Once upon a time, a writing tutor called Dorothea Brande sat down and wrote a book to help people become writers. She did this because she believed there was a ‘sort of writer’s magic’ and that it was teachable. The book she wrote was called Becoming a Writer and was short and conversational in style. It became a must-have classic.
Becoming a Writer is not designed to be a comprehensive how-to-write manual. Dorothea doesn’t talk about style, or grammar, or structure, or plotting, or dialogue, or how to create great characters. No. This book is intended for those ‘who hope to write’.
Dorothea believes you have to get certain things right first. The technical instruction of writing must come later.
So what does she talk about?
She starts by describing the four common difficulties that beset would-be writers. She explains how you can harness both your unconscious and your conscious mind and get them to work together in the writing process. She sets practical exercises to be followed. She teaches you how to be your sternest critic and your kindest friend.
Above all, she is wonderfully inspiring.
Other self-help manuals and bloggers have copied Dorothea’s ideas, including her idea of writing every morning, commonly referred to by others as ‘morning pages’. Sadly, not everybody acknowledges that Dorothea was the first advocate of this technique – which she called ‘early morning writing’. And, worse still, few people seem to know exactly what Dorothea said about early morning writing, nor demonstrate much understanding of the purpose of this writing as she saw it, nor the subsequent steps that she expects you to undertake.
Some aspects of her book are amazingly modern. Nowadays, we almost take for granted the notion of the unconscious and conscious mind and we are familiar with the dual hemisphere model of the brain – i.e. of the anarchic, creative right brain competing with the orderly, logical left brain. For those who have studied Neurolinguistic Programming (NLP), many of her ideas are entirely consistent with NLP principles.
Dorothea Brande seems to have been remarkably ahead of her time.
Becoming a Writer was originally published in 1934 and to our modern ears the language sounds slightly old-fashioned. There is talk of typewriters, and I find it ironic that I read this book during the month when the last ever typewriter was made in the UK and taken, immediately, to a museum. Compared to modern DIY manuals, this one doesn’t use bullet points, or lists, or easy-to-remember acronyms. There are no catchy phrases or punchy titles.
But make no mistake, this is an easy read book with a wonderful conversational style that transports you, immediately, into one of Dorothea’s classes.
I will finish with a quote from the end of her penultimate chapter:
By these exercises you have made yourself into a good instrument for the use of your own genius. You are flexible and sturdy, like a good tool. You know what it feels like to work as an artist.
Now read all the technical books on the writing of fiction that you can find. You are at last in a position to have them do you some good.
There are a number of reprints of Becoming a Writer available in paperback version or in electronic format.
I am not sure what the copyright rules are in the US, bu I discovered you can download a free pdf file of the book here: http://www.bibliotecah.org.uy/