Ranjana TN

Becoming a Writer – by Dorothea Brande

In my quest to become a better writer, I’ve decided to read one book a month of the subject of writing. Becoming a Writer by Dorothea Brande was the book I chose for April. Dorothea was an American writer and editor. This book was published in 1934 – so quite a while ago. But I found the suggestions fresh and applicable even today. I listened to the audiobook on Google Play Books which took only 3 hours. I found Dorothea’s writing pragmatic and at the same time optimistic. Though I had to sometimes re-listen to the same section twice, it was overall an easy enough listen. The book was full of practical tips on how one can become a writer. Though she talks mostly of fiction writing, her advice is very much applicable to non-fiction writing too.

My Notes

  • You can teach yourself to become a writer. There is something called ‘writer’s magic’ and you can teach yourself that too.
  • There are 4 difficulties that stop you from becoming a writer:
    • Being unable to start writing: There could be many reasons for this – the person may feel that they’re too young, too self-conscious, or may want some divine ‘inspiration’ to get started.
    • Being a one-book author: A person might have penned his first book and having gotten all that they wanted to out of their system, they might not be able to get themselves to write again.
    • Being an occasional writer: A person who can get themselves to write effectively only occasionally.
    • Being an uneven writer: A person who struggles to narrate the story in a captivating manner. The story starts out well but loses steam after a few pages. This could be because of inexperience, shyness, or lack of self-confidence.
  • Until the person overcomes the above difficulties, it’s hard to benefit from any sort of technical writing training.
  • The book doesn’t teach how to write; but how to be a writer.
  • There are two sides to a writer: the artist who can see every scene with a fresh eye and the critic who is discriminating and just.
  • Treat yourself as not one person, but two. This will help both sides to work in harmony.
  • Process of story formation: It arises from the unconscious, often in a hazy manner, gets scrutinized in the conscious, and then returned to the unconscious again for synthesis. That’s when the actual writing of the story begins.
  • “The unconscious is shy, elusive, and unwieldy, but it is possible to learn to tap it at will, and even to direct it. The conscious mind is meddlesome, opinionated, and arrogant, but it can be made subservient to the inborn talent through training.”
  • Do not discuss out loud what you intend to write. Once you’ve had a conversation around it, you are less inclined to write about it.
  • Evaluate for yourself what effect different people have on you. Associate with those who feed your eagerness to write. The same goes for the kind of music you listen to.
  • While writing, keep your critic, your ‘elder-self’, away. You can bring it in once the draft is ready for critique.
  • Evaluate what sort of effect writers have on you. If, for eg., Wodehouse leaves you feeling that your own writing isn’t great, keep away from that author’s books for a while until you’ve written your own manuscript.
  • The issue with studying the techniques of writing too solemnly is that it comes in the way while writing. The intellect needs to step in only before and after the period of intensive writing is over.
  • Don’t exert your will and energy too much. Imagination plays a far greater role than the will.
  • Harness the unconscious by engaging in wordless activities such as going on walks, sewing, etc.
  • “A journalist’s career does teach two lessons which every writer needs to learn—that it is possible to write for long periods without fatigue, and that if one pushes on past the first weariness one finds a reservoir of unsuspected energy—one reaches the famous “second wind.””
  • To practice writing, wake up a half-hour earlier in the morning and begin to write. Write anything that comes to mind. Don’t do anything before that; least of all reading what you wrote the previous day. After a few days, push yourself to double your output.
  • Pick another 15 minutes in the day, say, in the afternoon, and dedicate it to writing. Write at that stipulated time no matter what. It doesn’t matter what. Just write and right on time too. After a few days, change the time of the day so that you become flexible and get good with summoning your writer at will.
  • Don’t imitate any other writer. Find your own style.
  • Be specific while critiquing your work so that you can work on them.
  • “When you have found your antidote, read with humility, determined to see the excellence in writers who are natively antipathetic to you; while you are performing your stylistic penance, give yourself no quarter.”
  • Honesty is the source of originality.
  • Trust yourself to be a writer.