very old book. But human nature doesn’t change; what the author describes as the fears and anxieties of a writer are current today, and probably always will be.

I haven’t done all the exercises, but just beginning on them has made a tremendous difference. Discipline sounds negative, but in a nice synchronicity I’m reading another book, on a totally different topic, which makes the point that any ‘discipline’ is intended to help us achieve a goal or state of some kind. They might be difficult at first, but eventually they become habits.

I would recommend this to anyone who struggles to get going with writing, or who starts different projects but gets nowhere. It won’t help with any of the details of HOW to write, or constructing plots, or anything else; it’s just about getting started, and finding the time and motivation to do the writing each day.

I hope to re-read this regularly. Very highly recommended.

Review copyright 2017 Sue's Book Reviews

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